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How Important is Undergraduate Research for Grad School?

  1. Apr 17, 2013 #1
    I was wondering how much graduate admissions look at your research experience. I have worked with two projects with a professor, and I am going to be working with him on another project this summer. Two of these things were not "new" physics, but they were either new for our department, or were required for doing further research in our university's Nuclear Lab. I'm not sure what he has planned for me this summer, but I'm probably going to have to learn a bit of Nuclear Physics for it. I'm going to have three papers written for him by the end of the summer (already have two done, just need the third project).

    I was thinking of grabbing another research position with another professor in the fall. However, I don't know if I'm over doing it, or not. How much do graduate admissions actually care about undergraduate research?

    Also, since the papers that I'm doing for my professor are not technically "new physics," I was wondering if it would be beneficial to put those papers on a site like ArXiv or something, so I can maybe link to them to potential Graduate Professors? I know this is something that I would have to ultimately talk to my professor about, but I was wondering if this was even a "good idea," before talking to him.

    One of the papers is on a demonstration for a physics class. It was designed for "seeing" individual photons (ie as particles and not waves) from a CCD chip, and observing single photon interference. If you know of a journal/website for physics demonstrations, please let me know. My professor said to look for some and get working on submitting it to them, but I haven't been able to find any...
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Depends on the grad school.
    You should ask the professor. The more contact you have with the sorts of people you are likely to have supervise you later the better though.

    Finding stuff online is a basic skill these days.
    How have you attempted to find websites?
    What are your criteria?
    We need to be able to avoid repeating what you've done.
  4. Apr 18, 2013 #3
    Yes, I have been looking online. For the past couple of months on and off. It's possible I just don't know what I'm looking for. I have been able to find some undergraduate research papers, but none that specifically deal with physics demonstrations.
  5. Apr 18, 2013 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    The most important aspect of research is that if you have done it, and still want to apply to grad school, it is a net positive because it is less likely that you will flake out after a year or two and decide you'd really rather do something else.

    The second most important thing is that it gives your letter writers something substantial to say in your letters.

    What exactly you have done and even whether you have published is a distant third.
  6. Apr 18, 2013 #5
    Is the fact that one's research work as an undergraduate was not of publishable quality a negative in any way? Or if it is irrelevant/loosely-related to the field one is applying to graduate school for? This would be a nice thing to know, though it is not something most have much control over. But maybe one could not make much of a deal about it in a personal statement if it is going to bring about suspicions of flakiness (change in research interests without demonstrable experience to back up why one likes the new field) or incapability of doing worthwhile research if one spent several months on something and didn't produce something publishable for whatever reason.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013
  7. Apr 18, 2013 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    People understand that the purpose of undergrad research is not necessarily to create a publishable result, that time scales are short, and that it's not usually the student's fault if everything doesn't magically come together.
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