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How to do well at REU?

  1. Apr 7, 2012 #1


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    Hi Everyone,

    I am participating in a REU program this summer 2012. This will be the very first time I will be doing research - ever! I would greatly appreciate your advice of how to perform well at REU and achieve some conclusive results. Can you share with me/us your previous REU experiences such as daily activities, relationships with your research mentors and peers, ways to do your work effectively and efficiently?

    I would love to provide some information about my current situation: spring 2012 is my second semester as a math major. I just have some (VERY) basic background in math: calculus, linear algebra, probability and statistics and little bit of abstract algebra. I am taking ODEs right now. I have no programming experiences, except a little bit of MATLAB and Maple.

    I have been doing really well in my math classes (grade: 98-100). But I am from a very small university. People say (and I have the same opinion too) that the math program at my school is really easy, therefore I am not sure about what my actual mathematical ability is. I am always working really hard.

    I am so thankful that I have been accepted to the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at The Ohio State University. Has anyone participated or does anyone know someone who has participated in this program before? The program seems fantastic to me but it is great to hear opinions from previous participants.

    I hope to hear back from you. Thanks for your time replying. I would greatly appreciate your sharing of information and experiences.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2012 #2
    You should email your mentors and ask what kind of work they're doing for the REU program. Or ask the relevant people if you've been assigned. Then you can start preparing and perhaps ask them for some reading material to help you with that. If not, it's pretty simple to know what you should be working on to get at the right level.

    As long as you work really hard, you have nothing to worry about. If you have to learn PDEs, you have 8 hours a day to learn them, and you'll be able to learn them quick. You also don't have to be able to understand everything in a PDEs book, just the relevant things you need for your research. You may or may not have to learn how to program a bit, but that's okay too if you're willing to learn. There are a million things it could be, but you're seeing the general trend here. Just make sure you've got the curiosity and the enthusiasm to motivate you to learn anything you need. Even if you are unsuccessful in completing your project, the professors will notice your attitude towards it and won't fault you for it.
  4. Apr 7, 2012 #3
    1) Email your REU adviser to introduce yourself and request some papers relevant to the work you'll be doing.

    2) Read the indicated papers and find some good textbooks on any unfamiliar fields/topics that you will be working in (e.g. PDE's which you haven't had)

    3) During the REU: Talk, talk, talk to people - your adviser, his/her other students, the other REU'ers. This will be good practice for grad school when social engagement will benefit your research via collaboration as well as gain you connections / great references.

    4) Make sure you're clear on the overall goal of the project and especially the WHY of the project - don't be afraid to ask lots of questions to get to the bottom of this.

    5) Ask for help sooner rather than later - don't struggle blindly with something, ask other students for help, ask your adviser for clarification etc.

    6) Afterwards: Look for opportunities to present your REU project, such as undergrad conferences.

    Have fun :)
  5. Apr 7, 2012 #4
    I agree with the above people, but I think there's a few more important things to keep in mind that will come in handy after the REU is over (I know I know, first you must get through the REU! I just wish someone had told me this when I went through mine).

    1) Don't just talk to you advisor, establish a strong rapport with him/her. They will be writing recommendation letters for you for years to come (grad schools, fellowships, etc.), and in order to be a strong supporter for you they should like you as a person and as a researcher, or at least remember who you are. This is especially important if you do not see him/her very often or if you work primarily with a grad student.

    2) While presenting your research after everything is over is an important aspect of the research process, publishing (in a peer-reviewed or undergraduate research journal) is seen as "more impressive" to grad schools and fellowship committees and serves as a validation for your research. I know it might not be possible to publish on your first research topic, but it's important to keep in mind as a potential end goal.

    Good luck! And have lots of fun! I met some of my best friends at REUs. :)
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