Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How to Find Research Opportunities as an Undergrad? What Do You Need to Know?

  1. Apr 8, 2010 #1
    At this point in my physics career, I'm halfway done with the basic, foundational courses and the caluculus sequence. This is the end of my sophomore year and I've done well in classes so far and I have a high GPA, but I know one doesn't become a stand-out physicists just by going to class and getting A's (though obviously learning the material presented in class is necessary). I would like to go to graduate school when I graduate but I hear so many things about what makes an application competitive but the common factor seems to be research experience.

    I'm at that weird point in my education where I know enough physics to be considered an actual, serious physics student but not enough just yet to be useful in a lab. I've tried asking people over and over what I could do to possibly be an asset to some researcher and I've either gotten no answer or a really vague one like 'Learn to program, I guess'. I talked to my advisor and she was telling me about another student a few years back who worked with a professor in our department during the school year and then decided to go work with some of his colleagues in Heidelberg while studying abroad and taking a few university classes in Germany to boot. This sounds like a fantastic sort of thing that I would love to strive for but the way to it isn't well-defined. It's frustrating because it seems like research while you're pursing your BS is almost mandatory for grad school applications but there's almost no way to actually do it, short of hoping some professor will take pity on you and let you join their team to do work that they didn't really need done anyways.

    So I suppose my question is, what can I do or learn to get access to some of these amazing undergrad research opportunities (besides the obvious 'do well in your classes')? And I'd be perfectly happy to do them without pay, if that's what it takes. Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2010 #2
    This is a tough and very ambiguous area, one in which I am still figuring out the correct path. I too am finished with all gen ed classes, just about to finish Calc II on track for a B.S. in physics. What I did was I found my schools research section on their web page, and I began looking in the different fields of research that were going on currently and upcoming oppurtunities. I was lucky in that my calc professor is going to begin research on Haar wavelet transforms this fall. Although this is indirectly related to physics, I have found that any research that is close to your field of study is a plus. Grad schools are looking for a few things when reviewing your cv; you can work well with others, you have experience in how research is conducted as well as how to present your results in a professional manner, and lastly it shows you can think innovatively, creatively, and abstract. When competing at the level for grad schools, anyone can get an A in class, but abstract and creative thinking is a necessity. The other thing is, if you haven't noticed, REU's like to see previous research experience for their applicants, so this work in math I will be doing will provide an edge for my future research endeavours. I hope this is of some assistance to you. You're lucky in that you've realized how important research is for anyone who wishes to go to graduate school, some of the students in my program didn't know it was helpful, so you're already on the right track. Good luck!

  4. Apr 8, 2010 #3


    User Avatar

    Applying for REU (research experience for undergraduates) programs would be the way to go, but those deadlines were in February. Besides, it's a lot easier to get on if you've already done a research project. Go around and ask your professors if they need a research assistant this summer, or if they know someone who does (at your school or others nearby). If you they don't, ask someone else. Just keep asking. That's how I got my first one, and then a got 5 REU offers the next summer. And yes, learn how to program. Try learning C.
  5. Apr 9, 2010 #4
    Thank you very much, Agent M27 and eri! I appreciate knowing that I'm not the only one stuck in this weird, gray area and I'll definitely ask around the department. Hopefully I can assist someone this summer and apply for REU's next semester, but we'll see.

    Any other advice or obvious threads I'm missing?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook