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How to get into undergrad research

  1. May 2, 2005 #1

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    I'm currently an undergrad majoring in applied physics (though I plan to go on to pure physics in grad school). I'll be entering my junior year next year, and I know it's important to get into research so I can get a good reccomendation. But I'm not exactly sure how to go about it. Do I just email a professor I've never met and ask if I can meet him? Should I do that now, with only a week before finals, or wait until the beginning of next year? Should I have ideas ready, and if so, where do I get them from? I'm really lost, and I appreciate any advice you guys can offer.
     
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  3. May 2, 2005 #2

    robphy

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    I would talk with some professors that you had classes with or some advanced undergrads. Get them to offer suggestions on who you might like to work with. Possibly, get them to introduce you to these folks. You might want to read up on what research is going on there.

    Go ahead and wander over to the professor offices and introduce yourself in person. Why wait until next semester? (Do wait for finals to be over.) A prof may give you a headstart [or even a summer job] before the summer starts.
     
  4. May 2, 2005 #3

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    I don't really know any grad students, and I'd prefer not to deal with my professors. My advisor told me to go ahead and email someone who's doing interesting work, but I'm wondering if this is the best way to do it, and if so, what kinds of things to say in both the email and the meeting (eg, ideas, experience, etc.)
     
  5. May 2, 2005 #4
    Don't your professors have office hours? That's not a bad time to go if you're shy about emailing for a meeting. Unfortunately - you might not have the time to yourself since other students may show up.

    As an undergrad, you're not going to know anything substantive, and any decent professor should know that and not have high expectations about your prior knowledge. You don't want to work for a jerk anyhow. Sometimes profs do have web pages you can browse. It might be good to find some papers they've written as well - but chances are you won't understand them anyhow.

    It's almost always better to talk in person rather than by email. If you are shy, now is a good time to try to work on overcoming that shyness by talking to some profs in person.
     
  6. May 2, 2005 #5
    In terms of summer work, next summer you should look into REU's. These are summer institutions set up by the NSF at universities (I'm assuming you're in the U.S.). Find out information on these now and start writing app's and stuff when you go home for christmas break. When you come back from christmas break is when the deadlines usually start moving around.
     
  7. May 2, 2005 #6

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    Actually, I meant I just don't want to deal with the professors who teach the classes I'm currently taking. I don't go to class often, and I'm pretty sure they resent me for it. It's not that I don't have a work ethic, just that the lectures are boring and it's much easier for me to learn out of a book. I don't have a problem with meeting a new professor, but obviously I'd have to email him first. I'll just do that today or tomorrow and come back if I have more questions after I schedule a meeting.
     
  8. May 2, 2005 #7
    That is a very bad way to go through your major, I would start going to class from now on.
     
  9. May 2, 2005 #8

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    Just out of curiosity, why? If I'm learning the stuff, getting good grades, and not asking these teachers for references, what does it matter?
     
  10. May 2, 2005 #9
    You should go to class simply because you might learn something incorrectly, or because you will not understand it as completely as well as you could if you attended class. You also would not have this problem of not wanting to go to professors whose class you have not been attending. Also, consider that to get into graduate school, you will probably try to get recommendations from at least some of the professors you have had for class and what will your absences make them think of your work ethic?
     
  11. May 2, 2005 #10

    Pengwuino

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    They probably dont even know you exist to tell you the truth unless its a sub-20 seat class. Also, you really need to get to know your professors because recommendations are an important part of the grad school application. I got to know my departments chair after the first few weeks of attending college (he was coincadently the instructor for my introductory mechanics class's lab).
     
  12. May 2, 2005 #11

    robphy

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    A great deal of "research" these days involves groups of people working together. Part of going to class is learning how to work with others.... not to mention that I (personally) learned a lot from my other classmates and my professors.

    my $0.02
     
  13. May 2, 2005 #12

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    I keep hearing that, that you should go meet your professors outside of class, go to office hours, etc, but I have no need to. You get punished for understanding the stuff because you don't have any questions to ask, and they don't get to know you. What, do I just make up questions about stuff beyond the class material, with the obvious intention of making an impression? And yes, there are around 20 people in the classes.

    And just for the record, I try not to miss more than one day a week in two of my classes (I never go to the other two), just out of a general feeling of guilt I get when I don't go, but I never get anything out of it when I do. I either already know the stuff from reading the book or I'm too tired to learn anything and spend the hour trying to stay awake.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2005
  14. May 2, 2005 #13
    I had the same problem as you as an undergrad - not really getting much out of some of my physics classes, so I didn't attend them. Nor did I like schmoozing with profs in their office hours. I had to bite the bullet in some cases and take a couple lab-based classes that I thought would potentially have more professor-student interaction.

    From a practical standpoint - you'll need 3 recommendations for grad school. What is your plan for getting them? All three of my recommendations for grad school were from profs that I interacted with outside of the classroom, though I did take classes from 2 of them.

    Also - at some point - there's gotta be at least one class worth attending that is interesting.
     
  15. May 3, 2005 #14

    ZapperZ

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    As juvenal has said, unless you are satisfied with getting a plain, generic letter of recommendations, it is vital that you make yourself known to your instructor/professor beyond just blending in a class. This is especially true if you intend to go on to graduate school, or if you intend to get a decent employment.

    .. and I'm not saying that if you're in intro physics, that you have to go bug the instructor all the time. But if you're in an upper level undergraduate classes, presumably you should have some interest in some area of physics. Find the professor that work in that area and talk to him/her about it. This need not be the same person who you are taking a class with.

    Consider this as a "training" ground, especially if you intend to work in this field. You will find that physics is a VERY human endeavor that requires you to interact with a lot of people with a range of .... er..... quirkiness. It is never too early to learn how to interact with other physicists.

    Zz.
     
  16. May 3, 2005 #15

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    While I'm asking all these questions, let me just throw this in. Right now I'm leaning towards something in aerospace. But I don't want to design aerlions or model wing shapes in a wind tunnel or anything like that. I want to go into theoretical physics and work on the most advanced, speculative propulsion technologies. Is this a real job, or just something I read in popular mechanics? And if this is an actual career, what field do I specialize in? Aerospace engineering? Physics? Who should I do research with?

    By the way, I secretly want to go into pure theoretical physics, but I don't know if I'll be able to do it, or at least get paid to do it. So I want to get as deep into physics as I can, rather than getting a superficial, statistical/applied physics background like a normal engineer would, so I can leave both of these options open as late as possible. Is there any way to do research in theoretical physics (string theory, etc) as an undergrad?
     
  17. May 4, 2005 #16

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    Could someone please answer my last question? I really want to get in touch with a professor to get started on some research, but it'd be nice if I could get involved with someone in the field I'll be working in. So I need to know what that field is. Thanks for the help so far.
     
  18. May 4, 2005 #17
    I know nothing about the aerospace stuff, but as for undergrads doing theoretical research - it's pretty rare, I believe. You might be able to do something computational.
     
  19. May 4, 2005 #18
    No. The fact that you are even asking this question betrays your lack of understanding of physics. You need to complete the upper-division courses in mechanics, electrodynamics, relativity, quantum theory, and statistical physics plus a big chunk of mathematics -- differential equations, complex variables, advanced mathematical methods, and then a couple of years of stiff grad level courses in mechanics, quantum field theory, differential geometry, etc. before you're even in a position to understand what's going on.

    Coming back to your original question. You don't need to go to class, and if you're going to a research university, the instructors probably don't know you exist or couldn't care less if you attended class or not. But you need to make contacts. If you email an active professor you don't know, he won't give you five minutes. You have no real background yet. The only way is if you chat to professors in the staff lounge, or attend seminars where you can make the odd comment or ask the occasional question. Even then, any professor of your acqaintance will ask you to spend several years acquiring a proper rigorous education.
     
  20. May 5, 2005 #19

    Email them, say you're interested in their work and would like to get involved. Ask to meet with them. Pretty simple.
     
  21. May 5, 2005 #20

    Pengwuino

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    Sounds like your school isnt a research institution so the professors are probably very accessable. The fact that they are actually teaching the undergrad classes infront of the class means that they do want to get to know you and enjoy the experience. Just talk to ANYONE about what you want to do and they'll give you some better advice then people on here can (because you can immediately ask follow up questions and form long-term relations). As everyones said, its absolutely essential to get some contacts if you want to go to a good grad school (or more importantly, one with a professor whos famous in your field of interest). I personally must have gotten lucky because i indirectly (through another professor! See, gotta talk, even casually) found out one of the professors at my university works on the DØ project at Fermilab. My professor said that its important to try to work with someone who has connections (like this other guy might, i havent foudn out yet) such as him in your field or something related because if your good and the guy is rather well known, he'll "parade you around the country" which will go a loooong way as far as getting to where you want to go for grad school.

    Anyhow, like everyoens pretty much aluding too, if your not sociable with your instructors, its pretty much like sabotaging your own future.
     
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