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How to impress prof in research

  1. Jun 11, 2008 #1
    i'll be starting my REU project for physics soon and understand that professor who you do research with are the best people to write letters of rec for you if you apply to grad schools. what tips do you guys have to improve my chances of him writing me as best a letter of rec as possible? i know i have to demonstrate good work ethic, initiative in the research, etc but what else?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2008 #2
    No, that's pretty much it. Do a good job, listen, UNDERSTAND, and generally help get stuff done.

    And show up on time for meetings. :smile:
  4. Jun 11, 2008 #3
    Yeah, your fine man. Professors just want students who are gonna work and not just dick around.
  5. Jun 13, 2008 #4
    Here's from experience. Never talk back. Always be silent, never argue, if you make a mistake, always keeps silent and try to fix it and inform others, do not panic or say 'OH DAMN,' under any circumstance even if you feel like crying. I think the biggest thing to understand is when things go bad, just slow down and don't yell!
  6. Jun 13, 2008 #5


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    My advice, which comes a quarter of the way through my second REU with the same lab group:

    The professor you are working for is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in his field that you have ever met. Thus, don't try to pretend you know more than you do. He/she will be able to tell when you do this. Your adviser is going to know more than you, but the good thing is, unless he/ she is living in some ridiculous bubble, they will not expect you to be as knowledgeable as themselves or their grad students. He will know that you are there to learn. So, here is how you impress:

    1.Be willing to learn and don't back down from any task they give you. (If they are asking you to do it they must be confident that you can handle it.)

    2.Work hard. Even when I don't have anything pertinent to do during the time I am working, I am still in the lab. I either read research papers or practice GRE problems. If they see that you are always driven to do work and get things done, they will definitely be impressed. If you feel you would like more work, ask! here is always more work to be done in a science lab. This year, I am getting to work with much more sensitive and expensive equipment so this advice must have some merit.

    3.Accept that you are going to screw up and be open to any advice you get. The people you are working for are going to expect you to screw up. What matters is how you take it. If you accept that you will screw up and focus on learning and not making the same mistakes over again, you will make a good impression.

    4. Be openly interested in whats going on. Chat about the research with grad students and your adviser when you can. Read the group's old papers. Do everything to show that you are serious about making as much of a contribution that you can.

    5.Learn something new! If you can accomplish this point, then your REU was a success.

    As far as I can tell, and I'm sure those members who have advised REU students will agree, the REU is what you make it to be. It can be 10 weeks where you are in a lab and you do some odd tasks here and there and get out of work as soon as the whistle blows. Or, it could be something where you take 10 weeks to make connection, learn new material and useful skills, and maybe contribute enough to gain a publication.
  7. Jul 3, 2008 #6
    you're joking, right?
  8. Jul 3, 2008 #7
    How many research articles were you expected to read per day?
  9. Jul 3, 2008 #8


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    No one ever said, "You have to read X papers per day." or anything like that, but I was trying to understand the project I'm on as best as I could.. I just did a google search for papers related to the project I was on and asked the grads and my adviser for some paper suggestions. I also have to write a paper about the project I'm working on by the end of the summer, so better to get the research done with sooner, rather than later.

    I do have to read one a week, since the REU students are expected to bring a paper to the groups journal club (They don't expect us to understand the whole thing. Just to do our best.) I'm glad they do this, really. It's good experience.
  10. Jul 4, 2008 #9
    This is terrible advice.
  11. Jul 4, 2008 #10
    i thought so
  12. Jul 4, 2008 #11
    As others have said, reading papers in your field is important. It shows that you are hard-working, curious, and will be well worth it when you understand concepts your professor mentions.

    Be responsible in the lab. Use all equipment carefully and for its intended purpose, don't play around with friends in the lab, try not to talk on the cell phone while you're in there, don't eat in the lab, etc.

    Make an effort to learn about the equipment. Read user manuals for important items. Knowing what's wrong with a machine will impress your professor. Electronics knowledge is good to have if your professor doesn't have a strong background with it.

    Express your ideas in regards to the research, but make sure that whatever you have to say is well thought out. A professor will appreciate a well conceived suggestion, but not random statements with obvious faults.
  13. Jul 4, 2008 #12
    It's good advice.
  14. Jul 4, 2008 #13
    It is absolutely HORRIBLE advice. I talk to my professor all the time if I don't understand something or think he's wrong. I don't flat out say "HEY YOU'RE WRONG!!" I ask him if my differing point of view is correct. Usually it isn't, but then he explains to me why I am wrong, instead of just trying to figure it out on my own, or worse, constantly thinking I was right when I wasn't.

    1) Ask a lot of questions if you're not sure.
    2) If you can't immediately fix a mistake (i.e. oops wrong screw), tell someone. I broke an input to muon detector gas chamber once by putting too much pressure in. I told them immediately what happened.
    3) YOU'RE A STUDENT. You're probably not being paid. They know what they are getting themselves into by taking you into their group. Your job is to learn as much as possible, either by asking, or doing. Sitting there silently won't help you at all.
  15. Jul 4, 2008 #14
    If you shut up and never participate, what good are you to the research team? It is much better to put your neck out and make a fool of yourself the first few times, then learn from the mistakes.

    If you think something the prof said is wrong, then either you have a misunderstanding and need to correct it as soon as possible, or the prof is really wrong and needs to know. Either way, just shutting up and ignoring it is not going to help.
  16. Jul 5, 2008 #15
    I agree with you.

    I'd imagine that if some new guy came into my lab and just nodded along doing Western Blots without knowing how to do one, I'm sure I'd be looking forward to my professor going on a sort of harangue comprised of the words "stupid" and "idiot". However, if this dude actually knew the protocol for the Western for the current experiment along with where exactly the antibodies were in the fridge, I think I'd start worshiping him as a deity.

    Long story short, don't be a putz, ask questions, they're good for you and your team. Hopefully your mentor understands that you are there to learn, not be his personal slave. The personal slave part of the whole deal comes after you learn.
  17. Jul 5, 2008 #16
    Yeah, I was reading about your pieces of advice and i must say that sometimes keeping a low profile helps. I say that from experience(I have two Master's degrees (One in Aero and one in Mech Eng). I had a scientific argument with my professor one day and it led to the fact that I had to leave his lab. But, later I got a scientific award for what I argued about from a recognized engineering society in the US and published two papers about it. So, my advice to you is to try to find out what kind of a person you are working for and always work hard and be a professional. My horrible experience tells me that many research professors are not professional and they curse and make fun of students. If you feel your professor is impossible and illogical and doesn't want to listen to you change him/her. Cause even if you work with someone that kinda hates you, but will let you work with him/her because of the grant money or contract that he/she must maintain he/she will screw you in that letter or refuse to write it for you. My professor that finally didn't want me in his lab (only because of my scientific argument with him that proved him wrong) refused to write me a letter after 1.5 years of research work. So, I wish you good luck. Hopefully you will only work with the nice people in academia.
  18. Jul 5, 2008 #17
    Aye, I think theres a difference between dead on arguments and just asking a question. I draw lines with most people as to how far I take things. With professors and people I respect deeply, they're usually not too far.
  19. Jul 5, 2008 #18
    Yeah me too. But once he started cursing it was not pleasant anymore. If you are gonna publish something in your own name I believe that if you see an obvious mistake you must share it with your professor. Especially if the mistake is trigged by him in your research. I believe in mutual respect professor or not. Once he started cursing at everything because he was wrong, then that's really messed up. No wonder why the national ranking of that department fell after this incident.
  20. Jul 5, 2008 #19
    So far I've yet to experience any butting of heads or academia drama, myself - but I think we're seeing dual nature of the "speak up and stick your neck out" advice. Not only will you be of more use to your group and your advisor, but you'll also be able to figure out if your potential advisor is someone you can reasonably work with.

    The first time an "advisor" ever invokes the fact that they're more experienced or that it's their project in lieu of facilitating your learning? Walk.
  21. Jul 19, 2008 #20
    i dont think i'm impressing my prof much so far, and this worries me alot

    i've been in this REU for about 5 weeks now. he seems very picky and strict. for example, he constantly finds things to critique of my power point presentation draft, such as the font of my wording is too small. and hes coming up with new stuff each time, instead of being consistent. like i'll fix the changes exactly as he described, and then he'll come with new complaints that did NOT relate to the previous ones

    its also ridiculous that recently he has assigned me a TON of work, such that i spent this past week spending 5 hours/night AT HOME and I'm still not done! the other REU students agree that my prof is much tougher than theirs.

    and thats not the end. a couple of times the prof has gone on and on about the importance of social skills, implying that I lack them big time. for example, he mentioned that I should email my profs about the research I'm doing and when I told him I actually did, he still mentioned it, as if he didnt take me seriously.... god, what a jerk. and its not like he knows that i do nothing but study in my free time. i've mentioned a few times my plans over the weekends to hang out with the other REU students. but i guess he just doesnt get it

    i dont get it. i'm doing the work outside of regular hours, i'm listening to his critiques without talking back. is he just trying to test me, and will eventually write me a very good letter or rec. or is he really that demanding and hard as hell to impress?
  22. Jul 19, 2008 #21
    Could go either way. He might be hard all the way and still give you a good letter. Or he might just write you a crappy letter because he's an ***.

    I'd start asking questions whenever he complains. Like when you said he isn't consistent? Ask him why he said X last time and now he says Y.

    Also, does he give you deadlines? The reason I ask is because he might be giving you a lot of work and expecting you to take your time and do it. You think you need to get it done ASAP and then come back for more. He just thinks you're really fast or you really like it, so he gives you even more. Of course, I'm just speculating, but it's possible he's trying to use you as far as you'll go.
  23. Jul 19, 2008 #22
    he only gave me deadlines for this past week's assignment, i guess since the REU is ending soon. but it was absolutely ridiculuous how much he expected me to do. when i told him that there was no way i could get it done on time and updated him with my progress, i guess he realized i wasnt going to get it done, so he reduced how much he expected me to complete by the end of the week. its still FAR more work i had to put it than the other REU students
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