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Other I just started university, now what?

  1. Aug 29, 2016 #1
    So, my university has finally started. I hope to become an Astrophysicist one day and I plan to work as hard as possible to make sure that I do so in a decent place. For the first semester, I couldn't get any Physics classes as they were full, but it's all right since I'm able to cross off the core requirements quickly and will get to the juicy part later on.

    I understand that the 3 most important parts of a grad school application is GPA, research experience and GRE/recommendation letters. I'm not worried about the latter two right now, I am working my hardest to ensure I get the best in the 1st one, however, I'm not so sure about how I'm supposed to get research experience (conferences and paper publication etc.). I will definitely talk to my Physics professors when I start their classes, but is there any other opportunity for an international freshman in the US (maybe during the summer)? Do I just shoot up an email in November to many observatories seeing if they're willing to take me in for the next summer?

    I heard of REUs which sounded great, but are reserved for American citizens, and I heard it's difficult getting research experience at any university other than my own. My university does have research happened in Astronomy, but I'm looking for options (research, internship) outside of it in case I don't get to work on anything here.

    Thank you!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2016 #2

    micromass

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    Don't worry about research right now. You're a freshman who has taken no physics classes, so there's not really much research you can do. It's only later in your career than you can think of doing research, I think this should happen when you're ending your sophomore year.

    There are some things you can do right now, but it won't be much more than cleaning equipment or doing menial tasks. Certainly nothing that would get you a published paper. But hey, if you want to get used to how a physics lab operates, this could be valuable experience.
     
  4. Aug 30, 2016 #3

    ZapperZ

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    You are still rather new and will not be that useful yet to professors hiring or looking for students. So just get very good grades during your Freshman year.

    After your Sophomore year, then that is when you should start seeking for some research opportunities. Your best bet is to ask around at faculty members that have research grants. Now that is not that easy to know because faculty members do not walk around with a sign on their foreheads that say that they have a research grant. This is where you have to ask around. Start with your advisor, then with the faculty members that you know, and then other graduate students, or even undergraduate students. Words do get around about who is looking students. The faculty members with research grants sometime have money allocated for summer students or undergraduate students. It depends on the nature of the grants. Unless these are research grants coming directly from US military, most of these will allow for non-US citizens/permanent residents to be involved.

    This is why you need to spend a year or two to familiarize yourself with your school and your department. Attend the weekly colloquium/seminar, even if the material being presented is way over your head. The more you know about the people there, and they more they are aware of you, the higher your chances of not only hearing about these opportunities, but also being hired. If you haven't done so, you may want to read my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay that has addressed these topics.

    And here's my most important advice: Do not be too particular of the area of research. Even if it is in an area that you don't care for, think of it as an opportunity to broaden your horizon and to acquire skills that may transcend that particular area of study. In fact, if you have the aspiration to be a "theorist", then force yourself to find an experimental group to work with.

    Zz.
     
  5. Aug 30, 2016 #4
    The other two responders have far more experience than I do obviously, but I would disagree that a freshman shouldn't start at least considering research in their freshman year. Not only did I do this with no regrets, but when doing REUs, there were a non-negligible number of students there who were in between their freshman and sophomore years.
     
  6. Aug 30, 2016 #5

    ZapperZ

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    I didn't say it doesn't happen. However, I do not recommend it. If you are a brilliant student, and you think you can get straight A's in your freshman year, then go for it. However, to me, a Freshman's top priorities are: (i) get as high of a grade as possible in your first year. After all, these are going to be some of the easiest classes you'll encounter; and (ii) get used to college life, since for many of you, this is the first time you are away from home, and the first time that you have such freedom and having the realization that your actions will have direct consequences on you.

    Having had REU's and SULI's interns over a number of summers, I had never picked a student about to go into their Sophomore year. In fact, a number of my colleagues who I've spoken to had never done so either. We needed students who have had enough physics background to be useful without requiring too much "babysitting". The Lee Teng internship program that I've been involved with "prefers" students who had finished their Sophomore or Junior year, since they need to have had classical E&M to survive the particle accelerator school that they will be attending.

    I've seen faculty members who hire Freshmen for summer jobs. In practically all those cases, they were just "warm bodies", and often other graduate students had to mentor and monitor these students.

    Zz.
     
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