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I need a research topic and need an etiquette request

  1. Nov 25, 2012 #1
    So I would like to learn more about PDEs.


    I have only one course in PDEs (intro obviously) and we covered the big three equations: Heat, Wave, and Laplace (Cartesian and Polar). Sturm-Louville, d'Alembert Solutions, Method of Characteristic lines (with nonvarying coeffiicents). Numerical Methods were also covered.

    Other classes I have done are: Calculus (all semester, multivariable, vector), Linear Algebra, and I will have completed Algebra, Real Analysis, Modern Geometry (probably irrelevant here...) and some stats

    So tomorrow I would like to speak with a professor whom I've had for ODEs to ask if she would take me on as her student. I am a little worried over two things

    1. My PDE Grade: I fell ill during the Final Exam when I took it, so I naturally didn't do so hot. If you are wondering (and in case she asks as well) why I didn't tell that prof about my illness was because it happened in the morning and the guy doesn't hold office hours or read emails in the morning and the exam was in the morning...

    2. Not sure how to ask her politely. Would

    Hi Dr. [Name], I am wondering if you would consider doing directed studies/research with me next term? [If she says "Yes", I will follow up with what I have in mind]

    be okay?

    3. I don't know what is appropriate for my level. I am not even sure if I have enough knowledge to do research in PDEs.

    One topic I have in mind is Nonlinear PDEs. I have a link


    There is a huge list of PDEs I could study, but with so many, I just don't know how to pinpoint the one that is appropriate for me. I've clicked on a few and most of them have to do with Fluid Mechanics.

    If research isn't an option, I wouldn't mind doing directed studies with her in just a regular one on one PDE course. But I would like to come up with some decent topics so it doesn't make it as if she is doing the thinking for me.

    Thank you for reading
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 25, 2012 #2
    Are you planning to email her about research?? Talking to her directly would be more advisable.

    Also, did you check out her research interests? Maybe her research interests aren't in PDE at all and she just needs to teach the course. It would be a good idea to browse through her published papers and see what kind of things she does. That way, you'll be better prepared to talk to her.

    Anyway, you should just go to her office hours and ask her that you're interested in doing research with her. Maybe she'll agree and maybe she won't. There might also be a chance that she offers to do a guided self-study with you, which might also be interesting.
  4. Nov 25, 2012 #3
    No I am planning to walk and talk with her in her office. Her research is in Mathematical Biology and Spatial Ecology
  5. Nov 26, 2012 #4


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    Honestly I think before you do such a thing you should be passingly acquainted with her recent research, and I mean at the level of at least trying to read a few of her recent papers. Then you can instead lead with the question:

    "I have a question about ________"

    Because almost surely you will not understand everything. From there questions of doing research for her can follow naturally.
  6. Nov 26, 2012 #5
    This may be overkill for an undergraduate at the OP's level. I would say that you should first check out whether she even does the sort of stuff you want to work on with her. If her field doesn't have anything to do with PDE, most likely she isn't gonna have much for you although you could still ask. If she does however, go to her office, and politely ask if she has a minute to talk and ask her about research then. Like micromass said, that's preferred over e-mail.
  7. Nov 26, 2012 #6


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    Gold Member

    If one cannot be expected to at least TRY to struggle through a few research papers and learn what they CAN (going to the professor to ask for help when they need it), how can one possibly be expected to do any kind of research at all?

    I am not in favor at all of the notion that undergraduate research should be meaningless throwaway sort of busy work. It should be new and interesting research. If perhaps not publishable in a peer reviewed journal, it should at least be presentable in a poster session to fellow undergraduate and graduate students. The road to this end product starts with attempting to read papers. I really don't see a way around this.
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