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Independent Study as Preparation for Grad School

  1. May 29, 2015 #1
    PF Family,

    I love my undergraduate institution. However, our physics department is very small and has a very small faculty. Also, although many are listed on the webpage, we only have one physics elective, "Intro to Astronomy", which I am not very interested in. I've been thinking about enlisting in an independent studies course. I could talk to a teacher in the fall about mentoring me in the spring. Maybe, I could use independent studies to academically introduce myself to condensed matter physics. I'll also ask about research opportunities in the department, which I doubt will happen. What do you guys think?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2015 #2
    I think it's a very good idea. Doing an independent study is a great way to get introduced to research and is a nice way to get good recommendation letters. Tell the person who is mentoring you that you might be interested in research in him. Then the professor can use this independent research as a preperation to research.
  4. May 29, 2015 #3
    This. In my experience, an independent study in a class which is related to the professor's research will often result in the prof talking a lot about his research. My guess is you'll get a pretty good hint about what he does, if you don't know already. Ask lots of questions, make sure he knows that you are interested, and be a good student (duh!). Then when the class is over (or maybe before), mention that you were interested in the topic and you'd like to do research.

    If the class is unrelated to his area of research, you will still develop a strong relationship with him due to the nature of an independent study.
  5. May 30, 2015 #4
    Thanks. That's a good idea.
  6. May 30, 2015 #5
    Thanks. I've already done research on the professor's research interest and already know who I will ask. I think this is a great way to develop a strong relationship with a teacher, as well. It will also allow me formally study an area of physics not taught at our school.
  7. May 31, 2015 #6
    I think it's a great idea. Not only will you get to learn something not taught in regular classes at your school, but (as already mentioned) it will help you get a good letter of recommendation from somebody that really knows you.

    It could also have unexpected benefits. As an undergrad I also wanted to learn something not covered in the standard classes, so I did independent study. Later my professor asked me which grad schools I applied to (being a bit of an introvert it never crossed my mind to ask for advice in the first place), then he told me I should really consider another school that wasn't even on my radar. As it turned out, that's the school I went to and I am pretty happy I did. I'd say on the whole studying with him was a great experience and he probably had a bigger influence on me academically than my PhD advisor did. It's good to know experienced people, they might have good advice like he did, act as a contact or something else.
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