Is It Possible To Research Every Summer As An Undergraduate?

  • Thread starter Oriako
  • Start date
  • #1
107
1
Hello,
I was wondering if it is a tenable plan to be able to research over the summer in either mathematics or physics every summer throughout my undergraduate at different institutions. I know there are so many different REU programs out there and in Canada I could easily get an NSERC grant for one research summer, and possibly one at my own university for a summer.

Has anyone achieved/accomplished this or is it not possible? I would really like to avoid working at a menial job during the summer, I really enjoy academics and I feel when I'm not learning that I'm wasting my time.

Thank you!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
335
14
Yes, its not only possible, its becoming expected. However, try your best to get outside your own university (REUs, internships, etc)- at both my graduate and undergraduate institution, it became standard to offer undergrads from the university credit instead of pay. Further, going outside your own institution will build your network of contacts.
 
  • #3
fss
1,179
0
However, try your best to get outside your own university (REUs, internships, etc)
I don't see why this would be beneficial. Working multiple summers (or even multiple semesters) at your own university or for one professor allows you to build on an existing body of work beyond what one short, 3-month summer REU allows.

I worked at my university all four summers and for a good portion of my last three years in college. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything in terms of networking; these days almost everyone collaborates with others from outside their home universities.
 
  • #4
Clearly it's a trade off.

Staying at your own university will give you a chance to build up an excellent repertoire with a Professor for a good recommendation letter and allow you to do something more substation as fss said (the consensus on this board seems to be that the nature of the work matters far less to graduate admissions than the fact that you've actually tried some research).

On the other hand, doing each at a different institution gives you an opportunity to meet new academics (though I suppose the internet has taken care of this anyway!) and see new places, and it also might give you the chance to try out different fields which might help you decide what you truly enjoy. And if you excel, there's no reason you couldn't get good recommendations from these Professors.
 
  • #5
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,635
1,777
I'd have to disagree that doing research every summer is "expected." Lots of people still get into graduate programs with only coursework. I would say however, that if you are seriously considering graduate school that spending at least one summer working with a research project is a good idea. Doing "every" summer is definately possible and if you enjoy it, I would say go ahead.

But there are disadvantages. The first is financial. Research tends not to pay so well, while other jobs can allow you to earn enough money to stay out of debt - which is a big deal once you graduate. Another is work experience. If you don't end up going into graduate school, your summer work experience is what you will draw on when looking for that first career position. It will help you develop marketable skills and experience that you can't get from academia. It will also help you learn about yourself, so that when it does come time to seach a career, you'll know what kinds of work you do or do not enjoy. Giving all that up to volunteer to wash test-tubes in the hopes that someome might take pitty on you an add your name to a paper isn't always the best idea.

I would also add that "easily get an NSERC grant" is a statement to be weary of. Obviously, I think it's a good idea to apply, and if you have perfect grades the odds may be in your favour, but getting these scholarships is not trivial.
 
  • #6
fss
1,179
0
But there are disadvantages. The first is financial. Research tends not to pay so well, while other jobs can allow you to earn enough money to stay out of debt - which is a big deal once you graduate.
The problems with finding someone that will hire you for 3 months in the summer- when a vast majority of college students are looking for summer jobs as well- should be obvious. Second, earnings in 3 months (unless you find a really, really great job) are often insignificant compared to the total cost of education these days.

IMO, the research experience that will theoretically help you get into grad school or add to your resume are worth a lot more in the long-term. Research experience can also double as employment experience, so that point is moot as well.
 
  • #7
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,635
1,777
The problems with finding someone that will hire you for 3 months in the summer- when a vast majority of college students are looking for summer jobs as well- should be obvious. Second, earnings in 3 months (unless you find a really, really great job) are often insignificant compared to the total cost of education these days.

IMO, the research experience that will theoretically help you get into grad school or add to your resume are worth a lot more in the long-term. Research experience can also double as employment experience, so that point is moot as well.
I don't think it's fair to begin with the assumption that the money earned over a summer job is insignificant compared to the cost of education. Even a minimum wage job over the summer takes a big chunk out of tuition, if it doesn't cover it completely. Even most research positions - so long as they aren't just volunteer - are significant relative to the cost of education.

If you have an opportunity to work for much more than minumum wage and keep your student debt down, if not eliminate it completely, that's a fact you need to factor into your decision.
 
  • #8
335
14
I'd have to disagree that doing research every summer is "expected." Lots of people still get into graduate programs with only coursework.
I meant expected in the sense that at many universities, research experience is a requirement to graduate with a science degree. Anecdotally, everyone I know in physics did research as an undergraduate.

But there are disadvantages. The first is financial. Research tends not to pay so well
REUs generally pay comparable or better for a summer of work than a minimum wage job.

I don't see why this would be beneficial. Working multiple summers (or even multiple semesters) at your own university or for one professor allows you to build on an existing body of work beyond what one short, 3-month summer REU allows.
You have all 4 years to work with a single professor at your own university. REUs allow you to experience other campuses and departments, and to explore other subfields. Further, its a chance to expand your personal network.

On the financial front, summer REU research pays. At many schools, research done by a student for a professor's lab over the summer is rewarded with school credits (often unneeded), rather than pay.
 
  • #9
fss
1,179
0
I don't think it's fair to begin with the assumption that the money earned over a summer job is insignificant compared to the cost of education.
I said "in many cases", which is often true. With the cost of a standard private school running $40k+ per year, $5k earned in one summer is not significant. With the residential rate of a public, state institution (say, $10k/year) the ratio is a little more in your favor... but not by much.

The point is that summer research should not be a financial decision. The long-term gains of doing summer research in an applicable field are much greater than taking a dead-end summer job.


You have all 4 years to work with a single professor at your own university. REUs allow you to experience other campuses and departments, and to explore other subfields. Further, its a chance to expand your personal network.
I addressed both those issues previously. I don't think either argument applies. Read my earlier posts.

On the financial front, summer REU research pays. At many schools, research done by a student for a professor's lab over the summer is rewarded with school credits (often unneeded), rather than pay.
Perhaps. REUs are also harder to get. School credit can translate into earlier graduation and perhaps a decreased total cost of education. It'll depend on the situation, obviously, so I don't think anyone can use this argument for or against.
 
  • #10
107
1
I'm not really worried about finances as my parents can pay for $30,000 of it. I have scholarships to cover nearly $15,000 (my marks are really good), and I'll only have to pay for the rest which amounts to $25,000 over 4 years. No loan, atm.

I'm almost certain I will be able to score an NSERC grant as I am top of my class, [insert egoistic comment here], and I was wondering if it possible for the other three summers to also receive research positions. Turns out that I can! I really love academic work and I just can't see myself doing anything else to be honest. It brings me great joy and happiness to learn new things, especially in physics and mathematics, and working towards a career in that field would just have me bursting with joie de vivre.

Hopefully everything works out! I appreciate the responses.

One last thing,
Is Grad school free? In the sense that, my teaching assistant and research assistant stipend will outweigh the cost of my educational costs and living expenses. I saw this to be the case at a few universities in Canada (University of Alberta, UBC, Waterloo, etc.) but is this generally a universal thing or is this type of funding few and far between?
 
  • #11
50
1
You make more as a grad student than you pay in tuition, usually ~20,000 a year more. But if you're marks continue to stay high and you get a CGS or Vanier you could make 40-50K a year as a grad student.
 

Related Threads on Is It Possible To Research Every Summer As An Undergraduate?

Replies
1
Views
1K
Replies
0
Views
2K
Replies
0
Views
1K
Replies
2
Views
3K
Replies
1
Views
2K
Replies
3
Views
3K
Replies
33
Views
5K
Replies
8
Views
7K
Replies
8
Views
6K
Top