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More amateur questions about getting letters of Reccomandation

  1. Aug 6, 2010 #1
    Say I am applying for Physics, but I am also a Math and Physics major, is it pointless and dumb to ask Math profs for letters if you are applying for Physics?

    Also, can someone give me a really clear direction of what a Canadian college student should do for research, like how he or she going to get opportunities and at what year. For Double majors, do Physics grad school even care about your research in your other major? Say your other major was math or chemistry or biology, or do they throw away all your research except your physics?

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2010 #2
    No, it is not pointless to ask your math profs from letters if you are going into physics.
  4. Aug 6, 2010 #3
    If you want to apply for a master degree, it is indeed a good choice and no, it is not dumb to ask your Math profs for letters, in the sense that if he can, say, write about your skills in advanced analysis, fourier transform, PDE(which are math topics but used heavily in mathematical physics), but if I were you I would get one of my letters from a physics prof.
  5. Aug 6, 2010 #4
    Will they even write it for you?
  6. Aug 7, 2010 #5
    That depends on who you're asking. There is no rulebook for advisers. Some will be incredibly helpful, others not so much. Letters of reference are more about having an academic give perspective on things like your work ethic, ability to learn and generally how you handle managing your own work. It doesn't really matter what the subject of study was - at least certainly not for me. Chances are, even if your undergraduate research was in physics, it's very likely that it's still completely unrelated to what you might study at grad school.
  7. Aug 7, 2010 #6
    There isn't a clear direction - there are no set standards in academia, for anything really. The best thing to do about questions like this is to speak to your adviser of studies. Have a chat with them and check that you're being reasonable with your expectations - they will know the department (and of course work there themselves).

    It's also reasonable to just go and have a chat after a lecture with any professors you would be interested in working with. Tell them you're keen to get some extra experience in physics, and ask if they have time for any undergraduate positions. Again, some lecturers love this kind of interaction with students - some hate it. It's really up to the individual person, and the only way to find out is to ask. No-one is going to hold it against you if they have to turn around and say "I only work with [X] year students" - and at least then you will know.
  8. Aug 7, 2010 #7


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    Not at all - especially if you've done more work with a particular professor. Under certain circumstances you could even use a letter from a professor in something like history (say for example a historian had a project on the Manhattan Project and needed a physics student to help with technical aspects of the research). Ideally you should aim to get references from people in the field you want to go into. I have no evidence to back it up, but I think name recognition can help somewhat.

    Always keep your eyes open for opportunities. During your first year I would recommend getting involved in your undergraduate physics society. This helps you to mingle with senior students and in some cases will be a first point of contact for professors who need research assistants.

    For the first two years, I would concentrate on your classes - master the basics and establish a solid GPA. Research positions offered at this level tend to be monotonous type things where you won't learn much anyway. That being said, don't ignore opportunities either. If something comes around that sounds interesting, check it out.

    By your third year you can start looking for research opportunies. That summer between your 3rd and 4th year would be great to spend on a research project. Check out your student employment office and the office of busaries and scholarships. These are places that will have a handle on funding sources. The way it worked for me in my 3rd year, I applied for an award from my school's Faculty of Science. In order to apply for the reward, I had to propose a project, so I approached a few professors and asked if they would help me with it and soon I had a project on quantum dots!

    Just about everything within reason will count.

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