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My role in this research I'm doing (semi-rant?)

  1. Jun 27, 2013 #1
    I have a professor who doesn't tend to do undergraduate research with people, but has graciously taken on me and one other student to do some work in group theory/geometry. Me because of my enthusiasm, and her because...

    Well she's light years ahead of me, though she doesn't speak very good English. I speak (arguably) great english, (perhaps too much), but don't have near her mathematical maturity. (Despite being almost twice her age!)

    So my role seems to be this: I go to our sessions with the professor once a week. The two of them have a conversation (he seems to understand her English better) and I try to follow along and I kind of stumble and mumble a lot because I'm not that quick to understand. (I've self studied abstract algebra, but haven't even taken a course yet - now I'm doing research in it!)

    She comes up with a lot of proofs without a lot of explanation (she's very good with proofs). I try to make them readable and I'm typing everything up in LaTex (which is a great skill to learn, one hopes...)

    It will not be a groundbreaking research of course. Perhaps Pi Mu Epsilon journal, (unless we are able to further generalize it, then maybe something for the MAA). So my name will be on some research. But I'm feeling a wee bit auxiliary.

    But am I doing research? Is this a legitimate contribution?

    -Dave K
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2013 #2


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    I think it's brilliant. You are in a great position to learn, given that you are working with people who are at a higher level. Surely this is better than the other way around. If proving things is a skill, you are being treated to high-level training. I think you are contributing; someone has to do the legwork. I'm thinking of that researcher that discovered pulsars, she was just doing the legwork. And your contribution may come later thanks to what you learn now.

    If nothing else, you are enabling others to benefit from this research by having a nicely typed-up report to read.
  4. Jun 27, 2013 #3


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    Typing up someone else's work without any say as to the direction of the project is generally not considered a sufficient contribution to warrant authorship on a paper, if that's what you really mean to ask. But you are helping out. Sometimes that what an undergraduate research exeperience ends up as - you doing a bunch of work that you're struggling to understand as you turn the crank on someone else's ideas. The point really, is to use the opportunity to learn as much as you can.
  5. Jun 27, 2013 #4
    Well, the topic was actually my idea. (I failed to mention this). And I do drive the direction of the discussion - though I feel like I'm kind of the manager that says "Hey, let's do this...anybody know how to do this? Because I don't." And then they take it from there and I typeset it.

    edited to add: I also type up quite a bit of the verbiage. It's the hardcore calculation/proving stuff that I seem ill prepared for. My colleague is great with this - but mostly in symbols and very terse mathematical language that can be difficult to read. So I think it may be a good partnership in that I can break it down to something more readable.

    In fact originally I was going to work with this professor myself to do the research, but when the other student expressed interest (we had worked together previously) I, of course wanted her to be involved. I had some trepidation of course, because I thought this might happen. But I am not egotistical or territorial, so I thought I'd go for the ride.

    Yeah. I mean if all I get out of it is to understand the content of the original paper we read (written at a graduate level in abstract algebra) then I've learned quite a bit.

    But still...
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2013
  6. Jun 28, 2013 #5
    I don't think you necessarily need to make an important contribution as an undergrad for your research project to be a success. Even if you're not the one coming up with ideas it's still not a bad thing because the "real" researchers benefit by having someone to do the grunt work for them, and you benefit because you're learning, gaining experience, and developing contacts, all of which will hopefully help you to make a "real" contribution in the future.
  7. Jun 28, 2013 #6


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    Would the proofs be at all accessible to another reader if you didn't fill in the gaps in explanations of the logic and explaining this or that step? A paper that no one understands is not much better (in terms of communicating research) than no paper at all. If your role is making that research, which you helped guide in some way, accessible and understandable, then I think that's a valid contribution. (Most professors are too busy to do actual research themselves, they just guide their students).

    It may be more satisfying to do the work yourself, and hopefully you can get a chance to do that too, and the learning you're doing now should help with that.
  8. Jun 28, 2013 #7
    You certainly seem to deserve to be on the papaer and this appears to be a good thing for you to do. Lots of oppurtunity to learn.
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