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Physics research experience high school

  1. Jun 23, 2012 #1
    How can a high school student, such as myself gain research experience? I'm not talking about anything overly impressive. Im just talking about possibly doing something along the lines of a research mentor-ship with a physicist from a local university or something. Am i already asking too much? How do other people that get admitted into top universities such as Cal-tech obtain research experience? I know about the summer research programs, but those seem extremely competitive. Would it be weird to email a professor at a local university see what is available? or would they just completely ignore me?
    Some background information: im a sophomore, and have already completed all the calculus courses available to me, have already done the physics, and I am looking to get more out of my spare time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2012 #2
    The college friends that I have talked to have all said to go for any potential research opportunities; what do you really have to lose by asking? :)
  4. Jun 23, 2012 #3
    They will by no means ignore an email from you. From my experiences, they almost always respond within the next day or two when sending emails. Now this all depends on if they aren't doing something over the summer such as research, vacation, or something else that would prevent them from checking their school email. Having research experience before you even get out of high school would be very impressive for a college application and it could only benefit you to pursue this (as long as you have the motivation to not slack off during the time spent at the university).

    So, by all means email some professors to see if they have any work they could have you watch or something like that. Being in high school, it might be hard to convince them to let you on but if you can, it will be quite beneficial.
  5. Jun 23, 2012 #4
    thanks for the input. How do you think I should go about asking the professor? It seems like quite a daunting thing to do, but I am highly motivated.
  6. Jun 25, 2012 #5

    From my experience, they will. My junior year in high school, I emailed NUMEROUS professors, and I'd be lucky to get a response. However, don't let that discourage you!

    In terms of asking, just be up front about it in the subject line of your email. In the body tell them about what you know (math AND physics wise) and why you want to help them research.

    You should read some of the papers coming out of the group you're interested in helping, as it will show you exactly what results they're looking for, and how they're approaching the problem.

    It's 3:30 AM, so sorry if I just rambled on and on, but i'll check this in the morning to see if i made any major mistakes haha. Good luck!
  7. Jun 25, 2012 #6


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    Professors are very likely to ignore your email. We get a lot of random emails from people about things like this (mainly crackpots). Taking on a research assistant is a huge time commitment for a professor - you need to be introduced to the work, training on equipment or computers, and supervised. Professors do not gain anything by taking on high school students as research assistants. You're not going to be useful to them. Undergrads aren't useful, and they have a much stronger science and math background. Grad students are sometimes useful. So you're not going to produce anything. It takes far longer to teach you how to do something than it does just to do it ourselves. Universities only care about research you did with students at that school; helping high school students is unlikely to help a professor get tenure.

    So what should you do? You've got a few options. There are a few programs out there that are specially made to give high school student opportunities to do research. MIT, NIH, and NASA have summer research programs for high school students. You can start looking into those now to apply next summer. You can try emailing a bunch of professors, but don't expect replies. Or you can try to make a connection with a professor. Most of the people I know who did research in high school had a parent working at that university or lab. Or their high school teacher knew someone. Or they took a college class or two and got to know a few professors who could vouch for them or take them on themselves. That's what I would recommend.
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