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Physics study abroad or research?

  1. May 19, 2013 #1
    I am a sophomore physics major from a small liberal arts college in the US, with excellent placement services into study abroad programs. It's always been my dream to study abroad for a semester, and I have looked into physics study abroad programs that would fit into my schedule since freshman year. Recently I have found a couple of options that will fit, but now I have another dilemna:

    This year, I was nominated to apply for a scholarship to support a special independent project of my choosing. To determine a project, I asked to work with a professor at my home institution on his current research, which is experimental work on HT Superconductors and is roughly where my interests may lie for grad school. Because of his own schedule, he gave me the option to do it for spring of junior year, fall of senior year, or both semesters. I applied for the scholarship using the 1-year timeline and won, so I will definitely have to output results of the research work.

    Were I to study abroad, I would have to forfeit a semester of research. With regards to the scholarship project I proposed, I have been told by my advisers that research plans can change, and that as long as I produce a quality end result, the award should still be secure.

    After graduating I plan to aim for a mix of mid to high ranking grad schools for physics or engineering around the New England states. Based on the above information, I was wondering which out of these options seems to be the best one:

    1) Study abroad fall of senior year and take 3 math/physics classes, forfeit 2nd semester of research and take the GRE through a computer-based testing center. (most ideal)
    2) Forfeit study abroad and do full year of research with professor.
    3) Study abroad spring of junior year and forfeit 1st semester of research (least ideal, as I would rather start and hopefully complete the research sooner rather than later)

    Thanks for reading such a long post, and if you could offer any advice that would be great. Feel free to ask any relevant questions, too.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 19, 2013 #2


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    I'm thinking that even if your research interests change, the experience of doing a year of research should be worthwhile. And surely that would be looked upon as dedication. I think let the research speak for itself.
  4. May 19, 2013 #3
    Study abroad are really good life experience. The best option as far as grad school goes is probably the full year of research (though study abroads do look nice on the 'extras' section of school applications), but I can't in good conscience recommend against a semester at another institution if you have the chance. I did one and and it was the highlight of my undergraduate career (and that's a common sentiment I've encountered among people who did likewise). I suppose you have to make a choice about whether all you care about is a strong grad school app, or if you're willing to sacrifice a bit for the sake a great personal experience.

    If you go for one of the two study abroad options, I agree with your choice of 1 over 3. Ideally, it's better do this sort of thing earlier in your academic career (like second year), however the ship's sailed on that now. It would be beneficial to have your research finished by the fall of your senior year so that it can be included on applications.

    Would it be possible for you to continue work on the research project over the summer term?
  5. May 20, 2013 #4
    Thank you for the advice so far! It would be possible to continue the research over the summer; however, as I come from a small school I would rather apply to another REU for the summer (I will be going to one this summer, in experimental solar cell research.)

    I am certainly hoping to make a strong application for myself for grad school; as for study abroad I have told myself that if I cannot make it fit in undergrad I might continue to look into similar post-graduate opportunities later on in life (for example, fulbrights and DAAD opportunities). I will have until early March of junior year to apply for going abroad, so hopefully by 1.5 months into the research project I will have a stronger sense of how I wish to proceed.
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