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Questions for past physics undergrad researchers

  1. Jul 18, 2013 #1
    Hello PF,

    I'm trying to get my prospects for REU and other research opportunities figured out, and when I might apply for them. Through my university's honors program, I am already guaranteed at least one research opportunity. That is, however, further down the line in my studies.

    My questions are, at what point in your academic career did you start applying and doing research? What classes had you taken at the time, and which of those came in handy the most?; I know it will differ in each area, so please state that as well.

    Thank you,

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2013 #2
    I did research the summer after my freshman year, and then throughout sophomore year and the summer after sophomore year. I'm a rising junior. Most people I know haven't done as much research though.

    Honestly, the most useful class was programming...
  4. Jul 18, 2013 #3


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    I got a job on a project about quantum dots between my third and fourth year of undergrad and it worked out quite well for me. I'm not sure you need to pounce on any opportunity you can, as early as you can. In some cases that will help, I suppose, but you have to be aware of other things that you're potentially sacrificing - such as a higher paying job, or job where you might develop some marketable skills for when you eventually enter the workforce.

    Generally speaking, when professors hire undergraduates they aren't looking for someone to lead a research project. While it's great if they can, and perhaps in some rare cases they do, most of the time, they are really just looking for someone to help with the more mundane work and are willing to offer a little extra time to teach you about what they're doing in addition to pay.
  5. Jul 18, 2013 #4
    I started research my sophomore year at my home school, and did an REU after my sophomore year. Probably the most useful classes I had taken at that point were Calc 3 and ODE, and some physics helped. I didn't take a class in programming, but I had worked on it on my own which was very helpful. The research areas have been computational biology and fluid flows.
  6. Jul 19, 2013 #5
    Most of the students at the college I worked at did research 2 or 3 summers during undergrad. The first summer was usually at the college, and then they used that experience as a springboard to get a more competitive REU somewhere else after sophomore and junior years.

    Many of the students found they enjoyed the research more at the college since it catered more to the undergrad experience than working at an R1 university or at a national lab.
  7. Jul 20, 2013 #6
    I'm taking programming this coming up semester, what did you learn in yours?
  8. Jul 20, 2013 #7
    At this point, I'm not pouncing at anything. I've got some potential programs I'd like to be a part of, but right now I'm just focusing on getting all the information I can - then I can tell where and what to work on. I'm well aware of the place of an undergrad in research.
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