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Questions regarding R.E.U. opportunities

  1. Aug 14, 2013 #1
    Since I will be finishing my AA by this coming summer, I was hoping to try to do an R.E.U. during next summer. I just had a few questions regarding REUs if any of you don't mind helping me out here. My school is a small state school, so my advisors were of little help when I asked them.

    1. Where is a good site to find REU opportunities? I found this one http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.cfm?unitid=69, but not sure if there are better ones out there?

    2. Is it ideal to try to get into an REU at a college you will apply to for grad school or does that not help your chances of getting into that college later on?

    3. At this point, I am leaning towards focusing on theoretical high-energy astrophysics as my sub-field. Would it be a good idea to try to get an REU in that sub-field, or is it about just getting some hands-on experience more than anything else?

    4. Would a theoretical and experimental REU be very different? Would it be important to try to get a theoretical REU since that is what I prefer?

    5. Do you need to apply in mass for REUs, or are your chances of getting into most of them pretty decent?

    6. When are the typical deadlines to apply?

    7. Is there anything in particular I can try to do during the fall and spring semester that might help my odds of getting into an REU?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2013 #2
    1. Not really. That list is out of date, to make things worse. I'd go through it, then just use Google to find any other programs.

    2. It could definitely help, but definitely don't limit yourself to only schools like that.

    3. I wouldn't limit yourself to a sub-field when applying to REUs, or at this point in general. Projects in theory are much more uncommon than experiment for REU programs.

    4. Theoretical research is different from experimental, and those differences would be reflected in the program. I wouldn't worry about it at this point.

    5. REU programs have incredibly low acceptance rates, even lower than graduate schools. It's good to apply to at least 8. Many people don't get into any at all. For example, UC Davis (not even a top school) gets about 500 applications for roughly 10 spots. Most decent schools get at least 200 applications for just a handful of spots. See these past threads for more info about REUs, they include more statistics for specific programs:



    6. Late January to early March.

    7. One of the most important parts of the application is your recommendation letters. These need to be superb, so anything you can do to make those better will be beneficial. Also, get the best grades you can possibly can.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2013
  4. Aug 14, 2013 #3
    Thanks a lot for the information Stengah.

    As far as letters of recommendation, would it matter whether I got them from someone related to physics (chemistry, math, etc.), or will any faculty suffice? I ask this because I have a few faculty that know me quite well from having been president of our honors society last year, but none are involved in physics.
  5. Aug 14, 2013 #4
    Programs would prefer letters from math/science faculty. You want your letter writers to say that you are ready to be involved in research, so if they aren't qualified to say that, they won't do you much good. It would be a major red flag if you didn't have any from math/science faculty, so at the very least get one (most programs require 2 total).
  6. Aug 14, 2013 #5
    Well, the last time I asked one of my math professors for a letter of recommendation, you'd have thought I asked him to rob a liquor store with me. The other one that I've had so far comes off as the type of person who wouldn't want to be bothered to do so either.

    My chemistry teacher might, so I will have to check with him. I haven't taken Physics yet (was saving the best for last, so Physics I fall and Physics II in spring), so I'm not sure if I can get in good enough with him by the deadline to try and get one from him. Also, I have tried to talk to him about matters in the past and he has a poor track record for responding. Anyway, hopefully I will be able to get one from my chemistry teacher, especially considering I earned an award in his class.
  7. Aug 14, 2013 #6


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    Why do you think you'd like to do an REU before having formally taken a single physics class?

    Why do you think you'd be qualified after having only taken introductory physics?
  8. Aug 14, 2013 #7
    Because I have been studying physics off and on as a hobby since I was about 10 and am now 35 years old. I am not toying with majors. I started college with the sole purpose of earning a physics degree. I already know most of what will be covered in both Physics I and II through opencourseware and personal studies.

    Because much of the information that I have read on academic guidance encourages you to try to participate in REUs from the summer of your 2nd year on. Since next summer will be my 2nd year, I am pretty much just trying to do what has been suggested from numerous sources. Also, when I took a look at the requirements for two REUs, both required a minimum of 1 full year of physics courses. Since I will have completed Physics I & II, Chemistry I & II, Calc III, and ODE, I figured I should fulfill the minimum requirements of at least some of them.
  9. Aug 14, 2013 #8


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    These are both good answers.

    I suggest you keep an open mind regarding topics. I was once only interested in high energy physics, but now I do condensed matter and can't imagine doing research in a different area. If I had not at least tried a couple groups in condensed matter (and other fields, for that matter) through undergrad research and the first year of grad school, I would never have realized I liked it so much. If you try something you think you would not like and you don't enjoy it, at least you have no doubt later.

    Good luck.
  10. Aug 14, 2013 #9
    Thanks a lot for the advice. I will definitely have to keep an open mind about other sub-fields. Who knows, I might even like experimental more than theoretical once I get some hands-on experience with it down the road.
  11. Aug 14, 2013 #10
    The problem is that the competition for these is so fierce that the minimum requirements are not even close to what will actually make you a competitive applicant. I've done 2 physics REUs, and everyone in both had at least done some upper division classes. When people say "after your second year" that assumes you started in physics your first year, and have taken the whole intro physics sequence, modern physics, plus maybe a couple other advanced classes such as math methods or upper division classical mechanics or E&M. I don't think Physics I and II will cut it. It would be hard to even find a project with prerequisites so low.

    Another problem you will face is age discrimination. Openly.
  12. Aug 14, 2013 #11
    I agree that you'll have to have significantly above the minimum requirements for most of these, or something that will make you different/unique/useful.

    I don't agree that age discrimination will be that big of a problem though. When I applied I don't think I put my birthdate or age anywhere on the application. Also, as most of NSF funded, they can't openly discriminate based on race, age, etc etc etc. Theres also some emphasis on getting students who don't have the traditional background to do research, and maybe being a little older will help with that. Who knows. Either way, I doubt you'll have open age discrimination.
  13. Aug 14, 2013 #12
    Well thanks for letting me know. I couldn't have taken any additional physics courses at this point because the college I'm at doesn't even offer them. I'm also not sure how I could have fit them in while earning the AA since there were so many courses that I was required to take that had nothing to do with my major? As it is, ODE is going to push me 3 credit hours over the 30hr limit.

    As far as the age, I have to agree with zapz that I don't see it as an issue. In fact, most of my professors take me far more seriously because of my age, and I'd imagine it would be the same case with many of those seeking students for REUs. The only point where my age has hurt me so far is in regards to scholarships, as many have age limits that I don't fulfill.
  14. Aug 15, 2013 #13
    If we look at pictures of past REU participants from pictures online, we can see that the ratio of white males to women and minorities is quite a bit different than what you are used to seeing in the classroom, and is not even close to consistent with data for science degrees awarded by race (NSF published this data recently).

    Here are some examples:




    In addition, the director of one program (not one of the above) told me that the NSF was threatening to cut their funding because they weren't accepting enough minorities into the program.

    I was assuming that if they can get away with it for race, they can for age as well. But like you, I don't remember putting my age in many applications. However, you can't rule out the possibility that your age will affect your recommendation letters, since the writers will have a rough idea of your age. Though that doesn't have anything to do with the NSF.
  15. Aug 15, 2013 #14
    Thanks again for the information Stengah.

    As far as race, I will most certainly be putting "other" on the applications. I have some Cherokee Indian, Polish, Italian, and a few other ethnicities in my blood. So, although I may certainly look "white," I have a solid case to dispute being discriminated against due to my skin color. An advisor suggested I always select "other" for ethnicity because the criteria for "caucasian" is ambiguous.
  16. Aug 15, 2013 #15


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    Are there any research opportunities at the school you're going to be going to? After you've worked with a professor there for a while, he'll be able to write a more convincing letter of recommendation for an "outside" REU.
  17. Aug 15, 2013 #16
    Yes, there is. I will definitely be applying to them. However, like others have stated, I'm going to apply in mass due to the low chances of getting accepted.

    Their program seems like it could either be really good or really bad. On the good side, it mentions workshops, field trips to laboratories on and off campus, etc. On the bad side, it seems like it might not immerse you into the field, but moreso just give you a glimpse into various aspects of it. Check it out yourself if you'd like: http://www.phys.ufl.edu/reu/index.shtml
  18. Aug 15, 2013 #17


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    I wasn't thinking about UFL's official REU, for which they invite applicants from other schools. I was thinking of whatever research opportunities are available to their own students during the academic year and summer. You need to find out what kind of research is being done there, talk to the professors who are doing it, and find out if they can use some help. Or maybe they have some organized mechanism for matching physics majors with faculty research projects.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  19. Aug 15, 2013 #18
    Ah, I see. Thanks, I will look into that. I have been trying to find out as much as I can about what the colleges are doing (I'm still looking at 2 potential schools, UF and FSU). There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of information on their websites, so I will do what I can to get in touch with the particular projects I'm interested in and see what they might have.
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