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Job Skills Research Interviews

  1. Nov 14, 2011 #1
    I have the opportunity to apply for undergraduate research positions at my university. In order to do this, I have to "interview" 3 or more of the Physics faculty about their research in order to learn more about what they're doing.

    I'm wondering what sort of questions I need to ask?

    For example, I know that one of the projects I'm interested in involves using laser-cooling techniques to trap and study ultra-cold plasmas. I've done a little bit of background reading on the subject, as well as the paper published on the trapping technique used... most of it was over my head :/

    Background: Undergrad research at my Uni comes in 4 levels. The level 1 research positions I'm interested in don't require or expect you to contribute to the fundemental research going on, only that you actively learn about what's happening. I'm required to write a paper at the end of the semester (usually if you stick with a project, you go on to the level 2 position the next semester), and present a short summary(read "poster") at the annual science symposium for the STEM departments.

    Thanks in advance!

    P.S. 1st post.. be gentle if I inadvertantly broke any of the rules :P
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2011 #2
    I wouldn't worry too much about such an interview. You should prepare for it by reading up what the group does and reading up the basis of their method - which you already did. If there are remaining problems like "why do they do X; I thought one usually does Y" or uncertainties like "I don't understand how they do X; I have an idea but I don't know if it is correct" then that is exactly the things you can talk about in the interview. An obvious point is to ask about current and future research.
    Most scientists enjoy to explain their work to people expressing an interest and have at least a basic understanding. Don't worry if a research paper is over your head. You are not expected to understand it. It would actually be pretty sad if by merely reading the paper an undergrad could fully understand work that the group of experts in the field spent 1+ man-years on. If you get the basic message to the point that you can start ask questions about it then you are well prepared (*).

    On a more administrative levels, typical questions would involve asking what you are expected to do work-wise, how the supervision is handled, how much time you should expect to have to invest, and how the group is organized. Asking about payment is probably not indicated, because undergrad research is most likely either unpaid or paid according to some salary scheme dictated by faculty, university, state, or country. (take these as random advices and judge them at your own discretion; undergrad research does not exist in my country, university, institute, or at least not in the group I am in).

    (*): Or let me illuminate the other side of the issue: Assuming the unlikely case that the professor expects the undergrad to understand their latest publication to a great detail and does not like to explain it to you. Is that the kind of group you want to work in?
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