Resources for Math Undergrads: REUs, Internships, etc

  • #1
I am a sophomore physics and math major and am interested in doing research this summer, preferably in some sort of theoretical physics or math, but realistically in any sort of physics, as there seem to be few opportunities to do theoretical physics in an REU, and as I have regretably not taken modern algebra or analysis yet.

I've seen the list of REU programs in physics on the NSF website, but I have no sense of the quality of the programs or to which it would be best to apply. At this point one consideration is that many programs have deadlines that have already passed, but that still leaves a large number of options.

I would like to apply to a program with a good reputation, particularly generally good advisers, and with a larger portion of non-local participants.

I realize this is a little late to be thinking about applying for REU programs this summer, but I had hoped to get research with a faculty member at my college that did not pan out.

Thanks for your help.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I went to undergraduate school at a regional state university from 1994-1998. I do not remember ever seeing information on REUs until a couple of posters showed up in the summer of 1998.

None of my professors suggested (to me or any other majors) that we look for or pursue summer research, and we didn't know such things existed or were actually available to us at the time.

Now, of course, there are dozens of posters and printouts for REUs, and plenty of information about them on the internet.

For the sake of this discussion, REUs will only refer to summer or other term research opportunities that are available to students from various schools, not just students from a particular school or area.

When did they start?
When did the inflate (I perceived the inflation to be about 1998-1999)?
When did they become "expected" rather than "a good opportunity"?
 
  • #3
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Is anybody here applying to summer math REUs for 2011?

I've been super busy and am just now getting around to the applications. I went through this process last year, though, so I don't think it should take me long to ship out the applications. I just need to go request some letters of recommendation tomorrow, since it's late January and one application I know of is due early to middle-ish February.

My biggest issue is which REUs to apply for. I know I'll apply for Williams College, Cornell, and Duluth, though I have little chance at any of those. I wanted to apply to the Wisconsin one (now at Emory), but the deadline is Feb. 1st, and I don't know if I feel comfortable asking my letter writers (whom I haven't spoken to yet--tomorrow!) to write the letters that fast. What do you guys think?

Which ones are you guys applying for? I really need some less selective ones to apply to.

Also, I did the Penn State REU last summer and had an awesome time. If anybody has any questions about it I'd be glad to answer them.
 
  • #4
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Im looking for a recommendation on my summer write-up. I am beginning the rough draft phase and am not sure what would work best or if there is a typical way of doing this. I know it is mostly a matter of preference and its really not a critical decision at this point. In terms of content I have a pretty good idea of what I want to talk about. I just need help with the formatting. I plan to use LaTeX and incorporate some postscript images and mathematica plots and what not.

I am not sure if I should have a double-column set up like many professional publications or just stick with single?

How much indention around text?

When including Mathematica material, would it be a better idea to include everything (declarations, computations, commands) so it is clear how I accomplished things? Or include only the images and write out a discussion of the equations, etc used?
 
  • #5
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A couple years ago when I started thinking about doing an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) or internship in math, I began a database of all the information I thought might be useful as I encountered it. While participating in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln REU this summer and talking with the other students, it occurred to me that the information I collected during my pre-application phase -- due dates, support information, application checklists for many Math REUs and internships -- might be useful to others. So I put it up on Google Docs.

Here's the link: http://tinyurl.com/UMathResources" [Broken]

One of the most frustrating things I kept encountering when I was looking for REUs and internships was the frequent broken links, which are rather inevitable since many times the specific url for a page changes slightly from year to year. If you notice a broken link in one of these spreadsheets, just click the linky to edit and you can update the info and do everybody a favor.

I'm thinking of working on something similar for grad math programs, but that seems kind of daunting. Anyone interested in maybe helping, though?

Edited to add: Mods--I'm new to PhysicsForums and I tried to select the most appropriate forum for this post. I'm open to correction, though, if it more properly belongs somewhere else.
 
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  • #6
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Greetings,

I am currently looking at applying to some summer REU's. My problem in doing so comes down to letters of recommendation. I don't feel like I really know any of my teachers too well, although I have received A grades in most of their classes. The few teachers I feel like I know pretty well are from the community college I transferred from and taught calc 2 and physics 2.

Would it look best to have rec letters from professors at my current university that teach higher levels courses over professors I know better at my former community college? Would the fact that I know my cc professors better outweigh this?

I also just started a research position two weeks ago. I would like to ask the professor I am doing research under for a rec letter but he has only known me about two weeks now... So I imagine it would be hard for him to judge me. The problem is I need these letters by december, so maybe I should wait a little while then ask? If that were the case he would have very little time to complete it..

Also any advice on getting to know professors more (besides talking to them outside of class) would be very much appreciated!

Edit - Also some REU's don't explicitly state my rec letter must be from a professor. I tutored for my universities academic resource center for over a year. Would a rec letter from my former boss look good since I've known her for so long?

Thanks!
 
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  • #7
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Started writing this yesterday. Hoping for some constructive critique.

As far as what I have to say about it...It is not finished, and I have not yet gotten to talking about the program I am interested in yet, just background stuff about me so far (really looking to find out if i'm going too far into this, or if it's not quite what is expected, etc.. This is my first time applying to REUs)

At the rate it is going, it WILL be too long, but I will cut it down when the time comes. Right now I'm just getting something on paper.

I have personal critiques, but will refrain from stating them so that I don't influence other people's responses. I will however say that I think it sort-of reads like a story...which I think is probably a bad thing.

The description:

A personal statement that describes in approximately two pages (1) your background in mathematics, statistics, and programming; (2) your interest in applications of mathematics and/or statistics; (3) your previous research experiences (if any); and (4) your experience with or interest in team work (this can be in an academic or in an extracurricular setting, e.g., a campus club).


My statement:

As a Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering double major it should come as no surprise that mathematics, and more specifically mathematics applied in a practical way to the world around us, lies at the core of my interests. However, what may be surprising (to someone outside of the field of Mathematics) is that the more I learn about Mechanical Engineering, the more I realize that engineering, in the conventional sense, is actually not very mathematical at all. Most engineers (normal engineers) take comfort in the fact that math works and that they do not need to know how or why it does; however, for me, only doubts regarding the engineering profession, and a new-found reverence and desire for true mathematics, have stemmed from this realization. [gets a little grammatically at the end here, will probably change]

My introduction to mathematics at the college level began with the usual single variable calculus sequences that all engineering students take during their freshman year. At the time I was convinced, absolutely, that I wanted to be an engineer. Had someone told me, at the time, that in less than a year I would be a declared math major considering graduate studies in Mathematics, and that I would be unnaturally anxious to take classes with such names as Abstract Algebra and Topology, I would have looked at them like they were insane (No way, not possible. That’s crazy…Right?).

Though not quite ready to sign up for a math major as a freshman, I understood quite clearly that the more mathematical areas of mechanical engineering (fluid dynamics, heat transfer, finite element analysis, etc), were the things which I found intriguing. Consequently, I decided to take two courses in computer science as a freshman (a first-course in programming for CS majors, based in Python, and a subsequent course in data structures and algorithms, based in Java) due to the dominance of computing in these subfields of mechanical engineering. In the year to follow, with the understanding of the basic structure of programming languages I gained in these courses, I was able to quite easily (and independently) pick up the fundamentals of Mathematica, Matlab, C, and LaTeX; tools which, even as a sophomore student, have proven very useful (though I have yet to see their true power put to use).

More recently, my inclination towards the more mathematical side of engineering has been taken to a new extreme. At first this showed itself in the form of a newly declared major. Next it was a slight deviation from the typical engineering curriculum to a more math oriented fall semester (Introductory Differential Equations, Set Theory and Logic, and Applied Linear Algebra). Now it is enrolling in a nearly exclusively Mathematics-oriented semester for the coming spring (Partial Differential Equations, Applied Statistics for Scientists and Engineers, Linear Algebra, and Number Theory), and the prospect of dropping my Mechanical Engineering double major entirely and preparing for applied mathematics graduate studies.
 
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  • #8
Hey Everyone,

First time posting, so please bear with me.

I am a sophomore mathematics major applying to summer REU's.

Based off the topics of different REU's that I have interest in, the Nebraska-Lincoln project on Fractional Calculus is probably my number one choice this year.

Does anyone have any information on this program, like: competitiveness, does it have a history of publications resulting from participation, and do if you participated in the program or know someone who has, did they enjoy their time with the staff and the environment that the REU gave?
 
  • #9
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I am faced with a dilemma. I was accepted into a physics REU in a top 20 school to study something I'm really interested in. I also received a competitive scholarship to study Russian in Russia for 10 weeks this summer... all expenses paid. I have to choose.

I'm a junior and this will be the last summer I'm eligible for REU's. I want to go to a good graduate school (top 20, at least), and have been doing research for a professor for the last 3 semesters. My GPA is above a 3.98. I also had a physical oceanography REU last summer.

I'm really torn between the REU and Russia. Would graduate schools frown upon a "wasted" summer in Russia? Would it help me get in? Do I have enough pluses on my application so that Russia or an REU won't matter? I'm also looking for some general opinions from physicists who have studied abroad and whether they thought it was worth it. Opinions??? Help???
 
  • #10
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I'm applying to few different REUs this summer, but I just wanted to make sure that I was on the right track, so here's my personal statement and if you guys could just let me know if I should change anything please let me know. Thanks!

And this is the REU: http://java.engin.umich.edu/ParisREU/Home.html [Broken]

As a college student, there are certain ice-breaker conversations that I repeat over and over with strangers that I meet. As a physics major, the obligatory “what’s your major?” conversation always follows the same progression: I say, “I’m a physics major” and whoever I happen to be talking to responds with a stare that clearly says, “You must be insane.” While there is some truth to that assumption (anyone who looks at the world around them and asks “why?” instead of accepting it must be at least a little bit crazy), it is that little bit of insanity that drives me to not only search out solutions to problems, but also never stop asking questions.

I intend on gaining as much research experience as possible during my remaining time as an undergraduate so that once I begin graduate school I will already have a solid experimental as well as theoretical framework to build upon. Since I’ve lived in Florida my whole life, I’ve been lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Space Coast (Kennedy Space Center etc.). While attending the Space Flight Payloads Workshop at the University of Central Florida, I was surrounded by cutting-edge research devoted the the further development of the commercialization of space flight, but every single experiment also has applications on Earth. The project from my own college dealt with accurate measurement of the mesospheric spectral background. In designing a small spectrometer to measure the infrared spectrum from a sub-orbital altitude, my group and I had to figure out how to obtain the best possible spectrum from a device that had to fit very specific size requirements. Although it was a challenge, this project taught me not only the value of thinking outside the box in a research environment, but also how adaptive and malleable the study of optics can be. Within Optics there are tie-ins to the quantum world, electricity and magnetism, and many other areas of physics. I look forward to exploring more unorthodox applications in future research. In the future we might be able to complete stop light instead of slowing it down, or we can engineer new materials to improve the quality of coaxial cables as well as find new ways to manipulate light waves.

Although I am still unsure as to exactly what I intend to specialize in after undergraduate graduation, there is no doubt that there will be a hefty amount of research involved. I intend to go to graduate school and continue on until I have my Ph. D. For me the most interesting thing about physics is that it truly encompasses everything so what I would like to do is study unexpected applications. By that I mean, solving problems in other fields using physics, such as the 2012 project from this program that focused on the use of electromagnetic pulses to analyze works of art. This past semester (Fall ‘12) I took a course on Optics and became absorbed in the material. It seems that most applications of Optics are an elaborate game of trying to control light completely and since most would consider this impossible, I would consider it an injustice not to try.

Since I am now in my junior year the time has come for physics to be more than just concepts laid out in a textbook and memorized equations. The use of those tools has allowed me to answer the “how?” of any question, but infinitely more important is the “why?” This is the reason I want to participate in this program. I want to search for an answer, but also understand what that answer means. This REU program will give a chance to get hands-on experience with one of the most far-reaching subfields of physics. This specific program also interests me because of its international component. Science is a global field; there is groundbreaking research being done in all corners of the world and there are obvious cultural differences between the U.S. and the rest of the world. I want to be involved in this opportunity because it will allow me to not only gain valuable academic experience, but it will also provide an outlet to practice discussing physics with people from all over the world. I’ve been to the United Kingdom in the past and I look forward to traveling as much as possible in the future.

At this point the bulk of my undergraduate career has consisted of absorbing as much information as possible, but now it’s time to put that information to the test. The possible applications with lasers are virtually never-ending and they can also help us explain other physical phenomena. I am confident that participating in the Optics in the City of Light REU program will be the experience of a lifetime (the opportunity to study a beautiful subject in a beautiful city) and will contribute to my future in research.
 
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  • #11
I'm writing REU applications and have a question relating choosing REUs to apply to. I want learn more about individual REUs, but can't find very specific information except for some REUs that post papers relating to the projects (not done often). While this is useful for looking at the subject matter of the projects, a lot of programs seem pretty similar in that they mostly focus on combinatorics/discrete math and I don't know what makes one program particularly different from another. Also, I'm not sure about where to find more specific things like how the programs are structured and so on. Does anyone have suggestions for how to find things like this?
 
  • #12
If an REU asks you to choose topics of interest, are you supposed to explain why those specific topics interest you (i.e. why you chose them)? It seems like the statement can get quite long in that case, so I'm not sure if I should do this or not. Another problem is that I only have a vague idea of what the topics are really about and it would take a lot of work to try to get an overview of the subject. Finally, I'm trying to write something specific for each REU, but many of the websites look very similar to each other and I'm having trouble finding things that make one program different from another in many cases.
 
  • #13
As of right now as a full-time undergrad, I am unprepared for my classes, already behind, and pretty drained from a bunch of family stuff that has been going on. I really would like to drop a class until I can kind of get back on track, however, this would put me at part time. The problem is, I was involved in an REU last semester and really enjoyed it. I wanted to apply to one for this summer, however, I'm not sure if any accept full time students. Some say you must be enrolled full time, but some just say vague things such as, "Be presently majoring in physics"

I was wondering, do all REUs require you to be a full-time student, or is it just depend on the individual REU you are applying to? I'm wondering if these kind of vague "you must be majoring in physics" assumes you know you must be full time?




More background information in case you're interested:
As of right now, I am enrolled in 12 credit hours. (Programming II, Quantum Mechanics, Engineering Dynamics, and World Geography). The current situation stands at, I had a fairly easy and slow-moving Programming I professor, which has put me at a slight disadvantage for Programming II. My professor for modern physics was teaching his very last semester before retirement. Classes consisted of him rambling at us, no examples, no problems, generally no homework except copy things from the book, one extremely simple open book test, no final, he had each student read a chapter and teach the class for 8 classes (4 weeks of class). I learned nearly nothing, whereas half of our quantum mechanics class took it the year after me, with an extremely difficult (but wonderful) professor.

I had a family member I was very close to pass away the night before the semester started. Without going into too much detail, that day was slightly traumatizing for me. Ended up arriving at school less than 12 hours before my first class. I've been extremely distracted and fairly unmotivated. Then had to skip Thursday/Friday classes to go home for the funeral on Saturday. I didn't even open my bookbag once Thursday to Sunday let alone do any studying or homework.
 
  • #14
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I am a second-semester freshman (but a first-semester junior by credits) looking at what needs to be done to pursue physics. I have already read "So you want to be a physicist?" and understand all that it takes to continue on this path. I am a math major, and at a school that does not offer physics. Likewise, I am working through textbooks in all the different aspects that the normal undergrad physics student would. In this aspect, I am sure I can catch up to what it is expected of the regular grad school applicant.

However, there is one big aspect I am worried about- research opportunities. Looking at the requirements of different schools, a few do not explicitly list a physics major as a requirement, but I understand that is what is expected. There is one physics professor (who teaches algebra-based general physics courses) I plan to speak to, but it doesn't sound as if he will be able to help me. Do I have any chance of getting into any REU (a year or two from now) if I can demonstrate my ability in the subject despite only majoring in math? And, if not, would a math REU be better than nothing when applying to graduate school?
 

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