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Schools REU or Research at Home University?

  1. Mar 21, 2010 #1
    Hello all. I'm currently a junior at my University and have applied to many summer REUs. The trouble is, I've talked with my adviser and he thinks I might be better off staying at my home institution to do research because it will allow me to continue working with the same professor for my senior thesis.

    But doing this, I would only be able to get a letter of recommendation from my current professor and the professor I work with over the summer and, I as understand it, most grad schools require three. I also don't really know any of my teachers well enough to ask for a letter either. And this may sound silly, but I would also feel bad about turning down REU acceptances after my letter writers went through all the trouble to help me.

    I feel a bit uncomfortable saying where I go but in order to give more information, I will say that it's an excellent research institution ranked within the top 20 by http://grad-schools.usnews.rankings...raduate-schools/top-physics-schools/rankings", if that means anything.

    So does anyone have any suggestions? I'd be very grateful for any guidance.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2010 #2
    Talk to the professor you want to work on the thesis with, as he may be happy to take you on even if you go do the REU, 'specially if the REU isn't the whole summer or you can work from wherever the REU is at. Basically, a few of the professors I know aren't all that possessive of their students and are even somewhat supportive of branching out.

    Don't sweat it, letter writers know things don't always pan out.

    You should get some back ups anyway, 'cause a) I've applied to things that wanted 5 letters, b) some applications have specific requirements for your recommenders (must know you for X years, must be in your major, etc.) c) you don't want to be dependent on an REU you haven't done yet.
  4. Mar 22, 2010 #3
    yes, you don't want to be dependent on an REU for a letter. for all you know, you may have a negative experience there and... well a letter wouldnt do all that much good.

    also, every department (and professor) looks at graduate apps a little differently....
    ive heard one that essentially said "of the three letters, two will be mediocre. they will essentially be 'i have no objections to this student entering a phd program'. the last one is the one that makes or breaks you. that should be your research adviser".
    keep in mind that no reasonable graduate program is going to expect that you've done extensive research with three different professors.
    personally, i would shoot for your adviser (duh), maybe the REU professor, and a professor who's class you did well in- particularly a demanding laboratory class as those require the ability to write (something they should talk about in their letter btw)

    also, keep in mind that most research done by undergrads is kind of meaningless. for the most part (and this may not apply to you, as your prof is trying to squeeze more work out of you), research by undergrads is more a learning process than a publication process.

    although it is a bit weird to see a professor wanting to keep you for a summer of research for your senior thesis. as above, most professors want their students to branch out to new areas. is there more to this? do you need specialized training for lab equipment or something that can only be done over summer?
  5. Mar 22, 2010 #4
    Thank you for the replies. I've heard that it's best to start asking for letters around October, which doesn't really leave enough time to get to know teachers for my fall classes. That leaves the teachers for the classes I'll have already taken, all of which probably don't even know my name. So I suppose that leaves asking my adviser for a letter when the time comes.

    Now, allow me to clarify a few things: the professor I'm working with now is not the one I'm planning on doing a thesis with. I'm looking to do research in another field to get some more experience and have a list of professors I would like to talk with. I've looked into the research for one my adviser highly recommends (whom I've talked to before, he's really nice) and plan on meeting with him sometime soon. My adviser also says it's best to have some previous experience with a professor before doing a senior thesis with them and that the research I do over the summer can potentially lead to a thesis.

    After reading your replies and typing this all out, I now feel like it really would be a good idea to do research at my University as opposed to an REU (unless I were to get into one of the more prestigious ones, which seems very unlikely at this point). I think this is what I'll try to do, unless anyone has any reasons why I shouldn't.

    Thank you again.
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