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REU or Summer Research at Own University?

  1. Feb 22, 2014 #1
    I am a sophomore physics major attending a top 20 research university in America. I have one year (including one summer) of research done with one professor at my own university (which led to a poster publication but nothing major as of yet), and am now in my first semester of work with a second professor more in line with my research interests. However, as of now I seem to be doing just odd jobs around the lab (electrical work, building devices, etc), and don't really have a concrete project that may lead to publication.

    I was just accepted to a REU for this summer (at another top 20 physics school according to certain rankings) and am wondering if it is best to go there or to continue my work here with my current professor for the summer.

    Pros of REU:
    -Structured and well-defined project for the summer vs odd jobs at current university
    -Good money
    -Possibly get another rec letter for grad school under my belt
    -Get to travel to a new place; will definitely be a better experience overall

    Cons of REU:
    -Very little time to get any substantial work done
    -Loss of continuity at my current lab, might miss out on being assigned an interesting and potentially publishable project that I can work on through junior and senior year
    -Won't be as close with my current prof (Quality vs Quantity of rec letters?)
    -REUs are meant for people from smaller universities?

    In terms of graduate school applications, what would you guys reccommend I do? Is continuity of reserach at one lab important enough that doing an REU might actually hurt my application? They have given me less than a week to reply, so I am very hastily trying to make this decision. I thank anyone for their input.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2014 #2
    I thought REU's NSF funding was based on the concept that it is supposed to give students who dont have the resources to do summer research at their home institution.

    "-REUs are meant for people from smaller universities? "

    I wouldnt worry about this con because that isnt your responsibility but that of the grant writers.

    I would go for continuity or whatever gets you more papers.
  4. Feb 23, 2014 #3
    I just discussed this with my professor last week, as I am in the same position. He led me to believe that on grad school applications, it is best to have a reputation at another university, especially if that university has a graduate program you may be interested when it gets to be that time.
  5. Feb 23, 2014 #4
    I had similar thoughts when I was in your position last year. I went for the REU and it was an amazing experience. I don't regret the choice at all. I got to work on an awesome project in a new environment and network with people in my prospective field. Also I was fully funded to present at a national conference which would not have happened otherwise.

    With that being said, I think it depends on your specific situation as well. Here are some things to think about regarding REUs:

    - How interested are you in the project itself? Does it relate to the research you are currently doing/want to do?

    - Is it at an institution/location that you are considering for grad school?

    - Does it provide funding to attend a national conference?

    - $$$$

    - you will definitely get to know your REU advisor VERY well.
  6. Feb 26, 2014 #5


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    I would stay at your home institution for the summer of junior year, possibly continue research during the year, and then do an REU senior year. This was great for me, I got a first author publication in PRL from my home university and was able to do a theory project at the REU. I am currently writing a paper from the REU project. Publications in which you are first or second author really help for grad school admissions. I think my publication really helped me be a very competitive applicant in grad school admissions and now I will be going to either Harvard, Stanford, or Chicago with large fellowships at two of them. Going to the REU also allowed me to get four really outstanding recommendations, and staying at my home institution allowed me to show dedication to my home group.
  7. Feb 26, 2014 #6
    What radium said is true, however consider that many REUs result in a publication as well.
  8. Feb 26, 2014 #7


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    With the time constraint of the REU it's much easier to get a publication with more experience, which is why I recommend doing one before senior year. My past research experience definitely helped me get a publication (we are working on it now).
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