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REU politics

  1. Apr 16, 2009 #1
    so I'm pretty annoyed with a particular REU program, but I wont name names. I just want to understand why some REU's like and say that they would prefer students from schools without graduate programs in physics and then only select students from ivy league schools, or Berkeley, etc....it's pretty enraging to me, especially since the particular REU of which I speak didn't ask for a gpa, personal statement, resume, transcript, or any academic information. They simply asked the standed name, age, etc. followed by a 150 character text box to explain why you want to do their REU. They also wanted to know about programming skills and previous research experience, but mentioned that it was not necessary. I'm okay with not getting the REU based on a lack of research experience (I guess, because that's all they had to judge by), but I am not okay with being rejected because I don't pay half a mil for my college education.
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  3. Apr 16, 2009 #2


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    I realize it can be frustrating applying for these things. In fact, I'm not even sure what an REU is exactly - presumably some sort of formalized undergraduate research experience program.

    The first question I have is whether you have proof that such programs favour particular schools. Or is this merely something that seems apparent because you and your colleagues did not appear particularly successful in this particular competition?

    I might also point out that it seems a 150 character text box and no CV seems like a very poor means of evaluating candidates - hence this competition was likely more of a lottery. As far as gaining a summer research position, I think networking is still your best option. Talk to your professors and TAs to find out which professors at your school are looking for help. Phone them. Email them. Visit them during their office hours. (Obviously not all at once.) You are much more likely to get a job when you have a face and genuine interest rather than 150 characters in a text box.
  4. Apr 16, 2009 #3
    well, it turns out that I go to a very small school and know all of the professors in my department. The purpose of an REU (research experience for undergraduates) is to get experience in different fields, to help students decide what sub field they want to go into in grad school. It's very paradoxical in nature. The point is to give students experience on the one hand, but on the other hand they want students with experience. I guess the "proof" I speak of would be the list of students selected this year that they posted on their website, and as well as past years. There are like 8 spots, and 7 are ivy leaguers and one lucky kid gets thrown a bone from some school no one has ever heard of. There are a lot of politics involved and strings to be pulled. I'm researching at my school this summer. The difference is that for an REU you get paid, for a research credit here, you have to pay for it like its a class.
  5. Apr 17, 2009 #4
    In my experience the Professors that participate in the REU program pick students from a pool to applications. The Prof. can use any standard for picking students. I've seen students picked because they played soccer, they came from a certain University, or just because they are from a minority group.
  6. Apr 17, 2009 #5
    it's such a crock, would it kill them to have an actual conversation with applicants before selection? I mean if we're going to make it one big popularity contest, at least let me use my personality to win a spot...I suppose the reality I come to is that life is not fair, reverse discrimination sucks for whitey...screw equal opprotunity...survival of the fittest bitches...i mean if you aren't a minority and you want to get into the best programs, you better be able to pull some strings, so why not make that a universal truth and screw everyone equally. i am more comfortable getting screwed for being poor than getting screwed for not being a minority, at least i can change my financial status...getting into a college, getting into a program, getting into grad school, and finally getting a job all really depend on who you know, not what you know
  7. Apr 17, 2009 #6
    How do you know that it wasn't mostly people from good schools who applied? If that were the case, then it would only be logical that that's where most of the accepted students came from.
  8. Apr 17, 2009 #7
    What are you whining about? I know tons of people with way more disadvantaged background (third-world countries) who make it to top programs. Sure they have to work somewhat harder and be somewhat more talented to achieve it. But that is how you compensate for not paying half a million, not being a minority, not having the connection, etc. Maybe you are just not good enough.
  9. Apr 17, 2009 #8

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    Three hundred applicants, 15-30 minutes each, sometimes needing multiple attempts to reach them. You work it out. Heck, for graduate school - a commitment that is maybe 20 times longer - several places accepted me without talking to me.

    Professors have other duties than to select REU students. Indeed, those professors involved in REU are doing undergrads a favor.

    Be careful what you wish for. You're coming across as someone with a huge sense of entitlement and an even bigger chip on his shoulder. These are not the most sought after traits in the lab. If you do end up being contacted, I suggest you tone it down.
  10. Apr 17, 2009 #9


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    I got into an REU last year as a freshman from a large state school. I'm a white male so I didn't get a minority pass. Quit bitching.
  11. Apr 17, 2009 #10


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    Despite this formal REU system, I'm sure many professors still hire based on interested students who walk into their offices, introduce themselves and ask if they know of any summer or part-time research assistant opportunities.

    In my third year, I earned a summer position working for a pair of theorists by doing just that. Neither of them actually had funding, but one professor helped me write an application/proposal for funding from the faculty of science, which I was subsequently awarded.

    It's been my experience that the system favours the proactive.
  12. Apr 17, 2009 #11


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    The evolution of blame is hilarious.

  13. Apr 17, 2009 #12
    You don't always get what you deserve. And you definitely don't always get what you don't deserve. Either way, quit whining about it... nobody likes a sore loser.

    Who cares? You can find a professor somewhere who will take you on for some work. It won't be a paid REU, but you can probably find somebody who will do it without your signing up for a course and paying.

    Nobody said life was fair. If life were fair, things would be a lot different. You've got to make the best of what you've got.
  14. Apr 18, 2009 #13
    Really dude?
    Stop bitching about minorities. Asians get hit harder than you "whiteys" as you called it. Affirmative Action is an artificial pressure meant to reduce "market" race percentages into the general population race division percentages. Asians are like 5% of the total people in the US yet comprise of around 25-30% of most elite schools (the ones you are accusing), thus we actually get a significant disadvantage as Affirmative Action tries to knock down our numbers far more proportionally than it tries to knock down yours.
  15. Apr 18, 2009 #14
    My research adviser used to be on the REU selection board for Harvard SAO's REU program. He said there's lots of elements of randomness that play in: things like how well suited a particular student would be to work for such and such a mentor, if that mentor was looking for someone with specific skills to do something like...say...computational physics, or if they wanted anyone and everyone.

    I applied to 13 REUs and got rejected to all but 1, which wasn't even an NSF REU at all (REU equivalent for University College London). I don't feel cheated, but rather lucky and extremely grateful. I have to live in the shadow of my class valedictorian who does research with my adviser all the time too, so I know how it goes as far as feeling unappreciated goes, but remember that REUs are extremely competitive.

    Going to an Ivy League school does not automatically qualify you to get into an REU program. Me and my valedictorian friend are the only 2 in our class to get accepted for summer research internships. He got accepted to Kitt Peak, Harvard and one other (he picked Harvard, of course), but we both go to a little-known state university, are white, etc. What sets us apart from other students in our dept. is that our adviser has given us challenging, unique research projects to work on and we've done lots of extracurricular stuff as well.

    Sometimes REUs don't take those into account, but then again, that falls into the factors of randomness category. If you are a victim of aiming too high, perhaps, a better strategy would've been to go for REU positions where they have a large number of positions to fill (DOE, SARA programs), aren't page 1 research schools, or even hunt for summer research internships over seas. Canada is very close by and has some fantastic institutions to do research at!

    If you're going to apply for an REU position in abstract algebra, you're going to be required to know abstract algebra to do it. Plain and simple. REUs teach you how to do research, yeah, but they don't teach you the material you're already supposed to know. If you didn't know it, why did you apply for [x] position in the first place?

    Stats I've run from numbers I've gotten mailed to me point to the fact that upwards of 200 people fight for some 8 or 10 positions at major institutions. Suggesting to interview all 200 of those people is going to be time consuming at the very least.

    I don't see why you're so distraught. When I got an opportunity to do research with my adviser this last summer, I was ecstatic, despite taking classes at the same time. In fact, through the summer and fall quarters, I wasn't even paid. I didn't do it for the money, I did it for my love of astronomy. If you've landed a research gig with someone at your dept. why worry? If it's because of the money, get used to it: scientists don't make as much as entertainers.
  16. Apr 20, 2009 #15
    you have to be an american citizen to participate in nsf funded programs (i.e. the reu programs)
  17. Apr 20, 2009 #16
    voicing my opinions here does not exactly translate to what I would say to a program director, jeeze
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