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REU Programs and General Physics Questions from a Freshman

  1. Sep 12, 2007 #1
    Hey guys, I just have a couple of questions. I am currently a freshman at a small state school.

    First off, I was wondering what level of mathematics and physics is sufficient to do an REU summer program. I've emailed a few programs, and they have constantly stated that there are no specific requirements and that freshman are generally not taken. So, does anyone have any idea about a general set of classes that one should take before applying?

    Currently, I am taking Calculus III (MV Cal at other colleges) and Modern Physics. Next semester I'll take Math Methods in Physics ( or Intro. to Differential Equations) and Quantum Mechanics I. Btw, does anyone think I should definitely take Diff before Math Methods? Also, I will hopefully start doing some Physics research next semester.

    Second, I want to improve my Math and Physics problem-solving. Does anyone have any ideas on how to improve problem-solving skills? Are there any seminal books that I should buy? (I have Problems in General Physics by that Russian guy, btw)

    Third, how important is your undergraduate institution when applying to top-rated Physics programs like MIT, Caltech, Princeton, etc.?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2007 #2


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    On your REU question, freshman are generally not accepted to REU's since they have less courses under their belt, and, on average, freshman have less research experience than juniors. If you want to make yourself more marketable for an REU, your best bet would be to try to see if you can help a professor in your department with some kind of research project. Also, be on the look out for REU's that focus on freshman and sophomores. These are rare, but I did find one and get into it as a sophomore and there were three freshman in our group as well.

    Your undergraduate institution is not going to keep you out of top level graduate schools as long as your GPA is good, you have good Physics GRE and General Math GRE scores, and you have research experience under your belt. With all of that you should be able to get into a respectable graduate program (at least by what I'm told. I'm still and undergraduate myself). Also, REU's help in this regard since lots of schools use REU programs to recruit future graduate students.
  4. Sep 13, 2007 #3
    REU is a great program, but you are correct that they usually do not accept freshman. As G01 suggested, you could ask around your department to see if there's an interesting project you're interested in, and in the process get to know your department and professors better. Or, you could check out the dozens of other summer research programs oriented towards undergraduates. Check out http://www.astromiror.org/opportunities.html under the Undergraduates section. You are only as limited as you make yourself feel.

    I don't know what your Math Methods course is like, but the one I took was a review of all basic undergrad math used in physics classes, including Differential Equations. I found it helpful to have already taken a DE class before reviewing it in Math Methods.

    Undergrad institution really isn't that important when applying to grad schools, although it can help. This issue has been debated among many and there is no consensus, but that has been my experience. G01 is also correct about other factors that graduate departments consider.

    Good luck!
  5. Sep 13, 2007 #4


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    Good letters of recommendation also help, especially if they're from professors who really know you and what you can do.
  6. Sep 14, 2007 #5


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    Why are you bumping this thread when you've had some good replies? Do you have any questions to any of the people who replied to you?
  7. Sep 14, 2007 #6
    Just wanted more opinions, really...
  8. Sep 14, 2007 #7


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    Yes, of course, I don't know how I forgot about those!:redface:
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