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REU questions, am I ready?

  1. Dec 2, 2009 #1
    I am a sophomore at UIUC majoring in physics, and I really want to do something over the summer. Some background things:
    Classes I have taken: math (Calc, Diff eq, Linear Algebra, PDE), physics (intro e&m, intro mechanics, mechanics I, special relativity, intro quantum)
    I will be taking next semester: math (real analysis), physics (classical lab, e&m 1, mechanics II)
    GPA: 3.71

    Lot of experience: machining and designing things (I doubt that counts for anything?), Mathematica (I am an assistant for a diff eq class with mathematica)
    Some experience: Java

    I think I may be too naive in seeking for an internship; I only have a vague idea of what I want to do in physics, but hell I'm willing to work my butt off. I really like math and I have been reading some random stuff on the web and on my school's website about high energy physics. I am thinking about attending some seminars and colloquiums. Is this a good way to get started? Or should I take more classes? Right now I have been looking at DOE/SULI, SIST, and Illinois Accelerator Institute. Any advice is welcome. Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2009 #2
    Yes, they take sophomores for REU programs all the time. The question is whether you think you want to go into academia or industry.

    Both internships and REU's have the focus of getting the individual an idea of what it is like to work in that particular area or field through observation. You almost surely will be doing grunt work so you really won't be using too much of the classes you have now anyways.
  4. Dec 3, 2009 #3
    Yes! I was an REU last summer after finishing my first year. I had no programming experience and only basic physics and calculus. From my experience you are very well qualified. The other students were mostly seniors doing research and writing a thesis. Getting started early is a great thing.

    My REU work was with my regular university - I am not sure what doing an REU elsewhere is like, though you might ask around your department. I am glad I worked at my own school - with no experience the environment was a little more comforting to me.
  5. Dec 3, 2009 #4
    Thanks for replying!
    I have been trying to fill out the applications. One of the questions asks "Why would you like this internship." I think the typical answer would be "To get a unique physics research experience," or something along those lines. Do you guys think that I should do some research to narrow down what I want to do for a career and then write about how this internship meets my goals? I feel I need to be very specific about what the program has to offer and how it complies with what I want. In other words, should I be flexible in what I want to do, or very specific to show that I am focused. Honestly, I would rather be flexible.

    I also wanted to ask, what exactly does someone do during this internship. I hope it is not just grunt work like you say Afunk.
    Thanks again.
  6. Dec 3, 2009 #5
    I suggest you be flexible, but be specific about your interest in what the internship has to offer. If you don't have any experience doing research in that specific area, keep an open mind. Because I had no experience, a lot of the work I did was grunt work, but I think everyone starts at the bottom of the totem pole. You will still learn a lot, and the people you work with will make great letter-writers, if nothing else. There is a difference between having someone as a student and working closely with them.
  7. Dec 4, 2009 #6
    Thanks for the advice. Most of the programs I am applying involve high energy or particle physics. It looks very interesting, but I don't have a concrete idea of what it is. I checked out a book named "Introduction to Elementary Particles" by David Griffiths from the library. Is this a good place to get started? Anything you can recommend?
  8. Dec 4, 2009 #7
    Checking out stuff from the library is a great start. It shows you are taking initiative and have a great interest in getting into the research program. I suggest looking at the websites of some of the faculty of that department - usually they list their own research interests and/or a list of publications. If you can get an idea of what subfield(s) some of the faculty work in, you can read about that specifically; your book might help. You may also want to read the abstracts of some whose work looks interesting, though it might be difficult to understand.

    Don't worry too much about background research for an REU application - I don't think they are expecting you to be an expert in the field! Mention something interesting about a relevant research topic, and your application will look better than a more generalized one. Getting started is the hardest part - I felt like I didn't know anything, and wondered why these important researchers would let a peon like me learn from them (and *pay* me). You are a great candidate. Once you have some research under your belt, you will have a better idea of what you are interested in.
  9. Dec 4, 2009 #8
    Thanks again for all your help. I think I have a pretty good pair of recommendations and I'll give it go.
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