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Senior thesis, or finish work on REU project?

  1. Mar 22, 2012 #1
    I am a junior mathematics major at a relatively unknown liberal arts college planning to apply to Ph.D. programs in pure math next year. I have a near-perfect math GPA and a pretty solid background in terms of my coursework, including every intermediate and advanced-level pure math course offered by the department and several directed independent studies. In terms of research, I spent one summer assisting a physics professor with a computational physics project at my home institution, but it is an unrelated field and did not yield any publications. I recently accepted an offer to a pure math REU program for this summer, and I am considering the possibility of a senior thesis.

    The problem is this: the REU ends a week before the fall semester of my senior year begins, and ideally I would want to spend time working on tying up loose ends from the project and prepare a paper for possible publication. I also don't want to be working on two research projects at the same time (REU wrap-up + senior thesis), especially since I will also be very busy with a heavy courseload, studying for the GRE math subject test, and applying to Ph.D. programs.

    So basically, I have two options. First, I can stop working on the REU project after the program is over and focus my attention on the senior thesis. Second, I can spend time wrapping up my REU project and hopefully get a paper prepared and submitted, and replace the senior thesis on my schedule with more coursework (possibly a year-long independent study in intro graduate algebra).

    I understand that this is my decision to make, but I do welcome others' thoughts about the matter. I am especially curious as to how the two options may comparatively affect my preparation/chances for Ph.D. program admissions.
     
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  3. Mar 22, 2012 #2

    eri

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    It takes a lot more than a few weeks to write something up for publication. I turned the REU I did between junior and senior year into my senior thesis project; I also attended a small liberal arts college, and they didn't mind that one of my thesis advisers wasn't a professor at that school.
     
  4. Mar 22, 2012 #3
    Hey,

    I was going to suggest what 'eri' said - I didn't do this, but a few friends did and it turned into a great senior thesis.
    On the other hand, getting a good range of research is almost as important as going really in-depth into a project (grad schools aren't expecting you to have spent all your time solving some really hard research problem - though of course that would look great on an app! They are really looking to see that you have done good research, have a range of research skills, that you know you enjoy it, and that you know what you want to do). Also, a week to get a publication together is very wishful thinking - getting a publication out of the REU, however, is very possible but it is likely that it will be your mentor that writes it up and submits it for review etc., with you as a co-author (remember that you are working on, probably, a small part of their research). I would suggest working really hard at the end of your REU to leave everything wrapped up and well-placed for your mentor to take your results and turn them into publishable work, and then take a brief one-week break (REUs can be intense) then starting your senior thesis.
     
  5. Mar 22, 2012 #4
    Hey guys, thanks for the responses so far. :) But to clarify:

    1) I may not actually be able to continue the REU as my senior thesis. My school requires that a 6-page proposal describing the details of the senior thesis project be submitted and approved by the end of the previous semester (i.e. this semester); I won't even know which project I will choose to work on for the REU until June!

    2) I understand that preparing a paper will take much longer than a week, hence the reason I am considering to forgo my senior thesis. I think the REU director expects students to write up papers though; the question of whether I would be interested in taking the time to write up a paper for publication appeared on the application form.
     
  6. Mar 22, 2012 #5
    Ah. I was going to suggest you to make your REU your thesis, but I saw your later post. If you HAVE to choose between the two options, then I'd suggest you choose the second one. I'm totally biased because I'm crazy in love with algebra.:blushing:
    I have a publication on a physics journal. The time elapsed between the day we started to write it up and the day we submitted it was 4 months. Some authors took vacations/were busy with other work so that slowed down the process.
     
  7. Mar 24, 2012 #6
    Thank you, R.P.F. (I happen to be crazy in love with algebra too!) Anyone else have thoughts or advice?
     
  8. Mar 25, 2012 #7
    My experience was different from eri's. I did an REU the summer after my junior year (it was in the field of electrical engineering) and got a publication out of it. I think it is quite possible to both write a paper for publishing and work on a senior thesis project. What happened in my case was that I finished the bulk of my research a few weeks before the end of the REU, which left about two weeks that I devoted exclusively to writing up my paper. By the way, everyone in my REU was required to write a paper, though only 2 got published. When I finished the REU, the understanding was that my supervisor and the grad student I worked with would review my paper and make any necessary corrections/additions. For the next few months we emailed each other back and forth about revisions/corrections to my paper, and after those few months it got published with me as the first author. Although I didn't do a senior thesis, I would have had plenty of time to, since the remaining work on the REU paper was quite minimal.

    The understanding at my REU was that everyone had to be done with their research and the bulk of their figures/tables/graphs, etc. at least 1 week before the end of the REU, so we could all write papers and do presentations. When that was done, the remaining work left to get my paper ready for publication was quite minimal.

    That was my experience. Maybe others have found they still needed to do a lot of work on their paper between the end of the REU and the publication. A lot depends on timing and luck (i.e. being able to finish your research early). Also, I'm not familiar with how mathematical research is written up vs. engineering research... perhaps it takes longer to write complete proofs than it took me to make graphs with my results.

    Still, since you haven't done the REU yet, keep in mind the possibility that you may be able to finish most the work early enough to do the senior thesis as well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2012
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