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Should I have quit my REU?

  1. Sep 21, 2008 #1
    Last summer I participated in a physics REU. The REU was a ten week program. Things started to go wrong as soon as I arrived. One of my official mentors had already left and gone to work at CERN for the summer and my other official mentor was going to work at CERN the next day. By elsewhere I mean at another institution. So, they basically threw me on two different professors who had no idea (OK, well very little idea) that I was coming. They literally had nowhere for me to sit on the first day.

    My first assignment was just to do a lot of background reading. Then they started giving me real research assignments but basically these assignments were all disconnected and short and relatively trivial. Furthermore, the two professors didn't really seem interested in the results.

    So after about a week-and-a-half, I realized that my project was going nowhere. I won't bore you with the rest of the story, but in fact my project did go nowhere for the rest of the ten weeks. In fact after the fifth week, one of my substitute mentors went off to work at CERN and then during the last week the other substitute mentor went to work at CERN, leaving me all alone, having lost four different mentors.

    My question is: should I have quit? Should I have returned my stipend paycheck, gone home or gone back to my university? I know several professors who probably would have offered me much much better work if had asked them at that time. And if not I could have taken summer classes and knocked off some liberal arts requirements.

    I didn't even think of quitting at the time. But if I had thought of it, there are probably some ethical issues involved. There is no "official" contract that I signed that bound me to stay or anything. But I did accept the offer to do the project in an e-mail and I'm not sure if that legally binds me to stay out the whole duration.

    Would I have been on shaky legal ground if I quit? What would you have done?
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 21, 2008 #2


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    I really doubt there's any kind of shaky legal ground as you're suggesting. Having done REUs in the past myself, what I really think you should have done is spoken to the organizer of your REU. In my experience, this person has always been very concerned with the satisfaction of all students involved. Regardless of whether you did or did not try this, I agree in that it is absolutely ridiculous that some of the mentors had left for the entire summer. They should never have agreed to participate in the REU in the first place.
  4. Sep 21, 2008 #3


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    I agree. It's really unfortunate that people who agreed to be mentors didn't uphold that committment. That said, it's a bit late now to be worrying about it. Return the check? Heck no, that's their fault, you shouldn't be cheated out of your money for it! But, maybe, as t!m suggests, you could have talked to the director/organizer to find a more responsible substitute, or at least let them know the mentor you had should not be a mentor in the future. Still, no point crying over spilled milk now. You can't go back in time and redo it, so chalk it up to something to stick on your resume even if it didn't gain you much experience. If you do another REU next year, I suggest picking a different school/program.
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