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Undergrad Research Dilemna

  1. Jul 13, 2009 #1
    Hey all. I am going to be a fifth year senior next year majoring in applied math - scientific computing. I originally began my college career stubbornly thinking I was going to get a B.Sc. in some biology related discipline. However, due to a general lack of interest in biology and bad study habits, I got pretty garbagety grades in my bio courses and some general courses as well. Towards the end of my third year (the third quarter of that year) I realized how fascinating math was and made a switch to applied math.

    Anyways to stick to the point, I recently started to do research for a department that is unrelated to mathematics but uses some stats in their research. I found the research through a database our university has and sent an email to the professor asking to come on board. The prof was very nice and told me that I could begin a "trial period" and see if things work out.

    My level of interest in the project is extremely low and I am having doubts about seriously going on with the project for my last year of undergrad. The project uses little math or numerical analysis (which is supposedly my concentration), but requires a lot of data mining. The sole reason for doing the research is out of what seems to be a necessary experience during undergrad for graduate school admissions...( or so I hear? )

    My problem is that I would much rather work on something more closely related to applied math research and allow me to grow in that field, but I feel like I would be a fool to forgo this opportunity to put a year of research experience on my resume? Especially since I had a late start in pursuing math.

    The main reason I would like to do research is for grad school admissions but also because I want to focus my energy on a topic that is both interesting and stimulating to me.

    What can or should I do?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2009 #2


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    I had a similar experience. I was only able to find a single professor willing to let me do some form of research. It was on a topic I had absolutely zero interest in. Actually I had negative interest: the thought of spending a semester working on this stuff disgusted me. I initially agreed because, as you say, I thought I had no choice because of grad school admissions. But a couple days later I emailed him, apologized, said I had thought about things, and that the project wasn't a good fit for me. He was completely cool about it.

    In your case, given that your project doesn't seem to involve much math, I don't see that it would benefit your admissions prospects anyway. I wouldn't do it.

    I've heard so many back and forths about how necessary research is for math graduate school that I don't know what to think. Some say it is very important. But I have also heard it is basically a waste of time; no undergrad is going to be doing anything of substance anyway.
  4. Jul 13, 2009 #3


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    Research experience (beyond a senior project) is usually not necessary for graduate school admissions. It does however increase your chances for admission in a highly competative process, especially if you have a borderline GPA. And any work experience is in general a good thing if you decide to look for work outside of academia.

    I think what you have to do is really consider the options available to you. So okay, you're not all that interested in this project. What is your ideal project? And do you think it's possible to get work at your level on it? Chances are you're not going to get added onto a Nobel Prize team any time soon, so you have to factor in what alternatives are available and chose among the options.
  5. Jul 14, 2009 #4
    Thanks for the advice, it makes me feel a lot better and a lot less guilty about dropping the research by the end of the summer. I'd much rather funnel my energy into writing a senior thesis, the thought makes me much happier!
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