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Undergraduate Research Advice

  1. May 30, 2012 #1


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    Hi all. I recently finished my sophomore year as a physics and math major. I'm doing well in my classes with all A's in every science and math course I have taken, except a B+ in Physics1 in my first semester of college. I have been working with a high energy physics group since the summer after my freshmen year (about 20 hours a week over the summers and 5-10 hours a week over the school year). I really am starting to enjoy the research and have become very interested in high energy physics since joining the group. I have learned many things since my research began, including how to program in C++, GEANT4, and ROOT. Recently, they have let me become much more independent, which I prefer, while I have been running simulations of our detector with GEANT4. They even have implied that they have more projects in mind for me to work on once I'm done with that.

    My question is, how important is having multiple research recommendations when you apply to graduate school? I'm starting to think that I should have plenty to work on with this group until I graduate, but then I'd only have one strong letter of recommendation. I applied to several REU programs for this summer to avoid that situation, but I didn't get into any of them. I am also potentially interested in doing theoretical work for graduate school, so should I ask around eventually to see if there are any opportunities for undergrads? However, I'm not sure if I'd be much help there now, because I am only beginning to take PDEs this fall and the only really advanced math I've taken is complex variables.

    I'm thinking that next summer since I'll be a rising senior I actually will get into an REU program. However, would it be worth pausing the interesting work I'm doing at my home university just for another letter of recommendation?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2012 #2


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    It's probably not worth it JUST for the letter. Assuming you have enough people to write strong recommendations who can speak to your capabilities as a researcher, I see no reason why they should be spread out in terms of studies.

    However, I do think it's a good idea to branch out your academic tendrils and try something new, if only for a summer. Since you work in high energy, you probably get a taste of the theory as well from that as an undergraduate is ever going to get. But physics is a vast field, and it really can't hurt to see if you enjoy something else for a summer. So I'd say that if you do manage to get any REU's, take them, as it will also give you good networking connections!
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