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Undergraduate Research: To diversify or specialize?

  1. Mar 30, 2014 #1
    Hi friends,

    I realize that my question is probably not particularly clear cut, but I would like to hear some opinions on it. I am wondering, is it better as an undergraduate to diversify your research experiences, or to specialize? Would it be better to try out a number of different fields for probably shorter amounts of time, or to stick with one group/field for a longer period of time?

    I realize that "better" is ill defined, but I did that on purpose. For instance, better for grad school admissions and better for personal development are both valid I think.

    I am asking because I've recently been offered a summer position in a lab very similar to the one I spent the last year in. Both rely heavily on hyperpolarization of gases and would fall under nuclear physics. I enjoy nuclear physics, but to be honest it's all I've experienced research wise. Would it be better for me to just build up significant experience in one field for grad school, and then do that sort of shopping once I've been accepted into a program? Or would it be best to show some variation now?

    For reference, I am finishing up my second year of undergrad. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2014 #2


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    Advantages and disadvantages.

    By staying in one area you will learn more in depth about that field, develop deeper relationships with the people who will likely be writing reference letters, see more of a project, and likely have a higher chance of making a contribution to the work that would lead to a publication.

    As an undergraduate student though, diversifying allows you to explore different areas so that you can make a good decision about what direction to take as a graduate student. And really, that's a big part of what your time as an undergrad should be about.

    Neither option is "better" in any absolute sense.
  4. Mar 31, 2014 #3
    I understand completely and I'm in the same predicament. I'm currently doing research in HEP, which I enjoy but that's all I've ever known. Like Choppy said, staying with one project long-term definitely has its advantages. Instead of studying the same physics each summer, you might want to try branching out and trying a different field. In addition, if you are ever at a conference for undergraduate research, try listening to other talks in fields you might be interested in, and talk to the presenter afterwards.

    Another option is to consider what you've found interesting in your classes. Maybe you've taken a class in AMO and found AMO to be very interesting.

    At the same time, not being "diverse" is not, in my opinion, a bad thing. If you enjoy nuclear physics, then I see no harm in continuing to do that. If you want to see what other fields have to offer, you might want to consider some of these suggestions.
  5. Mar 31, 2014 #4
    The OP has been offered a position at a lab over the summer. I assume he is being funded. I am curious what your other options are for THIS summer. Because Research Experience will always be good, so if you don't have any other offers then take it this summer and see about branching out next year? If you have other funded opportunities for this summer then that is something to consider in NOW.
  6. Mar 31, 2014 #5
    You're right, I do have a funded offer for this summer. I am almost definitely going to be taking that position for this summer, I am mainly asking for the future. I still have two full years left as an undergraduate and would really like to plan ahead.

    I'm also lucky enough to be part of a department that has many opportunities for undergraduate research, and it would not be particularly hard to find undergraduate research that pays at least a little. That being said, the position I am looking at is doing some research that I find very interesting and builds on what I have done so far.
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