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Undergraduate research

  1. Jun 27, 2009 #1
    Hi, a month ago it was brought to my attention that I will need some sort of research experience as an undergraduate if I want to be considered by a "top" university's graduate program ("top" university - MIT, stanford, caltech, etc). I may have an opportunity to do some research in computer science dealing with artificial intelligence/machine learning. Also, I have an opportunity to get an intership at an engineering firm dealing with something about radiation effects on electronics. Will the computer science research look particularly good on my application, or will they really care? What about the engineering internship? (I'm not really sure I"m qualified for it since I haven't taken much modern physics but oh well). I need to decide quickly, but I don't want to rush headlong into something that isn't going to help me out so I'm asking a few sources for advice.

    This might seem like a poor way to decide which universities to shoot for (which ones are considered the "best"). Perhaps I should find some subfield I"m interested in pursueing and then figure out which universities are involved in those fields, but the "top" universities do seem to have a lot more options as to what fields you can specialize in. Having not really taken much modern physics yet, I'm uniformed so I can't really know what the heck I"ll want to specialize in at this point.

    I should mention that I'm going into my 5th year at a state university, where I'm majoring in Computer Science and Physics (seperatly; 2 degrees). Should have 1 or maybe 1.5 years left. Have not taken the GRE yet, because I haven't taken quantum mechanics or optics, which are on the physics GRE. GPA is 3.9.
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  3. Jun 27, 2009 #2


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    The point of undergraduate research is not to show that you have made a great contribution to your future research field in grad school, but instead, to show that you know what doing research is like and that you will be able to do the type of work that will be required of you in graduate school.

    Research in the field you plan to do graduate work in is preferred. If you are sure you want to go to grad school for physics, I'd try to find some physics research opportunities. If you are not sure, do research in whatever interests you more. Any research is better than none.

    Be aware that you are not guaranteed a spot at a top 10 grad school, no matter how good your application is. That said, your GPA is great and if you get some research and do well on the GRE's you'll get into a respectable grad school.
  4. Jun 28, 2009 #3
    FIFTH year? Wow, never seen that before. Anyways, you have a good GPA (assuming the state university you went to isn't bottom-tier in your field) and it sounds like you're headed in the right direction. I would, however, caution against setting your heart on top schools exclusively. Remember that almost everyone you're competing against for a spot will have a similar GPA, similar research experience, and similar recommendation letters. In the meantime, do all you can to stand out and get immersed in your field.
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