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Which math classes should I take if I want to do an REU next summer?

  1. Jul 22, 2011 #1
    Rising Math/Physics double major sophomore here. Math background: Calc I-III, Diff Eq and Elem Linear Algebra. Right now I'm leaning more towards Math or Theoretical Physics as something I'd like to do in graduate school but I want to focus more on the math for now. I was wondering which classes I should take this upcoming year if I want to do an REU in Math the following summer? Here are the some of the classes which my school is offering next semester (fall), and I think would be relevant to the REU:

    Complex Variables (offered only by the applied math department in the fall)
    Advanced Calculus and Applied Mathematics
    Introduction to Real Analysis (conflicts with Advanced Calc, confused about which to take out of these two, Advanced Calc is part of the physics major while Analysis is obviously a very important one for a math major)
    Advanced Linear Algebra (almost certain about taking this)
    Intro to Differential Geometry
    General Topology (conflicts with a physics course required for the physics major).

    Here's most likely what they'll be offering in the spring:

    Complex Variables (in the regular math department)
    Partial Differential Equations and Applied Mathematics
    Introduction to Abstract Algebra
    Number Theory
    Intro to Geometry
    Intro to Differential Geometry
    Advanced Multivariate Calculus (maybe offered)

    So out of these, which math classes should I be taking over the next two semesters which will give me a good chance to get admitted into an REU assuming all else goes well (I get good recs and grades are okay too)? Also note that along with the math, I'm gonna be taking 2-3 physics classes each semester too which might include labs as well. That might come in the way of me taking a good amount of math classes because of conflicts.

    As of right now I don't know much about REUs so if someone could shed some light on how difficult it is to get one as a sophomore and which classes would be beneficial, that would be great.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2011 #2
    They are pretty difficult to get into. I would just apply to as many as possible. The applications are always free. What won't be free is if you apply to ones that require an official transcript and you usually have to pay for those. But many do not require an official transcript so I wouldn't worry about it.

    As for the classes you should take out of the ones you mentioned, I really don't think it matters at all. Unless you want to get into a very specific program doing specific research. But beggars can't be choosers and you will likely take anything you can get. I would just take as many math classes as you can provided you can still do well in them. Focus on what is required for your major.

    Also if you are just a softmore you have a slight disadvantage to getting in. They usually prefer juniors because it will be their last chance to do one. Softmores are accepted too but you have to be pretty decent. Good luck.
  4. Jul 22, 2011 #3
    Well I can't just take as many math classes as possible because I'm also majoring in Physics and that's gonna be taking up a lot of my credit hours too. So I can take 2, maybe 3 at the maximum (ideally 2 though, 3 would kill me) math classes per semester for the next two semesters and I'd like to choose them well.

    Something else I could do is that I could skip on the Physics labs this year (which I hear take up A LOT of your time) call this year my "math year". That way I could take more math classes (3 per semester) and my chances of getting into an REU would be improved. If I end up enjoying those classes and enjoying the REU, I'll be sure that I want to continue on with math in the future. If I don't, well I could start concentrating on Physics more the year after and do an REU in Physics that summer. How does that plan sound?
  5. Jul 22, 2011 #4
    Well that's kind of the problem, if you split your time between math and physics, you might not get into any REUs because they can just take pure math majors or pure physics majors if they want. If I were I would take two math classes and physics too, then apply to both math and physics REUs for both of your next two summers to double your chances of getting in. I wouldn't recommend taking a break from physics unless you're pretty sure you want to do only math. I was thinking about skipping my physics lab too, but it turned out they had one on Friday afternoon which won't take away any time from other classes because it's my very last class of the week. So check the class schedule for something like that.
  6. Jul 22, 2011 #5
    Yes you do make a good point. So right now what I'm thinking of is my schedule is either gonna be this:

    Introductory E&M
    Classical Mechanics (junior level)
    Elementary Lab I
    Intro to Real Analysis
    Advanced Linear Algebra.


    Introductory E&M
    Classical Mechanics (junior level)
    Elementary Lab I
    Advanced Calculus and Applied Mathematics (a class required for the BS in Physics although I don't know how valuable it is for Math)
    Complex Variables
    Advanced Linear Algebra.

    So it's basically Real Analysis vs (Complex + Advanced Calc). What do you guys think?

    If I take junior level E&M and Modern Physics the semester after that along with Elem Lab II do you think I'll be able to get a Physics REU?

    As for being pretty sure about math, that's not the case as Theoretical Physics also seems highly appealing to me too.
  7. Jul 22, 2011 #6
    I think REU programs would like the second option better. As for whether you will get one or not, that depends on a lot. Like grades, letters of rec, your personal statement, and most of them LOVE taking females or minorities. I've also seen a few programs state that they give preference to people from schools with limited to no research opportunities.
  8. Jul 23, 2011 #7
    Well I don't know if I'd be considered a minority they'd like to take because I'm Pakistani.

    Anyone else have an opinion about this thread and the classes I should be taking? Someone with previous REU experience?
  9. Jul 24, 2011 #8
    I was accepted into 4 math REUs with only a semester of linear algebra and a full year of undergrad analysis. There are a few that want advanced course work, but they seem to the exception rather than the rule. Check the webpages for the REUs you're interested in.

    Get to know your letter writers well. Give them something to say other than, "This person received an A in my class."
  10. Jul 24, 2011 #9
    I think the only thing that truly matters is your letter of recc. Your grades, your classes, etc. are only more of a pre-requisite (that is, you just need to satisfy a particular standard), and the letter of recc is only true thing that indicates whether you can gain a lot from participating in their REU. That's what I've heard at least. It's a pretty informal process in general, but reading several tips from people who actually do the admissions basis, they all place emphasis on the letter of recc only.
  11. Jul 25, 2011 #10
    I would agree, especially considering the ONLY thing that my application had going for it were the letters and I still manged to get accepted to a few. My undergrad school was small, no-name, and my course work was not advanced. I, however, had a close relationship with my letter writers.

    Speaking of math REUs, there should be an old thread here in the Academid Guidance section from the spring of '10 in which myself and quite a few others (who were accepted to programs) were posting about applying to REUs. The thread grew to quite a few pages if I remember correctly. It might help satisfy some curiosity if you take a gander at that thread...if you can find it.

    EDIT: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=362656" that thread.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  12. Jul 27, 2011 #11
    ^Thanks for the thread, I'll be definitely going through it.

    So I've heard that letter of recs matter more than anything else, which makes sense. But I have another question regarding that. Does the position of the letter (lecturer/assistant prof/full prof) writer matter at all? For example one of my potential writers is just a lecturer, so if she writes me a good letter will her opinion matter as much? What about an assistant professor?

    Also a lot of math teachers in the math department at my school are foreigners so they might not be the best of writers. I suppose that's another point of concern?
  13. Jul 28, 2011 #12
    I had the exact same questions. Hopefully someone can chime in here.
  14. Jul 28, 2011 #13
    I've been solving PDE's all summer at my REU... though its geophysics. I suggest taking that course.
  15. Jul 28, 2011 #14
    I would be very interested to hear a response to the "lecturer vs prof" question. To ahsan: have you looked into math research at your home institution? Not only would this help you get a taste for what real mathematics is like, it would also help you in later years while applying for REUs (in math as well as physics -- ability to do math research indicates the capacity to do physics research). I would look into it.
  16. Jul 28, 2011 #15
    Hmm... That is a tough question. Everybody's situation is different and the program directors that will be reading your letters will all have varying opinions as to what is a good letter. In short, there is no answer for the general case. Perhaps this type of question would be better directed at your advisor or somebody who has sat on admission committees and has experience with reading/writing these letters.

    However, with that being said, I would personally prefer a letter from a lecturer who had more to say about me than a professor who didn't know me as well.
  17. Jul 30, 2011 #16
    ^I will be sure to talk to my adviser once the school year starts.

    Anyone else with an opinion on the lecturer vs. assistant prof vs. prof letter writer thing?
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