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Work experience in Physics/Astronomy

  1. Feb 8, 2008 #1
    I am kind of hoping to get a work placement next summer related to physics or astronomy preferably research based. Im a first year undergrad so no one is going to want a useless first year lying around. I see lots of opportunities for 3rd even 2nd year undergrads, I was just wondering do placements exist for first years.

    I am just looking for something more stimulating than working in tescos all summer.

    If any of you guys have had experience with work placements especially in your first year of uni I would love to hear about them.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 8, 2008 #2
    There is a difference between a supervisor who is willing to pay a "useless" first year and someone who is willing to voluneteer out of interest. Approach a physics or astronomy professor who's field you're interested in and ask if they have any projects you can work on for the summer. Often you'll hear they don't have the funding so you might want to be prepared to work for free. Since when are volunteer workers rejected? There might be a few exceptions but more often than not you'll get a position. This is often a good way to get into some cutting edge, or interesting work plus the added benefit of knowing a professor/expert in the research area who can give you a reference letter. At least use the experience so when you apply for second year you will have a better probability of getting a work experience that is paid and in the field of interest based on your 1st year experience + professor recommendation.
  4. Feb 8, 2008 #3
    I wasn't expecting to be paid but still I would imagine it could be a hassle for the professor or suprervisor. I will ask around any case, I think that if I was to be of any help id have to be a lab assistant or work in an experimental rather than theoretical area. Still would beat working at tescos though I might have to do both to finance my next year of uni.

  5. Feb 8, 2008 #4
    I agree with the previous poster: ask around, and look for volunteer opportunities. It never hurts to ask!

    The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I went home (different state than my undergrad university). I asked a local university's astronomy department if they needed any students for the summer. I didn't apply to an official program, I just made a phone call. I ended up with two positions that summer in that department, one volunteer, one paid that extended to the following summer. I learned a lot, and my first publication came from those two summers.
  6. Feb 9, 2008 #5


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    There is a saying about research labs/groups:

    There are always more things that need to be done then there are researchers in the group.

    If the professor has something that needs to be done, I doubt he's going to turn away free help. Plus he may see your interest and invest in teaching you some of the "tricks of the trade" seeing that you may become more and more of an asset as the years go along.

    Ask around. It can't hurt, and you'll end up getting some great experience for the future. Experience like this will also make getting accepted to paid research internships (like REUs) a little bit easier in the future.
  7. Feb 16, 2008 #6
    I talked to my course organiser the other day and he said that its possible but most people wait till 2nd/3rd year. He said that I should just go up and ask them if theyd like any help.
    Its just kind of daunting that I know I will have next to no knowledge on the subject compared to the researchers. I know that you have to learn sometime but I don't want people to think im stupid for trying. Theres also so many different projects Im pretty sure I want to work with photonics and I reckon Id be more help in an experimental role.
    Any thoughts? Should I wait another year or two?

  8. Feb 16, 2008 #7
    Do it right now. Its not like one more year of courses will make you 100% ready for research. What you can learn in another year of study would most likely not be directly applicable to whatever research you want to do. A second year would have no further knowledge than a first year would in regards to cutting edge photonics research because that wouldn't be taught at the undergrad level (rather at the graduate level).

    In regards to how much knowledge needed, that doesnt matter since in pretty much all beginning research, you will have to spend a bulk of time doing a literature review anyways. This involves reading papers, journals etc. about the area of research and particular topic you wish to study.

    As long as you are grounded well in your fundamental physics , math courses you will be able to grasp and understand some of the things you see in research papers. Maybe if you have not had all your fundamental courses yet, then perhaps that would be why they favor at least a second year student.

    do a search on an area of research you are interested in here: scholar.google.com .. you can usually access the papers if you connect to your college/uni's online library.
  9. Feb 16, 2008 #8
    I'd go for it. I started when I was a freshman for an astro/particle physics group -- although I was only a lab monkey making parts in the machine shop and putting together detectors for a balloon flight.
  10. Feb 16, 2008 #9
    You could always try SURF. There are programs all across the country and I know at Purdue they often pay for the students living expensives in addition to the stipend for the summer. The idea is you apply and they try and connect you with a professor who has a project he/she needs work on.

    You relocate to Purdue, participate in some professional development seminars and other things and the summer is capped off with a research symposium. I did a summer at Purdue, but I also did my undergrad there so I couldn't give you the in's and outs of the program.

    Purdue's program is here:


    There are other programs like it all over the country, there may be other programs like it near you.

    Of course, I have no idea if you are in the US, if you aren't I am not sure if this will work.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2008
  11. Feb 16, 2008 #10
    I think undergrad research is encouraged more so in the US than here in the UK(St-Andrews). Though theyre trying to change that. I think I might be able to apply for a grant which will cover living expenses over the summer.

    Anyhow ive decided to go for it if I can find a group thatl have me.

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