Research Opportunities for Recent Graduates

KillingFields
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun May 13, 2018 9:17 pm

Research Opportunities for Recent Graduates

Postby KillingFields » Thu May 17, 2018 9:41 am

I graduated two years ago. Graduate admissions didn’t work out too well (applied to top hep-th schools, no surprise there :D ). I may apply again, not sure. Either way I’d like to have some solid research experience before I do. Maybe a publication or two in a good journal.

However, most summer research option, like REU’s, are impossible now that I’m out of college. So what options do I have? I could just start emailing professors, but that seems desperate and I don’t see how I’d be able to work out the logistics of funding, etc.

How do I go about this? Anyone here have experience with this stuff?

Bio: I’m pretty proficient in QFT, general relativity, etc. Great grades in graduate-level courses, PGRE 970, etc. Ideally I’d like to work on scattering amplitudes in QFT. But I’m open to anything in hep-th.

TakeruK
Posts: 936
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Research Opportunities for Recent Graduates

Postby TakeruK » Thu May 17, 2018 2:31 pm

Emailing professors could work. You don't have to worry about the logistics of funding---that's up tot he professor to decide how they would fund you. Of course, this means that your chances of a position is quite small because you have to find someone willing to take you / has a good fit project for you AND has funding for you. I don't know of any funding source that you could tap into to self-fund.

To maximize your chances you should:
- Email a large number of people that are good fits
- Be open to a much wider range of research. It sounds like your goal here is to get research experience to help you get into grad school. So you don't need research experience in "scattering amplitudes in QFT". You don't even need research in hep-th, just find anything that interests you and is physics or mathematical in nature.
- Find ways to make a personal connection with profs (without being creepy). Do you have connections at any nearby schools? Are there events where physics profs from the nearby schools will be attending so that you can introduce yourself and your interests? What about your previous school? Who do you know there and can they introduce you to anyone?
- I don't know what your emails or resume would look like if you were actually trying to apply to a position, but make sure that it is the best that it can be. Have physics profs look over it if possible (e.g. did you have an advisor in your previous program?). Make sure you can write something that is short and clearly states what your skills are and how you can contribute to their research.

To be clear, when you write these emails, you are basically applying to an un-advertised position in their group. (Sometimes you can find actual job postings though, so look in the HR department of nearby schools too for actual positions). Maybe the prof has been thinking of hiring someone for awhile but hasn't got around to it, or they might have had a project in mind but haven't met the right person yet. So typically, you would write this email with introducing yourself, your goal of graduate school and that you are seeking a research position in their group. Then you should list the most relevant skills and experiences you have. Be sure to tailor this to each prof you email.

I mention this because you said you would like to work on "scattering amplitudes in QFT" but for this type of research experience search, it's not going to be you that determines what project you work on. Instead, you are trying to show that you are a good fit for their current research programs.

KillingFields
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun May 13, 2018 9:17 pm

Re: Research Opportunities for Recent Graduates

Postby KillingFields » Thu May 17, 2018 4:01 pm

TakeruK wrote:Emailing professors could work. You don't have to worry about the logistics of funding---that's up tot he professor to decide how they would fund you. Of course, this means that your chances of a position is quite small because you have to find someone willing to take you / has a good fit project for you AND has funding for you. I don't know of any funding source that you could tap into to self-fund.

To maximize your chances you should:
- Email a large number of people that are good fits
- Be open to a much wider range of research. It sounds like your goal here is to get research experience to help you get into grad school. So you don't need research experience in "scattering amplitudes in QFT". You don't even need research in hep-th, just find anything that interests you and is physics or mathematical in nature.
- Find ways to make a personal connection with profs (without being creepy). Do you have connections at any nearby schools? Are there events where physics profs from the nearby schools will be attending so that you can introduce yourself and your interests? What about your previous school? Who do you know there and can they introduce you to anyone?
- I don't know what your emails or resume would look like if you were actually trying to apply to a position, but make sure that it is the best that it can be. Have physics profs look over it if possible (e.g. did you have an advisor in your previous program?). Make sure you can write something that is short and clearly states what your skills are and how you can contribute to their research.

To be clear, when you write these emails, you are basically applying to an un-advertised position in their group. (Sometimes you can find actual job postings though, so look in the HR department of nearby schools too for actual positions). Maybe the prof has been thinking of hiring someone for awhile but hasn't got around to it, or they might have had a project in mind but haven't met the right person yet. So typically, you would write this email with introducing yourself, your goal of graduate school and that you are seeking a research position in their group. Then you should list the most relevant skills and experiences you have. Be sure to tailor this to each prof you email.

I mention this because you said you would like to work on "scattering amplitudes in QFT" but for this type of research experience search, it's not going to be you that determines what project you work on. Instead, you are trying to show that you are a good fit for their current research programs.


Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it.

I got along well with my undergrad advisor. He worked in QCD....30 years ago and switched over to quantum computation (not an area of interest). He has contacts, but none of them are working in related fields.

I’m open to researching anything, as long as it’s hep-th or closely related. Otherwise I don’t see a point: I wouldn’t be interested and it wouldn’t help with grad applications either.

Frankly, the goal here is to get exposure and do some challenging research. Grad school would be nice bonus, but as I said above, I may not apply again. Not sure. So I’m not certain I should present grad school as the main goal in my emails. What do you think?

I agree that emailing a large number of people is the best strategy. But wouldn’t I be spreading myself too thin? For example, if I picked 30 research groups, I’d have to familiarize myself with their work, which would amount to hundreds of papers. I think they’d be able to see through my emails. I’m having a breadth vs. depth problem here.

Finally, I have to ask: what do gap year students usually do when opportunities are so limited? Do they just pack up and become hedge-fund managers? Are you basically screwed once you exit an institution?

TakeruK
Posts: 936
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Research Opportunities for Recent Graduates

Postby TakeruK » Fri May 18, 2018 5:32 pm

KillingFields wrote:I got along well with my undergrad advisor. He worked in QCD....30 years ago and switched over to quantum computation (not an area of interest). He has contacts, but none of them are working in related fields.


This is really good. The way academia is set up, you are much better off if you have access to a mentor. Be sure to renew contact with this person if you haven't been keeping in touch and let them know your long term goals, whatever they are (see below).

KillingFields wrote:I’m open to researching anything, as long as it’s hep-th or closely related. Otherwise I don’t see a point: I wouldn’t be interested and it wouldn’t help with grad applications either.


I misunderstood your original goals (see next point). If your goal is a graduate program, then you don't actually have to do research in hep-th if you currently have zero research experience. I am not sure what your current CV looks like, but the wording of your first post implied that you did not do research during your degree. If this is true, then any research would greatly help you get into a graduate program, even if the research is not in hep-th. The point is to gain experience as a competent researcher, not to be an expert in hep-th (that's what grad school is for).

As for interest, hep-th is such a competitive field due to low funding levels, at least compared to other physics fields. I think the reality is that many people who want to attend graduate programs in this field will have to do what it takes to gain the skills and experience, even if it's not their main interest.

KillingFields wrote:Frankly, the goal here is to get exposure and do some challenging research. Grad school would be nice bonus, but as I said above, I may not apply again. Not sure. So I’m not certain I should present grad school as the main goal in my emails. What do you think?


I guess I misunderstood. Sorry. In my mind, I thought the main goal of getting exposure and doing academic research was to continue in academia. Most of the time, taking on someone like you is a huge risk to the professor and will be stretching their funding thinly (i.e. it would take away from funding their own students). hep-th isn't really a field where people just hire researchers for the sake of doing research. My thought here is that a prof might be more willing to take this risk if they thought they could provide an opportunity to someone who might not otherwise have one.

To follow up on this though, if grad school is not necessarily your goal, then why are you interested in doing more research? Maybe if I knew your main goals/motivations, there can be more specific advice given?

KillingFields wrote:I agree that emailing a large number of people is the best strategy. But wouldn’t I be spreading myself too thin? For example, if I picked 30 research groups, I’d have to familiarize myself with their work, which would amount to hundreds of papers. I think they’d be able to see through my emails. I’m having a breadth vs. depth problem here.

I think a balanced approach will work best. Perhaps there would be a few labs/groups you are extremely interested in and you would research them further. As you start finding people, you'll likely find opportunities that are more feasible/interesting. Spend more time on those. For others, you might be able to get enough information to craft an email from their research website and abstracts of a few papers.

It will certainly be a time investment---consider it a full time job (or at least part time in the evenings if you work a full time job to support yourself) looking for these opportunities.

That said, when I wrote the above advice, I didn't think that you would reach out to 30 groups. Typically, people who have graduated are working in another place and/or have other commitments/responsibilities. So, people generally contact research groups within their city or within driving distance rather than applying broadly all over the place. It might be helpful to be able to come into the department and chat with the professor before they "hire" you. In addition, it is not common to hire and pay someone to do this full time....you might end up with a 10hr/week thing, so it's not like it will pay all your bills. So if this makes sense to you, certainly spend more time focussing on these local opportunities rather than applying all over the country.

The exception is for advertised job positions---if you see them on the job board or HR website, then definitely apply.

But this is all personal. Maybe you are able and willing to just pick up and move to another place for an opportunity like this.

KillingFields wrote:Finally, I have to ask: what do gap year students usually do when opportunities are so limited? Do they just pack up and become hedge-fund managers? Are you basically screwed once you exit an institution?


Sometimes people find work in a related field and gain experience/money before going back to academia. You're not screwed but it is certainly a lot harder to get back into academia once you are not connected with an institution. People often get back in through determination and perseverance and some sort of path like I described above. It's not the only way though.

Although most grad students come directly from undergrad, it's not that rare to find students who took time off. I know some students who took a much longer time off to pursue other careers or interests before applying to grad school. So, you're definitely not screwed!




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