Didn't know about REUs until too late

Bean
Posts: 20
Joined: Thu Jul 29, 2010 7:35 pm

Didn't know about REUs until too late

Postby Bean » Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:04 pm

Hello, I'm a 5 year physics, math double major from a small liberal arts university where the physics department consisted of but 2 professors (no graduate program, only 3yrs of physics courses). I started as pre-med, having never undergone an interesting physics class in high school, having had better grades and understanding of biology in high school, and having gone through cancer midway between my hs junior year (I had never before given physics or math a second glance) which lasted into my senior year and led to me being unable to complete my hs's honors requirements due to a time in the class-room requirement. After my freshman year's 2nd semester wherein i was exposed for the 1st time to elementary quantum mechanics (briefly), to some non-mathematical apects of GR, and to elementary calculus (a course that I would have taken in hs if not for the cancer incident) I decided to try out 1 of the physics 1st year courses over the summer. After that course I decided to change majors to physics, then after I was rejected from entering a topology class because I didn't have a pre-requisite course that only math majors took, I decided to tack on, as it were, a math major. [I originally changed majors because I found that I had a lot of wierd mathematically related ideas which, if I could prove, could have interesting results in physics and mathematics such that I might actually able to contribute something to science which (I thought) would help a he** of a lot more people than I as a physician ever could.] Now, the whole cancer's incident with my "life plan A" had altered my perspective on what was important and, where-as before I was straight-A student originally obsessed with grades then falling off the path due to the "attractions" of puberty but still obsessed with grades (though to a somewhat lesser extent), grades were no longer on my list of priorities which promptly led to grades lower than a B on both of my 1st upper-level physics courses (semester-wise, afterwards I tended to get As). That is not to say that I was not interested, nor that I didn't understand the material (except deflections due to the Coriolos effect (however that's spelled, as this is not a formal essay)), just that I tended to be pre-occupied. Now, as a result of my late interest in physics and my somewhat anti-social tendencies, I didn't find out about physic REUs until my senior year and although I still had 1 more year of mathematics-related courses to take, I had finished with the requirements for a BS from the physics department. This brings me to my problem:I applied for about 2 summer REUs (the only ones I was interested in, had the time for considering that the minimum # of hours I ever took was 16, and which were still open) and was rejected for both. I'm not sure why I was rejected (I was never told the exact reasons), though in my application letters I tended to essentially say exactly, or almost exactly, what I wanted to work on (which usually didn't follow what the professors at the institutions had researched before though it was in their general field (kind of), but then I had a specific idea for what I wanted to work on and gain research experience for/in and it didn't overtly matter to me that it be the same or even similar to what the professors wanted to research in (they could do their own research)), occasionally was maybe a hairs-breadth away from stating blatantly that if I couldn't do the research I wanted to do then the only possible benefit I would get out of doing someone else's research for them (which even if the professor provided the idea would still essentially be what I was doing at the REU if the research was not to be independent with possible input and/or output in group setups) would be that of having a nice decoration on my future grad school applications. So my question: what, basically, should I do about grad school?

Bean
Posts: 20
Joined: Thu Jul 29, 2010 7:35 pm

Re: Didn't know about REUs until too late

Postby Bean » Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:36 pm

Would my overcoming of Dyslexia at around the age of 6-7 and my psychiatrically proven mental disabilities of OCD and ADHD (diagnosed at 6) matter - I mean in a negative or positive way. I mean, I didn't use disabilities services to get compensations in the manner of test location changes or time extensions or anything even though one of the after-effects of chemo-therapy may be similar to ADD (or was it ADHD) so I did everything under the environment that a student lacking such disabilities would have to deal with. I think that I've occasionally been askd to try and publish some of my ideas, I mean such "suggestions" were always indirect so they may have just been in my imagination. But, I've never even tried to publish (for ~.5 year I was opposed to the idea that I try to fit all results in a paragraph to .5 pages for an abstract as I had around 40-50 pages of nothing but mathematics where each page tended to have a result and for the rest of that year I was discouraged from even trying because I wouldn't be able to submit all 40-50 pages of almost nothing but math and if I tried to add explanations, the entirety would be too long). Perhaps I'm frightened that my ideas will be considered laughingstocks, so to speak, or perhaps I'm frightened that they will be taken seriously when I've spent a year without success trying to prove something that would place the entire structure upon firm mathematical ground that was not reliant upon making up anymore axioms than the mathematics that is used in describing GR, or the SM, or CM. I mean I've had limited success which mathematically, if not physically, could be accepted, maybe, if the scenario were limited to classical where examination of the classical were from the QM perspective such that the Schrodinger interpretation were used and the QM equations under said interpretation were allowed to transition invariantly from QM to CM. Or perhaps I fear that I've somehow turned into a "gibbering loon"... In the end though, the reason doesn't matter; it remains that I haven't published.

So what kind of effect should I expect this to have on my future applications to Grad school. -- I know that it is not a beneficial effect already, but I'm not sure of how badly it will reflect on me?

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zxcv
Posts: 402
Joined: Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:08 pm

Re: Didn't know about REUs until too late

Postby zxcv » Tue Aug 03, 2010 12:56 pm

It's no fault of yours that you didn't get into an REU, since these programs are super competitive -- even more so than top graduate programs. To have a good chance of getting into such a program, it's imperative to apply to many and to not handicap yourself by saying you want to do research that is not what professors in those programs do.

At this point, if you want to go to a PhD program in physics, at a bare minimum you will need to be able to show potential for success at research. Independent, unpublishable work is not such an indication, since nobody else can vouch for your skills. If you're serious about wanting to go graduate school, the path starts with you working on somebody else's projects in an established research laboratory. Even a volunteer position is better than nothing to get your started.

Good luck!

vttd
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:23 pm

Re: Didn't know about REUs until too late

Postby vttd » Tue Aug 03, 2010 3:00 pm

Your post was a bit lengthy, so I just skimmed it. For the question about REUs, they are very competitive to get. If you pretty much stated that you only wanted to work on projects you listed and they were not what the professor's research is on, it is pretty clear why you did not get the positions. REUs are generally not meant to be independent research projects, they tend to follow along the lines of the professor's research. If you want independent research your best bet would to present an idea to a professor at your school and ask if they would be your advisor.

It is my general impression that you need some research experience for your application for graduate school, especially when it comes to your letters of recommendation. There are many different paths to research, you just have to choose one. Ask professors you know, those you don't, apply to different programs, etc. To me it sounds like you are unwilling to do any research that doesn't follow under your specific interests which limits your options, but there are still many ways to go about it.

Most grad school applicants have done a lot of research, so that's something to keep in mind. Also keep in mind that you don't come out every research project with a published paper, and the best way to get one is to have research related to someone respected in the field. Unless it's extraordinary work, it's hard to get published if no one has heard of you because they do not know how valid your work is.

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YodaT
Posts: 102
Joined: Mon May 10, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Didn't know about REUs until too late

Postby YodaT » Mon Aug 16, 2010 2:58 am

Usually REU programs accept students, who skills and past experience most correlate to projects or research groups at the host university. I applied to about 6 REU programs this past summer, and two schools ended up calling me and asking me what exactly it was I did on my last research project and after mentioning my work was purely theoretical-astro work (the school's REU program had more emphasis on observational astronomy) I received an e-mail a couple days later saying I was not accepted. A couple of REU programs I was accepted to seemed to have been because of my previous work and one of them was where my research/academic adviser received his PhD, and he had a great reputation at the host university. Also, its worthy to note that many of the NSF funded REU programs are more geared towards minorities and underrepresented students. Although I am a minority myself I was reluctant to label my ethnicity, but many of the students attending (who claimed to have labeled their ethnicity) seemed to not have been academically qualified to handle such work. So, in my opinion its highly dependent upon four factors; who you know, what ethnicity you are, what your previous work has been, and what project you plan to commit to at the host university. Grades have a great deal to do with it, too. Also, don't worry about previous work, not many students have had previous research experience.

As for grad school and publications. If you are able to get a published paper, even if you just do one project all through undergrad, it'll be an extreme boost factor on your applications. It'll show you are dedicated and motivated enough to see a project all the way through to a publication. And since you are virtually unknown to the math and physics community, it'll be practically impossible to get a publication with only your name on it. Right now I'm working on a publication with my academic/research adviser and he is well published, so I have little worry about the paper not being accepted. I think if you were to show some of your work to the math and physics faculty at your university they'd be willing to assist you in publishing, as long as you work with them and maybe get their name on the paper to get the paper through more easily. Having a mentor and/or adviser is the best way to get well-known in the physics community. It'll open doors, allow you to attend conferences with them (where you can develop contacts), get letters of recommendations, etc.

The whole health issue thing, if relevant, should be mentioned in your Statement of Purpose (SOP). Don't make too much of an emphasis on your condition, tho. Try to emphasize how it may have effected your performance and how you had the ability to overcome it. For example, I had to got through two surgeries in high school and was unable to walk for 9 months. Although, I suffer from a slight disability today I won't really mention too much about it. But, this past Fall I went through heart surgery and my recovery period overlapped with Spring semester, and you bet I'm gonna mention that in my SOP for REU programs next year and grad school applications in a year.




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