REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

kemistree
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REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby kemistree » Mon Jun 13, 2011 12:36 pm

Hi all,
I'm currently a rising sophomore at a very good school, and I was wondering, how important is it to do an REU vs. a good research fellowship? I looked at some of the previous threads, and it seemed like an REU was almost a necessity for getting into top schools for grad school (as in, pretty much everybody getting in did one). I'm honestly in a bind regarding this. This year, I applied to MANY REU's (all good, and some fairly unknown), but was rejected from allexcept for one REU program, but ended up not going because the project I got was completely irrelevant to what I want to study, so I ended up staying at my college on a research fellowship. Honestly, I was surprised I got rejected from so many REU's. I had years of good research, relatively good letters (I would think), and pretty decent grades, so honestly, I was very surprised by the REU results, since many students I know at other institutions with no research got in over me to these top REU programs. What gets you into an REU? I mean, I even CONTACTED the professors at some of the schools, so really, you can see that I put quite a lot of effort into these applications, even specifying exactly what kind of research I wanted to do.
Now, my school offers several research abroad fellowships, and I was really interested in doing research at UK (Oxford, maybe) next year. Now, this means I will not be doing any "official" REU programs, very likely, as I'm quite discouraged after this round of applications!!! So, I was wondering, should I just reapply to these REU's, or do the abroad program?
As a background, I'm currently doing pretty good research (hopefully) at my university, and also do during-the-year research at my university through various research programs. I take pretty advanced courses in physics compared to some of my classmates.
And seriously, what do i need to DO to get into an REU? I feel like If i apply again, i'm just going to be rejected anyways, so now I'm too lazy to eve make the effort.

Gracias in advance
Last edited by kemistree on Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

vesperlynd
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby vesperlynd » Mon Jun 13, 2011 1:00 pm

Many times, the REU coordinators and faculty are looking for people who don't have research experience or go to schools that don't offer much in research. Since you have extensive experience already, they probably felt you were overqualified. Also, you you already go to a top school, you have more than enough opportunities to do research at your school. Taking a research fellowship at your school will not hurt you in the least. If you have the opportunity to go abroad, take it.

You are fine. Stop worrying.

vttd
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby vttd » Mon Jun 13, 2011 1:01 pm

I can maybe give you a reason why you didn't get an REU, I don't know for sure, but I believe preference is typically given to older students. Probably because they have a tacit assumption that you will reapply with more experience, and to allow the most amount of students research at other institutions before they graduate. That's just a stab in the dark, but it seems to follow. I got one of my research positions after applying twice unsuccessfully before. Also research done prior to your undergraduate career is probably not looked at quite as highly as other students with research at a university level. Don't worry, with your record you should be able to get a good REU during your next couple of summers.

kemistree
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby kemistree » Mon Jun 13, 2011 1:29 pm

^yeah, that's what one of my profs suggested. What's frustrating is that grad school apps my just end up being the same.....(ie millions of hours spent, fruitless results). I think the process is just mysterious.

But thanks, and I think that I'll definitely reapply to REU's before my senior year (and hopefully they're kinder to me this time!). From what I've heard from people who did REU's, they are amazing not simply because they help grad school admissions, but actually because you get something done, meet people, and spend a summer somewhere different while having fun. So I'd definitely like to get into (a good) one, eventually!
Last edited by kemistree on Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Jun 13, 2011 3:16 pm

kemistree wrote:And seriously, what do i need to DO to get into an REU?


Go to a school where there is NO research available at all. If you are at a high-ranked university, you honestly will be better off staying there and joining a research group for 2 years. You will get so much more out of that than an REU and it will definitely look better on your applications. The REU I participated in, all but one student came from a University where there was very little research available. In fact, I am in favor of most REU positions going to people with little opportunity for research at their home university. I know that I would be in trouble if I didn't get into an REU, where as someone at a top 50 University should always have some sort of research available to them.

-Riley

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grae313
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby grae313 » Mon Jun 13, 2011 3:39 pm

You should do some searching and reading before you post.

viewtopic.php?f=25&t=3626&hilit=research (pay attention to quizivex's and sunkist7's posts in this thread)

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1430&hilit=reu+admission

In summary: extremely limited spots, NSF-funded where emphasis is on diversity and minorities, preference given to juniors, seniors, and people from schools without many research opportunities at home. REUs are mainly to help under-advantaged students without access to good resources at their home institution.

An REU is absolutely not necessary, it is just the only way for many students to get good research experience. Over one summer, it's often more of a training and visiting program than real research. You'll do better to stay in one or two research groups at your institution and get some publications out. Apply again during your junior and senior year summers if you want, but not having an REU isn't going to keep you out of grad school.

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YodaT
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby YodaT » Mon Jun 13, 2011 7:10 pm

A lot of these REU programs are not worth the money put into them... or your time, since you go to such a good university. My ideal research experience is going in, producing results, giving a talk, and (if possible) having a publishable paper by summer's end. REU programs are not meant for that. They are meant to give less advantageous students a chance to feel like a researcher, diversify the graduate application pool, and provide various research groups with additional funding throughout the year (for taking on REU students). In my opinion so much time was wasted at my REU program... too many distractions... less serious students.

Right now I'm not at an official REU program (although I believe there are bigger forces at work pulling some strings to keep me here... for political reasons of course), but I am with a group I'm acquainted with, working in a field I'm used to, and feel like I'm taken a bit more serious than last summer. Above all else my adviser is tantalizing me with a publishable paper by summer's end and a chance to discover results never before seen (all romantic gestures for any theoretically interested student).

My advice... get an apartment near your school, have a research group take you on (for 1+ years), do your overseas research, and produce a paper in a couple years worth of work... that is what will get you into graduate schools. Oh yes, NETWORK!! A lot of the time it's more of who you know, rather than what you know (that is why I'm researching at a school on the other side of the country without ever filling out an REU application... minus the fact that I'm more acquainted to the field than many graduate students here).

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Jun 13, 2011 7:31 pm

YodaT wrote: In my opinion so much time was wasted at my REU program... too many distractions... less serious students.


I'm going to have to chime in and say the REU was the most fun summer of my life so far. I know I've said this previously. Also, as far as networking is concerned, it was nice to know 13-14 other people from different undergraduate universities and to keep that network ongoing, just as you mentioned how networking is important.

I still believe that staying at your home school if you're at a well ranked school is the better option, but if you're not in a great program, REU is definitely a good option.

-Riley

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YodaT
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby YodaT » Mon Jun 13, 2011 7:57 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
YodaT wrote: In my opinion so much time was wasted at my REU program... too many distractions... less serious students.


I'm going to have to chime in and say the REU was the most fun summer of my life so far. I know I've said this previously. Also, as far as networking is concerned, it was nice to know 13-14 other people from different undergraduate universities and to keep that network ongoing, just as you mentioned how networking is important.

-Riley


Don't get me wrong, it was fun. Yet, the productivity level was so low. It does help with networking (to some degree). I'm in serious contact with only 1 of the 20+ students that were there last summer. I think networking as part of a research group at kemistree's home institute would benefit him more... that's just my opinion.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Jun 13, 2011 10:41 pm

YodaT wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote:
YodaT wrote: In my opinion so much time was wasted at my REU program... too many distractions... less serious students.


I'm going to have to chime in and say the REU was the most fun summer of my life so far. I know I've said this previously. Also, as far as networking is concerned, it was nice to know 13-14 other people from different undergraduate universities and to keep that network ongoing, just as you mentioned how networking is important.

-Riley


Don't get me wrong, it was fun. Yet, the productivity level was so low. It does help with networking (to some degree). I'm in serious contact with only 1 of the 20+ students that were there last summer. I think networking as part of a research group at kemistree's home institute would benefit him more... that's just my opinion.


The group of students that I had at my REU was supposedly the "most congenial" group they had ever had. Typically Physics students tend to be more reserved than usual, so I suppose I was quite lucky. Plus, there is nothing more awesome then 15 physics students making a giant whirlpool in the swimming pool. Low productivity is definitely the best. ;)

-Riley

TheBeast
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby TheBeast » Mon Jun 13, 2011 11:30 pm

If you get the chance, I would recommend highly doing the summer program in the UK. When I was an undergrad, I did a summer research project at Cambridge and had an excellent time. Not only do you get to experience research at another institution (where professors have different interests, skills, biases, etc. than your home institution and consequently a potentially different point of view on the same sort of work) but you also get the chance to obtain a letter of recommendation from an institution other than your own. I suspect that this will play favorably when the time comes around for your applications because it shows the committee that not only do people at your school think you're awesome, but people at a highly reputed other institution think you're awesome as well.

kemistree
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby kemistree » Mon Jun 13, 2011 11:51 pm

^Yeah, I was looking into Cambridge as well, w/ the Cavendish lab. I've never even set foot on Europe, and so am hoping it'll turn out good. The problem is it's not a structured program - I'd be finding a prof there, then looking for a grant at my school, and so I'm worried it will "look" inferior compared to the REU.

Also, to theBeast: which program did you do your research through? Is the general idea that undergrad research at UK is not as good as here in the US true? This is a perspective I've heard from my advisers and several undergrads, but it'd be good to hear from someone whose actually done physics research at UK!

also, what do you guys think of the Caltech SURF program? I've been intending to work in JPL for a long time, but I'm not sure how this stacks up to an REU.
Last edited by kemistree on Sat Jun 25, 2011 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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grae313
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby grae313 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:27 am

kemistree wrote:^Yeah, I was looking into Cambridge as well, w/ the Cavendish lab. I've never even set foot on Europe, and so am hoping it'll turn out good. The problem is it's not a structured program - I'd be finding a prof there, then looking for an international internship grant at my school, and so I'm worried it will "look" inferior compared to the REU.


Seriously? REUs are by and large NOT prestigious. If you truly think that getting accepted into an REU to play around for a few months is better than making your own way into a famous professor's lab in another country to do real work and winning grants to get there, you are valuing REUs way too highly. You should transfer your focus from REUs to results. Get some publications at your own institution and you are golden. You're starting early enough that you could try out more than one group at your own school or do an REU or two, but that is NOT the difference maker in your application. They are a fun time and a chance to network.

Also I'm not sure where you got this idea that you need an REU to be a competitive applicant. When I look through profiles from students from top schools with good grades and good PGRE scores and that were accepted to top 10 schools, it looks like around half or less of them did an REU.

TheBeast
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Re: REU vs. international research experience (in UK)

Postby TheBeast » Tue Jun 14, 2011 8:28 pm

kemistree wrote:Also, to theBeast: which program did you do your research through? Is the general idea that undergrad research at UK is not as good as here in the US true? This is a perspective I've heard from my advisers and several undergrads, but it'd be good to hear from someone whose actually done physics research at UK!

I didn't go through any program for my research at Cambridge. I contacted a prof there (in my email, I mentioned the names of people I had worked with before, one of whom he may have known through reputation) and asked to work in his group for the summer. The undergrad scholarship that was funding my education at the time had summer project funding that you could apply for, so I used that to fund my summer at Cambridge. Also, once I got there, I was pleased to hear that my supervisor was willing to throw in some money of his own.

With regards to undergraduate research in the UK, from what I understand, it's not particularly common for undergrads to do research projects over the summer. I was at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy and as far as I could tell, I was the only undergrad student there that summer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I've never done summer research in a US institution. I'm Canadian, but from what I've ascertained, summer undergrad research is Canada is a similar experience to that in the US. I've also spent ample time at Fermilab where I met a variety of undergrads doing research there (some on REUs, some just through their home institution) and, for the most part, the work they were doing seems comparable to the stuff Canadian undergrad researchers do during their summers.

Academically, the summer research experience I had a Cambridge was very similar to my summer research experiences in Canada. The level of independence was roughly the same, there were grad students and postdocs to help out, and the projects themselves were similar. In no way would I have called the research experience inferior to what I was getting in North America.

While it may be true that, in general, the research portfolio of a UK undergrad is less substantial than their North American counterpart, I can't say that an individual summer research project in the UK isn't as good as what's available in North America. My research project there was quite similar to my undergrad summer research projects back home.

I think that the overall rigour and academic merit of summer research experiences are contingent on a variety of factors, irrespective of where you do them: the project itself, the support network available, the attitudes of the professor and the attitudes of the student. You'll see by reading the various threads on this site that domestically, summer research experiences vary greatly. Some students get a chance to travel, learn a bit of science and see how professional research is done. Others work on projects that ultimately, through no fault of the student, don't lead anywhere. Some will get publishable results.




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