REUs and Grad School Admission

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
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perplexity
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REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby perplexity » Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:58 pm

For those of you who applied to REUs during your undergrad years, did you find any correlation between the caliber of the REU and graduate programs you were accepted to?

I'm curious because I was accepted to several fairly competitive (I think) REU programs for this summer, but I don't know if I should take that as any indication of my chances at admission to graduate programs next year. I was rejected by the three most prestigious programs I applied to (Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, and Kitt Peak National Observatory), but was accepted to UCLA, UC Davis, Los Alamos National Lab, Purdue, National Solar Observatory, and wait-listed at Caltech.

I got a fairly late start on the physics track since I was originally planning on a career in math, and my school has a pretty lacking physics department. Actually, it barely has what could be called a physics department, since only a minor (not major) is offered. I have yet to take the GRE, so I don't know how test scores will weigh in. What I do have going for me is a 4.0 in physics, around 3.98 in math, and 3.985 overall GPA. Also, although my recommendations don't come from famous researchers, they are very strong in the things my profs had to say. The fact that so few females are in physics might also be a slight advantage, I'd imagine.

In everyone's personal opinions, might I stand a chance with decent graduate programs next year? I'm not expecting to get in any top programs (I was surprised I even made the wait-list at Caltech since I have absolutely zero research experience at this point), but how about places like UCLA and such?
Last edited by perplexity on Tue Mar 25, 2008 9:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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butsurigakusha
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby butsurigakusha » Tue Mar 25, 2008 9:23 pm

I wouldn't use the fact that you got accepted to REU's as any indicator of how you will do in applying to grad schools. I was rejected by all the REU programs I applied to, but ended up getting accepted to a few good grad schools. I am sure you could find examples of the reverse. Plus, although I could be mistaken, I think admission to REU programs heavily favors women and minority applicants, whereas I don't think that will be true for grad school admissions.

Now, you say your school doesn't have a physics major, only a minor? Not having a degree in physics could pose a significant problem, as grad schools generally expect a degree in physics, or at least equivalent course work. Are you still able to take courses in mechanics, quantum mechanics, stat mech and electrodynamics? These courses are expected of applicants, and if you haven't taken them, you might need to study them on your own, and then show it by getting a high score on the gre.

As far as getting into schools next year, I would say you have a decent chance, depending on whether you are able to take those courses, and get a decent gre score, (doesn't have to be perfect). Doing an REU this summer will help. If you are able to get out a publication, that will help too. Keep in mind, however, that getting accepted to schools like UCLA is not a trivial thing. There are plenty of applicants who get rejected by top-50 schools, even though they seem to have solid applications.

perplexity
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby perplexity » Tue Mar 25, 2008 9:37 pm

I'll have completed most of the coursework associated with a physics major, but I won't have the lab experience that students from larger schools get. My college just doesn't have the funds to maintain a strong physics lab. This year I took thermal physics and theoretical mechanics, and I'm currently in electrodynamics and quantum mechanics. I don't believe there is a stat mech class offered here, but next year I'll also be getting electronics, and a few independent studies.

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fermiboy
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby fermiboy » Tue Mar 25, 2008 9:39 pm

butsurigakusha wrote: Plus, although I could be mistaken, I think admission to REU programs heavily favors women and minority applicants, whereas I don't think that will be true for grad school admissions.


You don't think that minority or female status helps for graduate admissions? What rock are you living under? Being a minority or female applicant is a HUGE advantage in the admissions game. You know, the whole diversity thing?

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butsurigakusha
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby butsurigakusha » Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:24 pm

@perplexity

I would guess your class on thermal physics probably includes stat mech, and that was really what I meant. My school doesn't have an undergraduate stat mech class either, but it is part of our thermal physics class. I think you can make up for your lack of lab experience by getting research experience.

So, if you get good grades in those physics classes, and score okay the PGRE, then you should have a pretty good chance at getting into a school like UCLA. And I wouldn't count you out of the running for even top-10 schools. Just make sure you apply to some good safety schools.

@fermiboy

I guess I don't have any real experience with grad schools admissions to be able to say if it favors women and minorities. I know admissions departments have things in there applications about diversity, but I don't know how important that really is.

However, I worked for a national lab a few summers ago, and was able to get to know the summer interns. It was slightly different than an REU, the funding came through the DOE Office of Science instead of the NSF, and the interns were not physics majors for the most part, but were mostly chemistry and chemical engineering students, I believe. Still, I imagine the admissions are similar for REU's. Anyway, my observations were that the demographic makeup of the interns was definitely not the same as the overall demographics of chemistry and chemical engineering students nationwide. There was definitely a disproportionate number of women and minorities. Very few white males. If there is bias in grad school admissions, I doubt it is as strong.

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al-Haytham
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby al-Haytham » Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:36 pm

i think you should have a great chance at grad admissions next year, try aiming for at least a 700 on the pgre and don't forget to apply to some safety schools..with some luck you could probably get into one of the top 10 places in the country

JackSkellington
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby JackSkellington » Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:42 pm

Ok first off, UCLA is not just a top 50 school; last I checked it was a top 20. In fact its 3rd in plasma. And, just getting good grades and getting an "ok score" on the PGRE is not enough to get in any top 50 school, as butsurigakusha claims it is- somewhat arrogantly I might add. From everything I've seen you need research, and the more the better. So getting into any of these schools is not trivial.

@perplexity

That said, I think the REU acceptances are a terrible indicator of your chances in grad school. I was rejected by 5/6 REUs when I applied, but was accepted to 6/9 grad programs I applied to, including one of the schools that rejected me for their REU. I think the reason is that they only have ~10 spots for often hundreds of applicants.
Last edited by JackSkellington on Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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butsurigakusha
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby butsurigakusha » Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:47 pm

Actually, UCLA is a top-50 school, technically, but so is MIT. Of course, I know when someone says top-50, they usually mean top-50, but not top-20. I really was saying the exact same thing you just said, that getting into a top-50 school (which includes UCLA) is not trivial. Since UCLA is a top-20 school, then it is even more non-trivial to get in.

JackSkellington
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby JackSkellington » Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:49 pm

Yes- hence not "just" a top 50.

ibbgs
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby ibbgs » Tue Mar 25, 2008 11:01 pm

I would think that it is not where you got into an REU program that matters where you get in, but what you do during your REU term and the insuing reference letters from them that really matter.

That being said I suspect it is a good indicator for getting NSF type fellowships. This is certainly true in Canada. The more NSERC awards you get, the more NSERC awards you are likely to get in the future.

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twistor
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby twistor » Tue Mar 25, 2008 11:16 pm

Don't waste time with temporary REUs. Try to get a semi-permanent student research job at your undergraduate institution.

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zxcv
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby zxcv » Wed Mar 26, 2008 1:01 am

I think it's great to do an REU, and that it also bodes well for graduate admissions.

Twistor thinks you shouldn't waste your time, but it sounds like not much high quality physics research is going on at your school anyways. Or if there is, it may not be in a specialty you're interested. I knew I wanted to do some sort of theoretical physics, and even though there is a strong physics department at my school, with only around 10 professors, there are somehow no active researchers doing theoretical work. Going outside may not be ideal, but sometimes you don't have a choice.

Everyone else is talking about how REU acceptances are a poor indicator of your chances in grad school because they didn't get into many REU. But in the opposite case, I do think it says something meaningful about your chances. True, graduate schools don't have the same objectives to recruit from schools where there isn't much research going on, but it is MUCH HARDER to get into REU programs than graduate school. Programs receive a few hundred applications for 10 or so slots, just as Jack said. When I got rejected from Davis' REU program, they even told me that I would almost certainly get into their grad program -- and I did. If you got into an REU without personally targeting professors you were interested in working with -- as you can do for grad school, especially once you've done research in their field -- then it's more of indication of your qualifications.

What really matters is taking this great chance you have now and running with it as far as you can. Do outstanding research, and make substantial contributions to your group. If possible, do background reading in your area of research before you start, so you can really jump in to research as soon as you show up for those 10 short weeks. Impress your adviser, so you get a great letter of recommendation. If you can, push to publish your results, with your name on it. Strong performance not only means that almost certain to get back into that program for grad school, but also possibly even stronger programs. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't apply for a good range of safety program, but you definitely have a shot at top schools.

butsurigakusha - You were working with chemists, and there are way more female and minority chemists than physicists. That said, from my experience there may be some element of truth in that sort of situation in physics REU programs, too. But I don't see any compelling reason why that also would not be true also for grad schools. Perplexity, don't let anyone diminish your success here.

perplexity
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby perplexity » Wed Mar 26, 2008 2:03 am

Thanks for all the replies.

I wish there were an opportunity to get involved in research at my school, but sadly there is no research going on here (except in the biology department). Had I decided on physics as a career sooner, I would have done more than one REU. For that matter, I would have chosen a school based on its physics department rather than making my choice based just on the scholarship I was offered.

Since several students from my college are currently pursuing Ph.D.s in physics (and most of them had rather mediocre grades and test scores), I have no doubt that I will be able to get into a graduate program somewhere. Having given up the idea of getting my undergraduate degree from a prestigious school for financial reasons, though, I can't help but wish I could make up for it by going to a more respected graduate school. Is it totally unheard of for students with meager research experience and no published work to be admitted to top-50 schools (assuming, of course, that all other application criteria are strong)?

zxcv and butsurigakusha, thanks for the words of encouragement. Regardless of what I am told here, I will still be applying to at least a couple top grad programs next fall. All the REU acceptances I received were based solely on application materials and recommendation letters. I did not contact any of the researchers because, quite honestly, I didn't think I had any chance of being accepted to their programs. That's also why I applied to so many--hoping for the offchance that one decent program would accept me. After turning down their offers, I received letters from professors at both UCLA and UC Davis encouraging me to apply to their graduate programs because I am "exactly the kind of student they are looking for," but I have a hard time believing that. Had I gone to a higher ranked school for my undergraduate years, I would not be having these reservations. I doubt I will have any problem getting a good recommendation from the REU, since I will be working one-on-one with my mentor and am confident that I will be able to contribute to his research. I just hope that graduate admissions committees will see potential even where there is a lack of experience.

In reference to my first post about schools like UCLA, I did not realize that UCLA was so highly ranked. I knew it was up there, but had no idea it was in the top 20 or so. Please forgive my oversight. Had I known that, I would have been a lot more excited to receive their REU acceptance :lol: .

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quizivex
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby quizivex » Wed Mar 26, 2008 3:47 am

fermiboy wrote:You don't think that minority or female status helps for graduate admissions? What rock are you living under? Being a minority or female applicant is a HUGE advantage in the admissions game. You know, the whole diversity thing?


Yeah, it's a huge advantage. More at some places than others. Harvard boasts on its website that over 1/3 of its students are women, and considering only about 13% of PhD students are women overall, they're clearly trying to level the gender ratio... makes it even more difficult for everyone else to get in.

While we probably all agree being female/minority is a big edge for graduate admissions, just look at some past profiles, I think butsu was just saying it's a much smaller edge than in REU programs, which take diversity to the extreme. From experience at my REU program, and inspection of the past participant group photo shots at any REU's website, more than half of the students are women and minorities. That's part of the reason it's so hard for white guys to get in... not only are there are so many students with good grades and research experience applying, of the mere 10 spots available at each school, you're automatically disqualified from like 7 of them.

perplexity wrote:I'll have completed most of the coursework associated with a physics major, but I won't have the lab experience that students from larger schools get. My college just doesn't have the funds to maintain a strong physics lab. This year I took thermal physics and theoretical mechanics, and I'm currently in electrodynamics and quantum mechanics. I don't believe there is a stat mech class offered here, but next year I'll also be getting electronics, and a few independent studies.


Looks like you'll have a solid enough background to be prepared for grad school, so don't worry too much if you don't officially get a physics major. Try to balance the limited number of physics classes available by taking as many advanced math classes as possible, and possibly engineering or chem if appropriate. That's always looked favorably upon.

Jack Skellington wrote:@perplexity

That said, I think the REU acceptances are a terrible indicator of your chances in grad school. I was rejected by 5/6 REUs when I applied, but was accepted to 6/9 grad programs I applied to, including one of the schools that rejected me for their REU. I think the reason is that they only have ~10 spots for often hundreds of applicants.


Yeah. When I was looking for REU's, I applied to schools I never heard of before and still got rejected from all but one of them, for the same reasons discussed above, and possibly the fact I was a sophomore, which doesn't get as much consideration. I was accepted to 3 of 5 top grad programs, and none of those schools that rejected me from their REU programs were within a lightyear of the status of my safety grad school.

Yay, congrats perplexity, you brought back Jack Skellington, one of last year's posters, to the forum!!

twistor wrote:Don't waste time with temporary REUs. Try to get a semi-permanent student research job at your undergraduate institution.


I disagree. I think all students should try to do one REU. Getting involved in stuff at your home institution is important, especially since you can continue the work over a longer period of time and produce more work... But doing research outside the confines of your own school one summer, in something serious sounding like an NSF program, and a free vacation to somewhere new and interesting, with the chance to meet new people, is something we should take advantage of. And I think the "official-ness" of an REU, regardless of where it is, carries more weight than, "I worked with Prof XYZ at my school and got my name on a paper."

I did my REU in one of these three states... (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana)... It was awesome. I saw things I never saw before, mountains, cowboy hats, fresh air, happy people (I go to school in an urban slum and the personalities are not as cheerful)... I'd probably never have an occasion during my life to visit any of those states, and an REU program was the perfect excuse!

admissionprof
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby admissionprof » Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:29 am

Several have asked about gender/minority bias in admissions. First, remember that REU programs are often NSF-funded, and diversity is a major factor in NSF programs---a program that had very few women or minorities in the previous couple of years might not get renewed.

Does it matter in admissions? A little bit, but only for those "on the bubble". Remember, women have to put up with a huge amount of discrimination (google "louts in the lab" to hear about Duke several years ago, for example)---a woman I know was told in high school just a few years ago that she shouldn't take calculus because women in science should do biology and they don't need much calculus. It is much more pervasive than many realize. Also, the PGRE seems to underpredict graduate school grades for women, but not for men. So if all else were equal, I would accept a women with a 740 over a man with a 760 (but not over a man with 800---it has to be close).

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al-Haytham
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby al-Haytham » Wed Mar 26, 2008 11:24 am

@perplexity
Is it totally unheard of for students with meager research experience and no published work to be admitted to top-50 schools (assuming, of course, that all other application criteria are strong)?

I have no publications and a 770 pgre and made it to uiuc, but I did work for a prof at my school during the semester and i am pretty sure he gave me a strong recommendation. Another friend of mine with a score in the 700s and only 1 reu made it to cornell...so I guess it isn't totally unheard of for students with meager research experience and no published work to be admitted to top-50 schools, you need to differentiate yourself from the rest of the applicant pool somehow (great personal statement, really strong recommendations etc)

doom
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby doom » Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:18 pm

If nothing else, an REU is an opportunity to get another strong letter of recommendation. This is especially true for people at smaller departments, like me. We had five professors in my department, one of whom retired before my senior year.

My letters came from: my REU research adviser, my home institution research adviser, and a professor at my home institution who taught me in a few upper-division courses. My REU adviser was also at a top-30 program, so I'm sure that helps even more.

If I hadn't done an REU, I would've gotten a letter from either my E&M and optics professor, or my modern physics professor. I think that this would have made my profile look much weaker.

@ perplexity, this letter from your REU adviser will be essential to your application profile. Grad schools are looking for good researchers, not just good students, so you need a letter from someone who will talk about your research skills.

For anyone else, having a letter from someone else talking about your research skills will never hurt.

hpharty
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby hpharty » Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:28 pm

This is interesting. I never did an REU. I also had no research experience until my senior year. I have been admitted so far to programs in the 20-30 range. I am positive that my lack of research experience and GRE score are to blame for this. As I am typing this, these facts seem really obvious though. I'm not quite sure what this discussion is about. Of course doing more REUs at more respectable places will help. It seems that doing more of anything physics related would help.

Note: The exception to my above statement is posting on this board. This is a really unhealthy problem that has made us all a bit neurotic.

GCS
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby GCS » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:30 pm

Don't forget that REUs also help you network with professors, researchers and students from other universities!

ler1
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby ler1 » Thu Mar 27, 2008 1:53 am

http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i20/20a00701.htm

It doesnt seem like they have that great of a problem except for one
huge d-bag Professor from Armenia.

admissionprof
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby admissionprof » Thu Mar 27, 2008 6:38 am

ler1 wrote:http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i20/20a00701.htm

It doesnt seem like they have that great of a problem except for one
huge d-bag Professor from Armenia.


The problem wasn't the d-bag (you can find them everywhere). It was the department's reaction to the d-bag, and their lack of interest and response to the complaints. To be fair, Duke's policies and procedures have changed, they've hired some more women faculty, and it is a much better place now than a few years ago. But this is the tip of the iceberg.

ler1
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby ler1 » Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:53 pm

I assumed the man had tenure although Duke and other universities should seriously take into account
factors like those when giving tenure. Imagine what good would be a Nobel Prize professor if he was arrested for a crime.

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Ren
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby Ren » Thu Mar 27, 2008 9:41 pm

@perplexity

I wonder where you decided to go :D
I also got accepted to one of the programs you mentioned,
and I'm thinking of accepting the offer.
Who knows, maybe we'll be going to the same one!

perplexity
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby perplexity » Fri Mar 28, 2008 2:05 am

@Ren

I ended up accepting the first REU that contacted me. Less than 48 hours after I submitted my online applications I received my first acceptance, and they only gave me a week to decide. Since I had not heard from anyone else within that week, I accepted the offer. Then a whopping 20 minutes after hanging up the phone with the director of that program, I got an e-mail from UCLA. I'm not sure which one I would have chosen if I'd had both offers on the table in front of me... although the one I'm going to definitely pays more. Within another 24 hours I got an e-mail acceptance from my top choice program, but it was too late. Needless to say, I'm a little bit frustrated by the whole thing. At least I don't have to be too upset since spending a summer at any of the programs I applied to would be a great experience.

That would be interesting if we ended up at the same place. :)

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quizivex
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Re: REUs and Grad School Admission

Postby quizivex » Fri Mar 28, 2008 3:36 am

admissionprof wrote:The problem wasn't the d-bag (you can find them everywhere). It was the department's reaction to the d-bag, and their lack of interest and response to the complaints.


I think administrations in general are hesitant to react to such complaints because men often lose their jobs from false accusations or overblown reactions by women who know they can get them in trouble by reporting them for as little as "winking inappropriately." Since physics departments especially, are nearly all men anyway, they probably have a hard time taking any complaint, even a legitimate one, seriously.

perplexity wrote:Since I had not heard from anyone else within that week, I accepted the offer. Then a whopping 20 minutes after hanging up the phone with the director of that program, I got an e-mail from UCLA


Ha, yea, a similar thing happened to me. I got accepted to a second one a few days after my deadline to reply to the first one. I was fairly indifferent anyway and probably would have struggled to decide which to take if I had the choice, so I didn't care. Strangely enough, the second one later sent me a rejection letter.

It's a good thing grad school admissions doesn't work like this... imagine if you had just a week to accept one school's offer before they revoke it. That'd be scary!

I guess REU's do this since they have only 8 or so spots available, and they can't afford to take a chance and end up with 12, or 4...




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