Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

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Velocitaneous
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Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby Velocitaneous » Sun Nov 23, 2008 6:05 pm

Hi, I'm currently an undergraduate freshman and am interested in applying to physics graduate school. I've taken physics I, II (newtonian mech/emag intro) in high school and am currently enrolled in quantum mechanics I. I find it to be pretty easy, and believe that I have grasped the concepts quite well. As far as school statistics go, I'm taking 18 hours, have a 4.0 GPA and am finding things to not be too difficult (but it's not a walk in the park, either... I have to work for it).

In addition, I have almost finished self studying QM at the second semester (perturbation theory, hydrogen atom, berry's phase, adiabatic theorm, variational principle, scattering theory, etc.) at the level of Griffiths, and will most probably be self studying Sakurai next semester. I have also almost finished self studying Griffiths's Electrostatics (just first 6 chapters) and will probably finish the entire thing up by next semester.

I am currently involved in undergraduate research where I'm working in a laboratory dealing with ion trapping. I've been here for about 4 months or so, and find it quite interesting.

I really want to get into a good grad school (hopefully MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and/or University of Cambridge), so what should I be doing? I'm especially interested in high energy physics and astronomy. I'm probably also going to be applying for the Goldwater next year, so what should I be doing right now for this?

I welcome any advice of any form, be it harsh criticism, or positive encouragement.

Thank you very much for your time.

tmc
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby tmc » Sun Nov 23, 2008 6:24 pm

You should be getting straight As and research experience, which you seem to be doing. Apply to REUs, impress your supervisors, try to get some publications during undergrad research, and make absolutely sure your grades don't slip, and you won't have any problems getting into the grad school of your choice.

You might want to slow down in your self-studying, and make sure that you know the material well enough to solve a lot of problems; not just glancing over and feeling you understand the concepts. For that reason, it's often much better to take courses instead of self-studying, as it forces you to truly learn the material.

If you feel your classes are so easy / slow that you have a lot of time to self-study extra material, then you should take more courses. There are a bunch of advanced math courses, and programming courses, that most undergrads would have loved to take but just couldn't fit in their schedule. You'll be learning Sakurai's QM in 4th year anyways; there's no need to do it now and then waste your time in 4th year. Instead, take more math and programming classes, and do more research.

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secander2!
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby secander2! » Sun Nov 23, 2008 6:30 pm

Wow! It sounds like you're really on top of things. I didn't even think about doing research until mid-way through my sophomore year, and I didn't start studying for the PGRE until a month beforehand.

If you keep up doing what you're doing, you should already have the core components to a very strong application: high grades, good classwork, lots of research, and I would assume that with some studying you will do fine on the PGRE. Anyways, you probably already know this, but if you can get some publications out of your research: do it, these are a nice addition to show how serious your research is.

If you're not currently doing research with the sort of fields you want to pursue in graduate school, it might be a very good idea to apply to some REUs which are more in line with your ultimate goals. If you have four years of research at your school and three REUs, I'd bet that most schools would have a hard time rejecting you, even if you had less than stellar grades or PGRE. Lastly, try to get REUs at schools you're interested in attending. Knowing somebody on the inside who WANTS you as a student can mean an easy acceptance to even the toughest schools with little regard to your qualifications.

Also, and again you probably know this, make sure to forge good relationships with your research advisers. If you've done substantial research with somebody, the graduate schools will EXPECT a letter of recommendation from them. Not sending a letter from this person will make it look like you don't think they would write you a good letter.

Once you have had the bulk of the coursework required for the PGRE, start studying! It's never to early to start studying for it, but it quickly becomes too late (as I learned the hard way when I applied last year). Once you've got most of the coursework, take a practice test. If you ace it, congratulations! If not, you now have incentive to study.

I don't know much about the Goldwater, but prestigious grants are great because it makes the top ranked grad schools feel more comfortable accepting you since you've already been vetted by others. The more awards, the better... and once you have a few, you basically become a self-fulfilling prophesy. People see all the awards you've got and they just give you more!!! In fact, I've heard that it's even possible for your grades will increase for the same reason: many professors will check themselves before giving bad grades to a well-established genius.

I know this isn't an exhaustive list of stuff to do (and I would guess that you already know most of it), but it pretty much covers the things I wish I had done or those things which really helped me when I applied. Anyhow, good luck!!!

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twistor
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby twistor » Sun Nov 23, 2008 8:20 pm

I'm not sure who built you, crazy physics robot, but I don't like you roaming around on our planet making us non-robots look bad.

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zxcv
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby zxcv » Mon Nov 24, 2008 5:28 am

What sort of school are you attending? Is this a top tier, prestigious research university or liberal arts school with high competitive admissions?

If not, and I were doing that well as a freshman, I would even consider transferring to a school where you would be more appropriately challenged. A significant factor in the quality of your education is the quality of your peers, and if you're the sort (like me) who relishes a challenge, then you want to be around people who are smarter than you. That's the biggest reason to go for a school with "prestige." At the very least, you don't want to be that guy at the top of their class. That could lead to unpleasant surprises when you finally turn up at that top ranked grad school and find yourself less prepared than you thought.

I hate to sound like a prick -- you can get an excellent education at most universities if you seek it out, and you seem to be on that path -- but where you are does make an important difference. Think about it, and consider that expensive private schools often have correspondingly generous aid packages.

stardust
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby stardust » Mon Nov 24, 2008 11:39 am

That may be bad advice xscv just gave, both educationally and admissions wise. It's also
elitist. It has long been known that admissions committees will take an A average from a
less presitigious school than a B average at MIT. The logic is that they don't know that the
A average from a less presitigious school wouldn't have gotten the A average at MIT. You
may be flourishing at one school and not at another. It may be better for some people to
stand out at a less competitive school than be mediocre at a more prestigious place. Its
a personal choice really. A liberal arts school for example may not be better preparation
for graduate school. The reason liberal arts people do worse on the pgre is that they bypass the initial phase of learning the material at a basic level for harder thought questions. I think that could leave out a basic knowledge of physics in exchange for large scale problem solving skills. Granted, the thinking training is great, but knowledge of basic physics at a level to build upon later may be more important. Theoretically it sounds great to surround yourself with people smarter than you, but not really. It seems people at your level that you can interact with and contribute too would be ideal. In other words think carefully and weigh all
sides before deciding you should go 'elite'. Besides, I don't think people should promote a
philosophy that you only get into a top school from an elitist school.

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quizivex
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby quizivex » Mon Nov 24, 2008 1:23 pm

stardust wrote:It's also elitist.
Oh here we go again, is this your new favorite word?

stardust wrote:It may be better for some people to stand out at a less competitive school than be mediocre at a more prestigious place...
It has long been known that admissions committees will take an A average from a
less presitigious school than a B average at MIT. The logic is that they don't know that the A average from a less presitigious school wouldn't have gotten the A average at MIT.
Well that's an inherent contradiction. You suggest that anyone who stands out at a less competitive school will be mediocre at a more prestigious place, like that's the only alternative. Then where'd the second idea come from?

Clearly the other factors of a star student's application become more important when their GPA is difficult to interpret. You can't possibly claim "it has long been known..." Who they take will depend, case by case, on their full profiles.

GPAs/class rank compare a student to his peers. It’s a known fact that most students at mediocre schools are mediocre. Physics profs are often nice enough to pass everyone, even the most unqualified majors, with at least a C, so that earning a high GPA from that school might not prove much in itself. A grad school may prefer someone who performed decently at a top program, who has proven himself among the upper half in a group of students who have already proven they have substantial talent just by being at that school. In my undergrad, I got As in upper level math classes where some students could not "complete the square". I knew I'd be a question mark unless I creamed the GRE.

A student from a weaker school still has opportunities to shine, though he’ll have to go well out of his way, perhaps by taking very rigorous course loads, having phenomenal research accomplishments, raking in outside awards, or performing especially well in the more objective measures of merit, i.e. the GREs.

stardust wrote:It seems people at your level that you can interact with and contribute too would be ideal.
Exactly. That's partly why zxcv wrote what he wrote. He knew that if Velocitaneous is at an average school, then he is not in this ideal situation.

stardust wrote:Theoretically it sounds great to surround yourself with people smarter than you, but not really.
He never meant to suggest that everyone would be smarter than you at an elite program. Some of them will be, which is much closer to the reality you'll face as a scientist and a human. Being able to learn from your peers is a valuable experience. IMO, it’s worse to surround yourself with people who don’t follow any of the material and cannot do any of the homework problems and constantly harass you for help.

stardust wrote:Besides, I don't think people should promote a philosophy that you only get into a top school from an elitist school.
Nobody ever was promoting that idea. Our profile thread proves it wrong. An “elitist” school? Schools can’t be intrinsically elitist, only individual people can be. And who gets to decide what schools are elitist? You perhaps?
I was shocked when you wrote this on the other thread:
stardust wrote:I would think it pretty bleak, sad, and unfair if white males don't have to answer the question and everyone else does. In fact, the idea of that makes me sick to my stomach, as disgusting as any other kind of elitism. That's really saying to the non-white males that they have to justify their existence whereas the white males don't have to justify anything.

Imperate said it best:
Imperate wrote:I dont see how you can find this question offensive to minorities, if anything it is bias against white domestic males. The presence of this questions suggests that minorities or ethnic groups may have an increased chance of acceptance simply to meet their diversity quota as oppose to academic merit only.
Seriously, you know as well as we do that white males have the least to gain from that part of the application, and yet you call us elitist snobs for not writing some BS answer? The committee's intent with this question wasn't to make students justify their existance, but to show what makes them special... If anything, leaving it blank is humble/modest, not elitist!

Your hypersensitivity and reverse racism are getting out of hand. If you continue to act like this, you will detract from the experience your peers get out of the forum this year. Your recent thoughts just haven’t been reasonable.

physicsdude
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby physicsdude » Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:07 pm

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Last edited by physicsdude on Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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quizivex
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby quizivex » Mon Nov 24, 2008 3:29 pm

physicsdouche has emerged as one of the top 30 posters on the forum by routinely condemning my comments.
The only user who has managed to chase him away for some time was our hero twistor, with this genius post:
twistor wrote:PHYSIKSDUDE U R SO RIGHT... U R LIKE GIANT COCK OF WISDOM EJAKULATING UR KNOWLEDGE ONTO THESZE FORUMSS. PLZ ALOW US TO LAP UP UR TASTY WISDOM-CUM LIKE THE KNOWLEDGE WHOREZ THAT WE R.
That was a beautiful simile. Indeed, physicsdude's posts do come in abrupt discharges. He often squirts his wisdom all over the forum several times in one day and then takes a few weeks to recharge. Sadly, this "wisdom" always evaporates, leaving a faint residue behind that looks like “<>” under a black light.

I spend considerable (probably too much) time checking my posts for clarity and adding real evidence to my claims. All of my "offensive" comments are based on reality, which apparently some ppl can't handle.

I challenge anyone to find a post where I made a negative generalization about women or any minority. The comments about Harvard, for instance are 100% true. It was natural to wonder why we often saw applicants getting accepted to all top schools except Harvard. nvanmeter’s personal discussion with the admission chair there confirmed what I was thinking all along.

Since I’m already convicted guilty of inappropriate talk no matter what I say, I might as well share some personal info. :wink: FYI, I was sick of having no chances to meet women being in a male-dominated field, so when I moved to NJ, I decided to try the online dating thing. And in a few short months I've already gotten laid more than I did in all of undergrad, so I'd recommend the online method to any of you physics guys who, like me, were sick of missing out or settling in undergrad. :P

physicsdude
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby physicsdude » Mon Nov 24, 2008 4:55 pm

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Last edited by physicsdude on Fri Jan 30, 2009 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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zxcv
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby zxcv » Tue Nov 25, 2008 2:37 am

stardust -- It's certainly dangerous to be at either at the top or the bottom of your class. Yes, this is an elitist suggestion, but sometimes there is something to be said for placing yourself among elites. You certainly don't need to have that background to do exceptionally well getting into grad school (or even succeeding there) but I do think it can help. Of course, all of this advice depends on what sort of person you assess yourself to be.

quizivex -- I agree with most of what you wrote (in your first post), but please be more cautious before tossing out statements like "reverse racism." That's a way to escalate our discussions in the wrong direction. Speaking of which....

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secander2!
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby secander2! » Tue Nov 25, 2008 5:49 am

I think zxcv's suggestion to attend a more challenging institution is a very good one especially given the initiative you've already shown. For me, however, I found that being at a "mediocre" school where I could excel, really helped me in the long run. The advantages of excelling at a "mediocre" school to being average at a prestigious school are twofold: you have more time to get "random achievements" (which help legitimate your GPA which comes from a "mediocre" school) and being at a more mediocre school allows you to stand out and forge close relationships with your professors, who will subsequently be able to write very personalized and strong letters of recommendation. From what Velocitaneous has said, it looks like he's the sort of motivated person who could excel at a challenging school; but (and I don't think I'm disagreeing with anybody by saying this) I believe it's better to excel at a mediocre school (you'll probably be able to get high GPA, awards, and good letters of recommendation) than to struggle at a more prestigious school. Lastly, and I doubt this applies to Velacitaneous, if you've got somewhat low self-esteem (like I did when I entered university), excelling in your classes helps motivate you to work harder because it shows you that you can, but of course the danger, like zxcv said, is that when you leave undergrad with a huge ego it might get popped in grad school. Good luck, and hopefully this post will help get the discussion back on track :D

physicsdude
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby physicsdude » Tue Nov 25, 2008 3:46 pm

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Last edited by physicsdude on Sat Dec 06, 2008 12:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

stardust
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby stardust » Sat Nov 29, 2008 12:55 pm

First of all, although the original poster looks great and motivated, I don't believe a high school course will necessary match a college level course of the same thing. Freshman physics was or should have been a cake walk to all of us.
I don't know what the poster means by self-study, i.e. if that is a reading course with a professor or not. But,
if its just reading a book on your own, again I don't think that matches a good college course. I think the person
would only look really advanced if they eventually end up in grad classes early. That may be worth considering in
a transfer schools decision, whether grad school courses are on the agenda.

In any case, what I was trying to say before was if you consider 2 cases: 1 student at a noname, let's call Podunk,
and 1 student at MIT as example and the admissions committee compares:
a) A at MIT, B+ at Podunk - easy decision, take the MIT person
b) A at MIT, A at Podunk - not clear who to take, there is no evidence that the two students are not just as good,
but I'm sure there's people who would say MIT is harder and more prestigious and accept the MIT
person. This would be 'elitist'.
c) B+ at MIT, A at Podunk - not clear who to take. I was saying I think most admissions committees will take the
Podunk student because they stood out and there's no evidence they would not be just as good as
an A at MIT. However, if you ask the student at MIT in this case, they are gonna be pissed, and
will tell you that they could have easily gotten the A at Podunk. That would also be 'elitist' too.

No, I did not imply that A's at Podunk will be guaranteed mediocre at MIT earlier. I was merely singling out that case.
But it could be b) or c) and admissions committees have to stop and think about that. If they are looking at
standout factor, Podunk wins in c). If they are looking at prestige of the letter writter MIT wins in b). Yes,
I know other factors come into play, but I was assuming that I can either consider the A, B+ designation as
including the other factors or all other factors the same.

abeboparebop
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby abeboparebop » Sat Nov 29, 2008 1:00 pm

stardust wrote:b) A at MIT, A at Podunk - not clear who to take, there is no evidence that the two students are not just as good,
but I'm sure there's people who would say MIT is harder and more prestigious and accept the MIT
person. This would be 'elitist'.


'Elitist' is not the word you are looking for here, because it's not 'elitist' to recognize that MIT has a more difficult curriculum than random state school X. Now, if there are other factors that point to the Podunk student being more apt to succeed than the MIT student (GRE scores, research, recs, etc), than I would expect the grades to be less of an important factor. But all other things being equal, the average A student at MIT is clearly more qualified than the average A student at Podunk.

stardust
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby stardust » Sat Nov 29, 2008 1:33 pm

If that were true, then why aren't all the Nobel Laureates MIT graduates?

abeboparebop
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby abeboparebop » Sat Nov 29, 2008 1:36 pm

abeboparebop wrote:But all other things being equal, the average A student at MIT is clearly more qualified than the average A student at Podunk.


stardust wrote:If that were true, then why aren't all the Nobel Laureates MIT graduates?


A does not imply B. All students are not average. There are factors other than grades. This really isn't that difficult.

stardust
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby stardust » Sat Nov 29, 2008 2:05 pm

I think you are finding this difficult.

Statement A is meaningless then and untrue for that matter. An admissions committee is not going to sit
down and say is this and average A an enhanced A. Most students who achieve an A will have the other things,
and you said all other things being equal.

nonick
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby nonick » Sat Nov 29, 2008 2:16 pm

Back to the original question, whether it is more beneficial for you to go to a highly competitive school. I know of many stories of people that were considered geniuses as high school students and went to CalTech and MIT and then burned out there and eventually dropped out or ended up graduating with C average. I am not entirely sure if that would have been the case if they attended a smaller program where you receive a lot more personal attention and where your sanity is not in danger.
Personally, I believe that deciding to go to a small liberal arts school where I can still shine, get good education and enjoy life in the mean time has been one of the best decisions of my life.

abeboparebop
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby abeboparebop » Sat Nov 29, 2008 2:38 pm

stardust wrote:I think you are finding this difficult.

Statement A is meaningless then and untrue for that matter. An admissions committee is not going to sit
down and say is this and average A an enhanced A. Most students who achieve an A will have the other things,
and you said all other things being equal.


It's simple. Do you think that the MIT physics curriculum is more difficult than a Podunk physics curriculum?

If yes, then self-evidently an A average at MIT is worth more than an A average at Podunk.

If no, then we disagree.

Velocitaneous
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby Velocitaneous » Sat Nov 29, 2008 8:18 pm

First of all, thanks very much for the comments. I have really learned a lot :)

To complete my stats, I am also majoring in mathematics and computer science. I attend a school ranked quite highly in engineering (top 5) and computer science (top 10) - according to USNews, which is not in California and is not MIT ;) I'm quite sure I should be able to keep a 4.0 GPA, because I generally work really hard until I do.

- Regarding paper publications, where are good places to publish papers?
- For REUs, I'm considering applying to SULIs (particularly the SLAC and the one at Berkeley) as far as particle physics goes. How selective are these, and do you think that these are good options?
- Should I start preparing for the GREs now? How much does grad school take this into consideration in applications?

Again, thanks very much, and I appreciate any comments or thoughts, be it harsh or constructive.

sterculus
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby sterculus » Sat Nov 29, 2008 8:57 pm

Velocitaneous,
It looks like your profile will be strong by the time you get around to applying for graduate schools. Any refereed journal is a fine place to publish work, but obviously the more prestigious the better. And I wouldn't worry about the GREs for awhile - I think most people start studying two months beforehand or so.

As far as the SULIs go, I did one at Berkeley - not for a particle physics project, though. As a freshman it might be difficult (I applied when I was a sophomore) but give it a chance - in my opinion you could write a roughly equal strength application to what mine was. The quality of the research will really depend on the project/mentor you get assigned to. Mine was very good, and I'm actually still working on the project some.

A caveat about the SULI in general: they don't give you housing, other than a measly $750 allowance for the whole summer, which doesn't go far in Berkeley. It might be better now, what with the economy and all. The NSF REU I did last summer included housing, which was a nice change. If you've got any questions about the program shoot me a PM, or ask away in this thread.

stardust
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Re: Hi I'm a Freshman. Grad School help?

Postby stardust » Sun Nov 30, 2008 12:00 am

Brookhaven suli gives housing. They may even have particle physics projects.
I believe Argonne also gives housing. Those two have on-site housing so its easy.

The only problem I had with suli is that you can only be in it twice. (except if you are a community college
student, then you can do it 4 times). If you are starting as a freshman, twice won't get you as far
as senior year, but they there are other programs like NSF-REU. My problem with suli was I was getting good
results and wanted to come back to publish, etc.. . Sometimes the educational administrators don't want to bring
the same student back in because they want to give others a chance. So, you would have to pick
wisely. Sometimes, a manager might choose you out of the database knowing full well it wasn't your
expressed project interest and void out other options. I would recommend you find a mentor you might
want to work with and then ask what internship programs they have to work with him. That may prevent
these database jumpers. You could write to them innocently asking for advice. Say: I'm a freshman. I'm
very interested in your field and your work. What do I have to do to enter this field and do you take on
intern students, etc.. They may come up with interesting advice.

If you have any gov labs near where you live, you can get student research projects during the year
too.




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