apply to summer research programs for Undergraduates? Emille
Davie Lawrence and Dagan Karp offer their advice.
you are thinking about going to graduate school to study mathematics, you may
want to strongly consider applying for a summer research program. These are
commonly referred to as research experiences for undergraduates, or REU, for
short. An REU exposes you to mathematical research similar to that which you
may be doing as a graduate student. Just as a future law student might intern
at a big law firm during the summer, an REU gives you extra training and
preparation for your future as a mathematician. These programs are usually
for students after their sophomore or junior year in college and are held on
the campus of some university. Most have deadlines between January and March.
There are many REUs to choose from, and finding a program that is a good fit
for you could be a little daunting. Here are a few tips to help you sift
through the many choices.
Do your homework: Before applying to any REU, find out as much about the
program as you can. You should undoubtedly be aware of the eligibility
requirements, starting and ending dates of the program, the institution at
which the program will be held, and the research topic. However, you should
also ask some deeper questions. For example, does the REU have a particularly good track record for preparing
students for graduate research? Do you know anyone else who has participated
in the program? If so, seek out their thoughts on their experience. How competitive is the program?
Also, if you are an underrepresented student in mathematics (women, African Americans,
Latinos, and Native-Americans are some examples of underrepresented minority
groups in mathematics), would you like
to participate in a program specifically for your minority group or not? All
of these questions should be explored when choosing the right REU for you.
Are you curious
about the topic? Not
everyone likes strawberry ice cream. Some people prefer chocolate or vanilla
or one of many other flavors out there. Mathematics is the same as ice cream
in this regard. There are many different types of mathematical questions out
there, and you may gravitate more toward some rather than others. Find out as
much as you can about the focus of the program from one of your professors,
and gauge your own curiosity about that topic. Chances are if you are chosen
for the program, you will be spending 6-8 weeks thinking about this topic,
therefore, you want to make sure that it is something you will enjoy sinking
your teeth into.
Get the opinion of
a mentor. It is
always a good idea to seek the opinion of a trusted mentor or one of your
professors when selecting an REU for which to apply. Your mentor or professor
is likely aware of your specific needs, interests, and goals as a rising
mathematician. Thus, he or she will be able to help you choose the right
program to meet those requirements. You will also certainly need a
recommendation letter from a faculty member for any program that you apply.
So, before you ask for that letter, pick their brain and get their opinion!
Choosing the REU or
summer program for you is not always easy, but with the proper guidance and
preparation, you will find the experience enriching and the effects
long-lasting. Not to mention, you will forever be a part of a network of students
and professors that will add to your support system (and who doesn’t need
more allies?). A lengthy list of REUs can be found at the web address below.
Good luck and happy applying!
DK: Summer research programs are now a fundamental component of undergraduate
education for PhD bound students. Students with no summer research experience
may be at a significant competitive disadvantage for competitive PhD
programs. In addition, and just as importantly, a student's education is
simply incomplete without research experience. At its core, research consists
of teaching oneself. By engaging in research, students are exposed to ways of
thinking simply not available in the classroom.
I recommend applying
for summer research programs *every summer*, including after your first year
of College. Of course, the less experience you have, the more difficult it
will be to gain admission. But there is no harm in trying. Indeed, the
experience of searching for programs, requesting letters of support, and
preparing your personal statement will help you create a stronger application
the next time you apply. The more summers of research you have, the better.
It's also important to
know that summer programs should *pay for your travel and provide a stipend.*
It's the best summer job: you get paid to do math, meet people from around
the world, possibly travel, and it helps your future employment.
Once you've decided to
pursue summer research, it's time to select a program. By far the most common
summer research programs are Research Experiences for Undergraduates, funded
by the National Science Foundation. They are all listed here: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.cfm?unitid=5044. After you've looked through the
list for REU's that look interesting to you, ask for advice from people you
know and like, including friends and professors.
To name just a few,
below are links to four programs specifically working to broaden
participation in the mathematical sciences. These include MTBI at Arizona
State, MSRI Up in Berkeley, the REU at Cal State Channel Islands, and the PURE
Math program at Hawaii. It is important to note that US citizenship is often
required, but that you should definitely inquire in any case, because
creative solutions may sometimes be found.
Note that REU
application deadlines begin as early as February, so apply now! Prepare to
work hard and have fun.
Editor’s note: There are also excellent research programs at National
Laboratories, such as Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Argonne, and others where
important research takes place.
One popular program is the Science
Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI), which requires a single
application to be considered at many of the national labs (see http://science.energy.gov/wdts/suli/). Even if one of the laboratories is not
part of the SULI program, they do have other internship opportunities. For example, Lawrence Livermore had
the Scholars programs for students (https://scholars.llnl.gov/).
Importantly, these opportunities are not only for summer research, some are
available year round. Visit the Department of Energy (http://energy.gov/offices)
to see the full list of National Labs.
The benefits of a professional society for Graduate
students. By Ricardo
Becoming a member of
mathematics professional societies can have several benefits to graduate
students. In this note I will make a distinction between national mathematics
societies, such as the AMS, SIAM and MAA, and professional societies that
focus on specific groups, such as SACNAS, NAM, AWM and AISES.
organize conferences and smaller meetings that graduate students can attend
to gain insight into mathematics outside their own institutions. Graduate student may also present at
those meetings. This is a great
opportunity for students to highlight their dissertation research before they
look for jobs. Professional
societies also have publications (newsletters, journals, etc.) that are a good
source of information regarding the discipline. The conferences often include
outreach activities such as employment centers, travel scholarships, etc.,
that students should take advantage of.
Most importantly, the networking that takes place at the meetings has
tremendous value. Typically, student membership is free or very cheap.
Annette Emerson (Public Awareness Officer) and Diane
Boumenot (Manager of Membership & Programs), from the American
Mathematical Society, say: “Graduate Student membership in the AMS is a free
membership given by an institution to full-time graduate students in the
mathematical sciences whom the math department "nominates" to the
AMS. (It's free to the student if the institution has paid for
institutional membership.) Grad students then become part of the
broader math community, opening the doors to networking -and working- with
peers and more senior mathematicians. They can learn about opportunities such
as travel grants, fellowships, employment and career services, research
conferences, authoring help, and more, through Notices of the AMS, Headlines
& Deadlines news service, and special communications to students from the
AMS; receive discounts on publications and meeting registrations. The AMS’s
newest program for graduate students is the Graduate Student Travel Grants: http://www.ams.org/programs/travel-grants/grad-students/emp-student-JMM. The AMS Graduate Student Blog (http://mathgradblog.williams.edu/) is a great way for graduate
students to communicate with each other, share experiences, questions, and
advise. Professional society membership, and in particular the free periodicals
that are a benefit of membership, are the best ways to stay informed about
trends in the professional community, job outlooks, and opportunities for
speaking or networking. Meetings are a great way to keep up to
date with colleagues and research, and to explore new ideas and research
areas. All AMS membership
benefits as described at http://www.ams.org/membership/individual/mem-nominees.”
The Society for
Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) offers its student members free
membership in two of their Activity Groups (subgroups of members by area of
mathematics), access to SIAM News and SIAM Review, discounts on SIAM journals
and books. “All students, regardless of SIAM
membership status, are eligible for greatly reduced registration rates (up to
85% discount off non-member fee) to attend SIAM conferences, and can join or
start a student chapter of SIAM on their campus.” (http://www.siam.org/students/memberships.php).
The mission of the Mathematical Association of America
(MAA) includes education, research, professional development, public policy
and appreciation of mathematics. It
also provides its members discounts on MAA books and national meeting
registration fees, access to employment services, publications and to
professional enhancement programs. See more at http://www.maa.org/membership/benefits.html.
Professional societies that focus on minority groups in
the mathematical sciences include the Association for Women in Mathematics
(AWM), the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM), the Society for
Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), and the
American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). As a whole, these societies offer
important research, networking and professional development opportunities in
environments that are supportive to its members. The purpose of the AWM is to encourage women and girls to study and to have
active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity
and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences. The AWM sponsors a large number of
activities and programs, including Travel Grants, Workshops for women
graduate students and recent PhD’s, student chapters, prizes and conferences.
Their resources include job ads, career advice, education and advocacy. See https://sites.google.com/site/awmmath/ for more information. NAM’s objective
is the promotion of excellence in the mathematical sciences and the promotion
and mathematical development of underrepresented minority mathematicians and
mathematics students. Among NAM’s
activities are the undergraduate MATHFest and the Faculty Research
Conference. A great place to
learn more about NAM is its newsletter (http://nam-newsletter.org/). SACNAS is an all-science organization
that has an active mathematics membership. SACNAS is devoted to advancing
Hispanics, Chicanos and Native Americans in science. They do this by promoting advanced
degrees, careers and positions of leadership. It sponsors national and regional
meetings, student chapters, a leadership institute, a large number of
professional development opportunities and an effective network of
support. See: http://sacnas.org/.
The mission of AISES (http://www.aises.org/)
is to substantially
increase the representation of American Indians and Alaskan Natives in
engineering, science, and other related technology disciplines.
AISES sponsors pre-college and college programs, chapters, summer
internships, and a resume database. Their events include an annual
conference, regional meetings, a science and engineering fair, and more.
I could do over my Postdoc, this is what I would do differently. By Dagan Karp, Ariel Cintron-Arias, and
A Postdoc is a time of
transition for all of us. We are
leaving the secure environment of our graduate mentor and entering a new chapter
where we are supposed to become independent researchers. The dissertation we
just finished contains most of what we know and we have a couple of ideas of
how to extend some of that work during the Postdoc years. This is a good way
to get going; however, the Postdoc years are a time when one should get
involved quickly in new projects independently and with new collaborators. It
is also a time to establish a research plan that can carry you for a few
years in research directions that are your own, independent from the work
done with your advisors. Having a
Postdoc mentor that can facilitate this process is ideal but one cannot wait
for this to happen in the way we are used to (whatever that may be). The Postdoc must seek out other
faculty that are receptive to collaborations and who are supportive. Most of
us try to mature as much as possible during the Postdoc years but, in
hindsight, it is easy to see things we should have done to make sure that at
the end of the Postdoc we are in a great position to embark on a long-term
research career. Here are our
DK: To give a brief answer, perhaps the two most important activities to
pursue during a postdoc are the publishing of your work and establishing
research collaborations, in that order.
The single most
important goal is to publish your work. This includes your thesis and its
natural extensions. When I was a postdoc I pursued two large and ambitious
projects, which did not come to full fruition. These were the kind of
projects that should take several collaborators a few years to complete. Of
course this was fun and exciting, and the possible rewards were large. But
the pursuit of these projects was to the detriment of several smaller
projects. Given the short timeframe of the postdoc, it's crucial to have at
least some projects come to completion. You don't need to conquer the world
during your first year as a postdoc; your brilliance will be expressed
naturally. Make sure you publish your thesis and its extensions, and keep
your ears open for problems that sound interesting, fun, and that your tools
On the other hand, one
needs to grow as a scholar, and forming collaborative relationships is key.
Through collaboration a postdoc can reach into new areas and begin projects,
which are portable to a tenure track position. Indeed, as I look around at
scholars in my field, many professors continue to collaborate with colleagues
they met as postdocs.
AC-A: If I were to do over my Postdoc, I would become more proficient in
numerical methods, with emphasis in large-scale computation and parallel
computing. For this purpose, I would learn C++ and Python. I would
also get involved with numerical solutions to partial differential
I would also spend
some time putting together literature and ideas for at least two research
proposals. In fact, I would write a "white paper"
(2-to-4 pages) for each proposal. If I get far enough with one of
them I would submit it as grant proposal, but my main objective in assembling
these white papers would be to devise ideas that can seed into large-scale
projects with potential to be funded in the near future.
would think more about the long-term impact on my career of what I was
working in. At the time, I only cared about working in interesting problems
(that was OK) but I did not think about tenure or developing my own research
program. I do not mean writing a proposal for a grant because I did it, but I
never thought of developing a long-term vision and the existing professional
opportunities for that vision.
faculty: balancing all responsibilities. By Ricardo Cortez
When you are hired on
a tenure-track position at a university, it is not easy to figure out the
boundaries of all the new responsibilities placed on you. All combined,
teaching duties, grading, research projects, student advising, thesis
supervision, committee work, proposal writing, mentoring, organizing
seminars, figuring out the school’s proper channels, writing papers, referee
reports, and everything else, can leave you overwhelmed. It is also likely
that it will take several months (years?) to find a way to manage your
time. Here are some suggestions
for those of you starting your careers.
It is crucial to make
yourself a weekly schedule that includes all the obvious commitments (like
class times) as well as time for research and administrative work (such as
refereeing papers). This is easy
enough to do; however, the key is to treat every part of your schedule as
sacred. Otherwise, the research
time is the first one to suffer because it seems like the most flexible. You can’t not go to class, but it is
easy to take part of your research hour to take care of other things. This is a mistake. Treat your
scheduled research time as if it is an appointment with the Provost that you
simply cannot change.
Making a schedule will
also let you see all your commitments in one place and it will be easier to
identify when you have too many things going on. Learn to say “no” and to prioritize
the commitments you have. You
might feel that becoming the faculty advisor for the math Olympics team is a
good thing to have in your CV, but this is true only if it does not come at
the expense of writing another paper.
Focus on the most important aspects of the tenure review.
My best advice is to
identify a senior person in your department as a mentor and run things by
that person before accepting another chore. They will tell you if you are
overcommitting and when they do, follow their advice. Your mentor will also help you work
out awkward situations. Let’s say
that several faculty members in the math department have approached you to
help write departmental proposals to acquire computer equipment. As a junior
member of the department, you want to be helpful and collegial, but you feel
that this will take a substantial amount of time that you would rather use
for other activities. One way to deal with this situation is to let your
mentor know how you feel and let her (or him) suggest to your colleagues that
they should reduce your contribution to the proposal. The main point is that
having someone that looks after you is truly valuable.
Network in the Mathematical Sciences is designed to address relevant
questions that students, postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty may have
regarding their own advancement in mathematics. Its goal is to reach as many readers
as possible, especially those who may not have sufficient mentoring at their
current institution. We publish
mentors’ opinions as provided in order to stimulate discussion. We hope you
will be active in this process.
addressed in this publication are kept relevant by requesting suggestions
from readers. Please send
mentoring topics to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for responses in future
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Next Issue: April 2012