About a month ago now, my office was unexpectedly flooded with a large number of undergraduate students. Their expressions ranged from nervous to interested to bored.
Mine was one of pure panic.
You see, about 30 seconds before they entered, I had managed to spill an extra large mug of mango tea all over everything. My desk, my papers, the keyboard, my pants, the floor… Everything.
And here were these new students, ready to be welcomed and shown around. Somehow, I managed to get up and greet them with a smile. Then I squelched around for a few minutes, before sitting with them for a welcome talk. In a cold classroom. With wet pants.
|Like this, but with a much larger mug|
Despite my initial negative feelings about being invaded by undergraduates, I think it is great that they are here. They are all participants in NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). The general purpose of this program is to expose undergraduate students to all the
annoyances glories of research. For 10 weeks they focus solely on research and get a good idea of what it is like to be a graduate student. If they like it, they now have experience that looks awesome on a resume. And if they don’t, well, they get a pretty good stipend. Win-win.
Let me tell you, these REU students have it good. They have talks and seminars about climate change science, oceanography, giving presentations, etc… They also get to go on field trips. Seriously. Field trips. Of course, what else would you do in an oceanography department but go out on the water for a day. Or take a geological tour of the surrounding countryside.
|This is what I imagine their field trip to be like, only they would be larger.|
The rest of their time, at least during the day, is spent doing research. Depending on their advisor, they might work on a stand alone research project, or contribute a section to a larger research goal. Three of them have moved into my office for the summer. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty of space.) They are all atmospheric science majors, which works out really well for us. Being a physical oceanography center, we deal a lot with the atmosphere, but no one really *does* atmospheric work. So the REU students are contributing their expertise to our ongoing, cutting edge research.
The interesting thing about the REU program is that it is very dependent on the host university. As long as the local program director provides the students with research experience and some extracirrcular activities, NSF doesn’t seem to care too much how that is done. I’ve participated in the REU program at two other universities as an undergrad, as well as observing the one going on now. They all felt quite different, but each was beneficial in its own way.
Here, besides the fun stuff, the students get experience with the other main part of research – presenting your work. They gave a short, introductory talk the week after they arrived. Then, at the halfway point, they will give another short talk about their progress. The program finishes up with a final presentation and a paper. If things work out well, they might even get published!
If you are interested in participating in the REU program, applications are different for individual universities and are typically due around December or January. Unfortunately, it is only open to US citizens or permanent residents. If you can’t participate in the program, I would strongly suggest getting research experience somewhere before going to graduate school. But more on that topic later.
Have you ever participated in research as an undergraduate? What did you think of the experience? Did it give you a better idea of what graduate school would be like? I’m curious to see what others’ experiences were like!