Applying to REUs – Lena Ji

Lena Ji (SMALL ’15) is a second-year graduate student studying algebraic geometry at Princeton. She was sort of clueless when applying to REUs and hopes this post can be somewhat helpful to anyone else in the same position.

[Editor’s Note:  Lena is one of the smartest mathematicians I know, no matter what she tells you.]

How to Apply to Math REUs

For undergraduates potentially interested in going to graduate school for math or just curious about math research in general, REUs are a great way to gain research experience. I attended two REUs in the past and had a great experience, so I’ve put together this page in hopes that it might be helpful to anyone who’s considering applying. A lot of inspiration for this page came from Alex Lang’s NSF GRFP page, which is an excellent resource if you are a junior and plan to apply for the NSF next year!


  1. What is an REU?
  2. Outline of Application Process and Components
  3. Factors to Consider When Applying
  4. General Tips
  5. Recommendation Letters
  6. Personal/Research Statement
  7. What to Do After You’ve Been Accepted

Disclaimer: All information on this page is based on my limited personal experience, and I make no claims to objective accuracy. If you disagree with anything I’ve written or think I’m wrong about something, please let me know! Any feedback is welcome, and if you want to share personal statements you’ve used in the past that would be super appreciated!

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Gender Representation on Journal Editorial Boards in the Mathematical Sciences

Our advisor, Chad Topaz, recently gave a faculty seminar on his research on gender representation on the editorial boards of math journals.  Check out the study he and Shilad Sen completed, Gender Representation on Journal Editorial Boards in the Mathematical Sciences, and read the press coverage here:

Some takeaways from his talk:

  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion are cornerstone issues in and outside of academia.
  • Women mathematicians have been treated horribly for centuries.
    • Sophie Germain‘s parents did not think her passion for mathematics was appropriate for a woman, so they took away her warm clothes and fire at night so she couldn’t study math.  Eventually, when they kept finding her “asleep at her desk in the morning, the ink frozen in the ink horn and her slate covered with calculations,” they relented and realized she would push through all odds to learn more math.
    • Sofia Kovalevskaya could not study in Russia because education was restricted to men.  In order to get permission to study abroad, she had to contract a “fictitious marriage” with Vladimir Kovalevskii.  She became the first woman in Europe to hold a doctorate in mathematics, but it took her many years to obtain a paid position at a university.  As a side note, she may have sustained a romantic relationship with Anne-Charlotte Edgren-Leffler for much of her life.
    • Emmy Noether, namesake of Noetherian rings and pioneer in ring theory and theoretical physics, taught at the University of Erlangen’s Mathematical Institute for seven years without pay.  Initially, many faculty members resisted hiring her at all, saying, “What will our soldiers think when they return to the university and find that they are required to learn at the feet of a woman?”  To this, David Hilbert responded, “I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bath house.”  She eventually began receiving a small salary.
    • Alice Schafer was the only female math major at the University of Richmond when she attended in 1915, and she was denied access to the university library since women were not allowed.  Still, she graduated in high standing and went on the found the Association for Women in Mathematics.
  • The percentage of women on journal editorial boards in the mathematical sciences is significantly lower than the percentages of women at lower levels in math.
    • 51% of the US population are women.
    • 42% of US recipients of BAs in the mathematical sciences are women.  (Really, 42%.  At Williams, this percentage usually hovers in the 20s. We are that much lower than the national average.)
    • 29% of US recipients of doctorate degrees in the mathematical sciences are women.
    • 16% of US tenure-stream faculty in the mathematical sciences at doctoral-granting institutions are women.
    • 8.9% of editors on editorial boards in the mathematical sciences are women.
  • Journals that are “applied” have more women as editors than journals that are “pure” or “both.”
    • Editorial boards of “applied” journals are 10.3% women.
    • Editorial boards of “pure” journals are 7.2% women.
    • Editorial boards of journals that are both “pure” and “applied” are 7.4% women.
  • Still, there is some hope.
    • The past 11 presidents of the American Mathematical Society have been men, but both candidates on the ballot this year are women!
    • The Mathematical Association of America and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics both currently have women as presidents.
    • The NSF Science and Engineering Indicators point to increased participation of women in science and engineering across all racial and ethnic groups.
  • You can help!  Here’a an abbreviated list of how to start.
    • Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test.
    • Educate yourself.
    • Create inclusive classrooms.
    • Change policies/procedures.
    • Create fair/inclusive professional environments.
    • Support AWIS, AWM, AAUW, and more.
    • Men: listen, learn, speak up, participate.

Summer Opportunities: REUs

This post focuses on Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs), NSF-funded programs where students are paid a stipend to do research at a host institution.  Williams hosts one of the largest math REUs, and there are around 50 others throughout the country.  (To see a full list, see here, but know that it is not up to date and some of the programs listed do not run every year.)  Check out some REUs that AWM members attended this summer!

Emory University REU: The Emory REU is a short program (only six weeks long!), but almost every group manages to submit a paper for publication before the end of it. This is largely due to the projects selected by the mentors which, while challenging, are manageable and lend themselves to presentable findings within the six weeks. Work hours during the day varied by group, but most groups also met in the evenings to work. My group met with our mentors daily, while others met every other day. In general, schedules were very flexible.  This was my first mathematical research experience and it was eye-opening to see math in a research context, as opposed to in the classroom setting. The math I learned while working was learned for the sake of utility, not for a test or exam. I found that this motivated learning in a new way, and one that I am excited to take back with me into the classroom this fall. In addition to the research, we also spent time playing games (Mafia and Set), enjoying several outdoor activities around the residential campus (walks around the lake, ultimate Frisbee, and soccer), and celebrating several birthdays. (Anya Michaelson ’19)

Other students who have participated at this REU: Weitao Zhu ’18, Sarah Fleming ‘17.5

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Latin@s and Hispanics in Mathematical Sciences

Check out Latin@s and Hispanics in Mathematical Sciences this Hispanic Heritage Month! Professor Pamela Harris and her colleagues have created a calendar running from September 15 to October 15 to showcase the contributions of Latinx and Hispanic mathematicians, both in terms of research and mentoring activities.  At midnight every day, a new Latinx/Hispanic mathematician is revealed on the calendar.  You can also check out the archive from last year’s calendar!

Getting Ready for the Semester!

As the semester approaches, here are some things you can do to prepare!

  1. GLOW Some professors use GLOW to learn students’ names before classes begin or during the first couple weeks of classes.  You can make it easier for your professors to learn the name and pronouns you use by changing your GLOW settings.
    1. You can add pronouns and name pronunciation.  Click on “Account,” then go to “Profile.”  On the right side of the screen, you should see “Edit Profile.”  In the “Biography” box, you can add the pronouns you use or the correct pronunciation of your name so your professors will know ahead of time.
    2. You can change your photo.  If your picture does not represent your current gender identity/expression (or even just aesthetic), you can change your picture by going to Account → Profile → Edit Profile.  Click on the photo next to your name and replace it with one of your choice.
  2. WSO: You can change your WSO settings as well!  Go to WSO, then click Facebook → Edit.
    1. Add pronouns.  You can include your pronouns if you wish!
    2. Change your photo.  As with GLOW, you can change your photo for any reason.
    3. Indicate whether or not you are off cycle.  If you check the off-cycle box, WSO will subtract .5 from your class year.  (If you are incorrectly listed, you can contact them.)
    4. Choose whether your profile, dorm address, and hometown will be visible.  Note that WSO Facebook is only accessible to people logged in to Williams accounts, so your profile will not be public no matter what.  Still, if you don’t want people to be able to find you on WSO, you can make yourself unsearchable.  Similarly, you can choose whether your dorm address and hometown are visible or not.
  3. Name Change:  If you want to change your campus name, now might be a good time.  (You can also change your name legally, though the timing with this does not matter as much.)
    1. If your campus name no longer matches up with the name you prefer, you can change it by going to PeopleSoft Self Service → Campus Personal Information → Campus Name Change Form.  To read more about the details of this process and where your name will be changed vs. where it will remain the same, check out this guide from the Registrar.
    2. If you are looking to change your legal name, the Davis Center has some resources but be warned that they were last updated in 2012.  All the relevant forms are available at
  4. Accommodations: If you anticipate needing accommodations of any kind (or just want to see what is offered), email G.L. Wallace or Jean Grant.  You can also reach them by calling (413) 597-4672 or going to the Office of Accessible Education in Paresky 203.
  5. Counseling: Counseling spots can fill up quickly, so once you know your schedule, you might want to book a spot to avoid the waitlist!  Call the Health Center at (413) 597-2353.
  6. Resources: Now’s a good time to review the resources available to you at Williams and think about which ones you might use this semester!  It can pay off to be proactive now and build a relationship with a counselor/chaplain/writing tutor/etc. while you still have the time to do so.