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!
- What is an REU?
- Outline of Application Process and Components
- Factors to Consider When Applying
- General Tips
- Recommendation Letters
- Personal/Research Statement
- 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!
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