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

UCSB REU: The program was decently sized in comparison to most other REUs. There were 5 women and 8 men, which was definitely a noticeable disparity. We stayed in apartments owned by the university––some were coed, others not. Everyone shared a physical room with another person from the program.  There were no organized trips or “mandatory” fun. This past summer’s group played a lot of board games. Most individuals worked outside of the 9-5 hours to continue their research on the weekends, although I do not believe this was required or expected.  In terms of socializing, one thing I would recommend is to be prepared to encounter individuals who “live, eat, sleep, breathe” math. It can be intimidating, but this is a life choice every math student needs to make––how much time do I want to dedicate to this passion?

The 13 students were placed with 1 of 3 mentors. Two mentors were tenured professors, and one was a 4th year graduate student at UC Santa Barbara. Some individuals worked in subgroups of these larger 3 groups, and others worked alone. We worked from 9-5 Mon through Fri. My mentor was Dr. Karel Casteels, who does research in quantum algebras. However, Karel allowed all of his students to choose an area of math and an open question that genuinely interested them, which I thought was really amazing. In general, Karel was a great resource if you needed him, but a very hands-off mentor, which worked well for me.

Outside of research, earlier in the program, there were workshops in LaTeX and MATLAB, weekly faculty talks and group presentations, and panels on graduate school.  8 out of 13 students from the REU gave talks at Young Mathematicians Conference at Ohio State. I gave a 20 minute Beamer talk, which was a great opportunity for me to practice communicating complex mathematical concepts and ideas.  In the last week, everyone presented at the poster session at USCB for summer research students.  At the end of the program, we submitted a report of our work and results to NSF, and some groups submitted papers to undergraduate math journals or the arXiv.

Weather is ideal––70º and sunny every day with ocean breeze––and we were near the beach and the mountains (great for hiking!). There were multiple forest fires of significant size this summer, which made it hard for some to breathe.

I thought this REU was an incredibly beneficial experience, but I would say it was less about doing math and discovering new results, and more about learning the research process and how to present your research, which was a valuable experience to me but may not be what everyone is looking for. (Aesha Siddiqui ’19)

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