What was your REU experience?

by Guest on July 24, 2013

This is a joint post between Astrobetter and Astrobites.  Nathan Sanders is a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, and an author for Astrobites.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory 2009 REU cohort. If I walk up and down the hallway of graduate student offices in my building and ask a dozen of my classmates to tell me how they wound up doing research in astronomy, I would get a dozen different answers.  But there’s one common experience that almost all of us would share — we participated in some type of summer research program for undergraduates, such as an NSF REU.

As we’ve discussed on Astrobites, REUs and similar internship programs are one of the best avenues for undergraduates to gain vital experience in research.  This is crucial not only to learn the tools of the trade, but also to try a career in research on for size and to build a resume for applying to graduate school.  As John Johnson, chair of the Caltech graduate admissions committee, explained in a 2012 Astrobite, these programs can be especially valuable to undergraduates who aren’t enrolled at schools with large astronomy departments that offer them in-house research opportunities.

So if you’re an undergraduate that’s sold on the idea of participating in a summer program, where should you apply? What are the programs like, which ones have mentors that work in your field of choice, and how many other students will be there to interact with? There are dozens of different programs throughout the US and abroad offered by the NSF and NASA as well as individual universities and research institutions, so the choice can be daunting.

The Astrobetter wiki already has a list of summer programs, but we’d like to collect more information than that. We have started a wiki page where everyone in the astronomy community can record what they know about the summer internship programs that are available to undergraduate students. If you participated in or helped to organize one of these programs, please share your knowledge with the next generation of students by adding it to the page.

If you are an advisor to, a friend of, or a coworker of an undergraduate who may be interested in these summer programs, please send them this information!  If you know an even younger future astronomer, at the high school level, point them to the Astrobetter page on undergraduate programs or the recent discussion of the best undergraduate programs.  For more general information, see the wiki page collecting profiles of all astronomical institutions.

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