Undergraduate Research Opportunities
In recent years, Undergraduate Research has come to the forefront of many educational projects and foundations’ agendas. If a student is alert to the published opportunities, he or she can spend a summer learning firsthand what a research mathematician does to earn a living.
The best way to learn about these opportunities is to devote some time to browsing through the files at the Career Services Office (King Center). In the Mathematics Department, we post all the advertisements that we receive through the mail. The postings are up on the cork boards, outside the tutoring room (MCS 144: MAA/UMA board), or in the Math Office on the counter (MCS 142).
Perhaps the most interesting and prestigious research opportunities are those funded by the National Science Foundation through a program (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) that awards grants to individual researchers or groups to conduct a summer project within their department; each year, the possible sites vary according to the applications and the awards. Typically, such programs last four to eight weeks (July and August, say); pay a monthly stipend of $1,000 to $2,000, together with a possible travel award; and are open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents for the summer between the junior and senior year. Applications are due in February or March. The students work in small groups (six to a dozen), and are closely supervised by a faculty mentor, providing an opportunity for fruitful and exciting interaction.
Work as closely as possible with your math professors, for it is their letters of recommendation—commenting on your motivation, ability and/or potential as a problem solver, a team-member, and an original thinker—that will get you accepted by a prestigious program. Don’t be lazy: search through the files early, seek your professors’ advice in good time, and bear in mind that the research experience, besides being a wonderful opportunity, provides strong credentials for your future job search, regardless of whether you decide to pursue a higher degree in mathematics.