By the Editorial Board, based on an interview at the 2017 Joint Mathematics Meeting with REU students David Burton, Kelly Emmrich, Micah Henson, Andres Mejia, and Nina Pande.
Editor’s note: The editors thank David, Kelly, Micah, Andres, and Nina for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights with us. Biographical information for each of these students is included at the end of this article.
“Something that I’ll remember the most is there were a couple epiphany moments where we just all of sudden we seemed like we just stumbled into this, you know magical place of thinking of something we never would have thought or come up with that was really important for our project and the reason I think that I’ll also remember that for a long time is that it gave me a lot of confidence that I could do research because being able to come up with a creative way forward is sometimes I think one of those important parts.”
— REU student
Why should students participate in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)? What do undergrads gain from such programs? What has driven their growth and popularity over the past several decades? In this post, we share highlights of a conversation that the editors had with five undergraduates at the 2017 Joint Mathematics Meetings about their experiences at five different REUs (described in the final section). If you are a faculty member, we hope this inspires you to share information about REUs with your students. If you are an undergraduate student, we hope this inspires you to apply for an REU! (Lists of REUs can be found here and here.)
In our conversation, five major themes emerged regarding the students’ REU experiences:
- Collaboration: the importance of collaboration, friendships, and networking
- The Nature of Mathematics: an appreciation or gained understanding of the nature of mathematics and mathematical research
- Self-Beliefs and Agency: heightened awareness and/or insight about oneself as a learner or person in general
- Back to the Classroom: the positive impact of REUs on subsequent coursework
- Graduate School: an increased or decreased interest in graduate school or insight into graduate school
While there were some additional comments off these themes, which we include below, in this article we hope to tell a story of the impact of REUs on undergraduates through the students’ own words. Note that all student quotes in this article have been lightly edited for clarity. Continue reading