Get the most out of your REU project

Undergraduate students often are encouraged to participate in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). They receive advice on how to find an REU that is a good fit and how to write a good application. This blog post is about the back side of the process. I write to undergraduates with some suggestions of what to do now that your REU is over and you have that well-deserved feeling of accomplishment. In a nutshell, my advice is to disseminate your work widely in your department and at conferences with the purpose of networking to meet people that might become pivotal in your mathematical advancement.
Suggestion 1: Present your work at your university. You probably gave a presentation at the end of your REU, so you already have some slides to work with. Take some time to reflect on how your presentation went and on the feedback you received. This will help you improve your presentation next time. It is a good idea to consult web sites with tips on how to give effective oral presentations although not everything out there is useful. I list some resources at the end of this blog.  Once you have an improved presentation, ask in the math department at your university if there is an appropriate venue for you to give a talk (or you might already know the options). If there is a math club, that is a good place to start. Giving a talk has several benefits. One is that you can include it in your résumé, which can be helpful later when you interview for jobs. Another one is that getting your talk ready helps you understand the material even better and helps you see possible ways to go further into the topic. Third, people at your talk might end up being a good contact for future research opportunities.
Suggestion 2: Consider presenting your work at conferences. Some REUs encourage students to present at conferences, usually in the form of a poster. Most large conferences organized by the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematics Association of America and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics include student poster presentation sessions. There are conferences that specifically target undergraduate research. The following are regional or national conferences so you get more exposure:

  1. SUMS: Shenandoah Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics
  2. CURM:  Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics
  3. SACNAS:
  4. More Undergraduate Resources

Suggestion 3: Consider extending your work further. No matter how successful your REU was, there is always more work that can be done connected to your project. If you enjoyed the topic, you can find out which faculty members in your university are in the same or related areas and make an appointment to talk to them separately in person. When you meet with a professor, show her the work you did and tell her that you would like to continue doing research in related topics and that you wonder if she can supervise it. Eventually, a professor will agree and you can continue with your research and maybe even fold it into your capstone project or honors thesis.

Suggestion 4: Ask your REU mentor what it would take to make your work publishable. Almost all REU students write a report at the end of the program, but that report is far from being a publishable paper. However, sometimes the work done by the students is significant enough to become publishable with some extra work. If you are motivated to become a published author, ask your REU mentor about this possibility. Be prepared to hear an answer that requires much more work than you think; however, if your mentor offers to work with you (or your group), consider seriously accepting that offer. It might take a couple of semesters to finish.

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