Bank of REU/Grad Fair Questions

By Lucy Martinez and Eduardo Torres Davila

We attended the Joint Math Meetings (JMM) conference in Denver to present our research from our work at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Undergraduate Program. At JMM, there was a fair of graduate schools and research experiences for undergraduate programs, which was attended by universities from all parts of the nation. At each booth, were university professors and current graduate students who could talk about their PhD program in the mathematical sciences. Selecting a grad school or an REU are critical moments for undergraduates wanting to pursue a PhD in mathematics, and attending this fair provided us with the opportunity of getting to know the schools/programs. Thereby, helping us in making the decision of which schools/programs to apply to. Although, we attended the fair to find out more about the programs offered, there were points in our conversations in which we were unsure what to ask. We quickly realized that if we had a list of questions prior to attending the conference, we could have been more prepared. We talked to Dr. Pamela E. Harris about our situation and she recommended that we go on a scavenger hunt for questions we could have asked! Our goal was to find people at JMM to share questions that students could ask when they attend such a grad/REU fair. We present these questions below, along with some we asked or came up with after this experience. Our hope is that these questions may help other undergraduates in the future.

REU Questions

  • How do collaborations happen?
  • What does the atmosphere at the REU look like? How does the week look like?
  • Are there talks about other topics besides the math?
  • Is there any professional development after the REU?
  • How competitive is your REU?
  • How was the previous REU? How successful was it?
  • What topics are offered in your REU, so that they may best be aligned to my research interests?
  • How is the area/location? What is it like to live there during the summer?
  • How much influence does the student have on the project they are working on?
  • Are the projects assigned or does the student pick their favorite topic?
  • Are the groups assigned or do students choose their group?
  • What kind of projects has your REU worked on?
  • Ask for contact information from professors that are running the REU so that you may send further questions later..
  • Do you have a big emphasis on submitting papers? If so what support is there for the writing?
  • What do you look for in a student for you REU?
  • How is the REU guidance towards the students?
  • Does your REU offer funding to attend math conferences to present the research?
  • Are there fun activities planned for the students during the summer?
  • What is the structure of the REU? Do students meet with faculty every day during the week?
  • How many students are admitted to the program?

Grad School Questions

  • Does your school encourage outside research collaborations? To specify, if someone were to like a professor at a nearby (or not nearby) university would they be encouraged to work with them.
  • Does your school offer funding to attend conferences throughout your grad school career?
  • What is your relationship with the university? To specify, there is not always a professor at a grad fair booth. Sometimes there can be graduate students and other times grad directors so it is important to ask their relationship to the university to know which questions you can ask.
  • How do you resolve problems between graduate students and faculty members?
  • Will there be guaranteed funding for all years of the graduate program?
  • How many years does it take to graduate from your Ph.D. program?
  • Does the university offer any scholarships for minorities?
  • How do students find advisors?
  • What is the grad student community like at your institution? To be more specific, do students work together in doing homework, classwork, or preparing for exams?
  • What is the process that is taken for the qualifying exams? On top of that how many attempts are given to graduate students to pass these exams?
  • What summer support system is provided for students trying to study for the qualifying exams?
  • What kind of research are the professors into?
  • Out of the graduate students who enter how many finish with a math Ph.D.?
  • When a student enters the Ph.D. program how is the funding for the student? Are they going to be a teacher’s assistant? A teacher? Research funding?

The following are questions for current graduate students:

  • What do students do outside of school?
  • Was it easy to find an advisor and did you like them once you were paired up with them?
  • What do you do when you’re not working on math?
  • What helped you to be most successful?
  • What is the social climate at the university? Are the professors approachable?
  • Are professors supportive in a student’s life events? Is there support for both people trying to pursue academia as well as a career in industry?

We thank the following JMM participants who helped us in collecting these questions:
Alex Barrios, Alex Burstein, Natasha Crepeau, Emilie Curl, Daniel Erman, Joshua Flynn, Anant Godbole, Matthew Guhl, Erik Insko, Christian McRoberts, Andrew Miller, Christopher O’Neill, Rebecca Rechkin, Joseph Rennie, Erik Slivken, Sherilyn Tamagawa, and Bianca Viray.

If you have suggestions or other questions to add to this list please comment below!

About the authors


Lucy Martinez: I am currently a junior at Stockton University in New Jersey. My major is Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. My goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in Pure Mathematics. I plan to influence other minorities to follow their dreams and advocate for more Hispanic women to pursue careers in STEM fields. My other passion besides math is parrots. I think they are amazing animals because some of them have the ability to learn how to talk and imitate humans.



Eduardo Torres Davila: I am currently a senior at San Diego State University. I am an Applied Mathematics major with a minor in Computer Science. I am currently applying to pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Another passion of mine is riding motorcycles. Riding gives me a way to relax and remove all worries from my mind. I also like to do some computer programming on my downtime. My favorite languages are Python and Sage.


This entry was posted in career advancement, Changing Graduate Programs, General, Going to graduate school, Graduate School, Uncategorized, Undegraduates. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bank of REU/Grad Fair Questions

  1. Avatar Abbe Herzig says:

    Thank you for this list! I am the Director of Education at AMS, and it is helpful for me to learn about your questions. I will keep this list in mind as we develop resources for students.

    Please check out, where there is a lot of information about applying to grad school.

    I’m eager to hear feedback from students about ways we can support your educational journey, including ways that the grad school webpage could better help you. Please tell me your ideas and questions–you can reach me through the link on that webpage.


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