Hello to anyone who might be reading this!
This is (er, hopefully will be) a blog about my experience doing math research at Eastern Tennessee State University this summer. This blog is part of a WISE Words project to document the summer experiences of several female undergraduates in the sciences through blogs like this one.
I’m doing this research as part of an REU–Research Experience for Undergraduates. That means a few things concretely: I’m here with some other undergrads who will also be doing math research with the guidance of the same professor, and I get paid a really sweet stipend. REUs are, briefly, programs held at various universities across the United States, largely funded through NSF grants for the specific purpose of encouraging undergraduate research. They are held in a variety of STEM fields, from mathematics to physics to biomedical research to aerospace engineering. Of course, there are many other programs through which undergrads can do summer research at their own universities, other universities, in industry or government, etc. Things that are called “REUs” are united by the vision the NSF has articulated for undergraduate research programs of this sort. I’m not entirely sure what unifying features “REUs” have specifically that may distinguish them from other programs. If you’re interested, try the NSF’s publications on stimulating undergraduate research and desire to attend graduate schcool.
We’ll be doing research on some problems in probability, graph theory, and combinatorics. Here, it seems that students work in groups of 1-3 (inclusive), and may work on a few different problems over the course of the nine weeks of the program. Some might contribute to a few different problem groups simultaneously, and can move around as changing interests and fancies dictate. I’m thinking that will prove a good way to minimize the inevitable frustration of doing research, often getting nowhere for days or weeks at a time or following false leads to dead ends.
Otherwise, the structure of the program is yet to emerge: how we work is mostly up to us, and we’re still getting settled in. Being able to do research sitting around in your apartment with a pen and paper is rather a nice feature of research in pure mathematics, and it gives us more flexibility than many lab-based students might have. (Though, of course, computers are often used even in pure math, and can be useful for generating conjectures, studying small test cases, and developing intuition about a problem).
I’ll save the good stories for later, for color. I doubt anyone will be reading this, but if you are, please leave a comment with any questions you might have about REU experiences, research in math, etc. Already, the REU students have gotten to talking about what we’re worried and excited about starting this research gig, so I intend to bring up any issues that come up in discussion that I think might be of interest to others just starting research. I’m also sharing an apartment with the two other girls in the program, so, pursuant to the general goals of WISE Words, I’ll share anything specific to women in mathematics that might come up.