How much does undergraduate field of research matter?

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earthdweller67
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Dec 31, 2020 1:11 am

How much does undergraduate field of research matter?

Post by earthdweller67 » Thu Dec 31, 2020 2:55 am

Hey y'all, this is my first post on this forum :) ! I am currently a sophomore (undergrad) at a US university with a good reputation for physics, and I just started research this fall semester. Last summer, I emailed a couple of theory and computational labs, but they were all full or didn't want me, so I ended up joining an applied physics / quantum computing lab, although the research I'm doing isn't quite quantum computing. I was able to get a decent amount of research done this semester - enough that my supervisor said that I may be able to get a paper out soon, although I'm not sure how "soon" lol.

My question is, how important is it for my field of undergraduate research (in my case applied engineering physics / QC) to be related to the field that I want to pursue in graduate school? I'm not completely sure which field I want to pursue as of right now, but (probably) like many of you, I was lured into majoring in physics because of all the fancy theory and math that's out there on the internet, so obviously I'm considering pursuing HEP-TH or astrophysics, but I'm definitely open to other fields.

The thing is, if I end up staying with my current lab for another semester or two and leave during my junior fall or spring semester to go search for a theoretical lab that is willing to accept me, I don't think I would have time to get much research done in this new lab before I apply for grad school.

However, if I leave my current lab right now to find a theoretical lab, I feel like I'd be wasting this opportunity I have at my current lab to possibly put out a paper soon and also wasting an opportunity for a rec letter (although this might not actually be such a loss since my supervisor oversees like 40 undergrads so their rec probably won't be that detailed). Additionally, I'm not sure if theory labs would be willing to accept me since I'm only a sophomore (I've only taken intro to quantum so far).

I think my best option is to stick with my current lab and try to get a paper published asap (might end up in a engineering journal tbh), and then try to find a theory lab in my junior year once I have taken more higher level courses. I just wanted to know how much less competitive this would make me relative to others if I apply for a theoretical field for grad school. Right now my GPA is great, but I'm worried about research.

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Nishikata
Posts: 239
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:37 am

Re: How much does undergraduate field of research matter?

Post by Nishikata » Thu Dec 31, 2020 6:41 am

Welcome.

It is good to start early. I also began my research during my sophomore year.
Well, there's not really much choice to be made now, right?

I suggest stick with your current lab for now, but keep communicating with theory labs and ask if they would consider you after taking some prescribed subjects. Only move out from your current lab when there's a better destination available.

What I am saying is, you can start finding the labs you want to join, but don't leave the current one yet until you get the confirmation. Else you risk not doing any research at all.

Don't bother about "others" and focus on your own studies for now.

earthdweller67
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Dec 31, 2020 1:11 am

Re: How much does undergraduate field of research matter?

Post by earthdweller67 » Thu Dec 31, 2020 10:21 pm

Thanks for the advice! I think I'll stay with my lab for now and hopefully get a paper out soon even if it ends up in an engineering journal. Do you have any advice on how I should notify my current supervisor when I decide to switch labs? I don't want to seem like a jerk or that I'm ghosting them, since I will probably need a rec from them, and I also just don't want to make them feel bad.



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