Covid-19, REU cancellations, and grad admissions

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Hermitian
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Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2020 5:32 pm

Covid-19, REU cancellations, and grad admissions

Post by Hermitian » Tue Mar 17, 2020 5:34 pm

I'm entering my senior year of undergrad in the fall. As the title suggests, I'm very concerned with how my application is going to turn out because both of my (only) REU offers (which I've been working towards since freshman year) have been cancelled due to Covid-19. Some REUs elsewhere are not cancelled, so I'm feeling I'm at huge disadvantage compared to my peers. I have good research experience in related fields but without this coming REU my profile for this specific field is seriously compromised.

How understanding graduate might ad-coms be when I apply next year and mention this misfortune? I don't want pity, but this is completely out of my control!

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Nishikata
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Re: Covid-19, REU cancellations, and grad admissions

Post by Nishikata » Wed Mar 18, 2020 2:51 am

Sadly, I predict that once this coronavirus thingy is over. A bigger tragedy will inevitably occur.

In the first 1-2 months after the crisis declared under control, there may be some leeway and understanding.

After 3 months, the bigshots will be in catch-up mode. businesses will try to make up all the losses to meet or be as close as their original targets. Bosses will pretend to forget that such things called coronavirus social distancing existed last quarter, and work their employees to death. As there is no more of this coronavirus grand "excuse", their positions will be in jeopardy during the stakeholders' meeting next quarter. Everyone will criticize them like hell when losses are reported. Without shame, fingers will be pointed at members of society for making "excuses" and having no "grit and tenacity". Layoffs will probably happen too. The world's death threat may be over in terms of coronavirus, but to these executives it will continue to haunt them for few more quarters. They will not let themselves lose their jobs and social status without fight.

After all, most governments and businesses seem to break their banks in handling this the coronavirus.
The huge 50 billion dollars in US relief package, for example, will have to be regained sooner or later in one way or the other.

During this situation, how understanding can these decision-makers be? is understanding still the correct term?
I think these people will be making rational decisions, back to the textbook.

How will the ad-coms assess people with tangible results in REUs against those who missed out?
I think you already know the answer.

Some exceptions for the hardest of situations, such as the death of parents due to coronavirus, may be given for select individuals with excellent SOPs and other factors. Yet there are just a few number of places you can grant outside of merit while there are so many applicants suffering from the same misfortune of missing their REUs mentioning the same story.

This fate is sad, my friend. We have to just tough ourselves up and move on, as this too is part of life.

AstroObs
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Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:42 am

Re: Covid-19, REU cancellations, and grad admissions

Post by AstroObs » Wed Mar 18, 2020 4:04 am

I agree that field specific experience is fairly important (as in CME vs Biophysics, as opposed to smaller differences like stellar evolution vs exoplanets). And Adcoms won’t care about an experience you were about to have.

However, this is the time to look forward. If the lockdown lasts long, one option is to try to find a professor, ideally from your undergrad uni, who can supervise a theory project in your field remotely. Might be very hard to find... but if the lockdown ends this semester it will be a lot easier to find such a supervisor - everyone wants an extra hand to explore ideas. Unfortunately both options will probably not pay you this summer, unless your uni has funding options. If it does last long, consider studying for the PGRE during the lock down so you can maximize your time researching once it is over. Honestly, at the early open houses I attended not that many students had done REUs, even though they were admits at top schools. So there are definitely many other paths for you to take in the months ahead.

If everyone has REUs etc canceled due to the lockdown, of course it won’t in itself hurt you - everyone will have a hole in their CV. But yes you got royally screwed, especially since having experience in the same general field is a huge help. That being said, if you have any posters/papers that does communicate “I can present or write papers” even if it is not in the same field. Even good letters say “X can do good research” or “X can program.”

geekusprimus
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Re: Covid-19, REU cancellations, and grad admissions

Post by geekusprimus » Wed Mar 18, 2020 4:28 am

The good news is that there will be a lot of people in situations similar to you. Yeah, there will still be those guys who did a bunch of REUs, but you’re not the only one who’s getting shafted by not being able to do one. Admissions committees will still obviously give preference to those sorts of people, but there are going to be far fewer of them available.

The bad news, though, is actually worse than Nishitaka suggested: if the economy doesn’t bounce back fast enough when this whole virus business finally runs its course, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll end up in a global recession. In addition to REUs getting cut, a lot of departments will have a harder time getting grants and donor money. They won’t be able to support as many graduate students, so there will be fewer positions available. As if that weren’t enough, people who lose their jobs during the hard times sometimes decide to go back to school to make them more competitive in their field or transition into one with better job prospects. People graduating around the same time might also decide to try applying to graduate school because it’s safer than looking for a job in a trashed economy. To make a long story short, graduate admissions next year might be tough: schools will have fewer stand-out applicants to pick between, but they might have fewer spots available and possibly many more people competing for them.

My recommendation is that you look around other places for research experiences and summer jobs. There may be someone at your university who will hire you (not knowing anything about your school, I can’t say for sure), and sometimes national labs or more research-oriented businesses (think IBM, Google, etc.) have internships available, even this late in the season. Also, build connections now with people you might be interested in working with. Talk to people at conferences, reach out to authors whose work you’re consulting, and try to build working relationships with professors at your own school. That’ll make it easier to find someone who will want to take you on as a grad student, and the last bit will help a lot with getting strong LORs.

jabennett2194
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Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: Covid-19, REU cancellations, and grad admissions

Post by jabennett2194 » Wed Mar 18, 2020 7:23 am

As AstroObs says, you may be able to find research, just not paid. If you can afford this with the help of parents/friends/family, try this! All research is good research! Work your ass off :) You got this.



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