UC Davis Physics REU Program

Frequently Asked Questions

Before Applying Application Questions Transcript Questions Letters of Recommendation Offers



My college starts before the REU finishes. Can I leave early?

You can leave up to one week early. If you have more than a one-week conflict, please look into REU programs that fit your schedule better.

In some cases students who need to leave early can also arrive early. Whether this is possible depends on the mentor's schedule in the week before the REU program starts.


Can I apply if I am an international student?

Yes, but we cannot provide financial support through the main REU funds. You may need to pay for your own travel to Davis and living expenses, and you will not receive the usual REU stipend.


Can I apply if I am a DACA or AB540 student?

Yes. We have non-NSF funds that can be used for DACA or AB540 students. Please let us know, so that we can plan accordingly, but we expect to provide full funding for all DACA or AB540 students selected to participate.


Can I apply if I am a high school senior who has taken college physics?

Yes, if you will enroll in college full-time in the fall. However, only a very rare high school student would be prepared for an REU project. Even college freshmen are rarely accepted to our program.

Note that REUs in related fields can have very different philosophies. For example, many REU sites in mathematics are aimed at students early in their college careers, and might better fit an entering freshman.


Can I apply if I have a bachelor's degree in another field but have returned to college?

Maybe. If your degree was in a field that would not be considered preparation for continued study in physics, then yes. For example, you can apply with a previous degree in English Literature or Psychology, but not with a previous degree in Math or Engineering.


Can I apply if I am in a 3-2 physics and engineering program and will already have received the first degree?

Yes. If you receive the physics degree at the end of your fourth year but will continue as an undergraduate for a fifth year, you are eligible for the REU program during the summer between your fourth and fifth years.


What are you looking for in the students you select?

Each mentor looks for different things, so there's no simple answer to that question. Above all, we want good fits between students and their projects. Ideally the project will match the student's preparation, physics interests, and preferences as to how to spend her time. The single most common reason that we rule out a student for some project is lack of sufficient computer skills, although we do also have projects that require little or no computer experience.

To strengthen your application, either try to get some schoolyear research experience (if you're at a school where that's possible), or work on programming either independently or through a class.


How can I get more programming experience?

Programming is something you have to learn by doing. Some students find their own reasons to learn, from controlling homemade robots to writing computer games. If neither of those grabs you, Project Euler has a collection of a few hundred computational mathematics problems, which can give some focus to learning a new language. Overall the most useful languages for our projects are Python and C++.


I have no previous research experience. Will that hurt my chances?

If your college does not have research, your lack of experience will not hurt your application. The REU program exists in large part for the sake of students like you. At UC Davis, we make a particular effort to offer projects to promising students from two-year colleges.

At the other extreme, if you are a junior at a major research university we will wonder how interested you can be in research if you haven't yet gotten involved in any. Plenty of students have convincing answers: family, finances, health, recent change of major, etc. Just be sure you explain your situation in your application.


How do I get my document into one of the correct formats?

Open the document in whatever word processor or viewer you're using. There may be a "Save As" or "Export" option that allows you to select a format. Alternatively, you could print the document to a file, which will probably be PDF or PostScript (PS) format.


How can I submit a CV?

Between the research experience and computer experience fields and your essay, you should be able to cover the important parts of your CV. There is no indication that a formal CV has helped any of our applicants in previous years. However, if you really feel that a CV is crucial to your application, then either upload a file for your essay and include your CV at the end, or upload the CV as an additional transcript.


I made a mistake on my application! How can I fix it now that it's submmitted?

You can correct your recommenders' e-mail addresses yourself, from https://london.physics.ucdavis.edu/~reu/appstatus. When you click on "Send a reminder," you'll have an opportunity to confirm or change the address. You can then quit without actually sending the reminder e-mail.

For other corrections or updates to your application, write to reu(at)london.ucdavis.edu.


My school doesn't calculate a GPA for just my math and physics classes.

We know. Please calculate it yourself.


I don't have fall grades because of my school's policies.

We're aware that some schools don't give letter grades (especially to freshmen) and that others (particularly those abroad) only give grades at the end of the academic year. We will be reasonable about this. Fill in what you can, and make a note about your school's system in the "elaborate on your answers" field at the bottom of the application form. Definitely make sure to let us know what classes you took in the fall and what you're taking in the spring.


Will my application be taken more seriously if I send an official transcript?

No. We accept unofficial transcripts for several reasons. First, we don't want students to forgo applying on account of expense. Second, we ask that you upload your transcripts directly to our online system. That saves us the (substantial!) work of scanning and uploading all the transcripts. It also improves readability; occasionally official transcripts are designed not to be scanned and become nearly illegible. Finally, it means the transcript is available sooner and ensures it isn't misfiled with the wrong student's application.

Do not have an official transcript sent to us electronically, since we will not take the time to work through the security surrounding it, save it in a readable format, and upload the result to our database.

If you choose to have an official transcript sent to yourself electronically, make sure you save it as an unlocked file before you upload it. We get several useless locked transcripts each year.


I can't upload an official transcript. Can I have the registrar's office mail or email one to you instead?

No. We understand that the transcript you upload will be unofficial, and that's fine with us.


How can I obtain an unofficial transcript?

There are several options. At many schools, students can access something with a name like "Academic History" or "Student Record" that lists everything we need. For each course you took, we want to see the course number, name, units, grade, and which term you took it. You can save this file and upload it to our site. If you can't get access to this information online, or can't save it once you do, you can write up your own file with the information noted above. Alternatively, you can order an official transcript sent to yourself, which you can scan and upload.


I have more than one transcript. Do I need to combine them into a single file?

No, although if you can do so fairly easily that does make reviewing the application simpler for us. For multiple files, upload a first transcript (preferably the one from your present college). You'll then be prompted for whether you want to upload additional transcripts. You can have as many as you want, and you don't need to upload them all at the same time.


Can I send more than three letters?

No. If you choose your recommenders correctly, three is more than enough for us to learn what we need. For hints on what makes a good letter, see the next question.


Whom should I ask for letters?

Since this is a physics research program, by far the most useful letters are from previous physics research mentors. If you did an REU last summer, definitely get a letter! If you also did schoolyear research, get a letter from that too. If you've only done research in another field (math, biology, geology, etc.), you should still get a letter from your mentor. When students have research experience but no corresponding letter of recommendation, we wonder if something went very wrong with the project.

If you've never done research, ask for letters from physics or possibly math professors: people you've taken classes from, graded problem sets for, or talked to for course and career advice. Classes that included some sort of project, rather than strictly problem sets and tests, sometimes let the recommender provide a fresh angle on your work. How well the professor knows you is more important than your grade in the course; we already know your grades from your transcript anyway. It's easy to feel anonymous in classes at big universities, especially during the first two years, but professors are used to writing recommendations for students they don't know very well. Don't be tempted to ask for letters from elementary or high school teachers, your swim coach, your boss from when you worked as a clerk in a department store last summer, or even the graduate student who taught your physics lab. Most grad students have read, let alone written, very few letters of recommendation and don't have a good sense of how to construct a persuasive one.

Also, if you transferred from a community college to a university, get letters from university professors even if they know you less well. University faculty will compare your progress to that of other university students, which is much more useful for us than hearing that you were the strongest student at your two-year college. (In our experience, top community college students can wind up anywhere from in the middle to at the very top of their university classes.) Since we allow three letters, you could get one from your former school and two from your current institution.

Note that these same considerations will be relevant if you apply to physics grad school.


I've sent several letter requests to my professor, but he isn't receiving them. What should I do?

First make absolutely sure you've entered his e-mail address correctly. Second, ask if they might be in his spam folder. The subject line is "Recommendation Request for UC Davis Physics REU Program" or "Recommendation Reminder for UC Davis Physics REU Program." Third, your professor could try setting his account to accept mail from "reu@london.ucdavis.edu," although this may not help if the email is getting blocked at the university level. If none of this solves the problem, he can send the letter to reu(at)london.ucdavis.edu. Guidelines for the letter are available at https://london.physics.ucdavis.edu/~reu/letters.html.


My professor sent in her recommendation letter. When will it show up in your system?

E-mailed letters are uploaded manually to a database, usually on the day they are received or the next business day. A script matches letters to the correct applications once a day (in the middle of the night). Thus most e-mailed letters will register on your status page as submitted by the second business day after they were sent.

For paper mail the process is the same, except that mail delivery adds about one week to the above estimate.

If a recommendation arrives before the application, it should register as submitted as soon as the application is complete.

Definitely check that your letters arrive, and contact us if they seem unduly delayed. The automatic matching does sometimes fail, for example because a name is misspelled.


Why does your stupid system reject my recommendation letter for being the wrong file format?

Sorry! Our file type recognition isn't perfect. PDF format is the most likely to work. Alternatively, you can e-mail your letter to reu(at)london.ucdavis.edu. It's helpful if you can tell us what operating system and web browser you use, so that we can try to fix the problem for future users.


I have an offer from another program but I'd prefer yours.

Contact us and ask whether we'll make you an offer before your other deadline. Usually the answer is no, but sometimes we really are on the verge of a decision. When you call, it occasionally speeds things up a bit (for example, if a mentor was planning to select a student on a Wednesday but finds the time to think it through on Tuesday instead).

Note that any physics REU program that doesn't include an international component should give you until at least March 4 to respond to their offers.


Why is it taking you so long to decide on my application?

Since each offer is for an individual project, we have to make the offers sequentially. That generally means only one offer per week for each project. If you are, say, the fourth choice for a particular project, you probably won't hear from us until late March (and then only if the three students ahead of you decline).


Can I wait to decide on your offer until I hear back from the other programs I applied to?

Unfortunately, no. Contact the other programs and see what they can tell you before our deadline. We use a one-week deadline, as do many other REU programs. It's a balance between the needs of successful applicants who want to compare their different options and the needs of the students who may get offers in the next round. We want to finish the admissions as quickly as possible so that unsuccessful applicants have time to make alternate plans.

There is also the possibility that the system will jam if students aren't given firm deadlines. You might find it amusing to think about how that would work, if you've managed to maintain a sense of humor through this fairly stressful process.

Physics REU directors have agreed not to require applicants to respond to offers before the first Friday in March, this year March 4. There are a few exceptions, mainly programs with international components that must use earlier deadlines to leave time for passport and visa processing. This means that for most programs you will know before March 4 whether you will have a first-round offer. Again, there are a few exceptions, since programs can make their initial offers later. After March 4, offers will be made as spots are declined, with no timing coordination among different programs.