The UC Santa Barbara Mathematics REU is an eight week research program for undergraduates. The program generally has approximately 10-15 participants, split into smaller groups based on research topics. My year, there were three different groups: numerical analysis, elliptic curves, and Lie theory. The groups vary each year depending on which faculty are available to advise the program. Each group was given their own conference room to work in and the participants are required to show up in the morning and stay throughout the day. One day per week, we had talks, where each group would have two people present the group’s progress for the week. The rest of the students would watch and write anonymous feedback about the presentations, which I found to be very helpful for improving my public speaking skills. Another day each week we had talks by faculty on various interesting mathematical topics. The talks did a good job of getting us excited about math and motivating us to focus on our research.
The research depended heavily on which group you were in. My group studied Lie theory and was advised by Professor Zhirayr Avetisyan. Professor Avetisyan contacted us as soon as we were accepted and gave us materials to study in the spring before the REU. When we arrived, he told us that he would be fairly hands off in order to prepare us for what graduate school is like. Despite this, we met with him for an hour each day to discuss our progress. These meetings often turned into discussions about life where Professor Avetisyan told us about his experience in academia and gave us life advice. Professor Avetisyan did an excellent job both leading our research and keeping us motivated and excited.
The students were given a block of suite-style apartments to live in, with three of us per two bedroom apartment. The apartments were a 30 minute walk to the math building, and so most of us rented bikes. Many of the participants had cars and so grocery shopping was not difficult. My research group got together for dinner most days and cooked for each other. People generally ate meals together and hung out during our free time.
The head of the REU promised that there would be no required social events and left organizing to us. Despite my initial fears that people would become isolated, everyone managed to organize events independently. We went for hikes as a group often and we had trips to the city of Santa Barbara (Despite the name, UC Santa Barbara is in a neighboring town.) The social scene at the REU was lively and exciting.
At the end of the REU, we all attended the Young Mathematicians Conference (YMC) at Ohio State. In my group, all of us obtained funding to attend. At the conference, we did poster presentations, and some of us gave talks. It was a great way to wrap up the REU and to have a chance to share our research and to hear about what other REUs were working on.
Overall, I found that the UC Santa Barbara REU was an excellent introduction to research and was a fantastic way to spend my summer.