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Session 20 - Research Experiences for Undergraduates.
Oral session, Monday, June 10
The MIT Haystack Observatory is a multidisciplinary research facility consisting of groups working actively in radio astronomy, atmospheric sciences, geodesy, and instrumentation development to support all three efforts. Its tradition of supporting undergraduate involvement in its research programs was formalized in 1987 under the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program (REU) of the National Science Foundation.
Each summer 8 to 10 REU students, augmented by 4-6 students supported under research grants and contracts, are recruited nationally for our summer internship program. The students work with staff mentors whose project descriptions are exploded by paper and electronic mail to over 200 undergraduate institutions. The undergraduates also contribute to the Observatory's pre-college outreach activities by participating in the NSF Young Scholars Program held each summer at Haystack. A schedule of seminars and gatherings encourage communication between the REU participants and attempt to ensure each student is exposed to a representative view of other research areas besides their own. The format encourages the staff mentor to view the student as a junior collaborator, and the student works with, rather than for, the staff member. Many students have subsequently reported their work at meetings of professional societies, and in refereed publications.
We will recount the strengths and weaknesses noted in the program's first decade, and some of the problems encountered in its implementation. Tracking data on the students will be presented where available: a large fraction of REU participants subsequently have chosen graduate study in scientific fields. In addition to providing the students with valuable research experiences, we believe that the Haystack REU alumni have benefitted from the program by acquiring important assets in critical thinking, communications skills, and the use of modern tools in analyzing problems. Benefits have also accrued to the Observatory staff in working with young people who make excellent contributions to the projects.
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