How do I get involved in student research?
There are several different ways that students can get involved in research projects, but most student research occurs in the summer. There are opportunities for both on- and off-campus research. Planning for off-campus summer research ("REU programs") should start in December, as applications are due in January and February.
The main mode of summer research on campus is to join one of the faculty research teams (see this overview and also individual faculty members' websites for descriptions of research projects - and specific project presentations are collected together and linked in the next paragraph). Early in the spring semester all faculty members who have openings for students during the summer give a short public presentation on their research projects. This year, the presentations were held on Wednesday, January 28, 2014, at 4:30 PM in SC 199.
Eight faculty members in the department gave presentations this year (2015). Here are pdfs of the presentations, identified by the names of the faculty members: Tristan Smith, Frank Moscatelli, Eric Jensen, Carol Guess, Amy Graves, Ben Geller, Catherine Crouch, and Michael Brown. If you're interested in applying to work on a research project this summer, you can talk to individual faculty members, and you should submit a form (see next paragraph) to the department office by Wednesday, February 4.
Students effectively apply to the College for a position, sponsored by a particular faculty member. So the process has two stages: (1) After listening to the faculty presentations, a student submits a form [pdf] indicating that they'd like to be considered for a position in the department for the upcoming summer and lists faculty members they're interested in working with. The form is due in the department office on February 4. The department then assigns students to faculty members and notifies the students. (2) The student fills out an online application to be submitted to the College after they hear from the department that they've been paired with a faculty member for the summer. The submission deadline is February 11 this year. The College then judges each application, and awards a limited number of student stipends. Students are not gauranteed a research position, but we do our best to accommodate as many students as possible. Typically there are about a dozen students who get on-campus research positions each summer. And sometimes this includes a few rising sophomores, though some priority is given to older students, if they haven't yet had the opportunity to do research on campus.
The summer research positions last ten weeks and come with a $4,350 stipend. Students typically apply for housing in a dorm in early April (or make their own housing arrangements for the summer).
Most thesis research involves at least one summer of full-time research, followed by one credit of thesis-writing (Phys 180 or Astro 180) in the fall. Note that a thesis is optional for students doing honors in our department.
Research can continue (or be initiated) during the school year by arrangement with a faculty member. Research can be done for credit (either Phys 94 or Astro 94) or for pay, with the student as an hourly worker.
Finally, there are numerous research opportunities off campus during the summer. Many universities, national labs, and observatories host "REU" (Research Experience for Undergraduates) programs. Often these are quite competitive, and require applications to be submitted (typically) in February. If you are thinking of participating in an REU program off campus, you can check out the National Science Foundation's list of REU programs. There is also a list of astronomy summer opportunities compiled by the American Astronomical Society. Talk to faculty members to get advice and to request letters of recommendation. We also keep binders (with physics and astro REU information, respectively) in the Physics lounge and there are posters on the wall/blackboad opposite the Physics lounge. Because it is not guaranteed that a given student can do summer research on campus any given summer, we strongly encourage students to start looking into off-campus research opportunities starting in December or, at the very latest, in early January.
Of special interest to astronomy students: The Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) is a consortium of eight small liberal arts colleges: Swarthmore, Haverford, Colgate, Vassar, Wesleyan, Williams, Wellesley, and Middlebury. Students from these eight schools can apply to spend the summer at one of the other seven campuses, and work on a project with a faculty member at that school. The consortium hosts a meeting every fall at which students present the results of their summer research (this year, 2014, the symposium was held here at Swarthmore; in 2015 it will be held at Williams College and a group of us from the department will go together). The meeting is open to all students, not just ones who have done the summer exchange. Applications for the KNAC exchange program are due on February 13, 2015.