Princeton Summer Math Research

The summer program at Princeton funds eight weeks of on-campus mathematical research and/or guided independent study. Any eight weeks during the summer will do, provided you can make arrangements to work with your adviser during that period; they do not even have to be contiguous, so you could for instance, work for four weeks in June, then leave for a couple of weeks and return to finish the program in mid-July. Over the past two years, the program has provided $4000 stipends to approximately 10 math majors; rising juniors and seniors are given preference, but rising sophomores are often accepted. The program is only open to Princeton students. Participants are expected to submit a written report or paper in early September.

Getting Started

To apply, first find an adviser. Note that your adviser does not have to be in the department, provided your project involves significant mathematical content. After you have a faculty member willing to supervise a project, work with him or her to prepare a one to two page project proposal. The proposal should cover your plan of study, whether it is research or guided reading. The deadline is typically in April, and responses come out late in the month. If you need to hear back earlier—which will often be the case, since the summer housing deadline is earlier than the program’s response date—talk to the program coordinators: Professors Manjul Bhargava, Christopher Skinner, and Robert Gunning.

Example Project

Shotaro Makisumi. I participated in this program in summer 2011. My advisor was Tasho Kaletha, a post doc with a joint appointment at Princeton and the Institute for Advanced Study. We put together a plan of study covering several topics, including the structure theory of reductive groups, Bruhat-Tits buildings, and Galois cohomology. I read textbooks and papers he recommended, met with him regularly to ask questions, and wrote an exposition on the structure theory of reductive groups.

How Is It Different from an REU?

The Princeton program differs from REUs in several respects. Primarily, it offers significant scope for choice: you can choose to work on whatever kind of project interests you, provided you can find a supervisor. This means you can work on a project that would simply not be offered at an REU. Moreover, while this is not always the case, particularly if you participate in one of the top REUs, REUs generally focus on areas slightly outside the mainstream and problems that require relatively little specialized knowledge. The result is that an REU experience, particularly early in your undergraduate career, will likely be more of an opportunity to focus on a single, specific problem than a way to learn mathematics that you’re likely to use in the future. In contrast, the Princeton programs represents a chance to build significant foundational knowledge in a specific area, which is particularly useful if you wish to pursue research in it. Indeed, in many parts of mathematics, such knowledge is absolutely crucial. Also important is the program’s flexibility: the time spent on the project can be budgeted however the student and adviser choose, and the project can be purely reading, purely research, or a combination of the two.
We definitely recommend doing one REU for the research experience and possibly a second top REU. We do, however, highly recommend the Princeton program as a way to learn a lot of math or, depending on your interests and preparation, work on a research project of your choosing.

Housing

There are two options: (1) campus summer housing and (2) off-campus housing. Room draw for summer housing is typically in late April or early May, and you have to request a spot in the draw by early April. (Check the Housing Office’s website for the details: the deadlines are very strict.) Typically, a very limited number of summer rooms are air-conditioned (usually in Bloomberg or Scully); if you’re not lucky enough to get one, you’ll have to put up with Princeton’s summer heat. Many students do so, usually with the help of fans and open windows. Pricing is approximately $1800 for the full summer housing contract from mid-June to mid-August. Shorter contracts are available; again, consult the Housing Office’s website for details. One potential problem with on-campus housing is that all contracts end in the first weeks of August (check the housing website for an exact date). If your internship extends past this time, then you will need to look into off-campus housing.
Princeton does not directly provide off-campus housing, so this is something you must do yourself. There are two places to look for listings of available rooms to rent. The first is Princeton’s off-campus housing website. There, the best option is “furnished rooms to rent”. The other place to look is the Tiger Trade website, under the “Housing and Apartments” section. Searching for off-campus housing is not as easy as one might think. Here are some tips:
The main considerations when choosing off-campus housing are price, proximity to campus, and, if you don’t have a car, proximity to bus stops. The last one is crucial; going back and forth between your housing and Princeton might be very inconvenient if you don’t take that aspect into consideration.
Go through all the listings and contact many of the landlords. Most likely at least half of them will already have a tenant, will not accept a contract that short, simply will not respond to your emails, and so on. Thus, contacting them one at a time is a bad idea.
If you have found a place that works and the landlord has agreed to take you, do not waste too much time before accepting the offer. While you are considering multiple places to stay, the landlords might also be considering multiple tenants. Thus, even after you have made contact with the landlord, he or she might let you know that there is another tenant who has already taken the room.
Even if you do not have time to visit any rooms, be sure to ask the landlords lots of questions: proximity to bus stops, availability of kitchen, AC, internet, laundry, and so on. Google Transit is also useful for looking up proximity to bus stops on your own.
Given the difficult nature of searching for off-campus housing, be sure to start early.

International Students

Since the department pays, no OPT (Optional Practical Training) is needed. The program is considered on-campus employment. Payroll will contact you about work authorization. You will apply for a social security card in Trenton if you don’t already have one. Side benefit: with an SSN you can reasonably apply for a credit card (you also can with a TIN, but credit information is associated with either TIN or SSN, so you would lose any credit rating once you get a SSN).

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Shotaro Makisumi ’12 for contributing this article.

Contacts: Shotaro “Macky” Makisumi ’12
smakisumi[at]gmail[dot]com