I am a second-year Computer Science undergraduate.

I have been steadily getting into mathematics - after taking the basics in my first year and taking a course in set theory my second year I realized that if I want to get into a good graduate program in mathematics I would need to have had some research experience (and possibly a published paper).

That is why I asked my set theory professor if there is a way I could work on some open problem this summer (with him advising me). He was very polite and helpful and did offer me two topics on which he was working now - one was related to unification in modal logic, and the other related to definability in modal logic. Unfortunately, I am just now taking a course on logic - and that is classical first order logic (and we probably won't have much time to get too into deep results). That's why I've come here to ask for advice:

  • Is it a wise idea to embark on such a "research" ( my professor did offer some basic materials and papers to look up ) without prior experience in this specific field?

    (My concern is that because I am feeling desperate to have a undergrad research experience , I will make the mistake to accept any kind of field for that.)

  • Obviously, since I have just been introduced to Modal Logic, the results of my hypothetical research experience will not be too fruitful ( or at least this is a high probability ), but if I develop a good work ethic then I will probably have the opportunity to continue this research for another two years under the supervision of my professors - is that a potential reason to do this research?

  • Another concern I have is that If I spend more time on this topic I may end up with lower grades in my classes. And since this is not an official undergraduate research experience program, I may not have an legitimate excuse when applying to a grad school.

To restate my question in perhaps less vague way: If I am not very familiar with a research topic my professor offered me, should I skip it until I get good enough in the topics I am studying now, or should I embrace it and work hard enough to advance in the given topic (possibly long enough to produce at least one article)?


  • My professor knows well that I haven't learnt Modal Logic before - so far we've had some brief meetings in which he gave some exposition on Modal Logic and specifically some insight into his paper.
  • I am not switching from CS to Math per se, but right now I think that I would prefer to pursue a research career in mathematics primarily, and hopefully with some applications in CS. I will finish my CS undergraduate, and hopefully I will be able to enter a good Masters or Phd program in Mathematics.
  • I am neither from UK, nor US. I am from Bulgaria, and I am not sure how the university system here compares to the UK, or US ones, but I wanted to get a more general answer on whether attempting such a research is better (given a certain urgence in having a paper published) than waiting out until I get more proficient in some area and attempting research in it.
  • $\begingroup$ When you were talking with your professor was he aware that you were only in your second year and that you hadn't seen modal logic before? $\endgroup$
    – Sera Gunn
    Apr 17, 2017 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ Best advice is likely to vary by country. In particular, advice may differ for the US and UK. Also, your reasons for switching from CS to Math are not clear. It is difficult enough to give sensible advice to students one does not know in any case, but especially problematic when key information is missing. $\endgroup$
    – BruceET
    Apr 17, 2017 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ Some of these questions/answers might help. Also, for what it's worth, Model Logic is not really mainsteam mathematics, so spending a lot of time on this topic might not be all that helpful unless you already know you want to study logic in graduate school. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2017 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ The best option is to work this summer in what offered to you generously your professor. I do not know if it will be the opportunity of your life, neither what advantage you will get from it but undoubtly it will be a great experience. I do not know the world of research but you can learn this summer a lot of knowledges and techniques, no doubt, and tomorrow there will be different projects or problems, handicaps... This summer with courage you can learn a lot about the background that your need concerning the given topic, and you always have your professor as a colleague. $\endgroup$
    – user243301
    Apr 18, 2017 at 20:42

1 Answer 1


I think you need to decide whether your career is to be in mathematics, CS, or some strategic combination of the two. Even if it's mathematics you seem to have hopes for applications to CS.

Thinking that modal logic might be useful in pursuing artificial intelligence, I took the opportunity to chat informally with some people who are doing serious work in AI at major corporations, and got mixed opinions on that idea. But AI is a field full of strong opinions and diverse approaches, so the useful news is that there seems to be some informed support for a connection.

Especially if your professor is interested in the relevant parts of modal logic, a publishable paper that reaches towards AI applications might be feasible. (I'm thinking about a 'real' publication in a serious journal, not one of the commercial 'pay to play' pretend journals that are so rapidly proliferating these days.)

This is quite deliberately not 'advice' because I don't know you, your capabilities, or even your real interests well enough to give advice. This is to get you thinking about career possibilities that might combine your various interests. That is the kind of thinking I believe you need to do in order to answer your basic question for yourself---and to sustain your motivation through the inevitable moments of despair amongst triumphs that are part of serious research.


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