Campus to Career: Seth Selken

Seth Selken

Senior in Mathematics

Hometown: Conrad, IA

Attended Research Experiences in Mathematics for Undergraduated and Teachers at California State University in Chico, CA

A Cyclone from the start

From the very beginning, Seth was bound to become a Cyclone. Iowa State “seemed like a pretty natural choice” since it’s just a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Conrad, Iowa and both of Seth’s parents are alumni.

When starting at Iowa State, “I definitely knew that I wanted to major in a STEM field,” said Seth. “I was going to double major in Physics and Mathematics. Shortly after beginning my first semester, I decided that Physics wasn’t my thing, and the math department’s been my home ever since.”

Preparing application materials

It was through networking with faculty in the mathematics department that Seth learned of professional development opportunities like Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs).

Seth is working towards being a professor. Since research is an important part of graduate school and many professorships Seth decided that he wanted to participate in an REU. REU applications typically consist of transcripts, a cover letter or essay, and two or more letters of recommendation. Seth utilized the connections he had made with professors in the department to learn of the different REUs he could apply to. He then had some of his past professors write letters of recommendation for him. After that, he wrote a cover letter for each application. In his cover letters he detailed why he was interested in that specific program and how research experience is helpful in achieving his goal of becoming a professor. Finally, Seth submitted all of his materials to each REU. In June, Seth was invited to attend the Research Experiences in Mathematics for Undergraduates and Teachers program at California State University in Chico, CA. There he gained experience with a computer algebra program called Mathematica “to model tsunami waves by having the program solve PDEs (partial differential equations).” As far as his time here at Iowa State, some of Seth’s favorite moments have been “Finding out that I’d gotten into an REU” and the ability to “interact with and get to know some of the outstanding research faculty in my department.”


After completing the REU program Seth reflects on his adventure.

“I think the most challenging part of the REU was working with people with diverse mathematical backgrounds. Many of the other students were from small liberal arts colleges, so many of the math courses that I’ve had the opportunity to take aren’t even offered to most of them.” Although adjusting to such diversity can be difficult, Seth felt that Iowa State prepared him for his experience. He stated, “The community at Iowa State prepared me to quickly adapt in a new learning/working environment because of the diversity we have here.” Along with the challenging aspects of his experience, Seth found that “The most rewarding part of my REU was meeting people from all over the country. Were it not for this REU, I likely wouldn’t have ever met any of the people that I did, but I now have friends in Arizona, California, New York, and Ohio.” Seth is currently in the process of applying to graduate school. As he continues working towards his goal of becoming a professor, he leaves some advice for students who are interested in applying to REU programs. “Try to find an REU which matches your interests; it'll make it a lot more fun! Also, apply to as many as possible because these positions are far and few!”

whispers Choose your adventure at Iowa State.”