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Programs Concerned About My SOP For Physics PhD Admission

  1. Sep 1, 2011 #1
    I've just drafted a statement of purpose for one of the schools I'm planning on applying to this winter. I have an average GPA for a prospective grad student, and my PGRE score isn't bad but doesn't impress, so I'm hoping to make up some points on my SOP and letters of recommendation. I'd really appreciate some feedback on what I've written. I plan to give it to my recommenders to look at as well, but I want some broader feedback if I can get it.

    Here are my main concerns:
    -I feel like my discussion of my research is perhaps too tightly packed if no one on the admissions committee is familiar with that sort of research

    -I mention possibility for collaboration with faculty outside the department being a plus, but since admissions are capped, indicating in the slightest that I may be interested in anything going on outside the department may hurt me

    -I also have a lot of experience with tutoring, grading, and being a TA, which I feel would be valuable to mention if that's how I have to support myself. I mention it in passing towards the end of the SOP. Should I bring this more to the forefront?

    Thanks, and here's the SOP:

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2011 #2
    This is one of the better SOP's that I've seen.

    That's a good thing. If you have experience in some research that they aren't familiar with, that's a reason to admit you.

    I don't think it will. Profs are always collaborating.

    Probably not, since they are mainly concerned with research.

    The things that I would remove.....

    1) The second paragraph from the bottom about outside interests isn't relevant, and you can get rid of it.

    2) The fourth paragraph doesn't seem to say anything. So you can get rid of it. One thing about SOP's is that you should talk about yourself and talk about the university and talk about how they match. General statements about the nature of research aren't useful and you can remove them.
  4. Sep 3, 2011 #3
    Thanks for your feedback. I think I agree with removing the penultimate paragraph, although their prompt specifically asked about traits/interests/talents/skills that make us believe we'd be good physicists. I the way of skills, I've also worked extensively with computer hardware and done some carpentry. I could imagine these kinds of skills coming handy for modifying experimental apparati or if I need to do work in a machine shop. Do you think that'd be worth mentioning?

    As for what is quoted above, I just wanted to clarify if you meant the fourth paragraph (where I talk about texts I've read, classes I'm taking, etc.) or the fifth paragraph (where I discuss my interest in theoretical vs. experimental work, and as you put it, the nature of research). Again, the prompt specifically asks about background we've had outside of the usual physics & math curriculum, and whether we're primarily interested in experimental or theoretical work, so I think these points have their place, though maybe could be trimmed down.
  5. Sep 4, 2011 #4
    Absolutely. The important thing is to be specific. Don't say "I've done carpentry." Say "I've spend much of my time in a machine shop and I've built violins, or I've done microcontroller programing on 6502 and built my own robot."

    That makes a difference. If they specifically asked for this then put the literary journal editor back in.
  6. Sep 5, 2011 #5
    I noticed that his fourth paragraph highlighted some of the topics he's done for self-study. Now my question is that, since I go to a school with an extremely limited number of physics courses (plus the scholarship I'm under only allows certain number of hours), shouldn't there be something said to show that the supposed 'knowledge gap' between a student like me and another from a school with a better physics department is filled? I would imagine there are lots of people with this predicament. I always thought that when grad apps time came for me, I would write in my SOP that I'd done this or that, studied quantum field theory and GR and numerical analysis, even though I have about 6 upper level physics courses on my transcript.

    Maybe you might say that PhD acceptance committees simply don't hold transcripts in too high regard. I'd say, in that case, that it could be sort of like the GRE; they may nod their heads and move on if you made an 850, but if you're down in the dumps it could have a significant impact. That's my concern, for the transcript.

    (OP sorry for the hijacking, I thought it was related and would be helpful to others as well.)
  7. Sep 5, 2011 #6
    The problem is that if you just say that you self-studied, the admissions committee has no real idea what you did and how well you did it. You need to figure out some way of demonstrating that you really learned something useful. Also, it will work better if you have your recommendation letters mention what you studied (i.e. so-and-so wrote me a report on GR, and I thought it was very good). If all else fails, it's important to mention the books that you read. I taught myself QFT is less credible than I finish reading Zee's Introduction to Quantum Field Theory and I can do the problems at the end of chapter 3.

    The other thing that will help is if you can get something on a transcript. If you can have 3 credits of independent study, and then mention that what you did, that will help.

    Also, be careful not to claim something that looks too extraordinary. If you write that you wrote some simple monte carlo programs to teach yourself numerical analysis, that is credible. If you write that you taught yourself string theory, people won't believe you. If it happens to be true, you are going to have to figure out a way of proving that it happened.

    The other thing is that if the physics courses are limited, that is something that you should try to make sure is mentioned in the recommendation letters.
  8. Sep 6, 2011 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    Not a bad first draft- there's a lot that I liked. Some comments from the point of view of someone who reads these:

    1) You don't say why you want to go to graduate school in the first place- or rather, why you want to pursue graduate studies in Biological Physics. What do you hope to do after you graduate? The Department invests in their students (education is a money loser)- what can you offer them? Don't be shy- you are selling yourself.

    2) I would be very careful about the next-to-last paragraph. That could be read as "I don't know what I want to do with my life and want to hide in school for a few more years".

    3) I would definitely discuss experience tutoring etc., but from the perspective that you can balance/manage your time and work efficiently.

    4) you discuss the relationship between theory and experiment, but you don't mention anything experimental that you did. How can you justify the claims you make in paragraph 5?

    Good luck!
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