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Critique my statement of purpose

  1. Dec 30, 2012 #1
    This is for an application to a program in Climate Physics and Chemistry / Atmospheric science.

    Statement of Objectives

    While studying Physics at the University of X I became fascinated by the overlap of physics with other fields such as earth sciences and nanotechnology. I explored these interests through my optional module choices and research placements. My experience at University of Y, modelling impact cratering led me to narrow my interest to the study of geophysical flows, specifically, the atmosphere and oceans, and I am now studying an MSc in Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate at the University of Z. I want to continue on this trajectory with a PhD and eventually an academic career.

    My research interests are broad, which is one of the reasons I am applying to the Climate Physics and Chemistry program at AWESOME. I welcome the opportunity to take courses in areas such as palaeoclimatology, oceanography and atmospheric chemistry which were not available to me on my physics degree in the UK. I know that several research groups in AWESOME do a significant amount of laboratory and field work, which is also greatly appealing to me since I consider myself quite a hands-on person. My most successful previous research involved experiments and observations and while I also enjoy modelling, I would like to keep a practical side to my research.

    My physics degree has provided me with the mathematical foundations necessary to begin research in Atmospheric, Ocean and Climate sciences. I have covered topics such as vector calculus and partial differential equations, achieving first class grades in all my my mathematics courses. In addition to the maths, I have also achieved high grades in courses on thermodynamics and fluid dynamics and will be covering these topics in more detail on my current MSc course. Laboratory courses have provided me with a general appreciation of the difficulties involved in performing experiments as well as training in the statistical analysis of large quantities of data. I have also learnt the importance of being able to communicate experimental results clearly through several assessed presentations and laboratory reports.

    During the summer of 2010, I obtained an EPSRC bursary to do eight weeks of research at the University of X in the Centre for Nonlinear Dynamics. I studied a pattern switching phenomenon that occurs in an ordered array of soft and hard cylinders subject to compressive stress. This work was motivated in part by the possibility of downscaling centimetre-scale phenomenon to the nano-scale for use in photonic devices. I learnt to work independently for lengths of time and how to use a large-scale compression apparatus without assistance. The work was highly successful and I discovered that at a certain ratio of the hard and soft cylinder diameters, the pattern switch became reversible upon releasing stress. This was among the results published in an article for the journal Soft Matter.

    In the last semester of my Physics degree I studied the urban heat island effect of Greater X. The phenomenon has been well studied, however, since urban air temperatures are expected to increase over the coming century, new emphasis has been placed on mitigating the heat island effect with green spaces. I analysed the temperature difference between the city centre and two city parks using two years worth of air temperature and weather data. I found that the centre-park temperature difference was greatest on summer nights while its magnitude was significantly reduced on cloudy or windy nights. This particular project gave me an appreciation of the problems encountered when dealing with incomplete datasets and generating concise, illustrative plots from large amounts of data. I greatly enjoyed the research experience, which also resulted in my highest MPhys project grade (83%) and solidified my interest in atmospheric and climate science.

    I feel that my undergraduate and research experiences make me capable of excelling at PhD level research. The graduate program on offer at AWESOME provides a less abrupt transition to PhD level than the UK system allows and its wide scope and interdisciplinary nature seems perfect someone such as myself with quite broad interests. I believe that the program would enable me to pursue an interesting field of research and go on to an academic career.


    I could add another paragraph on a different research project that I did but I wanted to keep it short.

    Let me know what you think. Cheers.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 31, 2012 #2
    Hey I'm also interested in meteorology/oceanography! Very nice.

    I applied to a USA university for PhD in the same field and I was not offered an admission. Later, I received some comments on my Statement of Purpose (not by them) that I found very valuable. I plan to apply again, so I think we're on a similar boat.

    I think that the admission committee somehow expects all the prospective students to be excited and fascinated by the fields, especially if they are applying to a doctoral program.

    Regarding your statement, I personally see some things:

    As you know, a PhD takes a lot of research time in a rather narrow topic, so even though it's ok to have broad research interests, they are more interested in a particular topic that piques your curiosity (and more it it overlaps with their specific interests)

    Here it's better if you mention specific group names and specific faculty members that you would like to work with. They are reviewing a lot of statements and it's a plus if they see
    straighforward info (this person wants to work with this faculty member or in that group, etc). If you can briefly mention a research project and a very short idea of what you could add to it, this would give a lot of points (I have read about X's research on T topic.

    I assume you will also attach a copy of your grades, so they will see your math and physics records. My suggestion is that if you have a particular lab experience or skill that you would like to tell them (and how it would be used), then do it. Otherwise, statements such as "I learned this", "I took xyz courses" and other things they can see on the side paperwork can be avoided in the statement of purpose.

    That is great! You could start from here and continue with something like X's research at Y group has been researching about this and I think this or that. I read this paper.. etc.

    Overall, I learned about your interests and that you take this seriously, but I did not see a purpose or objective. If I was the faculty who read this, I wouldn't know where to put you nor I would have an idea of who would you like to work with.

  4. Dec 31, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the reply Stommel.

    I had a conversation with one of the admissions guys who said that it was not necessarily a good idea to be too specific about interests or research groups. He explained that the program was deliberately very open ended and that if I wanted to work with Prof. X, but he was not available then it wouldn't help my application. Similarly, if other professors are interested in you as a student and then see that you're not even potentially interested in what they do, they're not going to bother with you.

    I will make it more specific and outline some interests clearly but not in such a way that puts me in an alley! Its a difficult balance to keep!

    I agree with you about the subjects, they can see that in my transcript. I think I'll replace that with information on my lab work and other research experience.

    Thanks again for the feedback! Really helpful.
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