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Graduate school personal statement- how specific about field of interest?

  1. Sep 10, 2012 #1
    I'm working on writing my graduate school application right now. It was easy to talk about my academic qualifications and all the research I have done. But I don't know how specific I need to get when talking about what I'm interested in.

    I'm a chemistry major. I have a broad interest in fields spanning from materials to more biochem oriented. I am hoping to get to grad school and find a group to work with in order to make my decision. But I feel like I will hurt my chances if I indicate too strongly that I really am undecided about what field of chemistry to go into. Do I really need to say "this is the field I want to go into during graduate school" or is it ok to indicate that I have interests in multiple completely different fields?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2012 #2
    You dont need to be too specific about your field of interest as professors understand that you are just starting your graduate career. It is very crucial, however, that you emphasize your passion for the field. Profs will be less likely to admit a student who does not seem that enthusiastic.
     
  4. Sep 10, 2012 #3
    I don't know... I guess it depends on the admissions committee but in my experience it is helpful to have a clear idea what you want to do, if for no other reason it shows you can express yourself clearly and have an understanding of at least one research question in your area. It's hard to express passion about a field in a sincere way if you're just talking about it in general.

    That said, the admissions committee won't hold you to follow through on your ideas. Like Aero51 said, they will know you are just starting out and you still need to explore.
     
  5. Sep 10, 2012 #4
    I guess I should have been more clear about being specific. In my personal statement for example, I emphasized that I would like to study either unsteady aerodynamics or high speed/high temperature flows (depending on the program I was applying to). From an outsiders perspective that seems specific. When you actually go to do your thesis, however, (lets say for example you and I share identical interests) you would not want to put on you statement of purpose "I wish to go to graduate school to perform a numerical analysis of the X-43 at mach 10 at a high angle of attack" because you have no idea what your thesis will actually be until you have found an adviser and taken care of many other graduate school chores.
     
  6. Sep 10, 2012 #5
    I was pretty specific. I feel like you definitely need to at least look around for a few professors and their research that you're interested in, read about their research (glance over 1 paper from each prof you mention), and explain why you're interested or would be a good fit for those labs. It's good to come in and know exactly who you want to work for. I didn't do any rotations and started right away for my professor. Basically I have saved a year's worth of time by not doing rotations so hopefully I can get out of here faster.
     
  7. Sep 10, 2012 #6
    Hmm, I'm haven't tried to be that specific yet. I mean, I'm pretty set on materials but that could take the form of ceramics, semiconductors, or even some biochem. I can't possibly say that I am dead set on going into ceramics when I haven't had any experience in it yet. I can't say I'm dead set against polymer materials when I haven't had any experience in it. Sure my past research has given me an indication of what I want to go into but just because the professor that happened to take me on specialized in one subject doesn't mean I should immediately settle for that specific subject as my career.

    Gah, it is getting harder and harder to condense this statement down. Every time I get more specific it takes up more space. I don't know how I'm going to fit in a meaningful discussion of who I would want to work with. I like the applications which allow a separate essay for research experience/who you want to work with. The ones that just say "tell us about your interests, goals and experience!" are going to be hard to cover all my bases without writing too much.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2012
  8. Sep 10, 2012 #7
    If you're interested in materials, think about what kind of techniques you'd like to use. That should help narrow it down.

    For example, in ceramics, a major tool is X-ray crystallography, and of course, chromatography is useless. However, when doing polymers, chromatography is pretty useful. Just a small example but you see where I'm going with this?

    Another example is if you hate math, physics and processing data, you should probably do synthetic materials chemistry instead of physical materials chemistry. If you hate programming, better not do computational, stuff like that.

    Also, right now I think most of the ceramics work is done in physics departments. In materials, chemistry is usually more focused on surface science, processing methods and polymers. There wasn't a single ceramics guy at my alma mater, it was all surfaces, sensors, processing methods, biophysical or polymer.
     
  9. Sep 11, 2012 #8
    I see what you mean but it's still difficult to narrow it down. I agree I know I don't want to be doing computational work or physical materials science, and I probably do want to be doing synthetic materials science. But this could take the form of polymers or even electronic materials which are both materials but completely different. Optimizing grain boundaries for a semiconductor material and using XRD is, like you say, a lot different than using chromatography in polymer research. And this is different still from controlling electrical properties in nanomaterial synthesis. But the point I'm at right now is that I know the general idea of synthetic materials research appeals to me.

    So I'm still not exactly sure what to do. I could try to choose, but I feel like the choice would be arbitrary and limiting at this point.
     
  10. Sep 11, 2012 #9
    Do you like organic synthesis or inorganic synthesis?

    Also another thing to think about is how much "synthesis of new molecules" you want to do.

    There's some synthetic research that's more physical in nature i.e. soft lithography or self assembly, and doesn't involve too many reactions but is mostly using physical techniques to fabricate new nanostructures.

    On the other hand there's synthesis that's less physical and more about new molecule synthesis such as synthesizing new small-molecule organic semiconductors.

    Also you can do research rotations after you narrow it down to a few.
     
  11. Sep 11, 2012 #10
    I think I want the type that is more about new molecule synthesis and less just physical methods. I have experience with both and I enjoyed working with organic semiconductors much more than just trying to manipulate and study the unit cells of materials from single step reactions.

    I want to be clear that I don't want to be a synthetic organic chemist though. The semiconductors I was working with were actually organometallic and the research was more about the properties of such compounds than "how can we make this compound?" (which is to be expected in materials research).
     
  12. Sep 11, 2012 #11
    See, you narrowed it down already.

    Synthetic, materials chemistry, organic electronic materials.

    Now narrow it down to polymer vs. small molecule.

    You'll find that there'd be at most 1-2 faculty doing this at any school. If you want I can direct you to some websites showing this sort of research.
     
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