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Personal Statement (Critique?)

  1. Nov 4, 2009 #1
    I'm not wanting to get into an awesome school. I just want someone to look over this to make sure that I don't sound too bad. Here goes nothing... Any feedback would be appreciated! (I know you all are probably tired of reading these.)

    It seems to me that life is a constant uphill battle. Each time I gain some ground, there are new challenges and more obstacles to overcome. I find that the obstacle standing in front of me today is no ordinary kind. Instead of the recent routine of going to class, tutoring, and TAing; I’m in a position of having to convince you, the reader, that I am a valid candidate for pursuing my Ph.D. at *insert*.

    First and foremost, inevitably becoming a professor is where my passion lies. For the past 2 years at Eastern Kentucky University I have been employed as a tutor or a classroom teaching assistant. This experience has been invaluable in helping me collapse the wave function of my career path. My main classroom experience has been in guiding students with group worksheets and leading the lab portion of an integrated lab-lecture College Physics I&II course. I have also taken on students for tutoring over the past year. In doing this, I have gained a lot of experience in teaching physics in layman’s terms. A lot of the students I have tutored tell me that they understand the concepts better when I explain them. This is evident on their test grades. Graduate school isn’t about teaching though; it’s about pushing the forefront of knowledge even further.

    I have been lucky enough to gain some experience on how to conduct research when I attended a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates at Boston College in the summer of 2008. This program paired me with a Dr. David Broido at Boston College who first introduced me to graphene. During this stint at Boston, I investigated the thermal conductivity of graphene. I wrote code for Mathematica that calculated the thermal conductivity based on different models of phonon propagation and different empirical inter atomic potentials for carbon. We investigated how the thermal conductivity varied with temperature based on phonon interactions at various temperature ranges. We also simulated the different contributions to the overall conductivity from the separate modes of vibration in the carbon atoms Over the 10 week period I also learned a lot about what the other students were doing outside of the theoretical realm. I became familiar with new and interesting tools that were not available at my home institution such as scanning tunneling microscopes, ellipsometers, and nanofabrication devices. I was also introduced to the various other hot topics in condensed matter research that my colleagues were taking part in. These topics included superconductors, carbon nanotubes, and cryogenics. I feel as if the research experience I gained at Boston College definitely helped me come to the conclusion that I would pursue a Ph.D.

    At Eastern Kentucky University I think of myself as the most involved physics undergraduate. I am the president of the Society of Physics Students which has so far held two meetings this semester and two more are planned. While staying involved, I have maintained high grades over the years. I have a current cumulative GPA of 3.53 and a major GPA of 3.71. I have taken the core requirements for a general physics B.S. and what free electives I had I took in physics or a related subject. I feel that this has adequately prepared me for future graduate level work.

    *Insert specialized summary*
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2009 #2


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    For what it's worth:

    The most important information you want to convey comes across in your third paragraph where you talk about your research experience. This section needs to be expanded and the rest contracted.

    The first paragraph doesn't really tell me anything except you're a "half empty" kind of guy. "Life is a contant uphill battle"? The FIRST thing you're telling me sounds an aweful lot like a complaint. Whether I consciously put weight on that or not, it's not likely to add to a favourable opinion.

    Also don't try to flower it up with "collapsing the wave function of your career path." If you're applying, I know you have a background in physics.

    Instead, you should start out with a statement that explains why you're interested in attending this institution - something along the lines of: "I am very interested in the opportunities for graduate study at Institution X, in particular the work of Professor Q and the condensed matter group. I would like to introduce myself as a candidate."

    In short, keep it to the point.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  4. Nov 4, 2009 #3
    Thank you very much! I will make some revisions. Come to think of it, revisions might not help this. Thanks for your time!
  5. Nov 4, 2009 #4
    "It seems to me that life is a constant uphill battle. Each time I gain some ground, there are new challenges and more obstacles to overcome...."

    Is it just me that don't like that start? It just sounds very awkward, like you are trying to say something but you don't know how so it gets out wrongly.
    Try to make it less "dramatic". Also make each university get a tailored one and in each of those make sure to mention a lot of what they do (Research in your areas at their place) and why you would fit in well with them. Just copy pasting the names and then sending out the same thing to everyone is a sure way to not give a good first impression.
  6. Nov 4, 2009 #5
    There probably should be some FAQ about how to write an admission letter.

    1) Don't talk about your passion or how much you love physics or try to get admission on the basis of your personality or your love of learning. The problem with this is that it is very, very unlikely that these things make you any different from the hundred other applicants in the pile.

    2) *Do* talk a lot about the university that you are applying to. Among all of the hundreds of graduate schools that you could have picked, why did you pick *that* university?

    3) Try to avoid saying anything that might unintentionally offend the person reading your application. For example

    You've just killed your application if it happens to get in front of someone that thinks that graduate schools focus too much on research and not enough on teaching.

    4) When talking about your coursework, GPA isn't that important. What you really want to talk about are the classes that you took.
  7. Nov 4, 2009 #6
    One other thing, and this is standard advice for anyone applying for grad school. It is rather unlikely (maybe one chance in ten after two post-docs) that you are going to be a professor after you get your Ph.D. You have to go in to grad school knowing that fact, and make your decisions accordingly.
  8. Nov 8, 2009 #7
    I suppose that point 1 isn't worth mentioning since the trait is obviously present in all those willing to pursue postgraduate education anyways.

    But do I need to write a powerful heart-wrecking tear-inspiring letter, or is it just enough to make my personal statement clear and logical? I don't like seeing the admission process as a "make the dean cry" competition...
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