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REU application, need critique

  1. Apr 16, 2009 #1
    Hey all,
    while I've applied to several REUs for this summer, I've mostly been applying in areas that I'm only tangentially interested in. Last week, I received an email about a new REU that's opened up at Case, and was ecstatic to see the following research program:
    (T4) Phase transitions in the early universe (project advisor Harsh Mathur): The focus of my work on cosmology is on the observable consequences of phase transitions in the early universe. Possible REU projects include numerical simulation of such a phase transition or analysis of the impact of such a phase transition on the cosmic microwave background. The minimum background needed is some familiarity with differential equations. Any prior experience with programming and courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and electromagnetism will be an asset but is not required. No background in cosmology or astrophysics is needed other than a general interest in the field. More information on our work in this area is available at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080415143816.htm
    Since I'm very much interested in theoretical physics, and especially cosmology, I decided to apply, and more over, give the application a very personal touch. After all, the professor is looking for someone who is extremely interested in the field. So here's my description of my career goals and an explanation of why I selected this program as my top pick:

    It's precisely on the length limit; not a line to spare.
    What do you guys think? Is it compelling and yet informative? I'm mostly concerned about the very light style I've used in writing this. Should I make it more brusque, or perhaps tweak certain areas to be less rambling? I'm hoping it shows sufficient passion and interest to get selected for the position. Thanks for the help!

    Last edited: Apr 16, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2009 #2


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    I think you should be less rambling, especially in the first paragraph. I'm not sure what to make of your refrigerator analogy; you talk of filing away ideas as being akin to fitting things in a fridge, but a lot of the time these objects don't fit in the fridge, but knock other things over. What does this really mean: that your mind can only really take in a few ideas before it becomes full and "a mess"? Perhaps it's just me, so I'd wait for others to say something before you change that.

    If you do choose to keep it as it is, you should join sentences two and three, since two doesn't make sense on its own. Also, this "As such, that I'm trying, or perhaps I should say struggling, to become a theoretical physicist." doesn't make sense.

    Change your part about studying the "modern conception of the beginning of time." This isn't true: the CMB was formed way after the 'beginning of time' (if indeed there was such a thing). Regarding Planck: the satellite hasn't been launched yet, so I doubt data will be ready in a couple of year. It's probably best to say "decade."

    Don't say that you've "easily" met the prerequisites: it shows arrogance. I also don't like your last sentence as it sounds over the top. Best to change it to something like "In general I learn very quickly and am always eager to learn more, especially with a subject as interesting as Cosmology". You should also change "I've" in your numerical analysis sentence before to "I have."

    On the whole, though, your experience and knowledge seems solid. Good luck with the application and, as always, feel free to ignore any/all of what I've said!
  4. Apr 16, 2009 #3
    Despite its last sentence, I find the first paragraph a total waste of space, filled with fairly generic anecdotes and metaphors that are all too common in this type of statement. I would replace it with some relatively recent real-life experience that shows an interest and dedication, rather than a cliche story about your inquisitive younger self. It sounds harsh, but otherwise, I think it's good writing (I would also listen to Cristo though, he has made excellent suggestions).
  5. Apr 16, 2009 #4
    Most of it was pretty good.

    But I really hate anecdotal starts to essays/letters/applications. It makes the writing look immature, cliched and overfamiliar. Its ok if you are writing to someone that you have known for years, but on an application I think its slightly out of place.

    Of the first paragraph, the first sentence is ok (as you do need to display enthusiasm) and from "im a physics and math major....." is ok. The bit inbetween is rambly. I'd rewrite this paragraph, still conveying your entusiasm but without the use of the analogy.

    Oh and dont say you are struggling to do something, it can read badly as though you somehow arent up to it. Even though you didnt use the word in that context, it has those connotations.

    Another point is, avoid using brackets. It's less of an issue really, but I think formal applications look alot better without brackets being used. (I think its just a personal choice though)
  6. Apr 16, 2009 #5
    Ok, I took everyone's suggestions into account and fixed it up as best I could. How is it now?

    Thanks again!
  7. Apr 16, 2009 #6
    The last paragraph has too much superfluous information. I don't think you need to talk about your interest in computer programming or that you worked on compiz, just say that you have experience with C. Also, "plethora" can be negative; it can mean that you spend too much time on computer programming. As for the refrigerator metaphor, it seems to make what you're trying to convey too clumsy. I think you can say the same thing without the refrigerator.

    I also don't think the sentence
    should say "it should make perfect sense." Something along the lines of
    would sound better.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2009
  8. Apr 16, 2009 #7
    I took the refridgerator metaphor out. As for the programming stuff, he explicitly lists programming experience as an asset, and so I thought it best to explain the relevant extent of my experience. Since C is a popular language for coding scientific software, I figured it would be a good idea to try and show, rather than just superficially state, my experience with it. I'm not sure I see what you mean about "plethora" being negative. I clearly stated that it was one of the strong interests I had in high school, and pursued. If anything, it should show my willingness and drive to pursue my interests with passion. Isn't that the goal?

  9. Apr 16, 2009 #8
    One definition is excess or superfluity. I know it's used in the way that you used it sometimes, so maybe it's just me who took it the wrong way.
  10. Apr 16, 2009 #9


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    Absolutely you should keep this in. After all, the REU is clearly going to require a lot of programming experience!
  11. Apr 16, 2009 #10
    Huh, never heard that definition before. Ok, better safe than sorry. I changed it to "abundance".

  12. Apr 16, 2009 #11


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    Without wanting to sound too pedantic, you should change this: "I feel that I have met all the prerequisites for the position, based upon the description provided."

    "I feel that..." is too weak. Say that you have met the prerequisites. Anything less seems like you're trying to wiggle around too much.

    (I used to use the phrase "I feel that...", until I got told pretty much the same thing!)
  13. Apr 16, 2009 #12

    Haha, guess I got too carried away in correcting it away from possibly sounding arrogant. I also took into account qntty's new suggestion. Is there anything else anyone can think of?

    Thanks guys!

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