REU personal statement critique

  • #1
Hello everyone, I'm applying for several internships for next summer and I would like a strong critique because English is not my first language and because I don't know if I am showing what they want to know.

This is the question they ask: The 1-page Self-statement should describe your academic background, your interests, and your tentative career plans. The Statement should indicate why you feel REU participation would benefit you and your future plans; also, describe how you believe you can contribute to your mentor’s research topic. If applicable, you are welcome to describe prior undergraduate research experience, as well as any other information that you feel may be useful to our assessment. Finally, please indicate if you have a preferred mentor or topic area.

Self-Statement

Today's world allows one to access to any kind of information. Any person can access online lectures for free and learn about upper level math and physics and other subjects. From the vast amount of available information, it is up to oneself to choose what knowledge to consume. Unfortunately, as a child I didn't have access to Internet, nor a computer, so I would spend most of my free time in the local library and in the school's library. In this way I got to read about philosophy, math, physics, chemistry, and astronomy in their various levels of difficulty.

I grew up in a small town in the south of the province of Buenos Aires in Argentina. All my family members were hard workers, however, none of them ever even finished high school. I am the first generation going to college. It was hard for me to find the correct path to an education by myself because I didn't have any person to guide me. However, since I was young, I always had a strong interest in science. This interest was reinforced while being in a technical high school. There I learned about applied science, specifically electromagnetism. Also, I learned about problem solving at a technical level. I finished high school with a diploma as a electro-mechanical technician.

Currently, I am an astrophysics and math major at Rutgers. Now that I am in college studying what I love the most I have to choose a specific path. I was undecided until last summer when I participated in the SUMaR program at Kansas State University. The program consisted of research in mathematics. In my project I had to work with papers on different approaches to a solution for a generalized diffusion equation. Some of them were theoretical and some involved numerical solutions. My job was to extend the theory to n dimensions and build a program that could model the evolution of different diffusion equations. It wasn't easy, but in the process I learned that in order to reach your goal you have to do the things without hesitation.At that time I hadn't learned calculus 3, although I had done differential equations. However, I worked hard and accomplished my goals and finished my project to the best of my ability. I wrote a paper, created a poster, and gave presentations at Kansas State.The name of the paper is “Numerical Experiments with a Level-Set Tracking Algorithm for a Generalized Diffusion Equation.”

I never enjoyed a summer so much, as this past summer I was learning and working with what I love the most. Through this summer program,I learned how to work independently within a certain discipline, and also learned to work diligently with others. One of the most interesting things I learned from doing research is that it is a way to make connections with scientists around the world.Furthermore, thanks to these connections I was invited to the 2014 Math Alliance Conference in Arizona where I got to know many graduate programs and made more connections. After this experience, I decided to pursue my graduate studies in mathematical physics, probably working in Topological Quantum Field Theories and Differential Geometry applying them to quantum gravity and field theories.

What attracted me the most to the __ summer program in physics was the research in quantum gravity and general relativity. There are very few places in the US where one can actually do research in quantum gravity and the ___ group seems the strongest. Particularly I am interested in Dr. ___ and Dr. ___'s work. Also, I am very interested in the work of Dr. ___ in nuclear physics and astrophysics. Although Quantum Chromodynamics is a difficult subject I would love to have the experience of studying it and contribute to its development.

Moreover, I believe I am a good candidate for this internship because I can grasp new concepts rapidly and I have a passion for Quantum Gravity. I like to push myself by working out high level problems in books on different subjects in math and physics and strive to be way ahead of my class. Also, the experience I had at my previous internship has helped me to build more confidence and become more independent. The most important thing I learned was that it doesn't matter if one doesn't have the right knowledge for certain application, everything can be learned. It just depends of one's willingness to learn and that is my most powerful impulse in life.


Should I add that I got many scholarships, that I tutor math and physics, and/or that my goal is to participate in as many internships as possible during my undergrad years?

Thank you in advance
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Stephen Tashi
Science Advisor
7,583
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You wrote a very convincing statement. You write as well as most native English writers, but most native English writers could improve their work! The main improvement would be to condense things.

Today's world allows one to access to any kind of information. Any person can access online lectures for free and learn about upper level math and physics and other subjects. From the vast amount of available information, it is up to oneself to choose what knowledge to consume.
Omit the above sentences because they are truisms.

Unfortunately, as a child I didn't have access to Internet, nor a computer, so I would spend most of my free time in the local library and in the school's library. In this way I got to read about philosophy, math, physics, chemistry, and astronomy in their various levels of difficulty.

I grew up in a small town in the south of the province of Buenos Aires in Argentina. All my family members were hard workers, however, none of them ever even finished high school. I am the first generation going to college. It was hard for me to find the correct path to an education by myself because I didn't have any person to guide me. However, since I was young, I always had a strong interest in science. This interest was reinforced while being in a technical high school. There I learned about applied science, specifically electromagnetism. Also, I learned about problem solving at a technical level. I finished high school with a diploma as a electro-mechanical technician.
I suggest changing the order of that presentation. Chronology is a simple and good way to organize things. Begin by saying "I grew up in a small town..." Then explain that you didn't have access to the internet and that you spent time reading in libraries and that became interested in science, that you are in the first generation to attend college.

Some specific wordsmithing suggestions:

Unfortunately, as a child I didn't have access to Internet, nor a computer, so I would spend most of my free time in the local library and in the school's library.
Omit "Unfortunately". If you didn't have access to a computer, one might deduce you didn't have access to the internet. In order to mention you were deprived of both, you could say "I didn't have access to the internet. I didn't even have access to a computer." It's more modest and more believable to say you spent "much of my free time" instead of "most of my free time".

In this way I got to read about philosophy, math, physics, chemistry, and astronomy in their various levels of difficulty.
Omit "In this way I go to" and "in their various levels of difficulties". After you mention the libraries, just say "I read about philsophy, math, chemistry, and astronomy." If you want to indicate the level of the books, do it in a specific manner - were they high school texts? , popular expositions?

All my family members were hard workers, however, none of them ever even finished high school. I am the first generation going to college. It was hard for me to find the correct path to an education by myself because I didn't have any person to guide me.
You should relate the character of your family to your own. I suggest putting the main point first something like: "None of my family ever finished high school. They are all hard workers and taught me the value of hard work. I am the first in my family to go to college. It was hard work to find the correct path to an education by myself since my family couldn't guide me."

However, since I was young, I always had a strong interest in science.
Omit that sentence. You already mentioned that you had an interest in science when you were growing up, so you shouldn't repeat it.
This interest was reinforced while being in a technical high school. There I learned about applied science, specifically electromagnetism. Also, I learned about problem solving at a technical level. I finished high school with a diploma as a electro-mechanical technician.
Organizing things by chronology, you could say "I attended a technical high school and studied applied science, specializing in electromagnetism. I graduated with a diploma as a electro-mechanical technician." Omit the sentence about "problem solving at a technical level" since that isn't specific and one would assume you worked technical problems while at a technical high school.


I'm going to visit a friend now and I'll critique the rest of document when I get back.
 
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  • #3
Thank you a lot Stephan, that is a great critique!! I will change those things you mentioned.
 
  • #4
Stephen Tashi
Science Advisor
7,583
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Currently, I am an astrophysics and math major at Rutgers.
Say whether you are a sophomore, junior or senior.

Now that I am in college studying what I love the most I have to choose a specific path.
The meaning of that sentence is unclear. Omit the phrase "Now that I am in college studying what I love the most" since it doesn't provide any new information. Specify why must you make a choice. Is it an academic regulation? - something your advisor requires? - a personal decision about what to study in graduate school?

I was undecided until last summer when I participated in the SUMaR program at Kansas State University. The program consisted of research in mathematics.
That's clear writing.

In my project I had to work with papers on different approaches to a solution for a generalized diffusion equation. Some of them were theoretical and some involved numerical solutions.
It's better to say "I worked" than "I had to work". It's better to say you worked on a problem than to say you worked with papers. I suggest "In my project I worked on different approaches to a solution for generalized diffusion equation. I studied theoretical papers and also papers that involved numerical solutions."

My job was to extend the theory to n dimensions and build a program that could model the evolution of different diffusion equations.
That's clear writing.

It wasn't easy, but in the process I learned that in order to reach your goal you have to do the things without hesitation.
At that time I hadn't learned calculus 3, although I had done differential equations. However, I worked hard and accomplished my goals and finished my project to the best of my ability.
It isn't clear what you mean by "you have to do things without hesitation". I'd omit any reference to it. You needn't say "to the best of my ability". It gives the impression someone else might have done a better job. I suggest the rewording:
"At that time, I hadn't learned calculus 3, although I had studied differential equations. It wasn't easy. However, I accomplished my goals."

I wrote a paper, created a poster, and gave presentations at Kansas State.The name of the paper is “Numerical Experiments with a Level-Set Tracking Algorithm for a Generalized Diffusion Equation.”
That is specific and clear.

I never enjoyed a summer so much, as this past summer I was learning and working with what I love the most.
You could be specific about "what you love the most". Was it diffusion equations or something more general?

Through this summer program,I learned how to work independently within a certain discipline, and also learned to work diligently with others.
One would assume you had these skills before the summer session, so you should omit that sentence.

One of the most interesting things I learned from doing research is that it is a way to make connections with scientists around the world.
That sentence is specific and clear.

Furthermore, thanks to these connections I was invited to the 2014 Math Alliance Conference in Arizona where I got to know many graduate programs and made more connections.
It isn't clear whay you mean by "got to know many graduate programs". Did you talk to professors about various graduate programs? - or talk to graduate students in the programs? . If you are specific about the people you met, you can omit "and made more connections.".

After this experience, I decided to pursue my graduate studies in mathematical physics, probably working in Topological Quantum Field Theories and Differential Geometry applying them to quantum gravity and field theories.
That's a good sentence except that you should omit "probably" because "probably" implies you didn't make a firm decision.

What attracted me the most to the __ summer program in physics was the research in quantum gravity and general relativity. There are very few places in the US where one can actually do research in quantum gravity and the ___ group seems the strongest.
It's better to say "the ____group is the strongest" than to say it "seems the strongest".

Particularly I am interested in Dr. ___ and Dr. ___'s work. Also, I am very interested in the work of Dr. ___ in nuclear physics and astrophysics. Although Quantum Chromodynamics is a difficult subject I would love to have the experience of studying it and contribute to its development.
That's clear and specific.



Moreover, I believe I am a good candidate for this internship because I can grasp new concepts rapidly and I have a passion for Quantum Gravity. I like to push myself by working out high level problems in books on different subjects in math and physics and strive to be way ahead of my class. Also, the experience I had at my previous internship has helped me to build more confidence and become more independent. The most important thing I learned was that it doesn't matter if one doesn't have the right knowledge for certain application, everything can be learned. It just depends of one's willingness to learn and that is my most powerful impulse in life.
To a certain extent, you can advertise yourself as a good candidate based on you hard working character, but I think the above paragraph over does it. Rather than you character, I think you should emphasize your experience and accomplishments. You could reduce that final paragraph to one or two summary sentences - even to "Based on my experience and accomplishments, I consider myself a good candidate for ..."

Should I add that I got many scholarships, that I tutor math and physics, and/or that my goal is to participate in as many internships as possible during my undergrad years?
Mention awards, scholarships and tutoring. Don't mention the ambition to participate in as many internships as possible. Don't tack the awards, scholarships, and tutoring onto the end of the document. Put them where they belong chronologically. The undergraduate stuff is related to the paragraph about being a student at Rutgers.
 
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  • #5
radium
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
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Make paragraphs 1 and 2 more concise and to the point. Rather than saying I never enjoyed a summer so much, I think you should say "this was the best summer I've ever had". Otherwise it's very good for the most part.
 
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  • #6
Thank you a lot Stephen for taking the time and deconstruct my essay to its fine details I understand a lot better now about how to write a statement. Thank you Radium too for your comment. I'll work in being more concise.
 

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