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REU Personal Statement Letter Help

  1. Dec 24, 2013 #1
    Hello, I need advice on how to write a personal statement letter for an REU application. I wrote one below. This one is for a specific school (the one I want the most), but I know that as I apply to more, my essay will have to become more general. Please, any advice will help (just not mean advice!) The last paragraph of the essay is pretty rough:

    As a senior in high school, I had no vision for my future. Despite receiving above average grades, I did not believe that I was smart enough for college. I had no other plans, though, so I started my freshman year in the fall. I began my college career as a chemistry major and quickly moved on to physics. I did not have any reason for choosing physics; I just did not like chemistry. Whenever I told people my major, they often said, “What could you possibly do with that?” or “That will not get you a job.” Hearing this so often worried me, so I eventually went to my adviser about my concerns. We discussed adding accounting classes and education classes to my transcript, but I knew that is not what I truly wanted.
    It was not until recently that I realized I do not want to live a conforming life. I started studying physics because I did not like chemistry, but now I study physics because I love it more than I can explain.
    Studying physics at ____ is the best thing that has ever happened to me. My professors have guided me and encouraged me in every way. They have shown me that my dreams are reachable if I have a lot of drive and little confidence. Along with my professors, my friends have also guided me on this journey. Last spring, a friend encouraged me to sign up for the Huffington Post STEM Mentorship program. I did, and connected with Doctor ____ . Doctor ____ is a dedicated researcher, but she is also a great mentor. Listening to her speak about her research in _____ is inspiring. Her words of passion and encouragement have made me confident that I can contribute in the world of physics someday.
    Acceptance into this program will help me start my journey in physics. I will gain a better understanding of physical concepts through real world applications. Because I attend a small school, research is very limited; exposure to advanced lab experience will help me gain a better understanding of physical concepts through real world applications. Learning the process of research will help me become a more organized, and more confident young scientist as I venture on graduate school next year.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 24, 2013 #2
    Actually, I realize as I write more essays I will have to be more specific to that school... not more general. Sorry!
  4. Dec 24, 2013 #3


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    To be honest this reads more like you're trying to answer the prompt: "Tell us how you ended up majoring in physics."

    Generally your objectives with a personal statement should include the following:

    (a) A demonstration that you know what's involved in the project or job, or position. This means doing a little research - at minimum reading the web page, but ideally speaking to someone about the position.

    (b) An exposition of the unique aspects of yourself with particular emphasis on those qualities that are relevant to the position. If you have to be a physics undergraduate student to apply for the postion, there isn't much point in explaining how you ended up in physics. Everyone in the applicant pool ended up in physics. But what classes are your favourites? What skills have you picked up? What kinds of problems do you enjoy working on? What areas do you feel you excel in? Do you have any relevant hobbies?

    (c) Explain what you hope to get out of the program. You probably don't want to waste too much space on this because everyone is going to be similar in their answers with it, but it is worth outlining things such as skills you hope to gain, or insight into a particular subfield.

    (d) Explanations of gaps or blemishes. Again, you don't want to focus on them, but you may chose to include some information that may explain a particular poor performance or other flag that you know will come up on your application. I wouldn't use this to explain a B+ average.

    Things in your statement I would avoid:
    - Quotes.
    - A statement like: "I do not want to live a conforming life." That's fine, but you don't go into a detailed explanation (nor should you). I have no idea what this means and in my limited time I'm likely to fall back on assumptions. As someone looking for summer student I want to know that the student is going to be punctual, respectful, and generally a team-player and my immediate assumptions about a "non-conformist" may run contrary to those.
    - Statements along the lines of how physics makes you feel. It's a pretty safe assumption that you enjoy physics to some extent if you're applying for an REU.
  5. Dec 24, 2013 #4
    Thank you very much.
  6. Jan 2, 2014 #5
    I have a few questions:

    Classes I like: my favorite class has been E+M because this semester I finally learned to be more concerned with learning than getting an A. I do not think it would be okay to say this in a personal statement... is there any other way I could say that? Also, E+M is not what I am even interested in... I am interested in general relativity (this is relevant to the REU I am writing about), which I have very little experience with... we sort of just blew over it in Modern Physics. I gained interest through talking to a professor about gravitational wave astronomy. I know very little about the math, but I have a general understanding about wave detection (I had to write a paper on it in Stars and Stellar Systems).

    Areas I excel in: I don't really think I excel in any. I am definitely more curious and willing to ask questions than many people I know are, but I don't think that is really an "area." Any advice?
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2014
  7. Jan 3, 2014 #6
    I rewrote it, but my above questions still stand:

    My name is Olivia and I am a third year physics student at **University. I have taken eight physics courses, and have four left before graduation. After graduation, I hope to advance into a doctoral program and study astronomy. I am specifically interested in gravitational wave detection. My interest in this field grew upon meeting Doctor BB. We connected in April 2013 through the Huffington Post Stem Mentorship Program. She spoke about her research, and it inspired me to take an introductory astronomy class, Stars and Stellar Systems. At the end of the semester, I was able to write a paper about gravitational wave detection and further my understanding on general relativity, laser interferometry, and projects such as LIGO. In the months that I have known Doctor BB, I have become certain that I would like to learn more about this topic. Participating in this REU will help me achieve this goal, and in the process, I will learn more about our physical world through real world applications. Because I attend a small school, research is extremely limited. An REU is a great alternative; I will learn about the research process and understand the abundant work that goes into graduate level research. Because I have spoken to Doctor B and have done my own research on wave detection, my knowledge will make me a strong asset to the summer program.
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