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REU personal statement

  1. Jan 12, 2016 #1
    Hi all, I am applying for several REUs at the moment and it is my first time writing a science-focused personal statement. This is my second draft; my first one had a lot of "fluff." Any and all constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.



    I have always been drawn to physics, but being the only female Asian physics major in my graduating class, and also having had a difficult time adjusting to the difference in rigor between the freshman introductory physics courses and the sophomore “real physics” courses, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do with physics. So, early on in college, I resolved to have as much experience as possible in as many areas of physics as possible to help me not only find out what I like, but to also supplement my experience with physics as a whole.

    During the summer after my freshman year I was a research assistant in Dr Matthew Pelton’s laboratory. His lab performed optical studies of nanoscale physics, and I worked with three graduate students. My project was to study interactions of light and semiconductor nanocrystals and metal nanoparticles. The goal was to analyze what happened after the particles absorb light using ultrafast laser spectroscopy. I became acquainted with the cool parts of research (the fancy spectrometers, expensive software, and laser tracing) and with the not-so-cool parts of research (laser repairs that took an entire day, and two-hour scans that I had to watch).

    I discovered that research, while interesting, may not be my passion, so I began leaning towards education. Beginning in the fall of my sophomore year, I became a Learning Assistant for the introductory physics course at my college. As an LA, I worked with graduate students and professors to help teach in the mandatory discussion sections. I also proctored exams, and graded exams and quizzes. This experience helped me brush up on my basic physics, and also polished my people skills. The intro physics course is open to all majors, and it was refreshing to see a non-physics major approach to problems. I also graded the quizzes and exams for both the introductory dynamics and introductory E&M courses during the summer after sophomore year.

    This semester I took a few education courses, and realized that while I like teaching, I want to be solidly grounded in physics above all else. I excelled in my Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics course, and I also took an optics laboratory course, where we studied light phenomena using equipment including a laser gyroscope and a prism spectrometer. After being introduced to properties of light in my Modern Physics course, I could experience first-hand phenomena like wave-particle duality by performing a single and double slit experiment and observing the diffraction pattern. This was the first lab experience that I truly enjoyed, which pushed me to obtaining a research position in an Atmospheric physics lab for this spring. My experience with this course also helped me decide to apply to an REU.


    An REU would further my laboratory research experience, leading me closer to my true path in physics. It would place me in a group of diverse and like-minded people who may be considering the same path as I am. I plan to go to a graduate school for physics and obtain at least a Master’s, after which I will decide whether to continue to teach at the high school level or continue to a Ph.D. to teach at the collegiate level. I will continue to have as many experiences as possible to help direct me to my future.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2016 #2
    Overall I would say your personal statement is pretty good. You illustrate your experience well and how it has helped you to this point in your career. There are a few suggestions I would make having some experience teaching college physics and working closely with faculty who will likely be reviewing your statement.

    My first impression of your statement was that you are truly passionate about physics, but then when I read about your first true research experience I get this picture that you lived in a very different world than real scientists. This is normal, I even went through that period, but honestly they don't want to hear about it in the detail you provided. If there was one thing I remembered about your statement after my first read it was that you didn't enjoy the grind that research is. So, a few suggestions that might help at this point. Illustrate that you didn't expect the long grinding aspects of research and as a result you took some time after your first exposure to reassure yourself of your interest. This avoids details you didn't like and provides a subtle opportunity to transition to the next part of your story. Don't say "I discovered that research, while interesting, may not be my passion." It's a buzzkill for sure.

    During that same paragraph you explained your role as a LA. You mentioned proctoring exams and grading assignments and then restated that at the end with the sentence "I also graded the quizzes and exams for both the introductory dynamics and introductory E&M courses during the summer after sophomore year." I would either combine the two or get rid of one. The point being, research faculty and REU committees are really busy. You want to be direct and informative. You shouldn't have to allude to the same idea more than once.

    Also, the sentence "After being introduced to properties of light in my Modern Physics course, I could experience first-hand phenomena like wave-particle duality by performing a single and double slit experiment and observing the diffraction pattern" is an odd one to me. I don't think it adds anything to your history. I do like that after this sentence you talked about your return to research. I would nix the previous sentence and elaborate more on your second research experience, at least the good parts...you don't have to talk about the parts you didn't like. We all know there are aspects of research that no one likes.

    Finally, I would end strong. Cut the sentence where you say "after which I will decide whether to continue to teach at the high school level or continue to a Ph.D. to teach at the collegiate level" and just state that you can firmly say you feel the need for further experience with physics and that it will help your career either as a teacher or a researcher. You don't need to specify how far you want to go degree-wise. Teachers already know that the likely-hood that a student who does an REU with them will stay in their group is improbable.

    Honestly though your statement is really good. Just make a few changes to keep the whole thing upbeat and positive. You want to appear likable to a committee. This way you can demonstrate your background in physics and your strong interpersonal skills. Good luck, I hope it works out for you!
     
  4. Jan 12, 2016 #3
    Thank you for your advice! It's very helpful and I will definitely make edits accordingly.
     
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