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So I wrote this personal statement for my REU application

  1. Dec 2, 2006 #1
    So I wrote this personal statement for my REU application....

    Could you critique it? At this point it still needs a lot of work but I need to have it done by Monday so I can start asking professors to write letters of recommendation. Below is the first draft of the personal statement.



    Beginning of personal statement:
    I am a double major in physics and electrical engineering at Lawrence Technological University and I plan to graduate spring ’08. I plan to attend graduate school in physics and expect to concentrate on solid state physics/electronics. The ultimate goal is to obtain a PhD so I can develop a career in research. I have not yet determined if I want to go into pure or applied research. Ideally, I would be fortunate enough to be exposed to both sides of research. I have also not yet determined whether I want to get into industrial or academic research, but after spending a semester in an industry setting through an engineering internship (Takata Seat Belts Inc.) I’ve become partial to academia. I expect the answers to these questions will become more obvious as I progress through my academic training.

    In order to prepare myself for a PhD program and a career in research I need some REU experience. I have toured the SSIM lab at Wayne State (and also the physics department at Wayne State) and the experience really made me eager about graduate school. I have talked to a number of graduate students at Wayne State and graduate school really looks like an exciting experience. The research the SSIM lab is conducting (such as wide band gap semiconductors) is closely related to my interests and it seems to be the place best suited for me.

    Next I’d like to discuss how I ended up studying electrical engineering and physics. In high school I held little interest in math, science and engineering, which is ironic considering my current situation. I took some physics and chemistry in high school and I liked chemistry but didn’t have much of an affinity for physics, but a couple years later this would dramatically change. I was a computer enthusiast at the time and constantly kept up with the latest technology and I constantly self studied the subject. To say I ‘liked’ computers would be an enormous understatement. During my senior year I thought about majoring in information technology but I was told the job prospects were weak and the job market was rather saturated. I began thinking about majoring in computer engineering, but after doing some research I found that it would be more marketable to industry to get a degree in electrical engineering and then take a number of computer engineering electives.

    So, soon I found myself enrolled in an electrical engineering degree program at Lawrence Tech. I was not entirely confident in this decision considering my lack of interest in math and the sciences at the time, and I knew engineering was heavy on these subjects. I then enrolled in a calculus 1 course and realized it really was a very fascinating and deep subject and I excelled in the course. I was also interested in my introductory engineering coursework so I was becoming more comfortable with my decision to major in electrical engineering. Next I took a physics 1 course (classical mechanics) and again, I found the subject to very fascinating, contrary to the notion I held in high school. In high school formulas were simply looked up in a book and little physical insight was obtained, but at the university level calculus is applied, which in turn made me appreciate the beauty of calculus and also gave me much more physical insight into the subject.

    Next, I enrolled in a university physics 2 course (classical E&M). This is when I truly developed an obsession for physics. I read over my physics 1/2 book very carefully more than once and then began reading other textbooks on the subject to get different perspectives. I also found myself going through MIT’s entire video lecture series for their physics 1 and 2 courses. At this point, I was studying physics for fun, and it was obvious to me that I liked physics.

    I then took a more advanced electromagnetics course and once again I found myself obsessing over the subject. I would read every detail of the textbook very carefully, beyond what the professor covered, and I found myself reading the textbook again after the course was over. This is when I knew for a fact that I wanted to major in physics, as I had an obvious passion for the subject. However, I was still very interested in electrical engineering, so I decided to double major in EE and physics.

    I then decided I wanted to go into a specific field that would be near the interface between these two subjects in which I had developed such a strong passion for, so I decided I would consider solid state physics and electronics or perhaps optics/photonics. After taking a couple of courses that covered some solid state technology and photonics I realized that I had an interest in these subjects, and they would be very closely related to physics. Next semester (spring ’07) I am taking a condensed matter physics course as well as a solid state electronics/technology course to deepen my understanding of the subject. I will also be enrolled in an optics, lasers, and microscopy course. This semester (fall ’06) I am enrolled in an optoelectronics course which is very interesting to me.

    The reason I want to enroll in a graduate program in physics (PhD) is because I wish to further my studies in these subjects that I have such a passion for. It is also my dream to have a career in research, and the PhD program will certainly prepare me for that. The SSIM REU will in turn prepare me for the PhD program. In addition to the SSIM REU I also plan to participate in a research directed study at Lawrence Tech in the spring ’07 semester to further prepare myself for graduate school.

    In summary, I am confident that the SSIM REU program will be an invaluable experience and will be vital in developing a career in research.

    End of personal statement
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2006 #2
  4. Dec 2, 2006 #3
    Having just completed an REU this past summer and since I just sat down to work on my personal statements for various graduate schools, I feel like I can actually say something helpful here. So here goes:

    Having read your personal statement, I see that you and I were kind of in a similar position academically, except I actually did major in computer science for a couple of years, and only quit after a disillusioning internship experience (great people, great pay, but programming for enterprise software turned out to be just downright dull for me), switching to physics and eventually tacking on applied math. At any rate, I had done a little research at my home university (Bowling Green State University, in the beautiful state of Ohio) but in a very narrow field, in a very little known department.

    When I wrote my personal statements, the first thing I tried to decide what I really wanted to research, hoping that a specific sounding plan would be more attractive than something general. I had just read James Gleick's Chaos, which is written at an entirely non-technical level, and decided nonlinear mathematics was an interesting field, so I wrote about that. I was taking a differential equations course at the time, so I figured if I got an REU in the field, at least I wouldn't be totally lost, so I wrote about that a little. Oh, I also specified that I would prefer theory or computation since I didn't have much lab experience, but was far enough into the CS cirriculum to have more coding fluency than my physics classmates. I also wrote about my internship, and the few months I spent abroad. Couldn't hurt, I figured.

    I believe I applied to 5 places, got into two of them, rejected from one, never heard back from another, and just called and told the last one I'd accepted an offer already. Of the two I got into, one was even a nonlinear dynamics type project. However, I ended up going with the Cornell Center for Materials Research REU, basically because of the prestige of the university. Admittedly, I was thinking about the future of my career rather than where I might have the best fit, but in all honesty I didn't really know how I was going to fit in anywhere anyways.

    The funny thing about the Cornell position is that I had no materials science background, and even indicated on my statement that I was really more interested in dynamical systems. Hell, they even put me in the Chemistry department. When I got there and met my professor I asked him why on Earth he picked me to work on this chemistry problem. Turns out it was because I was a double math major, and had indicated that I was proficient at Maple (his CAS program of choice) on my application.

    So is there a moral to the story? I don't know. I seemed to happen into the opportunity by chance. I guess don't be afraid to apply to programs you don't think you're a perfect match for, and apply to as many as you like; after all, unlike grad school applications, REU applications are free. I wasn't really sure if graduate school was for me until this experience (though of course, like you, I said being a researcher was my ultimate career aspiration). There isn't much of a community of science students at Bowling Green, so this was the first time I'd met physics majors who had taken 3 quantum mechanics courses, or chemical engineering majors who had been in a research group since they were freshmen. Also, the gender split was about 50/50, which I didn't mind at all. It was a humbling but encouraging experience. I certainly wouldn't be as bold in my choice of graduate schools to apply to had I not gotten a leg up at Cornell, and I certainly wouldn't be applying to any Materials Science or Chemistry departments had I not been exposed to the fields in my REU!

    I hope that was helpful. I certainly hope your REU experience is every bit as exciting as mine was. If you go to Cornell, there's a pool table in the basement of Baker Lab, and be sure to stop by The Chapter House, my favorite bar (it'll be full of alumni during alumni week, so be sure to pretend you go to Cornell and have them buy you drinks). Good luck!
     
  5. Dec 2, 2006 #4

    verty

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    What will the reader be looking for as they read this personal statement?
     
  6. Dec 3, 2006 #5
    ok, so I rewrote the personal statement since I know the other one was a pile of crap.

    I am a double major in electrical engineering and physics (chemistry minor) at Lawrence Technological University planning to graduate in the spring of 2008. Upon graduation I plan to embark on a journey through a graduate program to study solid state physics or photonics and to ultimately obtain a PhD in physics. The PhD program will provide invaluable training if I am to develop a successful career in physics research, which is my long term career goal. Since the achievement of these goals is so important to me I am constantly considering ways to ensure my success. I toured the SSIM lab at Wayne State and the experience really excited me about graduate school and made me much more confident that a research career was for me. I knew I wanted to be a part of the progress going on at the SSIM lab so I decided to apply for an REU position. It was apparent that the SSIM lab would provide invaluable experience in my field of interest and that it would prepare me for graduate school. It was also evident that the lab was very well equipped which would allow me to do exciting and meaningful research even at the undergraduate level.

    The question of whether I go into pure or applied research has yet to be answered, but I expect the answer will become more apparent as I gain more experience. While I am very interested in basic science for its own sake, I also enjoy the thought of taking part in the fascinating and challenging process of transforming basic science into cutting edge technology. Ideally, I would be in a situation that would enable me to experience both aspects of research.

    Another decision that I need to make is whether I want to go into industrial or academic research. After spending a semester doing an engineering internship with an automotive safety firm (Takata Inc.) I have learned how industry operates. It was a very interesting experience to see first hand how real world engineering problems were analyzed and solved and it also demonstrated how I should conduct myself in a professional setting. While the internship provided me industry experience that is invaluable, the SSIM REU will provide insight into what it means to be a professional research scientist and it will demonstrate how scientific progress is made. After contributing to the research going on at SSIM I will have a very well rounded background and I will be able to decide on whether I go into academic or industrial research.

    The path I took to ultimately end up as a double major in electrical engineering and physics is not what would be anticipated. Ironically, in high school I had little interest in math, science, or technology. I took some physics and chemistry in high school and while I enjoyed chemistry I didn’t have much of an affinity for physics, but later this would dramatically change. At the time, I was a computer enthusiast and I kept up with the latest technology and constantly self studied the subject. During my senior year of high school I thought about majoring in information technology due to my interest in computers but I was told the job prospects were weak and the job market was saturated. Upon further consideration I thought about majoring in computer engineering, but after doing some research I discovered that it is more marketable to industry to get an electrical engineering degree and then to take some computer engineering electives.

    About a year later I found myself enrolled in an electrical engineering degree program at Lawrence Tech. I was not entirely confident in this decision considering my lack of interest in math and the sciences at the time, and I was aware that engineering was heavy on these subjects. I then enrolled in a calculus 1 course and realized it really was a very fascinating and deep subject and I excelled in the course. I was also interested in my introductory engineering coursework so I was becoming more comfortable with my decision to major in electrical engineering. Next, I took a physics 1 course (classical mechanics) and again, I found the subject very fascinating, contrary to the notion I held in high school. In high school formulas were simply looked up in a book and little physical insight was obtained, but at the university level calculus is applied, which in turn made me appreciate the beauty of physics and calculus and also gave me much more physical insight into the subject. I am not one that accepts ideas without first seeing a thorough and convincing explanation of the framework supporting it, and this accounts for my lack of interest in math and science in high school.

    The following semester I enrolled in a physics 2 course (classical E&M). This is when I truly developed an obsession for physics and I began to envy the physics students. I read over my physics textbook very carefully more than once and then began reading other textbooks in the library regarding the subject to get different insights. I also found myself going through the entire MIT open courseware video lecture series and problem sets for their physics 1 and 2 courses. At this point, I was studying and doing physics for fun, and it was obvious to me that I liked physics.

    I then took a more advanced electromagnetics course and once again I found myself obsessing over the subject. I would read every detail of the textbook very carefully, beyond what the professor covered, and I found myself rereading the textbook after the course was over. This is when I knew for a fact that I wanted to major in physics, as I had an obvious passion for the subject. However, I was still very interested in electrical engineering, so I decided to double major in EE and physics.

    Later I took an analog electronics course which touched on device physics. Device and solid state electronics had me quite interested, so I checked out a couple of books from the library on solid state electronics for self study. The subject had me very interested and it was a field that would blend both the electrical engineering and physics disciplines. It seemed that it would be the sub-discipline for me. Not only did I have an interest, but the career prospects in solid state physics and electronics looked promising as it was (and still is) a rapidly growing field. Next semester I will be participating in a directed study in solid state technology which will deepen my background in the subject and prepare me for research work in this field at the SSIM lab. Next semester I will also be taking a condensed matter physics course.

    Currently I am enrolled in an optoelectronics course which sparked an interest in photonics. Again, photonics is a field that blends the engineering and physics disciplines and it is another field I hold an interest in. Next semester I will be taking an optics lasers and microscopy course to deepen my background in this area.

    In summary, I am confident that the SSIM REU will greatly assist me in meeting my professional goals and I am confident I will be able to assist the SSIM lab in meeting its goals. Because of the passion I have for my field of study and because of my coursework that is relevant to the interests of SSIM, I will make an excellent addition to your research team.

    Sincerely,
     
  7. Dec 3, 2006 #6
    the reader will be looking for my career goals, how the REU will enhance these goals, and my qualifications.
     
  8. Dec 3, 2006 #7
    Please don't take my tone the wrong way, it's getting late for me. To grab attention you need to be decisive and not tell me things I already know.

    The framework of this paragraph is good. Tell me in a few sentences where you've been, where you're going and how the REU fits in. But don't tell me about how PhD programs work, if I'm reading this, I already know. Tell me how this experience fits in to YOUR career path! Towards the end you use phrases like "I knew" and "It was evident" and "It was apparent".... not to me it isn't! What was apparent and evident to you? If you toured the lab, which particular thing grabbed your eye? Are you going to come into the lab running or stand there drooling at the "exciting" and "meaningful" equipment?

    I'd probably just cut this paragraph entirely. If you're not sure, you might as well not even tell me, because I don't care. Tell me what you ARE sure of! And link it back to the thing that grabbed your eye in the first paragraph.

    You start the paragraph off with another decision you haven't made. Tell me about the decision you have made: to apply to this REU. Just state the fact that you already had an internship in industry. Then tell me what you liked about it. Tell me how you expect this to be a different challenge and round out your undergrad experience.

    You take four paragraphs to get from high school to deciding to double major in EE and physics. Please eliminate two. And I don't want to hear about the marketability of EE vs. CE, it's not relevant. That has to do with the collective actions of millions of people doing their thing, not what kinds of things YOU're going to do in my lab.

    I know it's a growing field, but that doesn't tell me why you want to study it! Talk about the interesting problems you saw in your last experience and how you want to contribute to solving those problems. Then talk about specific coursework and how it shows you're suited for this particular REU.

    This is your sixth paragraph describing your education. Don't I already have transcripts or some other records? This letter is just supposed to accent your hard work, drawing attention to the best parts. You never mention GPA or accolades from your previous internship.

    Framework of the conclusion is good, just needs to be tightened up with specific examples. For instance, I have prior research experience, personal motivation in the subject and more than enough formal coursework.

    Remember, this is about you, be specific!
     
  9. Dec 6, 2006 #8
    How did it turn out?
     
  10. Jan 11, 2007 #9
    Well, I got the position. They will have the funding to keep me on board this semester, all through the summer, and all through the following fall. I will be doing wide bandgap semiconductor research.
     
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