Statement of Purpose (critique)

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Hi guys, I've been a long time reader of these forums, but this is the first time I create a thread. In the next weeks I will be applying to some masters programs in Europe (in math) and as part of the application process I must write a statement of purpose. Since english is not my first language, I would be very grateful if you could give me some comments on my writing style and an overall critique of the essay (of course I will pass it to some professors, but it doesn't hurt to get more constructive criticism :smile:). Anyways, here it is:

I am applying to the master program of XXX with the intention of pursuing a PhD afterwards. My main interest lies problems arising from partial differential equations and calculus of variations with a heavy emphasis on the numerical analysis, particularly meshless methods. Since I deeply enjoy both the research and teaching aspects of mathematics, my goal is to follow the academic path and become a professor at a research university, although I remain open to other possibilities.

Since I was a kid I had great interest in science, which at the end of high school led me to decide to study chemistry. At the faculty of chemistry I discovered higher mathematics and physics and became fascinated by them. After showing some aptitude for these subjects I was encouraged by several professors to switch majors, which I did a year later. Although my actual degree is in physics, I took simultaneously many mathematics courses (I did not receive a double degree due to bureaucratic issues). From the very beginning of my studies, PDEs and calculus of variations sparked my interest; I found intriguing the idea of doing calculus in infinite dimensions. When I finally studied these subjects at a greater depth, I was far from disappointed. A feature I love about them is their broadness; they range from the very abstract and theoretical to the very applied and computational. My background in physics was very helpful to realize the applicability of partial differential equations and to gain some intuition behind the theory.

As for the theoretical side, I first took a course on basic PDEs which covered the classical theory and later learned the foundations of the modern theory when I took functional analysis. I also attended a course on variational methods, which dealt primarily with semilinear elliptic equations, and a course on control theory (for which I later became the teaching assistant). I became interested in the numerical side somewhat late in my studies and actually the first related course I attended was a graduate course on the finite element method I took as an exchange student at the YYY [it's a university in the same country]. Later I took a graduate course on methods based on radial basis functions and another on finite differences. I joined the research group of Professor X, where I worked on several small projects, but perhaps my main contribution was writing notes to make the subject accessible to advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students (available at URL). My bachelor thesis combined both theory and numerics; in this work I studied an algorithm to find numerically ground states of a Nonlinear Schrödinger Equation, but also addressed the question of existence of such ground states using variational methods.

As a teaching assistant my main duty was to deliver tutorials and grade assignments, but I was often given lecturing responsibilities. I am grateful because the professor gave me a lot of freedom to choose how to lecture a given topic and which problems to solve at tutorials. This helped me to develop independence and gain maturity as a lecturer.

At the moment I am not in contact with any professor from the University, but I would be very interested in working with Professor A because he combines the subjects I am interested in and works on some exciting applications (e.g. shape-memory alloys); to my taste his research strikes the perfect balance between theory and application, which is something I always strive for (his paper "..." is a perfect example of this). I would also be interested in working with Professor B; his research on meshless methods and generalizations of the finite element method has caught my interest. Furthermore, I believe my background on radial basis functions would be a nice complement. With that said, there are other Professors at the department whose research appeals to me and with whom I would gladly work (e.g. Professor C).

I believe that, because of the numerous research faculty with very interesting projects in my intended area of research, XXX would be an amazing place to pursue my studies, and that, for the reasons stated above, I would be a great fit for the program. Moreover, I believe my experience as an exchange student in YYY is an advantage, because it increased my adaptability and provided first hand experience with the educational system in the country. I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks in advance!
 

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  • #2
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The second paragraph could be shortened I think.

I became interested in the numerical side somewhat late in my studies
So you thought it was boring before?
At the moment I am not in contact with any professor from the University
Does it improve your application to write that?
but I would be very interested in working with Professor A
Unless there is a specific reason to avoid it, I would contact him (and also B).
because it increased my adaptability and provided first hand experience with the educational system in the country.
I'm not sure about that.

Two language things. Careful: I'm not a native speaker either:
My main interest lies in problems [...]
"I found intriguing the idea of doing calculus in infinite dimensions." <- I think intriguing should be at the end of the sentence.
 
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Thanks for the reply!
mfb said:
The second paragraph could be shortened I think.
Do you mean that there is superfluous information? Or that the sentences are too long?
mfb said:
So you thought it was boring before?
Actually I did, but I didn't think it would be appropriate to write that...
mfb said:
Does it improve your application to write that?
I wrote it because the university specifically asks us to state whether we know or are in contact with faculty at the department.
mfb said:
Unless there is a specific reason to avoid it, I would contact him (and also B).
OK, I will try to do it.
mfb said:
I'm not sure about that.
Why not?
mfb said:
Two language things. Careful: I'm not a native speaker either:
My main interest lies in problems [...]
"I found intriguing the idea of doing calculus in infinite dimensions." <- I think intriguing should be at the end of the sentence.[./QUOTE]
Thanks! Yeah, that sounds better..
 
  • #4
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Do you mean that there is superfluous information? Or that the sentences are too long?
Something like " When I finally studied these subjects at a greater depth, I was far from disappointed." - what does it add? You liked it, that can be written in a shorter way.
Actually I did, but I didn't think it would be appropriate to write that...
Well, you write it indirectly, and I think you can avoid that.
I wrote it because the university specifically asks us to state whether we know or are in contact with faculty at the department.
Okay, I guess that answer will change anyway.
I'm not sure about that.
Why not?
The differences between exchange students and master students might be more significant than the differences between countries, could depend on the exchange student program.
 
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mfb said:
Something like " When I finally studied these subjects at a greater depth, I was far from disappointed." - what does it add? You liked it, that can be written in a shorter way.
mfb said:
Well, you write it indirectly, and I think you can avoid that.
OK, I will try to change that, thanks for the feedback.
mfb said:
Okay, I guess that answer will change anyway.
I've been thinking about it and I am not sure how to do it (I've never contacted a professor this way). Do you have any tips? I fear that my email might be too generic...
mfb said:
The differences between exchange students and master students might be more significant than the differences between countries, could depend on the exchange student program.
Well, as an exchange student I had total freedom to choose my courses, just as any regular student, which I've heard is often the case in that country (Germany). I actually enrolled in a graduate course and did great. This is why I feel it was an advantage and thus wrote it in the SoP(of course there is always the possibility that I could be wrong..)
 
  • #6
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In Germany, you probably start with courses, not with research. Anyway, you can ask the professors if they are interested in a master student in [research topic] with a background in [...]. Make it specific enough to show you know what they are doing and that you would fit in, but not too specific. The answer is probably positive, and as they are familiar with the application procedure they will probably suggest how to proceed (e.g. "you can send me your CV/research interest letter").
Well, as an exchange student I had total freedom to choose my courses, just as any regular student, which I've heard is often the case in that country (Germany).
Students had a lot of freedom with the old system (diploma), now with BSc/MSc it got more complicated. The university website has the detailed regulations, there are probably some courses you have to attend, and some where you have to choose N out of M or something like that.
 
  • #7
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In Germany, you probably start with courses, not with research. Anyway, you can ask the professors if they are interested in a master student in [research topic] with a background in [...]. Make it specific enough to show you know what they are doing and that you would fit in, but not too specific. The answer is probably positive, and as they are familiar with the application procedure they will probably suggest how to proceed (e.g. "you can send me your CV/research interest letter").Students had a lot of freedom with the old system (diploma), now with BSc/MSc it got more complicated. The university website has the detailed regulations, there are probably some courses you have to attend, and some where you have to choose N out of M or something like that.

Right, I would start with courses, which is why I thought it wouldn't be that helpful to contact faculty, but I guess it can't hurt...
Oh I didn't know that; in my intended programs there are no obligatory courses and I get to choose whatever I want. Maybe this is just for mathematics though...
Thanks for the info!
 

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