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Yet another read-my-REU-essay-please thread

  1. Jan 15, 2016 #1
    Hi guys! Like the title says, I'm applying for 10 astrophysics-related REUs, and I'm a frosh, so I have few other people to ask for guidance. Please let me know if this is a good baseline to add to.
    Thank you all in advance!

    Sitting in the middle of an abandoned lab, late on a Friday night, head resting on folded arms, I stared desolately at the screen in front of me. It was MATLAB code. Readable, clear, mostly hard-coded. It should have been easy to debug. But this was day three, and nothing was getting any clearer. The previous researcher had kept meticulous records of everything else--- the entire lab was post-it-noted, color-coded, lined up neatly. So why, why had he chosen to name his variables 'test' and 'untitled'?

    I did manage to rewrite that code--- using much more helpful naming conventions, I might add--- but in the process I became well-acquainted with the more frustrating aspects of conducting research. It was these parts of the research I took part in (and the light bulb moments right afterwards) that has made me apply for research programs this summer. I have missed the unique challenge that research inevitably provides, and I want to experience that frustrating, invigorating, intellectual puzzle once more.

    Coming from a high school in rural Oregon, I was forced to find challenges for myself. This involved not only summer research, but teaching myself to program, organizing independent studies in physics and chemistry for courses that weren't offered, taking community college math and online courseware astronomy, and starting a Science Club with student-run labs. I perfected the art of self-teaching, and learned how to manage my time independently of teachers or supervisors. This skill is invaluable in the classroom, but it has shaped my work experience as well: if I'm given a task that I don't know how to do, I'll learn how to do it however I need to, in whatever time I'm given. I'm highly internally motivated, and when I'm passionate about something, I go above and beyond to make sure it goes right.

    Though I am a freshman applicant, I have a strong background in coursework. By this summer, I will have taken all of the necessary mathematics courses for a major in Physics or Astrophysics at [my SLAC]; I will also have taken four years of combined mechanics and electricity and magnetism between high school and college, and two astrophysics courses between college and online courseware. I also have experience implementing linear algebra and differential equations into my physics coursework--- the advanced mechanics course I took this past semester had units on damped and driven harmonic oscillators, the Lagrangian method, the inertia tensor, central forces, and special relativity, as well as work in polar coordinates. Though I have not taken courses in quantum mechanics, I have taught myself the basics using the Griffiths text. I also have some experience using a research-grade telescope and analyzing its data; I participated in an astronomy camp run by Professor [redacted] at [ an Oregon university] summer before last where I learned the fundamentals of spectroscopy.

    I am planning on going to grad school in Astrophysics and pursuing a career in academia from there. I really love astrophysics, and I have a passion for abstraction and mathematics as well, so I'm looking at cosmology, though it's a bit early for me to specialize. I'm highly interested in the work of [insert specific research project with rationale as to why you're interested and why you'd be a good fit].

    Thank you for taking the time to review my application.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 15, 2016 #2
    I'm not sure what to make of it. It seems like a right brained production in a world where most are expecting a more typical intro-body-conclusion type of essay. Since you are taking a more probabilistic approach by applying for 10 REUs, it might be better to try and maximize the probabilities by taking a more conventional approach to the essay, especially if the other aspects of your application are above average.
  4. Jan 15, 2016 #3
    Remove. Completely.

    Any evidence that self-teaching was successful? Because you can say what you want, and if you got nothing to show for it, they won't believe you.

    Nobody cares about online courses. Remove it.
  5. Jan 16, 2016 #4


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    Scrap the whole thing, especially the first part. In my opinion, the best way to write this type of statement is to talk about how you got interested in your sub field (in your case astrophysics), what you are interested in research wise (you don't need to be that specific) how you became interested in it and your future goals. The second part is where you can bring in your skill set. At least for me, a lot of the things I learned were from just following my interests and picking stuff up along the way so I mentioned that as I described my interests chronologically.

    For example, I said in an REU statement and eventually my grad school statement that I became interested in condensed matter physics after learning about graphene (I started undergrad the year it won the Nobel prize) and then explained in the beginning how that led me to want to learn more about the field from professors, reading myself, etc.

    It's a bit different for you since you are a freshman and haven't had as much time (I described my interests over several years in my last REU application) but you get the idea.

    Make your statement as concise as possible. Don't use flowery language, this is not creative writing. You are trying to get a specific point across and writing in such a way just obscures things. Also, make sure you are informed about your subfield and have good reasons for pursuing it. For example, the admissions committee really does not care to hear about someone interested in astrophysics because they loved staring at the stars when they were a kid. They would like to hear something like I became interested in astrophysics when I found out about/a professor told me about the dark energy survey and this led me to think about...(I really don't know anything about astrophysics so I don't have a good example but you get the point).
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