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Could someone please Critique my Statement of Purpose?

Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2016 6:10 pm
by grayjason13
Statement of Purpose
Since I was a little boy, I have had a voracious curiosity about the inner workings of the universe. I would often ask my teachers questions for which they didn’t have the answers, so I would take it upon myself to learn the answers. I frequently found that my questions had to do with Physics and Chemistry, where the most complex processes in the universe can be described by theory. The most wonderful thing about the time period that we live in is that a wealth of information is more available than it ever was. This ability to access information makes answering some questions pretty quick, but often leads me to realize that researchers are currently trying to answer the same questions. One of the most alluring things of research is that it is on the edge of what is known. Physics opened up a Pandora’s box of unsolved problems which will continue to lead my curiosity until the day I die. For that reason, I have chosen to do Physics for the rest of my life.
I had not started my university degree as a Physics major. In fact, I began my schooling as a Chemistry major, because I believed that I would have a higher degree of job security if I studied Chemistry and then went into industry. I was unhappy during my freshman year of schooling, because I constantly had the dream of becoming a Physicist in the back of my mind. My curiosity eventually drove me into doing some research into the possibility of becoming a Physicist. I realized that graduate school was my goal, and that I needed to start working harder to be accepted. Since that point, I have been working to my full potential, and have improved tremendously along the way.
I have been doing undergraduate research in the area of population dynamics with Michel Pleimling at Virginia Tech for two years. This research allows me to explore emergent phenomena from random interactions between species to better understand how to predict the fate of ecological systems. I was exposed to a small area of Soft Condensed Matter Physics through an undergraduate Polymer Physics course during my junior year. I couldn’t get enough, often being multiple chapters ahead of my professor in the prescribed textbook, and I started finding articles to read that were relevant to the material we were covering in class. I was hired as an intern at Lawrence Livermore National Lab over the summer between my junior and senior years, which exposed me to Solid State Physics. My research project was to find classical potentials to describe Iron at high pressures. I was introduced to molecular dynamics software, and wrote codes to find the most stable crystalline phases of Iron for certain potentials. Comparing our most stable phases to the stable phases obtained by density functional theory, we progressed towards classical potentials that didn’t require as much computational power as methods used by density functional theory. After my Summer experience, I enrolled in a graduate Solid State Physics course to prove my capability in studying graduate level physics.
I have chosen Condensed Matter Physics as my preferred area of study, because I am fascinated by the physics of quasiparticles, collective excitations, and unusual states of matter. I am highly interested in learning more about topological materials, their properties, and their applications. Add Specific researchers here.

Re: Could someone please Critique my Statement of Purpose?

Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:00 am
by TakeruK
Here are some general thoughts to help you on your next draft:

1. I think far too many statements begin with something like "Since I was young/little/a child/etc." or "Ever since I was ..." or "My [relative] first introduced physics to me when I was..." etc. Everyone has a story like this. It's not like beginning this way will hurt your application, but you might as well jump to your main point. I would recommend starting your statement with the main point of your essay right away: What do you want to study during your PhD program at University XYZ and why should you go to this school?

2. Similar to point #1, I feel your essay has too many cliches. There are many statements that don't have much meaning, or they imply too much meaning so that they lose meaning. For example, you end the first paragraph with "I have chosen to do Physics for the rest of my life." I think this is statement will be viewed as an exaggeration or just naive. You don't have to want to do Physics forever in order to do a Physics PhD. In fact, most graduate students don't know for certain if they want to do Physics forever and many Physics PhD graduates will not be able to do Physics forever.

3. It is definitely a good idea to discuss your start in Chemistry and why you switched to Physics. However, I would tell your story differently, instead of comparing Physics unfavourably to Chemistry. I would focus on the positive---what sparked your curiosity about Chemistry (besides job security) and what was it about Physics that made you want to switch? You want to show that you are interested in science and research and it doesn't matter if your initial interest was in Chemistry.

4. There are some statements that sound very awkward and a little arrogant. I know that we are not always used to writing proudly of our achievements, so sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right. Some people write too meekly and don't do enough to show their strengths, while others might overshoot it and go too far and sound arrogant. It's okay, a few more revisions will get it right. In addition to what I said in #2, some other places where you do this are sentences like "often being multiple chapters ahead of my professor" and "I would often ask my teacher questions for which they didn't have the answers" etc.

5. I think the best part of your essay is the few sentences where you discuss your previous research experience. I would expand this part further. Describe more explicitly what you did. Say exactly what was your contribution (right now, you do a decent job of describing the project, however, it's not clear what was your contribution and what was the team's work). Write about the impact/outcomes of your work. Did it result in papers? Conference presentations? a report for your school? changed the way the lab/group did their analysis? Say it. In addition, I think your description of your projects are a little hard for someone like me (not in your subfield) to follow. Re-read your description, practice with a friend, exchange 3 sentence description of your summer research projects. Revise until you can both understand each other's work and why it matters.

6. You need to write more about what you want to do in graduate school. I know you have a placeholder for "specific researchers". But you want to also think about why you want to research X and what are your goals in graduate school and beyond. Then, you can tie these goals in with the people and facilities available at the school.

I hope this helps you. I would recommend that you focus on the "middle" part of the essay first. I would start with my suggestion #5 above and work on expanding your previous research experience. This will eventually take up a sizable chunk of your essay, perhaps as much as half of the total text. Then, you would want to work on your introduction and discuss why you entered Physics and why you switched from Chemistry to Physics (keep this short, no more than 1/4 of the text). Finally, with your past in mind, write about your future goals and why School XYZ is the best fit for them. This section should be shorter than the "middle" section but longer than your "intro", so it's between 1/4 and half of the total text.

Re: Could someone please Critique my Statement of Purpose?

Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 11:06 pm
by grayjason13
Thank you so much for taking the time to go through my personal statement. I've done everything you advised and I think it is looking much better now.