Critique, Please

MPKU
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Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:43 am

Critique, Please

Postby MPKU » Wed Dec 25, 2013 1:57 am

second draft a couple of posts down.


So, here it is.... rough draft obviously. I included foot-notes denoted by asterisks *

Also, while I have you here, considering I went to a small state school not known for Physics, how does my application look for applying to not top schools (i.e. U. Oklahoma, Clemson, Oregon St)

GPA: 3.38
Physics: 3.82 [Note, overal GPA past 3 semesters have been 3.98 avg, also took 11 PHY courses, and 1 ENG in these 3 semesters]

GRE: Q: 166 (91%) V: 155 (66%) AW: 3.5(35%) :(

I'm also trying to get a TA position... Thanks.

*1

I have been assisting Dr. ________in observing and collecting data on photometric binary star systems. This includes operating ________ University’s .61m optical telescope. During the fall semester of this year I have taken Practical Astronomy as an independent study with Dr._____ to pursue my interest in this field. This course involved calibrating, and working with the telescope and collecting, processing, and analyzing data. Obtaining the light curves for the systems often required staying up the entire night. Once the data was collected software was used to process and plot the information received from the light curve. Recently I have been involved in a project determining the stellar and planetary radii of a confirmed exoplanet and F-star. Using relative fluxes at contact locations derived from the transit of the planet, the radii was successfully confirmed.
I have worked on two projects with Dr. _______ over the past year. The first involved an oscillating granular system. Convection and the angle of repose were recorded for various frequencies of vibration, and different shapes and sizes of containers. The second project, which I received 3 credits for as ‘Physics Research’ involved working with other physics undergraduates to examine how solar cells perform under conditions of extreme cold.  Throughout the semester I tested several polycrystalline photovoltaic solar cells and produced an IV curve for each. The cells were then submerged in liquid nitrogen for different intervals of time and then allowed to cool overnight. These cells were then retested, producing a new IV curve. The results produced from this experiment show that the cells that were submerged to liquid nitrogen had an improved performance. Recently an abstract with me as the second author was sent in to APS on this experiment.
Academically I have prepared by obtaining a grade point average of 4.0 in my upper level physics classes. *2 This not only involved performing well on tests and homework, but having a profound understanding of the phenomena, and the mathematical underpinning of those phenomena . *3 Simply by glancing at my transcripts, one will see a tremendous upheaval took place, academically, from the periods of time from when I added a physics major in the Fall 12’ semester. *4
I have tutored mathematics and physics for the past 3 semesters. I spent consecutive semesters as a supplementary instructor for college algebra, and then introductory physics. This involved attending the course and holding two ‘office’ hours open for students to come either individually, or in groups, to ask for questions or recitation of lecture material. I am continuing this in the spring semester as a supplementary instructor for the second part of introductory physics. Teaching others has strengthened not only my communication skills, but my ability to explain physics to other undergraduate.

*5


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FOOT NOTES


*1 Not quite sure how to start the intro… I suppose with why I want to do research/my passion for physics? I’m just having trouble wording this section without sounding cliché or overdoing it.

*2 [is this too much? Should I just say ‘material’?]

*3 [I’m not sure if I should include this, I know they have my transcripts in front of me, however I received mixed reviews about putting ‘grades’ in there.. I’m thinking of adding a section about what adding that major meant to me, however I’m not sure if that is too personal or will just be filler?]

*4[May put in a sentence or two about how being a dual major has helped me excel, and will in future endeavors. I took a graduate level Topology course… perhaps a sentence about that?]

*5 This space is reserved for information specific for each university
Last edited by MPKU on Tue Jan 07, 2014 9:20 am, edited 2 times in total.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby WhoaNonstop » Wed Dec 25, 2013 5:21 pm

So, I read through a few parts:

My ability to write a cover letter has went way up since I applied to graduate schools. A few things everyone should do...

1. Keep it as short as possible. Remember that the people reading these will have to read at least 100. If you are on the verge of getting in or not, you'll want to make sure you don't scare them away with a cover letter that is too long.

2. Given it is short, make sure you only contain the most important things. Ask yourself about each line. What does it convey to reader? Is it needed?

3. A cover letter is not about the things you've done. It's about how those things will help you be successful in a graduate program.

4. Be careful listing things that aren't quantifiable. (Seen in most cover letters, "I work well with others" is not good.)

Now to this in particular, I don't know how much emphasis I'd put on your tutoring experiences. Pretty much everyone is going to become a TA, unless you are an international student and need to justify your ability to communicate effectively. I also think that putting your school specific stuff towards the top may be better.

-Riley

TakeruK
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby TakeruK » Wed Dec 25, 2013 9:04 pm

MPKU wrote:
*1 Not quite sure how to start the intro… I suppose with why I want to do research/my passion for physics? I’m just having trouble wording this section without sounding cliché or overdoing it.


I would suggest to start with a "mission statement" for grad school. You can include why you are interested / passionate about Physics but more importantly, you should discuss what your actual research interests and goals are. When I read this draft, at first I thought you were going to apply to an Astrophysics program to study exoplanets but now I am not as certain. Basically, I don't see a "purpose" in this SOP but this intro paragraph is exactly where you want to put something like this.

I have been assisting Dr. ________in observing and collecting data on photometric binary star systems. This includes operating ________ University’s .61m optical telescope. During the fall semester of this year I have taken Practical Astronomy as an independent study with Dr._____ to pursue my interest in this field. This course involved calibrating, and working with the telescope and collecting, processing, and analyzing data. Obtaining the light curves for the systems often required staying up the entire night. Once the data was collected software was used to process and plot the information received from the light curve. Recently I have been involved in a project determining the stellar and planetary radii of a confirmed exoplanet and F-star. Using relative fluxes at contact locations derived from the transit of the planet, the radii was successfully confirmed.


I do think it's useful to write about your previous research experience, but as Riley says, it should be about the things that make you likely to be successful in a PhD program. So, I feel like you are writing too much as if you were just telling a story about what you did. Instead, write about your past experience with the angle of "how will this show the committee I will succeed?" instead of just saying what you did. I would shorten this paragraph and the sections below a lot! Also see Riley's point #2!

If you are indeed applying to astronomy programs, then I know that astronomers tend to be more comfortable reading "Prof. ____" instead of "Dr. ______", in my limited opinion. Also, I would write 61cm instead of 0.61m, or "24 inch" (although not SI, it's a standard way astronomers refer to mirror diameters).

To help you shorten it, remember that you don't have to say something like "Obtaining the light curves for the systems often required staying up the entire night." This is obvious! And "Once the data was collected software was used to process and plot the information received from the light curve. " is also not necessary. I would suggest you go back and rewrite this section with the above points as well as Riley's points in mind.

I have worked on two projects with Dr. _______ over the past year. The first involved an oscillating granular system. Convection and the angle of repose were recorded for various frequencies of vibration, and different shapes and sizes of containers. The second project, which I received 3 credits for as ‘Physics Research’ involved working with other physics undergraduates to examine how solar cells perform under conditions of extreme cold.  Throughout the semester I tested several polycrystalline photovoltaic solar cells and produced an IV curve for each. The cells were then submerged in liquid nitrogen for different intervals of time and then allowed to cool overnight. These cells were then retested, producing a new IV curve. The results produced from this experiment show that the cells that were submerged to liquid nitrogen had an improved performance. Recently an abstract with me as the second author was sent in to APS on this experiment.


This is not my field anymore but I feel the above comments also apply. You don't have to write something like the # of credits though. And the last sentence reads very strange.

Academically I have prepared by obtaining a grade point average of 4.0 in my upper level physics classes. *2 This not only involved performing well on tests and homework, but having a profound understanding of the phenomena, and the mathematical underpinning of those phenomena . *3 Simply by glancing at my transcripts, one will see a tremendous upheaval took place, academically, from the periods of time from when I added a physics major in the Fall 12’ semester. *4


Your sentences here are weird too, in a similar way to the last sentence above. You don't have to say "This not only involved performing well on tests and homework, but having a profound understanding of the phenomena, and the mathematical underpinning of those phenomena" because you are just describing what anyone needs to do to achieve good grades. I also don't think you need to highlight the changes in your transcript because I think it could be obvious for anyone reading it. The only thing that might be worth mentioning is the recent addition of your Physics major.

I have tutored mathematics and physics for the past 3 semesters. I spent consecutive semesters as a supplementary instructor for college algebra, and then introductory physics. This involved attending the course and holding two ‘office’ hours open for students to come either individually, or in groups, to ask for questions or recitation of lecture material. I am continuing this in the spring semester as a supplementary instructor for the second part of introductory physics. Teaching others has strengthened not only my communication skills, but my ability to explain physics to other undergraduate.

*5



Unless the SOP specifically requests details about your teaching experience, I would just mention it in passing and then put the same info here into your CV under "teaching".


Overall, I think your SOP is just a statement of facts about your history instead of a piece of writing that clearly conveys your goals and how your experiences and skills will make you a good candidate for the school. I really think you should go back and ask yourself what Riley said in his point #2--what does each sentence convey and is it needed. I also think that you should "show" rather than just "tell". For example, if you said that you took the light curve data yourself, it demonstrates that you are responsible and can learn quickly. And things like "staying up all night" is implied by this one sentence. You can also say that you were responsible for processing the data and your results showed ... blah blah blah. People in the field know all the steps of data processing. People not in the field don't really care about all the steps--the important part to them is that you have experience doing the type of research necessary to be a PhD student.

MPKU
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby MPKU » Wed Dec 25, 2013 9:59 pm

Thank you both for the replies. It is really invaluable advice.

Do you perhaps have a link to any quality SOP for Physics? All the ones I find to be 'good' ones contain the opposite of what I hear should be in the statements (i.e. quotes, stories about falling in loves with physics at a young age).

Also, you mentioned I should state my research interest... truth is, I don't have one. And I do not know how to say it without sounding like an idiot with no direction.

TakeruK
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby TakeruK » Thu Dec 26, 2013 12:56 am

MPKU wrote:Thank you both for the replies. It is really invaluable advice.

Do you perhaps have a link to any quality SOP for Physics? All the ones I find to be 'good' ones contain the opposite of what I hear should be in the statements (i.e. quotes, stories about falling in loves with physics at a young age).

Also, you mentioned I should state my research interest... truth is, I don't have one. And I do not know how to say it without sounding like an idiot with no direction.


I don't know any sample strong ones on the Internet but when I was trying to write mine, I did not want to read too many sample SOPs and accidentally make my SOP sound too much like a sample. Also, all the samples I saw were much too long and I just didn't like them. I think it's important to make it personal--make it sound like you! But also be sure it contains important points that Riley and I mentioned above.

I also think you should have a research interest by the time you apply to graduate school. You don't need to know it very specifically--for example, you don't need to say something like "I want to study the atmospheres of hot Jupiter using transmission line spectroscopy from infrared telescopes." But you should be able to articulate your interests a little more strongly than just "I really like Physics and want to study more Physics." You can probably still get in if you are really strong without a focus but it will enhance your application if you sound like an applicant who has some good goals in mind and a good reason to apply to the school. For example, in my case, my research goal was to learn how to be an observational astronomer (all my previous experience was numerical modeling) and my research interest was exoplanets or small bodies in our Solar System (and then applying what we learn to exoplanetary systems). So, after discussing my research goal, I demonstrated how the school I was writing the SOP for would help me achieve this goal. In my case, I mostly applied to schools that have very strong observational programs (i.e. time on large telescopes). For some other schools that did not have as much observational resources, I played up my interest in modelling a bit more (I applied to these schools because they have people who are very good and experienced in this field and I could learn a lot from!).

To me, having a well defined research goal (just a general goal for grad school, not necessarily an exact PhD thesis topic) is just as important for yourself as it is for your application. I think if you know what you want, you will get what you need out of grad school to lead a successful career in whatever you do. Knowing what you want can also help you see a bigger picture for your future which might indirectly improve how you sound in interviews and applications. I would strongly advise students against doing a PhD just because they want to do more Physics and have no other plans in life (but that might just be me!). So, I think it might be worth taking some time to really read about the topics you're interested in, and think about what you're interested in. Don't be afraid to talk to profs or your colleagues about this either! Depending on the due dates, you might not have much time after everyone comes back after the holidays though (or maybe not any time at all if they are due on Dec 31/Jan 1!!)

MPKU
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Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:43 am

Statement of Purpose v 2.0

Postby MPKU » Mon Jan 06, 2014 7:27 pm

Here is my second draft, a decent improve from first. I really do not like my first and last paragraphs, they need some big-time help. Thanks.
Also, I think it's questionable putting in the italicized sentence. Let me know what you think.

Earning a PhD in physics would allow me to continue my passion for not only learning, but teaching and researching physics. After adding a physics major to my degree in my third year, it has become an integral part of my life. The inclusion of physics in my life has grown over the years, focusing mainly on astronomy and astrophysics. I can only hope to make a significant contribution in the field of astrophysics through research, and eventually helping others with research.
I have been assisting Professor XXXXXX in observing binary star systems. This includes operating YYYYYYYY University’s twenty-four inch optical telescope. During the fall semester of this year I took Practical Astronomy as an independent study with XXXXXX to pursue my interest in this field. This course involved calibrating the telescope as well as collecting, processing, and analyzing data. Once the data was collected I used software to process and plot the light curve. Recently, I was involved in a project determining the radii of a confirmed exoplanet and F-star. In addition to my work in the field of practical astronomy, I also worked on two projects with Professor ZZZZZZ over the past year. The former involved an oscillating granular system in which convection and the angle of repose were recorded for various frequencies of vibration and different shapes and sizes of containers. The second project, taken as an independent study, involves examining how photovoltaic solar cells perform under conditions of extreme cold.  The results produced from this experiment show that the cells that were submerged in liquid nitrogen had an improved performance. Professor ZZZZZZ and I, along with two other students, recently submitted an abstract [to the APS] for publication. The above work not only helped prepare me for my graduate studies by gaining research experience, but was a realization of a passion I hold for independent scientific research.
            Additionally, I had an opportunity to be a supplementary instructor for “General Physics”. This involved attending the course and holding recitation and review for students. The experience I gained will help me hold a Teaching Assistant position at WWWWWW University as I pursue my graduate studies. I will be continuing this position in January 2014 for “General Physics II”. Aside from physics I held many interests; playing guitar, cooking, staying fit, experiencing the outdoors, and relationships. While physics consumes a great deal of my time, my ability to effectively manage my time allowed me to not only follow my passion, but these interests as well.
            It is the enormity of physics which initially interested me in the subject. With that being said, I have a focus in astronomy and astrophysics. When searching for a graduate school to attend, WWWWWW’s program seemed to have much to offer in those fields. Being that I am still exploring the field, the breadth of WWWWWW's physics program looks very engaging.
Last edited by MPKU on Tue Jan 07, 2014 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.

bfollinprm
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Jan 07, 2014 12:07 am

Your interest in women uniquely qualifies you for STEM research.

TakeruK
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby TakeruK » Tue Jan 07, 2014 12:33 am

The paragraphs about your research is much better, I think.

About the italicized part, it's definitely okay to list your interests like cooking, guitar, exercise, whatever. However, what were you thinking when you put "women" as your interests? Are you seriously equating half of the population with other recreational activities/hobbies? I hope you didn't mean it that way, but your sentence is definitely objectifying women, and I would not want you a part of my department.

In addition to that, I am not sure why you chose to emphasize how much physics take up so much of your time while mentioning these interests. You almost make it sound as if these hobbies are not normal hobbies for physicists (which is not true) and it sounds like you are desperate to send the message that you are a "real physicist" even though you do these activities. I'd recommend to drop that angle and just mention your other interests directly, without comparing them to physics. If you need a nice transition from talking about physics to talking about other interests, you can say something like "In my spare time, I like to...." or "In addition to physics, my interests/hobbies are...." etc.

MPKU
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby MPKU » Tue Jan 07, 2014 9:00 am

OF course I didn't mean it in that way.... I believe it was late. I most certainly meant holding relationships with a significant other.
This is why I write drafts :roll:


Thanks for the advice, I'll definitely tailor the transition

Also, edited 'women' out of my original post... I just don't want that to be the focus of people's responses, since it is clear that needs to be changed.

AEP
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby AEP » Thu Jan 09, 2014 12:41 am

bfollinprm wrote:Your interest in women uniquely qualifies you for STEM research.

Good Catch

tsymmetry
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby tsymmetry » Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:08 pm

I think you should cut out the part about other interests. It's really a waste of space. When I wrote my statements I actually cut quite a bit about specifics in my research since I did not have enough space. The committee is interested in your reasons for applying to grad school and not interests that are not related to physics. Your other interests can show up somewhere else. Mine show up on my CV.

For each of my statements I was advised to write a paragraph specific to each school about the research there and the people I would like to work with. Even though I applied for theory, I also included a bit about interesting experimental work being done at the school. I was able to find out about specific professors by asking my recommenders and also looking at some of their papers.

TakeruK
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Re: Critique, Please

Postby TakeruK » Fri Jan 10, 2014 6:10 pm

I think having some interests listed on your SOP won't hurt and it could be helpful to identify you in some ways other than yet another student really interested in Physics. You can be the physicist that likes to hike, or rock climb, or surf, or whatever.

I think a brief mention like you currently have is okay. Like I said above, just maybe work on the transition so that instead of presenting your interest in Physics and other stuff as contrasting points (that is, your sentences sound like you are saying despite Physics, I can do [blah], or despite [blah], I can still Physics!). Present them all as different aspects of your personality that complement each other to make you the person you are!

However, one thing you should remove is "relationships" from that list. Changing it from "women" to "relationships" is the right direction but I still think "relationships" is different from the other items in that list so that it is confusing. It's not clear at all what you mean by "relationships" as an interest. So I think if you want to include your relationship status, I think you should do it separately from this list and further explain why it is relevant to know about you as a person and/or as a physicist. For example, if your SO is going to be a major part of your decision (something like you want to apply to School X because your SO's work requires them to be in a big city or whatever), then that could be one reason to include it and it would be relevant. I am not sure if it's always a good idea to mention this fact, but just giving an example of when it would be relevant. Otherwise, I think just mentioning it in a list like this does not provide any information and also can be confusing.




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