SOP critique, please. I have never written one before.

sifodeas
Posts: 6
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2014 8:47 am

SOP critique, please. I have never written one before.

Postby sifodeas » Sun Nov 30, 2014 9:31 pm

Well, here goes:

I remember when I was in chemistry I in high school, I started to wonder how the universe worked for the first time. I started asking questions I had never considered before. One particular question I remember was simply "what is fire?". It was rather surprising to me that the flame itself is actually composed of gaseous components. This sparked my interest in chemistry at first, which naturally progressed into an interest in physics. I did not intend to take physics in high school, but I took the opportunity as my curiosity was piqued. I thoroughly enjoyed that physics class and in conjunction with the calculus class I was taking, I started to gain a true appreciation for physics and the natural world that physics models. Naturally, this continued into college as I declared my physics major.

The first concept that truly captured my imagination was gravitation. It felt like it was something I had taken for granted throughout my entire life and I wanted to understand as much as I could about it. It was about this time that I decided to take up a computer science minor after I realized the sheer power and elegance of the study in my introductory course. At any opportunity, I simulated physical interactions. It started with a simple program where the user could throw a ball. I added more and more features to it throughout my freshman year, including wind resistance and a coefficient of restitution for the ball that allowed for realistic bouncing. It did not take long for me to return to my passion of the time, gravitation. It started with a simple planar n-body interaction utilizing a first order approximation. I wrote and rewrote this program countless times as I tried to implement more efficient algorithms and simulate more complicated systems. The last version of this project ended up being written in python with the graphics written with OpenGL handles for my final project in my computer graphics course.

My independent ventures were not enough, however. I wanted to work on real research projects in hopes to make contributions to the field I began to love so dearly. I had my opportunity in my freshman introduction to physics course when the professor brought in the new researchers in the department to talk about their research. This is when my work on carbon nanotubes began with Dr. ________, introducing me to materials studies. It was very difficult at first, seeing as I did not even know electricity and magnetism very well at that point. But, I worked very hard to try and understand the material. The incredible properties and possible uses for carbon nanotubes ensured that I kept working on the project. One year later, I successfully grew my own carbon nanotubes in a chemical vapor deposition system and viewed them in an atomic force microscope. The experience was truly amazing.

In the following school year, I began learning mathematical modeling and numerical integration in further depth. The topics intrigued me because I started to actually learn how to solve the various problems I had experienced in my personal projects. Armed with these new skills, I returned to my independent projects. I wrote many programs in this time, including a program that displayed a time evolution of the particle in a box given any initial wave, provided it satisfied the Dirichlet boundary conditions. I quickly realized that the best way to learn physics, at least for me, was to simulate it. Quantum mechanics began to make more sense and partial differential equations were now second nature to me. This helped immensely in various competitions I participated in. I wrote the simulation for my team's entry in the 2013 University Physics Competition, which received a silver medal. I even had the opportunity to write a cellular automation model for simulating traffic flow in the Mathematical Modeling Competition.

Now confident in my computational skills in physics, I started to urge my professors to let me do research involving computation in some way, preferably modeling of some sort. I wrote a program in LabVIEW to control the temperature of an adiabatic refrigerator and subsequently analyze data collected with a vector network analyzer. Continuing my work on carbon nanotubes, I began to approach modeling patches of carbon nanotubes to hopefully arrive at a reasonable estimate of the capacitance of the patch. This work is continuing now and will hopefully result in a paper. Eventually, the time came for me to do senior research and I chose to work with Dr. _____ in general relativity. In particular, we are working with slowly rotating neutron stars. Calling upon my computational knowledge, I have successfully implemented a semi-symplectic integration algorithm (deloused leapfrog) to find geodesics of test particles about a slowly rotating neutron star, allowing for minimal energy drift during long integrations.

Overall, my experience so far has made it clear that computational physics is my preferred research field. Of particular interest to me is general relativity, astrophysics, and condensed matter. My interest in general relativity and astrophysics naturally extends from my long-standing interest in gravitation. My interest in condensed matter extends from my experience working with carbon nanotubes. There are many more mysteries to solve in physics and there is a lot of work to do. I have spent a very long time cultivating my skill in computation and I hope to use that skill to help solve some of those mysteries. I see physics as the penultimate study. Everything we know as humans hails from the massive study of physics. I want nothing more than the opportunity to add a little bit more to that knowledge.

seeyouauntie
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2014 8:17 am

Re: SOP critique, please. I have never written one before.

Postby seeyouauntie » Mon Dec 01, 2014 12:12 am

Disclaimer: I just scanned over it. I'm also not an expert.

It seems like a good summary of your background in physics, but it doesn't seem very specific to the graduate school that you would be applying to. Maybe add some particulars that make you seem interested in the specific department you are writing to. It's also a bit on the long side, but that is really personal preference. One thing that stood out to me is your use of the word penultimate in the last paragraph. I don't think that is the word you wanted there. I'm not sure what guidelines the specific school you are applying to has on statements of purpose, but overall I would shorten the personal history part of it and put more about what you want to do in grad school. That's just my opinion, though. Good luck.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: SOP critique, please. I have never written one before.

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Dec 01, 2014 12:12 am

If you're gonna use an anecdote to start of the SOP, use one from when you were more mature as a scientist. No one on the admissions committee is gonna care that you liked fire as a middle schooler--they might want to know about that aha moment in intermediate lab, though.

sifodeas
Posts: 6
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2014 8:47 am

Re: SOP critique, please. I have never written one before.

Postby sifodeas » Mon Dec 01, 2014 10:19 am

seeyouauntie wrote:Disclaimer: I just scanned over it. I'm also not an expert.

It seems like a good summary of your background in physics, but it doesn't seem very specific to the graduate school that you would be applying to. Maybe add some particulars that make you seem interested in the specific department you are writing to. It's also a bit on the long side, but that is really personal preference. One thing that stood out to me is your use of the word penultimate in the last paragraph. I don't think that is the word you wanted there. I'm not sure what guidelines the specific school you are applying to has on statements of purpose, but overall I would shorten the personal history part of it and put more about what you want to do in grad school. That's just my opinion, though. Good luck.


Thanks for the feedback. Now that you mention it, the length is probably a bit off-putting. And that certainly wasn't the word I wanted, haha. I was planning on just adding in specifics for each grad school in the last paragraph for each application.

sifodeas
Posts: 6
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2014 8:47 am

Re: SOP critique, please. I have never written one before.

Postby sifodeas » Mon Dec 01, 2014 10:19 am

bfollinprm wrote:If you're gonna use an anecdote to start of the SOP, use one from when you were more mature as a scientist. No one on the admissions committee is gonna care that you liked fire as a middle schooler--they might want to know about that aha moment in intermediate lab, though.


Good point, I'll pare it down a bit.




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