Critique my Statement of Purpose

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Joined: Fri Sep 04, 2015 6:32 pm

Critique my Statement of Purpose

Postby xdrgnh » Fri Sep 04, 2015 6:36 pm

My Statement of purpose has some grammar mistakes in it I know that. However I have access to a writing center for free so as now I'm not interested in critiques of the grammar. Ideally I would like critiques on the content, specifically whether I show that my undergraduate experience has prepared me for the type of research I lay out I want to do in graduate school.

My goal is to research whether or not the accelerated expansion of space can be accounted for by quantum fluctuations predicted by Quantum Field Theory. Recent work in modified gravity, such as the DGP model has spurred my interest in this problem because it can explain the observed acceleration of space without postulating dark energy. I would like to conduct theoretical research in these models to determine if they can explain the value of the cosmological constant

In college, my drive to become a professor, and hence teach began when I became a physics tutor. As a tutor, I would show my students the derivation of equations, as opposed to just applying them. What I enjoyed most from tutoring is seeing students' faces light up when they understood something in more detail than they thought possible. Eventually I became the physics tutors’ Team Leader, thus assuming the responsibility of making and grading mock exams. This meant I had to understand what students that were taking the introductory physics sequence were struggling with so I can make more appropriate exams. While I was Team Leader, I assumed many of the functions of a lecturer and enjoyed the experience. In light of everything I want to become a professor and conduct research in theoretical physics.

My research experience consists of working with Professor David Mugglin at the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering for three semesters on the dynamics of a physical double pendulum. (PDP). While doing research I learned invaluable lessons. For example the equations of motion I solved and animated are not equivalent to what I built in the lab. From considering this, I learned how to manipulate theoretical models so they can more accurately represent what is being studied. Also, I learned many advanced mathematical and programming techniques, which will be useful in research I do in the future. Applying these techniques taught me how to extract as much information as I can from a mathematical model.

While conducting research, I completed a graduate physics class at the Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS). I further incorporated the theories and programming techniques I learned in that class in my research. During my last semester of research in order to graduate on time I had to complete 29 credits of course material while working two jobs. That experience taught me how to further manage time as efficiently as possible and distinguish important results or observations from trivial ones during research.

Professor Mugglin gave me freedom to analyze the dynamics of a PDP. As a result, I decided to study the topological aspects of its phase space in terms of the KAM theorem. In particular, I made a Poincare section simulation that demonstrated how invariant tori disintegrated as I varied a parameter. While doing so, I learned the importance of using computational methods to witness the consequences of a theory. Prior to my research, I downplayed the importance of numerical methods in theory. But after conducting my research I now strive to use computational methods to bring the theory I’m studying to life.

The GSAS of New York University is a good fit for me because it hosts the Center For Cosmology and Particle Physics (CCPP.) The CCPP has pioneered models, which explain cosmic acceleration without dark energy such as the DGP. As a result, it is the ideal place for me to conduct research in determining if dark energy is needed to explain cosmic expansion.

Currently, I’m interested in working with either professor Mathew Kleban or Roman Scoccimarro. Mathew Kleban’s research in quantum gravity interests me because it can shed light on why QFT does not give the correct prediction for the energy density in the vacuum. Professor Scoccimarro’s research on modifying General Relativity (GR) to account for the cosmological constant is of great interest because it can determine whether or not modified gravity can explain the value of the cosmological constant without dark energy.

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Joined: Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:43 am

Re: Critique my Statement of Purpose

Postby adamyos » Thu Oct 15, 2015 10:43 am

Not an expert. I am just like you, applying for grad school this year. But here is how it seemed to me:

1. The second paragraph about being a teacher and everything seems too long and a stretch as it deviates from what you have firmly established in the first para. I think it would be better if you could shorten it to 2-3 lines or so and append it towards the end of the of your SOP as a side thing.

2. Instead of writing, "While doing research I learned invaluable lessons..", write, "While doing research I learned...."

3. I think you should omit the sentence, "Currently, I am interested in working with either Prof. X or Y." because it seems to indicate that you are closing other options and is kinda off putting. Just omit this sentence, the rest of the paragraph about their work is fine as that gives sufficient hint about your inclination without being direct.

4. "I learned many advanced mathematical and programming techniques, which will be useful in research I do in the future.."
What advanced techniques? Briefly explain without technical jargon.

Also, I don't know how long your SOP is, but it seems kinda short. Maybe because of the formatting on this website.
All the best!

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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Critique my Statement of Purpose

Postby TakeruK » Thu Oct 15, 2015 11:40 am

An online word counter puts your SOP at about 650 words, which I think is a good length. I aimed for 750 words (1.5 pages single spaced) when I wrote mine. I also disagree with adamyos's suggestion to not specifically name Profs X and Y. However, they do make a good point that your current paragraph does sound like you are restricting yourself to these two professors only. I would modify that paragraph to make it sound like those two professors are two potential people you could work with, not the only two people you want to work with.

Also keep in mind that some schools' writing centers will not help you correct your spelling and grammar, but instead, will only be able to help with things like brainstorming ideas, forming arguments and outlining a draft. But of course you would know your own writing center best. Just saying this because if you have not yet gone, be prepared for a different level of "service" than you expect.

I agree with adamyos's suggestion to remove unnecessary words. Usually this means you can remove adjectives such as "invaluable". And, there are some cases where, in my opinion, you are not using the appropriate word. The writing center may point these out, but they also may not. After all, what you are writing is technically and grammatically correct, however, it is not strong writing and not the "norm" in physics writing.

A few other examples of things to remove/modify:

i. "postulating dark energy" ---> maybe "invoking" or "requiring" is better than "postulating"; postulating has the correct meaning, but I just feel this is a use of a "fancy" word when a more simple word would suffice. But it could just be me.

ii. "conduct theoretical research in these models" ---> here, I feel like too many words are used to say a simple idea. Since this is just the introduction, you might just say something like "I am interested in determining whether these models can explain ...." ; then, later on you should give examples of how you would like to do this

iii. In paragraph 2, you write about how you want to become a professor but then you focus all on teaching. Most schools will not consider teaching a primary function of a professor. I think you should shorten this section and move it to a later section (focus on research first, and address this near the end where most people write about their future career plans / why they want to go to grad school).

iv. "My research experience consists of ... " ---> You can say it more simply: "I worked with Professor David Mugglin ...."

v. "From consider this, ...." ---> Just remove this, get to the point: "I learned to manipulate ...."

vi. "Prior to my research, I downplayed the importance of numerical methods in theory." ---> Remove this. I don't see how this content can help your case. Modify the sentence that follows to use say that this experience taught you to use more computational methods!

vii. I don't think you ever defined DGP. In addition, I would recommend you just do not use abbreviations at all, except for maybe CCPP if that's what the CCPP refers to itself. In most cases, you use the long form once and define the abbreviation but then you only use the abbreviated form one other time. It's not worth defining an abbreviation if you aren't going to use it repeatedly---just spell it out the long way both times. Abbreviations like DGP, or PDP or KAM might mean a lot to you and others who study what you study, but remember that the admissions committee will consists of all sorts of physics professors, and these abbreviations will not come naturally. (Also, you define GR at the very end but do not even use it again!)

viii. "Professor Scoccimarro's research is ... of great interests ...." ---> remove "great"

I think the first thing you should do to strengthen your SOP is to remove unnecessary words and make your writing a little tighter. Maybe one reason why adamyos felt your SOP is short (even though the word count isn't that short) was that despite being wordy, it didn't have a lot of content. I hope that was not too harsh---I am trying to be honest and helpful. Once you edit out extra words, you would then know how much space you have left to add more content. Here are some ideas on additional content to include (i.e. what questions I had for you when I read your SOP draft):

1. Why do you want a PhD? That is, what are your specific academic and career goals that you will achieve with a PhD?
2. How will a PhD in Cosmology and Particle Physics help you achieve the above goals?
3. How does CCPP specifically help you achieve these goals? You said a few things and gave example faculty, which is good. But I think you can make a stronger case.
4. What are the outcomes of your undergraduate research projects? You say what you did and who you worked with. But what happened in the end? Did you present the work? Did you publish? Did you write a report? How were your results used? Did others in the group follow up on your research? Did you create a new method or tool to help the group? Tell us about your impact!

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Joined: Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:43 am

Re: Critique my Statement of Purpose

Postby adamyos » Mon Oct 26, 2015 12:14 am

I think TakeruK has given quite thorough and useful advice. Do try and implement it and follow up with your drafts.

Btw, thanks a lot TakeruK. The last set of questions helped me as well to improve my SOP. :)

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