Statement of Purpose

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

User avatar
jdhooghe
Posts: 204
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2007 9:28 pm

Statement of Purpose

Postby jdhooghe » Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:18 pm

Anyone have any tips? Thanks :)

christopher3.14
Posts: 65
Joined: Thu Feb 14, 2008 2:19 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby christopher3.14 » Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:48 pm

Of course, I can only speak from my own experience, but I think one major mistake I made early on was to submit a statement that basically summarized my transcript. Looking back at that old statement now, I can just imagine the hundreds of essays that sound exactly the same.

My second time around I got tips from my med school and english major friends -- I don't have any friends in the sciences -- and wrote about why I want to pursue the PhD and, specifically, how and why I became interested in physics and condensed matter. The second time around a lot of my personality came through -- ballsy intro, playful sentences, analogies, etc.

I never went into detail in what I'd like to study except for a single sentence (i.e. never made it too technical). It worked for me, overall, but I'm interested to know what other people wrote about.

User avatar
zxcv
Posts: 402
Joined: Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:08 pm

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby zxcv » Sat Apr 26, 2008 9:00 pm

My focus with my SOP was to demonstrate my experience and qualifications to do research in physics. I briefly described how I got interested in physics and a few distinguishing qualities of my undergrad education. Then I reviewed my research experiences in great detail, ending with a short technical description of work that I was hoping to publish. I emphasized concrete facts and things I did rather than general feelings. I ended with a paragraph explaining why a particular school was a good fit for me and my research interests.

From what I've heard, it's more important to emphasize your qualifications than your motivations. It's easy for admissions committees to believe that you're interested in physics, as otherwise you wouldn't have gone through all the trouble to make a strong application. Nearly everyone who applies is passionate about physics. What distinguishes you is how well you've demonstrated an aptitude in science.

Worth reading: Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher

This guy is great.

User avatar
twistor
Posts: 1531
Joined: Thu Apr 13, 2006 2:47 pm

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby twistor » Sat Apr 26, 2008 11:39 pm

I wrote about how I became interested in the field, talked about why I chose the undergraduate research that I did and what I accomplished in doing, why I wanted to pursue graduate studies at the places I applied to and why I thought would be successful in graduate school.

Don't make it too long. 1 page is sufficient.

christopher3.14
Posts: 65
Joined: Thu Feb 14, 2008 2:19 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby christopher3.14 » Sun Apr 27, 2008 7:08 am

A good idea would be to have your referees read it. These people sometimes sit on admissions committees and could offer a lot of good insight.

User avatar
kobayashi_maru
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat May 10, 2008 1:53 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby kobayashi_maru » Sun May 11, 2008 11:40 pm

zxcv wrote:Worth reading: Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher

This guy is great.


The edition referenced above is out of stock. But based on your recommendation I just picked up the latest edition. Amazon offers it bundled with How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for $25, so I got them both.

User avatar
fermiboy
Posts: 437
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2007 7:41 pm

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby fermiboy » Mon May 12, 2008 7:18 pm

The Asher books are excellent. I highly recommend them to everyone for help with their SOPs.

astrofan
Posts: 140
Joined: Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:55 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby astrofan » Thu Jul 17, 2008 6:16 pm

I have seen this a lot on the forums, and really don't understand the emphasis everyone puts on the SOP. I talked to a professor at my school who is frequently on the admission comitte. Now, I don't go to a top 10 school, but he said that the comitte barley looks at the SOP. He said "personality" in the SOP neither helps nor hurts your cause.

He said there are two reasons for it:

1. Make sure the student is interested in studying an area of physics that the school actually researches in. He wants to see what you did research in and what you are interested in studying. Moreover, it is a cut for international students; make sure they are acutally interested in physics and not just trying to get out of their country. It helps if you can make it flow throughout the SOP rather than just stating what you want to study, but it is not make or break.

2. Make sure the student understands what reasearch is really about. No matter what you are studying, it is far less exciting than the media portrays. Hunting supernovae is a lot of tedius data crunching, with the exciting science a result of countless hours of analysis.

I guess this logic would not be applicable for eliete schools, since the students they are looking at would not have the above problems.

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby grae313 » Thu Jul 17, 2008 7:17 pm

:shrug: I took time to make sure my SOP was a solid piece of interesting writing that really represented me, my strengths, and what I was after. I think it just stands to logic that the SOP will make or break an application in *far fewer* instances than something more important like grades or test scores, but a strong SOP is still part of having an overall strong application. Coming from an unknown school with unknown professors, I wanted to do everything I could to have no weak points in my application.

astrofan wrote:I have seen this a lot on the forums, and really don't understand the emphasis everyone puts on the SOP. I talked to a professor at my school who is frequently on the admission comitte. Now, I don't go to a top 10 school, but he said that the comitte barley looks at the SOP. He said "personality" in the SOP neither helps nor hurts your cause.

He said there are two reasons for it:

1. Make sure the student is interested in studying an area of physics that the school actually researches in. He wants to see what you did research in and what you are interested in studying. Moreover, it is a cut for international students; make sure they are acutally interested in physics and not just trying to get out of their country. It helps if you can make it flow throughout the SOP rather than just stating what you want to study, but it is not make or break.

2. Make sure the student understands what reasearch is really about. No matter what you are studying, it is far less exciting than the media portrays. Hunting supernovae is a lot of tedius data crunching, with the exciting science a result of countless hours of analysis.

I guess this logic would not be applicable for eliete schools, since the students they are looking at would not have the above problems.

FortranMan
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Jul 01, 2008 12:42 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby FortranMan » Sat Oct 11, 2008 12:11 am

Okay, i having a short personal statement bad? Like under 500 words? For Illinois Urbana they have a 1000 word limit, and for UC Santa Cruz they say they want a "concise 2-4 pages". Should I be worried?

So far I've been writing my statements strictly from the questions or info they ask. Usually they tend to ask what are your goals in studying physics, what are your future/professional goals after school, why you want to study what your studying (the worst), and why are you applying to their school.

I then break down and answer each question one on one, then try to put them together into a coherent paper that flows well. I'm getting to the point with some of these statements that I'm just copying what I wrote from other essays (especially for my academic and professional goals), though tweaking it here and there to stay relevant to the school. For why I'm applying to their school, I try to go through their faculty list and look for people studying stuff I find interesting and that I think I can correlate with my chosen field, plus you should be going through this stuff anyway as one of these people will be your lord and master for +4 years.

Is this too direct? Do I really need to write I full blown essay with a thesis or some long heart warming story about my personal life with physics? Is it wrong to keep an essay short and to the point? Am I just wasting my time fussing about personal statements when I should be more worried about my GRE scores since that's all they're going to look at anyway?

And if you ask "dude, why are you writing your statements so early", well, it's because one of my recommenders, even though he is prompt, demands you send a copy of your personal statements to him weeks in advance of the deadline so that he could use it to help write your recommendations. This is also compounded with having gone through the trauma of watching 3 of my applications explode on the launch pad as I realized that while UPenn is cool with late scores, Berkeley, Cornell, and UC San Diego are NOT.

User avatar
trani
Posts: 108
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2008 1:04 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby trani » Sat Oct 11, 2008 1:24 pm

Quote from Berkeley website:

"To meet the December 15 deadline, applicants should take the GRE-Subject Test in Physics and General Exam by October 2008. Please note, the latest acceptable subject test offering is November 8, 2008."

They are cool with the scores...

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby grae313 » Mon Oct 13, 2008 4:21 pm

Everyone is cool with the scores. Just call them up, tell them when you are taking the exam and when the scores will be there, and you will be fine.

FortranMan
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Jul 01, 2008 12:42 am

Re: Statement of Purpose

Postby FortranMan » Fri Oct 17, 2008 3:12 pm

Well I contacted Cornell and they're cool, though they could have been less stern about when they were REALLY willing to accept test scores by on their site. UC San Diego is pretty clear about this, they'll consider you "if there are spots available". I have yet to hear from Berkley regarding this.

ETS states it takes 4-6 weeks to get your score from the test date to the institution you're applying to, and knowing my luck the latest it'll be arriving is Dec. 19.




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Yahoo [Bot] and 3 guests