Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Graduate School Applications

Well, after the two month-plus ordeal of getting off my Churchill and Cambridge applications, I have to start all over again. Most Computer Science graduate school applications are due in roughly 1 month, so now is prime time for making sure that everything will get turned in on time.

The past few days I have been spending most of my time on the Statement of Purpose. While I have already written more than 6 drafts for my Personal Statement (for fellowships), these two documents are completely different entities. While recommendations, transcripts, and GRE scores are common to both fellowship applications and graduate school applications, the personal statement serves two very different purposes.

For fellowships, the Personal Statement is a motivational essay about how you enjoy research, how it's your only goal in life, and to present the air of having your whole life and research direction planned out. In this way, it is a contest to have the most appealing story, and it shouldn't be surprising that these are more airy and idealistic. This is not helped at all by competitions like the NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which demands that in every section that you demonstrate how your research proposal, personal statement, etc. has "broader impacts" on society beyond Computer Science. This may be easy if you work in a cancer lab ("I want to cure cancer!"), an oceanography lab ("i want to save the whales!"), or a climate lab ("I want to stop global warming!"), but invites foolish writing. How can you tie researching process calculi to saving humanity?

For graduate school applications, the statement of purpose is much simpler: you only need to say what research interests you and why, explain why you would be a good graduate student, and why you should attend school X. In this way it is more of a written interview for a research job. Phillip Guo makes the same distinction in his useful writing on fellowship applications. I have also found Jean Yang's series of posts about applying to graduate school as a useful measuring stick, as she applied to the same caliber of schools that I intend to apply to (and in the same field approximately).

Speaking of schools, here's my preliminary list of schools to which I'll be applying. I hope to have the list finalized by the end of the week, because GRE scores and such need to start moving to the schools soon.

1. University of Washington
2. University of Maryland
3. University of Texas-Austin
4. University of Colorado-Boulder
5. Purdue University

UW is the overwhelming first choice, because Steph has a full time position in Redmond. There are also several professors at UW whose research I like (Grossman, Ernst, Notkin, Eggers, Ceze, to name a few). In the event I don't get accepted there, I would still find research at any of the other institutions to be interesting, but would not like the living situation very much.

There are two remaining hurdles before my applications are made: transcripts, and GRE scores. I have yet to get my Tohoku classes transferred to my Purdue transcript due to a series of frustrating delays. Hopefully the last of those will be a meeting on November 20. I also have yet to receive my GRE score report, since it was lost in a mailbox malfunction a few months ago, apparently. Should be receiving it this week or next.

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