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SOP: Coping with personal problems


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6 replies to this topic

#1 joshux

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 02:55 PM

Hello ,
I'm a computer science undergrad going to apply to grad school (Masters in CS) and I'm preparing my SOP.

I really liked my field and have interest in doing research. Though In my first few years of college, I suffered from social anxiety which crippled my grades. However I tried to overcome it with determination. At present, my social anxiety is almost solved.

I've read the great book Graduate Admission Essays by Donald Asher. By his advice of explaining low grades is:
(i) It has to be in the past (ii) It has to be resolved (iii) It has to be sympathetic (iv) It should unlikely be recur in grad school.
Though I think I meet most of the criteria. I'm not sure is this (social anxiety) sympathetic enough. My question is at what length should I mention it in the essay? Should make it my major thesis or just a paragraph in the middle or not even mention it ?

One of my concern is that if it's a psychology or some humanity programs it may seem ok to mention this, since they are about people. But this is a CS program.

Thanks.
Josh

Edited by joshux, 06 March 2012 - 02:55 PM.

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#2 psychgurl

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 03:10 PM

I've heard that it's better to have your recommendation writers address any issues with grades. I would keep your personal statement as positive as possible.

Good luck!
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"Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light." -Albus Dumbledore


#3 surefire

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 04:06 PM

Hello ,
I'm a computer science undergrad going to apply to grad school (Masters in CS) and I'm preparing my SOP.

I really liked my field and have interest in doing research. Though In my first few years of college, I suffered from social anxiety which crippled my grades. However I tried to overcome it with determination. At present, my social anxiety is almost solved.

I've read the great book Graduate Admission Essays by Donald Asher. By his advice of explaining low grades is:
(i) It has to be in the past (ii) It has to be resolved (iii) It has to be sympathetic (iv) It should unlikely be recur in grad school.
Though I think I meet most of the criteria. I'm not sure is this (social anxiety) sympathetic enough. My question is at what length should I mention it in the essay? Should make it my major thesis or just a paragraph in the middle or not even mention it ?

One of my concern is that if it's a psychology or some humanity programs it may seem ok to mention this, since they are about people. But this is a CS program.

Thanks.
Josh


Hi Josh,

Congrats on your aspirations!

Let me start by saying, I think that you should address it in your SOP. The amount of space that you spend depends on the word limit (I wouldn't spend a whole paragraph is the SOP limit is 500 words) and how concisely you can effectively address it. You need to do more than just acknoweldge it (which you can do in one sentence). You have to address the parameters that Asher has laid out (which I think you could do in about 3-4 sentences). I would use it as a side theme, not a foundational emphasis (that is, use the experience as evidence of what you should be professing throughout the SOP, that you are capable).

Adcomms need to know that you can finish the degree. To effectively address the issue, you need to approach the grades/anxiety thing as something that you proactively addressed, rather than something that just happened to you unfairly. Your effectiveness is steeped in your emphasis in what you did about it, and less about what happened. If you OWN it in this fashion, you can aspire to make the experience part of your positive self-promotion, rather than something that needs to be dragged into the light only to be quickly/superficially excused and then swept back under the rug.

When I sat on an adcomm, the most boring SOPs were the ones from students who had consistent performance but had met with no challenges. I'm not talking about life-altering, biopic-worthy stuff necessarily; just something to show that you developed some resourcefulness (for example, a student who maintained consistent grades while holding down a part time job was more impressive than one with just the consistent grades, a student who challenged herself to take advanced theory even though it was scary because she knew it would benefit her honours thesis or grad school aspirations is better than one who padded their GPA with "bird course 101" in their last year).

An analogy that might help. Your credit rating is something you build on with good planning and performance, though it can be upset profoundly by life events. You aim to maintain a good score because a positive rep will provide opportunities later on. while a good rating is ideal, a less-than-perfect rating is still preferable to no rating, because people providing the opportunities don't know how bad a "no rating" candidate might be. Applicants with okay grades but who have not overcome anything, are kind of like "no rating" candidates, they haven't had their mettle tested, which leaves one wondering, when they are faced with their first bout of adversity in grad school, will they weather it or have a total meltdown? (Note: this is not to say that we all don't have our own struggles ect; but adcomms can only know what they can glean from info provided; if you don't show, they can't tell; if you don't describe/address events, they can't infer that, "well, I'm sure that they sorted that out somehow...")

Ultimately, I WOULD advise you to address it. AND I would suggest that you use the space as an opportunity to show that you have been tested (it helps if the anxiety is confirmed by a doctor or other authority), that you came out on the other side (this helps if you site something specific and proactive, like if you sought out the academic skills centre for help, this is more compelling then, "I overcame it with sheer determination"), and that you still have the drive not DESPITE the experience, but because you used the experience to help build a skill set that you are able to draw upon for future problem-solving and success. I would recommend that you show drafts of your SOP to your LOR writers, to ensure that you are coming across in the desired way.

Side bar: My partner is a video game developer and works with a litany of programmers, coders and computer science people. I'm not endorsing a stereotype, but there is a lot of shared experience amongst his colleagues concerning social anxiety. I think that it is VERY LIKELY that your experience will be met with empathy (as I've said, however, I would encourage you to aim to not just garner understanding, but to use the experience/SOP space to drive home the point that you are a capable, tested candidate).

Best of luck!

Edited by surefire, 06 March 2012 - 04:08 PM.

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#4 Hillary Emick

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Posted 13 March 2012 - 04:12 PM

I think you can address this in your SOP. Do not write this in a way that frames this as a reason for bad grades, frame this in a way that shows how you have overcome adversity to be successful academically. Make it a description of an asset not a deficit.
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#5 joshux

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 04:24 PM

Hello, thanks for your replies, especially fuzzylogician's. It's very helpful.
btw, here are my SOP draft. Hope you can give me any feedback. Thanks in advance.

==SOP for CS (Interactive Entertainment Technology Master)==

When entering college, somehow I didn't adapt to the social life. I started being nervous talking to people and became depressed because of lacking connection with people. At times I was devoid of motivation to do anything. But deep in my heart, I was sure I can recover. I am an optimistic person. I believe that with knowledge and our own strengths, we can conquer many things. In facing my problems, I started seeking professional help and read self-help books written by professional psychologists. After my junior year, I decided to take an year leave to serve the social service in advance as an assistant in the fire department. After learning life saving skills and getting some real world experience, I realized my self worth in helping others. I became more confident toward people. I went back to school refreshed with renewed energy toward my studies.


When I was first introduced to programming, I was curious of how computers can follow logical command to solve problems. This guides me to study computer science at college. After serving social service and returning to school, I took a course in digital visual effects taught by professor YXZ. I became interested in using computer vision and computer graphics techniques to create stunning effects in videos an photographs. This interest leads to my senior project: special relativity in augmented reality. The project extracts foreground object from live video and then apply Lorentz transformation on the object to simulate length contraction phenomenon in special relativity.


My interest in the technical field and the experience of overcoming my problems drives me to thinking of this problem: can technology assist human to motivate themselves? In my last semester, I did a course project designing a computer system training brain concentration. While it is not hard to teach the usage of the software, I realized the intricacies in motivating users to keep practicing. Interactive entertainment technology holds a good example of creating engagement in users. Millions of enthusiastic gamers in the world spend significant amount of time and energy playing games. If we can take the elements from games and apply it to the real world, we may motivate people toward what they want to achieve.



My goal of pursuing this degree is to try learn technical aspects of games as much as possible. Ultimately, to create a great game to shape the world, or to do research in this area. XYZ's group has abundant research results in computer graphics and visualization. In addition, the ABC physics engine demonstrates that XYZ has emphasis on practical applications. I believe XYZ is my school of choice.


Edited by joshux, 05 July 2012 - 04:27 PM.

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#6 fuzzylogician

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 05:14 PM

Hello, thanks for your replies, especially fuzzylogician's. It's very helpful.

:huh: I can't remember a reply to this post and also can't seem to find such a response. But hey, you're welcome!

btw, here are my SOP draft. Hope you can give me any feedback. Thanks in advance.

I'll try and give general feedback at the paragraph level. There's some polishing to do in terms of style and grammar, but I think you're not quite there yet.

==SOP for CS (Interactive Entertainment Technology Master)==

When entering college, somehow I didn't adapt to the social life. I started being nervous talking to people and became depressed because of lacking connection with people. At times I was devoid of motivation to do anything. But deep in my heart, I was sure I can recover. I am an optimistic person. I believe that with knowledge and our own strengths, we can conquer many things. In facing my problems, I started seeking professional help and read self-help books written by professional psychologists. After my junior year, I decided to take an year leave to serve the social service in advance as an assistant in the fire department. After learning life saving skills and getting some real world experience, I realized my self worth in helping others. I became more confident toward people. I went back to school refreshed with renewed energy toward my studies.

This ENTIRE paragraph is irrelevant and should not appear in your SOP. It doesn't teach the adcom anything (professional) about you as an applicant - your interests, your fit, your future plans. Spending a whole paragraph - 25% of your text - surveying your social skills and personal development in college is completely beside the point of a Statement of Purpose (maybe less so for a Personal Statement which is sometimes required in addition to the SOP).


When I was first introduced to programming, I was curious of how computers can follow logical command to solve problems. This guides me to study computer science at college. After serving social service and returning to school, I took a course in digital visual effects taught by professor YXZ. I became interested in using computer vision and computer graphics techniques to create stunning effects in videos an photographs. This interest leads to my senior project: special relativity in augmented reality. The project extracts foreground object from live video and then apply Lorentz transformation on the object to simulate length contraction phenomenon in special relativity.

OK, this paragraph could be worked into a good opening paragraph. It highlights your interests and relevant background, which are both crucial aspects of a successful SOP.

My interest in the technical field and the experience of overcoming my problems drives me to thinking of this problem: can technology assist human to motivate themselves? In my last semester, I did a course project designing a computer system training brain concentration. While it is not hard to teach the usage of the software, I realized the intricacies in motivating users to keep practicing. Interactive entertainment technology holds a good example of creating engagement in users. Millions of enthusiastic gamers in the world spend significant amount of time and energy playing games. If we can take the elements from games and apply it to the real world, we may motivate people toward what they want to achieve.

Here you could work ONE sentence from the first paragraph into the text. BRIEFLY explain that your personal development but don't make it the main point of the paragraph. This paragraph is key - it details your current and future interests. I'm no expert, but your description seems vague and too general. Could you work out a few more details? Explain how you'll apply gaming/interactive environments to whatever CS system you're developing (or whatever it is you're doing, my ignorance is showing here). It seems to me that you've mentioned one very vague tool that could be harnessed in some way, but you didn't explain how or what for.


My goal of pursuing this degree is to try learn technical aspects of games as much as possible. Ultimately, to create a great game to shape the world, or to do research in this area. XYZ's group has abundant research results in computer graphics and visualization. In addition, the ABC physics engine demonstrates that XYZ has emphasis on practical applications. I believe XYZ is my school of choice.

No offense, but your goal seems grandiose even for an established professor's research program, let alone for a MA student. Wanting to "create a great game to shape the world" is certainly not something you could hope to achieve in a two-year program. Therefore, your explanation of fit seems out of context. Scale it down to something more manageable for the program you're applying to. Keep it realistic. And then explain fit better - saying that X's group has a lot of research in area Y does not explain how it's relevant for your plans. Be specific, explain how the work is related to your proposed project.
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The advice in this post is based on my own personal experience. YMMV.
Pardon my typos..

#7 joshux

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 09:29 PM

Sorry, I was referring to surfire. Apology to both of you.
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