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Need help updating my statement of purpose

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Hi everyone! I am applying for grad school this autumn for physics. I applied last year but decided to teach for a year and I need help updating my SOP, critiquing it for mistakes and I need to remove some parts so I can fit the new bits in and I'm not sure what to change. The things I need to add are:

IOP teaching scholarship: http://www.iop.org/education/teach/itts/page_52632.html

The fact I am studying physics teaching as a PGCE

My institution is now ranked 2nd for physics in the country (UK)

The statement:

My interest in physics began by reading books in the school library. I was most excited by the “big” questions in science, which look at the abnormalities occurring at both the particle and cosmic scales. This gave me a broad insight into the world of physics. To satisfy my curiosity further, I subsequently attended public university lectures (Southampton University) for around three years. Because I am the first generation of my family to go to university and had limited exposure to academia through family connections, my early learning and development was a direct result of extensive individual perseverance with minimal support at home. I also come from a low income family so I receive a government maintenance grant and other awards to fund my studies at university.

My passion developed into a more professional experience during my time at 6th form (senior in high school) where I undertook extra studies in addition to my high school courses. Several Open University short courses were completed which consisted of 100 hours of individual work using online study tools. During this time I also devised and conducted an experiment to calculate the total power radiated from the sun, analysed the data and presented my results in the form of a dissertation and an oral presentation to a large audience of prospective students and their parents.

I worked with professors at the University of Southampton during a publically funded summer placement (Nuffield Science Bursary) before starting university. This focussed on conducting holographic research and allowed me to perform a project to evaluate the performance characteristics of optical filters. I summarised my research in a formal report and a poster presentation at UCL, for which I won an award (Exscitec Platinum Award). I gained invaluable research experience during this one-month, full time project and was convinced that my future career would be in research physics. My enthusiasm is still growing after a further four years of full-time study.

Currently I am in the final year of an undergraduate masters degree in Physics with Particle Physics and Cosmology at the University of Birmingham. For my individual final year project I am carrying out original research using the ?→?+?− final state in the ATLAS experiment. I am using simulated data to evaluate the potential sensitivity to detect physics beyond the Standard Model, which would manifest itself as a statistically significant excess relative to the background-only hypothesis. This work is carried out by using, editing and writing code in a C++ based OO framework (ROOT) in a linux environment. Approximately half of the credit for my final year consists of taught courses that are directly relevant to my plans for a PhD in High Energy Astrophysics, as shown on my transcript.

As part of my degree I chose to carry out a large amount of practical work, varying from nuclear and photonics based projects, each of around five weeks in duration, to shorter one-week experiments in various fields that provide a well-rounded experimental background. The effective use of data analysis software (ImageJ, QTI plot, ROOT packages etc.) and practical computing skills form an integral part of these experiments. For example in the nuclear lab project, we determined the most efficient way of calculating the decay time of the excited state of Neptunium-237 is by fitting Gaussian peaks to describe the data and extract mean values, widths and their corresponding uncertainties. I also have wider programming experience through dedicated classes in C++, MATLAB and ROOT. In the C++ class I decided to design a program to model the spread of disease with an FLTK user interface, as part of an assessed project. I am also teaching myself python in anticipation of using it during further study.

While my final year project is supervised by two senior research physicists, I also have experience of working as part of a collaboration of 16 undergraduates during an 11 week period, investigating the feasibility of a future ?+?− collider as a successor to the LHC. In this student-led project, we divided the work into four subgroups, each addressing a distinct activity and allowing us to demonstrate the ability to function independently. I decided to lead the ‘detector’ subgroup, where we evaluated the optimal technological choices to ensure that we would be able to study the properties of the Higgs boson as well as allowing sensitivity to new physics scenarios that could mimic the known Standard Model processes. In addition, I chose to investigate the feasibility of detecting particles that are predicted to exist in the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model (MSSM). As part of this, I took the initiative to learn about, install and use the SOFTSUSY package to calculate the mass spectrum and allowed parameter space within the MSSM. The final output of all of these studies were presented in an afternoon of oral presentations to staff and fellow students and a collaboratively written report in LaTeX.

I am applying to the United States due to the quality of research in my desired field of study. Another reason I am applying is because the structures of the PhDs are more suited to my interests, as they will allow me to develop my teaching skills. I am very keen to share my enthusiasm for the subject with other students, in particular at the undergraduate level. This interest in teaching stems from a five week placement completed at a local high school in 2014. During this placement I took the opportunity to teach 16-18 year old students physics in both a classroom and laboratory environment. I also designed experiments that are now being used by the current generation of students.

My specific interest in the course at the University of Chicago is the research currently undertaken in High Energy Astrophysics. I would like to work as part of a leading research project in High Energy Astrophysics in a field such as dark matter, especially if it would allow me to develop advanced detectors, for example as part of the Dark Energy Survey experiment. My strong background in particle physics and astrophysics, coupled with my experience in detector physics, would allow me to make a meaningful contribution to the ongoing work at the University of Chicago.

Throughout my education I have attained a high level of physics knowledge, research skills and cultivated a real passion for the subject. I believe that my career to date demonstrates my independence, perseverance and dedication to physics, and that this will allow me to succeed in graduate school.

Any general advice would also be appreciated!

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