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SOP review: CS master from the Netherlands

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The last time I asked for advice on my SOP didn’t go to well. This time I will include it here in full. Hopefully this will make it easier for people to review.

A short introduction about me to help with the review:

I’m a Dutch computer science major. Over the last couple of months, I have been developing my statement of purposes for the universities which I will be applying to. I'm finally at a point where I feel confident enough about my SOPs that I am willing to share it with people outside my family and references.

My transcript and GRE scores aren’t anywhere near what I had hope so a solid SOP is really important. My average is a 7.6 on a 10-point scale which translate to roughly a 3.4 – 3.6 GPA. My GRE is V:155, Q:163 and W:4.5.

For my letter of recommendations, I have found the following references:

1.     Associate Professor whom I will be assisting in research starting next month. He gave the project I did during his course last year a 10.

2.     Lecturer of the courses “Computer Architecture” and “Information Security”, I received good grades in both. He is not a professor but he is well known for his course on C++.

3.     Associate Professor in machine learning. He is well known for his work in Vector Quantization. Did part of his MS. at the University of Washington.

I am mostly interested in the research areas of CS Theory and AI/ML. Ideally, I would like to combine them both. I will be applying to the Ph.D. or MS. program at UCB, UW, GATech, UCSB, Toronto and Montreal. If all my applications would be unsuccessful I will probably continue with a master’s degree at my current university in the Netherlands. This is a top 100 school with a solid machine learning track, since I am guaranteed to be accepted here I decided to aim high.

Now, my statement of purpose, this version is focussed on the University of Washington. You can either read it below or in PDF format: Statement of Purpose – Anonymous.pdf

“ Dear Graduate Selection Committee,

My name is Jan Janssen, I am a Dutch computer science major born in a small town in the Netherlands. With this statement of purpose, I wish to show you why I would be a suitable candidate for your computer science Ph.D. program. Your incredible reputation in the field of machine learning and in particular the work of professor Kakade on the border of Computer Science Theory and machine learning is one of the reasons why I am applying to your program.

Although I was initially interested in the engineering aspect of computer science I became increasingly dedicated to an academic career throughout my bachelor degree. After my first year as a computer science major, I was fortunate enough to be accepted for a basic position at the software engineering department of Sadet, a security company in the Netherlands. During the following one and a half years, I have transitioned from this position to become a key member of the software engineering team while working on multiple projects for usage in both private and national security.

In the upcoming months, I will be putting aside my work at Sadet to make time to assist in research at the University of Groningen. While I do not expect to return to Sadet I do look with fondness upon the things I have learned while working here and how the experience was detrimental for my dedication towards a career in research. How exciting and innovation-driven the engineering field of computer science may be, in the end, it has a very volatile nature. I am determined to make long-lasting contributions to the field of computer science. To use the biggest cliché available, I wish to make the world a better place by pursuing a career in computer science research.

Before I explain my areas of interest further, I feel that I should address some aspects of my application, mainly my lackluster average grade and minimal research experience. During my undergraduate degree, I focused on getting experience in software engineering outside of the university environment. By doing so, I hoped to build a solid basis to build research experience and focus on my grades while studying for my master’s degree. I was confident that this would be the best preparation for a career in research at an institution in the United States. 

Over the last two years, a Psoriatic Arthritis diagnosis has increasingly been causing issues in my health. Issues with mobility in my lower back early last summer eventually made me realize that I did not want to wait the additional two years before pursuing my dreams. Since then I have worked on preparing myself for graduate school in the United States by improving my grades and looking for research positions. As I mentioned shortly before, from December onward I will be assisting professor Kaas Kop at the University of Groningen in his research. Due to the introductory nature of the Bachelor degree in the Netherlands, it is very unlikely for Bachelor students to get this opportunity. I am looking forward to experience what I can learn being handed this opportunity and I am dedicated to seize it to the fullest. 

With the experience gained assisting professor Kaas Kop in his research, combined with my upcoming bachelor thesis and background as a teaching assistant, I am confident that I will be able to deliver the experience required for your Ph.D. program. By joining this experience with my eagerness and unprecedented dedication to improving as a person and academic, I will be able to use it as pillar to build a long-lasting and successful academic career.

If I would be accepted to your computer science Ph.D. program there are two areas within the computer science field that I wish to explore and contribute to, Computer Science Theory and Artificial Intelligence. 

The field of computer science theory is in my view the reverse of the volatile engineering field of computer science I mentioned earlier. Over the last summer break, I read C. Shannon’s paper “a mathematical theory of communication” with the intention of improving my ability to read academic papers. Unintentionally this paper revealed my own interest in Computer Science Theory to me. Aside from the conceptual impact of Shannon’s paper the ever-lasting relevance of the topics explored fascinated me. Hopefully I will be able to contribute in research one day that has the same enduring impact.

The research area of Artificial Intelligence, and in particular machine learning, is the primary area that I wish to explore. Over the last few years I have seen the growing impact of machine learning in fields such as medicine and economics. How progress in machine learning research has opened up the possibility for computer scientist to contribute in other fields is something that I find inspiring. By contributing to research in machine learning and in particular vision and speech recognition, I wish to further revision our perspective on personal computing and robotics.

I have had the pleasure to be taught the basics of intelligent systems by professor Frank de Boer, a former visiting student at the University of Washington. His work on the boundary between CS theory and machine learning inspired me to search for universities that explore this same border. Work performed by professor Sham Kakade on machine learning theory and in particular his paper on accelerating stochastic descent is the perfect example of this.

Throughout my graduate degree I also wish to continue my current activities in educating people outside the academic community. By hosting talks at libraries and community centres I hope to educate them about current research and how this might influence their lives. Besides teaching being a life-long passion of mine, I also see it as an important part of our academic obligation.

Hopefully my statement of purpose was able to give you some insight into my motives for pursuing a graduate study and what I aim to do with it. I am positive that my interest in machine learning and theory combined with a passion for teaching will fit into your academic community.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Janssen “


Edited by DutchStudent
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