Higher Education > Advanced Advice

A Sample Graduate School Personal Statement

A continuation of the article Getting Personal, this sample statement follows the rules outlined in the article.

By Joe Schall


Growing up in Canada with a life-long fascination for Canadian geography and the environment, I have always been interested in returning to the country. Although my family moved to the United States before I entered high school, I have always kept my eyes turned north, especially in recent years as I began to read journal articles about research conducted at the University of Alberta on John Evans Glacier, located about 80° N latitude. Now I see the opportunity to return to my birthplace and study a topic I am passionate about. Graduating next semester with a B.S. in computer science and engineering and a minor in geographic information systems, I am especially interested in attending the University of Alberta for graduate study.

Geographic information systems (GIS) is a field especially suited to investigating spatial patterns, unearthing elusive geographic parameters, modeling diverse scenarios and overlaying spatial data. This semester, in my advanced GIS course, Spatial Data Structures and Algorithms, I am part of a team developing a temporal database and program for tracing historical trading data. My computer science skills have also been put to use in two summer internship projects, where I acquired proficiency with using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology, now favored by NASA in its current 10-year study of Greenland and changes in the ice cap extent. Through my coursework and project experience, I have also accrued skills in using Arc/Info, ArcView, Microstation, and RDBMS software packages, and I am equally comfortable programming in Visual Basic, C++ and Java.

For my graduate research project, I would like to investigate methods for improving current GIS data models to better incorporate time as a variable in studying climate change. Changes in glaciers and polar environments occur rapidly, and these changes become important indicators of broader, potentially catastrophic, global changes. By developing and applying temporal GIS methods to glaciology, I can contribute to improved spatio-temporal analysis techniques that will provide better insights into the factors impacting the polar environment and glaciers. In addition, I can discern which temporal methods generally serve as the best predictors, and provide benefits to the GIS research community that apply to areas other than glaciology.

Once completing my master's program, my long-term goals include either entering the GIS field as a professional consultant or continuing my research and earning my Ph.D. at another program of international reputation. Having advanced experience with temporal GIS technology would make me a valuable consultant to a company, especially in the twin burgeoning fields of computer science and GIS. If I decide to continue on the research path, I would be most interested in a Ph.D. program that allows me to conduct field research in Antarctica.

The University of Alberta is an ideal location for my master's degree study because it allows me to integrate my facility for computer science with my chosen application area—geology. My academic advisors and my own research into your university programs have confirmed your strengths in both computer science and glaciology, and the recent application of these areas to field research at Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, is especially appealing to me. With my deep-rooted interest in Canadian geology and recognition of the quality of your university programs, I hope you will give my application every consideration.

For more information on writing grad school personal statements, read the full article Getting Personal, from Graduating Engineer & Computer Careers, Nov. 2000.

Joe Schall is the Giles Writer-in-Residence for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

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Higher Education > Advanced Advice

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