My Statement Of Purpose as a Mathematics PhD Student

Why is SOP important?

A well-written Statement Of Purpose is an extremely significant element during your admission process. While the academic record and other exam scorecards, academic transcripts and backlog certificates are essentially objective in nature, an SOP is the only truly subjective aspect of your application. It is the only document in your application that gives you the opportunity to prove that you have something unique which makes you stand out from the crowd. As such, it is the document of your application docket that can hugely determine your admission.

My Statement Of Purpose as a PhD Student

I aspire to earn a PhD in mathematics and to conduct societally significant research as a professor at a college or university. This path weaves together three strong interests of mine that have been developing steadily for years: mathematics, the environment, and education. The Ohio State University PhD program provides excellent opportunities to develop further in each area.

Though it has taken me some time to recognize it, I have long been a mathematician at heart. Although I majored in biology at Carleton, I took math courses wherever they fit into my schedule. I delighted in discovering interdisciplinary applications and pursued an independent study of probability models of DNA sequence evolution with math professor Bob Dobrow. In my post-college years, my interest in math continued to crop up persistently. Whether designing experiments in the genetics lab at Harvard Medical School or balancing forces in a rustic rigging system with the Student Conservation Association, I gravitated to quantitative analysis. In late 2011, Donella Meadows’ book Thinking in Systems1 piqued my interest in math as a lens for understanding and protecting the natural world. Mindful of my life-long inclination towards math and eager to explore the intersection between math and sustainability, I embarked on the Smith post-bac program.

My time at Smith has deepened my love for math and my desire to pursue a mathematical career. Immediately upon my arrival, I learned of an exciting opportunity in environmental modeling with theoretical hydrologist Andrew Guswa. I joined his research team this past summer and helped develop tools that support the valuation of ecosystem services such as fresh water supply and flood mitigation. Data scarcity poses a considerable barrier to the quantification of ecosystem services worldwide, so we devised a stochastic model that downscales temporally coarse rainfall data to improve predictions of the rainfall-runoff water balance. This project, which was completed in consultation to the Natural Capital Project, gave me valuable practice in applying math to real-world problems and collaborating with partners in and outside of academia. I provide further details on this and two other formative Smith research experiences in a supplemental document.

The post-bac program has offered experience not only in applied mathematics but also in the foundational areas of algebra and analysis. I am drawn to the abstraction and rigor that connects concepts throughout mathematics, and my appreciation for the structure of the field as a whole has matured. For example, our recent studies in real analysis have stimulated my interest in measure theory as the basis of probability, and I plan to study it independently in the coming months. I look forward to deepening my grounding in mathematics through graduate coursework, learning not only tools for application but also the theory that makes them work.

In the long term, I aspire to conduct research and teach as a professor at a college or university. I hope to create innovative mathematical tools that support the sustainability of our society – for example, by improving climate forecasts, natural resource stewardship, or human infrastructure efficiency. The teaching component of graduate work and professorship also appeals to me. I have consistently enjoyed working as a TA, tutor, and substitute teacher. At Carleton College, my interests and promise in teaching were recognized with the Jefferson Natural Sciences Teaching Award. Whether holding a TA session, studying with classmates, or meeting with my research group, I have a tendency to jump up to the chalkboard and build a common understanding by visually representing our ideas. This inclination towards communication will help me both as an educator and as a research collaborator.

The Ohio State University PhD program is an excellent fit for me in several ways. The strength of the faculty in many fields including applied mathematics, mathematical biology, and probability would provide great opportunities to explore these interests. The integrated mathematics department makes it possible to explore multiple areas before settling on a thesis topic. Furthermore, working with students as a teaching associate would help me to grow as an educator. For all these reasons, I would be delighted to pursue my graduate education at Ohio State University.