personal statements

(55 Posts)
stonecircle Sat 25-Jun-16 14:15:47

DS will be applying for uni in the autumn. I've been reading a lot lately about how personal statements should focus less on outside interests/other subjects and should give specific examples to support any claims to be 'passionate' etc about a subject.

He wants to do physics. I'm not sure how he can demonstrate his love of the subject. Other subjects are maths, computing and electronics and he's done things like build his own computer. But I can't think of anything specifically related to physics.

One of his brothers does geography and was able to write about his fossil collecting, being a member of the Royal Geographical Society etc.

I'm wondering if there are any physics societies he could join as a 17 year old. Any advice would be much appreciated.

OP’s posts: |
2rebecca Sat 25-Jun-16 15:02:22

Is he doing a project as part of his physics course? My son did advanced higher physics which includes an optional project and did a Youngs modulus experiment and talked about the relevance of that to engineering (he was doing mech eng). Talking about why he chose any optional bits (if there are any, when I did physics A level in the 80s it was inflexible) may be good.
Too late now for Nuffield foundation stuff.
? which area of physics he's interested in, why physics?
? astronomy society

stonecircle Sat 25-Jun-16 15:08:24

No he's not doing a project. He says straight physics rather than theoretical physics (I'm an Eng Lit grad so it's all a bit impenetrable to me).

OP’s posts: |
Iwasbornin1993 Sat 25-Jun-16 15:22:37

Can he find out if there are any public lectures he can go to at your closest University? Or there's often day courses on aimed at that age so they can get a 'taster day' of what studying the degree course can be like. Maybe you/he could look into this?

esornep Sat 25-Jun-16 16:31:31

There are many public lectures and events, both at universities, online and run by organisations such as New Scientist. See for example New Scientist Live events. Google an area of physics that he is interested in to find lots of online talks. There are also lots of popular science books about particle physics, astronomy, cosmology etc. Think also about the Physics Olympiads.

But in reality the personal statement will play little to no role for physics. Physics is under-subscribed except at the very top institutions (Oxbridge, Imperial etc). If he has the predicted grades he will get offers from everywhere outside the top half dozen. The top half dozen will look for high grades, high maths ability, interview, use aptitude tests etc. Whether he has gone to public lectures and read popular science books really won't play a role in the selection.

BTW a big part of physics is problem solving. Any evidence of problem solving skills is relevant to the personal statement.

stonecircle Sat 25-Jun-16 16:45:07

Very helpful thank you.

Esornep - which would you say are the best places for physics after Oxbridge/Imperial? He went to an open day and lecture at Imperial last week and is looking at Bath, Southampton and Edinburgh.

OP’s posts: |
esornep Sat 25-Jun-16 18:16:07

Manchester is very over-subscribed because of the Brian Cox factor. Places such as Durham ask for high grades because of their overall reputations.

I'm not sure that there is that much to choose between the top 15-20 physics courses. The incoming grades of students are higher at places such as Manchester/Durham etc but the courses are not themselves better than those at the places you mentioned and Bath, Southampton, Edinburgh are all very friendly departments. Outside Oxbridge, I don't think that the higher incoming grades of students mean that the courses are more challenging either. Research wise (which is important for physics courses, as research and teaching are heavily entwined) all top 15-20 departments will have world leading research in some areas and very strong research in other areas.


Leeds2 Sat 25-Jun-16 19:25:35

Could he maybe do an EPQ about something physics related?

My daughter went on half days courses to Kings and UCL last summer. Nothing to do with physics but I'm sure some would be available. They were free to those just completing Lower Sixth.

esornep Sat 25-Jun-16 20:11:02

I would not recommend EPQ for a prospective physics student; it carries virtually no value in university entrance for physics. (Although essay writing skills picked up by doing EPQ are obviously valuable in themselves.)

Taking Further Maths AS in year 13 (if he didn't take FM already) would be far more useful and really help in the first year of the physics degree.

eatyourveg Sat 25-Jun-16 20:55:38

The student room gives samples of physics personal statements if you want to read what others have written though there seems to be no way of telling how successful they were

Needmoresleep Sun 26-Jun-16 11:07:48

I am not sure about The Student Room. Some look awful. In so far as personal statements will be used, they will be scored. You should search University websites for PS guidance, and ensure your statement has covered everything on the list.

UCAS guidance

There was also some recent research into PSs showing different approaches, which may be worth a look.

The standard thing it is not just having done something, but what you gain from it.

HMF1 Sun 26-Jun-16 11:17:14

My oldest son has just completed his first year of an Mphys at Edinburgh, his personal statement was mostly about school achievements, heavy focus on maths as well as science. He had also undertaken a Nuffield placement at a local university looking at photovoltaic cells, that was significant I think as he had completed this in the summer holidays. He also joined the institute of Physics & started reading their journal ( it's free for students & the journal can be accessed online or you can pay for a paper copy).

eatyourveg Sun 26-Jun-16 13:36:49

Need that was why I made sure I added the point there was no way of telling how successful they were.

thesandwich Sun 26-Jun-16 17:19:30

There are loads of recent books about developments in science- dark matter, gravitational waves etc. He could read these sort of things/ new scientist etc over summer. Also look at research done by the unis he is applying to and research it some more.

DentalPrep Wed 10-Aug-16 15:13:09


I was on mumsnet just to see if any students/mums needed advice with the Dental application process and I came across your post.

I am studying dentistry, though I have friends in all sorts of courses at Uni. If anyone requires specific help or would like to ask a specific question to someone studying a particular course, I might be able to help.


ErrolTheDragon Wed 10-Aug-16 15:44:37

StoneCircle - another place which is excellent for physics that people don't always think of is Birmingham. We went to their open day last year when my DD was firming up her decision whether to do EEE or physics (she's decided to go for the former) ... after hearing the HoDs talk I wished I could sign up myself! grin

esornap is right that by far the most important thing will be to get really good A levels esp (obv) in maths and physics. If he's done any projects in the electronics he might be able to say something about how this clarified his interest in understanding the fundamentals of how things work sort of thing.

bojorojo Wed 10-Aug-16 23:20:26

Has his school not kept copies of successful ps's of other physics students? Obviously he will not be the same, but it might give him some last minute pointers. Has the school not advised on what else he could do to boost his cv?

FoggyBottom Thu 11-Aug-16 17:03:27

He wants to do physics. I'm not sure how he can demonstrate his love of the subject

Love of subject & 'passion' are overrated in PSs. I would personally ban the word 'passionate' in any UCAS statement. It's a lazy word, and a lazy sentiment.

What I want to know is what the applicant thinks they will be studying and why. What they bring to the course, and what they want to get out of it. In my field (an humanities subject), it's important they understand what studying it at university level involves - there are a number of misconceptions about my discipline.

I want to know how they read & research, analyse, and how they process that reading & research. I want to know how they put their learning into practice, and how they pursue aspects of their study beyond the school curriculum.

ErrolTheDragon Thu 11-Aug-16 19:37:15

My DD has been working on her PS today and says that they're banned from using the word 'passion'grin

FoggyBottom Thu 11-Aug-16 19:44:22

grin grin

LineyReborn Thu 11-Aug-16 19:48:20

Hi, Dental. My son's thinking of Biomedical Sciences, not dentistry, but that's a kind offer to help.

lasermum Wed 31-Aug-16 09:43:40

My ds is starting to draft his personal statement to apply for Maths but is also stuck. He enjoys Maths, finds it easy and can't think much else to add ( he is not good at expressing himself in words!!)

He has mentored younger pupils in Maths and got through to the Kangeroo round of the senior maths challenge last autumn but that's it.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated. I have suggested he reads a couple of maths book so that he can write about them but that seems rather false and I'm not sure which books would be good for this purpose ( and ds doesn't enjoy reading at the best of times).


noblegiraffe Wed 31-Aug-16 11:42:45

Maths books:
Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh is a great history of some of the best mathematicians and their struggle over hundreds of years to solve a problem. It's a good example of what motivates mathematicians and how proper maths is different to school maths.

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis is like the Simon Singh book, except it is fictional, but includes many historical figures. The problem in the title, unlike Fermat's Last Theoren, remains unsolved.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (the one with the dinosaurs) is what inspired me to take maths at uni. The true hero of the novel is the mathematician (played by Jeff Goldblum in the film) who uses Chaos Theory to explain why the park will fail.

A fun, more practical book is Things to make and do in the fourth dimension by Matt Parker who is a mathematician and stand up comedian.

If he likes the Simpsons he might like The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh - lots of maths degrees among the team of writers.

Any book by Marcus du Sautoy is worth a read.

If he doesn't like reading, Marcus du Sautoy did the Christmas Lectures a few years ago, Simon Singh did a Horizon programme about Fermat's Last Theorem, and for shorter, fun watches, Dara O'Briain's School of Hard Sums are on YouTube.

lasermum Wed 31-Aug-16 12:51:02

Noblegiraffe - thank you very much for all your helpful suggestions. Ds is thinking of applying for Oxford so we haven't got much time!

noblegiraffe Wed 31-Aug-16 13:09:06

Crikey, I nearly forgot, the best argument for the study of mathematics is A Mathematician's Apology by the famous (Cambridge) mathematician GH Hardy.

If your DS is hoping for Oxbridge then he really needs to show awareness of mathematics beyond what is taught in school.

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