Brainstorming Tips: Personal Statement for Civil Engineering Program at Princeton


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Note from the Author

Personal statement ini saya tulis untuk aplikasi ke program MS/PhD jurusan Teknik Sipil di 9 universitas di Amerika. Program MS/PhD dalam jurusan saya biasanya panjangnya 5 tahun. Di beberapa universitas, ini diawali dengan studi program S2 dan setelah lulus dengan hasil yang memuaskan, dilanjutkan ke program S3. Di universitas lainnya, saya langsung masuk ke program S3 tanpa melalui tahap perantara. Ke-sembilan universitas yang saya daftarkan adalah: Georgia Tech University, Johns Hopkins University, Lehigh University, Princeton University, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, dan University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign. Saya diterima di semua universitas, tapi tiga diantaranya tidak memberikan ‘financial aid’ penuh, baik dalam bentuk fellowship, research assistantship, atau teaching assistantship. Untuk masing-masing sekolah, personal statement ini berbeda pada paragraf terakhirnya dimana pembahasan spesifik mengenai sekolah tersebut disesuaikan.

Dalam penulisan esai ini, saya brainstorm terlebih dahulu semua poin-poin yang relevan dan kemudian membuat struktur esai. Saya usahakan untuk menjawab beberapa pertanyaan berikut:

  1. Mengapa saya ingin belajar Teknik Struktur?
  2. Apa latar belakang yang bisa membantu saya sukses dalam program pascasarjana?
  3. Mengapa saya memilih program tersebut (dalam hal ini, program Mechanics, Materials and Structures di Princeton)?
  4. Apa saja riset yang telah saya lakukan dan apa yang telah saya pelajari darinya yang bisa membantu saya sukses dalam melakukan riset di tingkat S3?

Semua paragraf dalam personal statement ini mengandung hanya satu ide utama (main idea), kecuali paragraf terakhir yang dalam retrospeksi seharusnya dibagi menjadi dua paragraf. Semua paragraf juga hanya mempunyai satu tujuan: meyakinkan pembaca bahwa saya akan sukses dalam program yang didaftarkan. Jika tujuan ini tidak jelas, saya pastikan ini diterangkan secara eksplisit dalam paragraf tersebut. Kalimat-kalimat yang tidak membantu untuk mencapai tujuan ini saya singkirkan sebelum mencapai draft akhir esai.

Dan tentunya esai ini telah melalui berpuluh-puluh revisi dan mendapat masukan dari banyak teman dekat yang kebetulan saat itu juga pada mendaftar program pascasarjana. Honors thesis advisor saya juga memberikan banyak masukan yang berharga dan membantu membentuk esai ini. Saran saya, jangan malu meminta pendapat karena ini hanya akan membuat esai kamu lebih baik lagi. Semoga personal statement ini bisa memberi sedikit gambaran cara menulis sebuah esai untuk aplikasi program pascasarjana. Sukses selalu!

The Essay

This past summer after my junior year in college, I had the opportunity to intern at a civil engineering design firm. Even though I had limited knowledge of structural design at the time, I was fortunate to be entrusted with important assignments such as calculating wind loads to design glass window supports and pile deviations to determine pile locations. The internship humbled me as I realized that there was a lot more that went into designing structures than what I would be able to learn while an undergraduate student. This is why I have decided to pursue graduate study. I believe that attending graduate school will give me access to advanced programs and superior instructors, which will allow me to achieve an intrinsic understanding of structural behavior.

The prospect of contributing to society in concrete ways is another motivation for me to become a structural engineer. I have always defined my pursuits in terms of the potential to make a difference in others’ lives. This is why structural engineering is my top choice. Buildings satisfy basic human needs for shelter, and the works of structural engineers are indispensable in ensuring safe and self-sustaining structures. The output of structural engineering is tangible. The hard work I put in will be transformed into real structures that serve to reaffirm the commitment to community I have made.

I have thought seriously about my future career options. I am most interested in and find the most self-fulfillment in structural engineering. It is the steady progression towards the end result, the freedom to make my own decisions, the thrill of venturing into the unknown, and the creation of a masterpiece that draws me to this field of engineering. I can imagine myself standing before the very structure that was created through my labor, dwarfed by its grandness yet proud of its presence, with the transcendent feeling of accomplishment, ownership and omniscience evoked. It is the blend of all of the above that set structural engineering apart from other fields to me.

My specific areas of interest within your graduate program involve the theory and application of Finite Element Analysis and Reliability Analysis. These two topics are the subject of my honors thesis work at Lafayette College. I have discovered that there are many aspects of Finite Element Analysis that have the potential for further exploration such as modeling multi scale-effects, blast loading, and shape optimization. FEA overall is inherently intriguing to me. The way the global outcome arises from individual elements behaving in response to stimuli from neighboring elements parallels the concept of Agent Based Modeling (ABM), a research topic I spent substantial amount of time on previously. On the other hand, Structural Reliability Analysis has its root in probability and statistics, subjects that fascinate me for their attempts to quantify randomness and put uncertainty in check. A characteristic that these two topics have in common is their heavy dependence on computations, which I have a great deal of knowledge and interest in. Thus, I believe that I have the competency to excel in these two areas both academically and through research opportunities.

Princeton has a very strong program in Mechanics, Materials and Structures and I believe my background will allow me to enter your program and make significant contributions both in academics and research. Some of the relevant courses I took at Lafayette include Fundamental of Structural Engineering/ Steel Design and Design of Concrete Structures. The liberal arts education I received at Lafayette College, as well as the coursework I took in pursuing my second major in Mathematics and Economics, provides a range of knowledge from which subtle similarities and connections to structural engineering research can be drawn, providing an important source of inspiration. I am aware of the high expectations of research work, having invested substantial amount of time and effort in three different fields of civil and environmental engineering research. One of my projects involved developing an agent-based model of a highway system. My two-year stint began with learning Java and the agent-based software Repast. I was then tasked with creating a program that simulated the interaction among the transportation agents. The deterioration model and various interaction rules were based on the state version of the Highway Economic Requirement System (HERS-ST) and the input to the model was an actual highway data from Oregon DOT. In all the research projects I have been involved in, I have enjoyed brooding over the conceptual and technical challenges that frequently occurred. The experience gave me confidence of my resilience and patience to carry out a substantial research project. My main realization is that virtually anything can be accomplished when research is pursued one step at a time. I understand that there is often no clear answer or process to follow. As such, research can be frustrating, but the boundless possibilities offer exciting opportunities for novel discoveries, a huge payoff that keeps me going even at the lowest ebb. I have seen myself working very hard to meet the goals that I have set for myself. Therefore, I know that I can achieve success in my studies at Princeton.

Photo: Nassau Hall at Princeton University from Wikimedia


  1. Your essay is very good, it describes why you are interested in CivE, which area you are specifically interested in, and why you think you can contribute as a PhD student.

    You should think about making your statements stronger and state the impact and discoveries of your work experience more clearly. Your essay says that you did modeling work based on data. What are the discoveries? Surely doing modeling isn’t just line fitting. What are the conclusions? What did the model discover that one could not otherwise?

    Clearly you have reviewed your essay and checked for grammatical and spelling errors, good job. I would say think of ways to make your essay a bit more economical. I think you use the active voice well, but several small things are redundant.

    Good luck with your application!


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