Essay Clinic: PhD in Geological Sciences at University of Texas at Austin


Indonesia Mengglobal Essay Clinic is our effort to provide tangible help for Indonesian applicants who want to study abroad. This essay clinic is not meant to showcase ‘the perfect essay’, but by analyzing other people’s essays (what works, what does not work, what’s good, what’s bad), we hope you can learn how to write an effective application essay and how to continuously improve your own essay. We also accept essay submissions. Click here to learn on how to participate!!

Note on the Essay

This essay will be submitted as part of PhD application in Geological Sciences at University of Texas at Austin

Essay Prompt

Please provide a statement of purpose, explaining your interest in graduate education at UT Austin.

The Essay

I am writing to express my interest in pursuing the Ph.D program in the Geological Sciences Department, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin. I am excited by the prospect of performing multi-proxy research and broadening my knowledge of sedimentology and geochemistry, and I believe I would make an excellent doctoral candidate.

Geology is fascinating to me because of its applied and interdisciplinary nature. Geological problems are often macroscopic and necessitate the integration and application of fundamental principles of physics, chemistry and biology. I have been passionate about science and physics in my entire life. In geology, I am able to apply my love of these subjects to large-scale, unresolved Earth related problems, which often have tremendous societal relevance. Consider the principal questions: how do mountains form; how will the Earth respond to climate change; or how did life get to where it is today? Each question requires a vastly interdisciplinary approach and the application of fundamental principles to small components of a large system. Due to its multivariate nature, geology is also very collaborative, providing rich and diverse research opportunities. The humbling field experiences and the unique approach required to investigate geological problems make this field truly exciting.

I had my first experience in independent research from my first geological field mapping for my undergraduate final project sponsored by Salamander Energy Ltd. With a team of six students, I worked on mapping the geological features for the study area including sedimentology, stratigraphy and structural geology. Our goal sought to improve the understanding of the nature of geology in the study area and ultimately, to characterize the potential lithology to be a reservoir rock. I found this project to be very challenging and satisfying and began to realize my passion for the art of geologic research. I appreciated the opportunity to simply read through the literature and develop hypotheses. This experience consisted of both collaborative and independent activities, each of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I particularly thrived in the independent setting where I was able to fully engage in the science behind our project. This experience enhanced my analytical capabilities while allowing me to explore my deepening interest in research and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Following my graduation, I have worked for 1 year in geological consultant company. During this short period, I gained appreciable amount of experience in both scientific and industry research. I have been exposed to different type of geological works started from conducting fieldworks to intensive laboratory works. This whole experienced really have lightened me and open my eyes about how complex and fascinating geology is. It is true that I enriched my knowledge about geology in how we integrate scientific knowledge and industrial needs, but I found myself was far beyond understand the whole picture of geology. This situation have brought me to a point that I should find a scholarship for my master study abroad in which I can broaden and deepened my knowledge in geology. After almost 6 months went through admission processes, I got acceptance and a fellowship from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia where I received my Msc degree on Geosciences recently.

Throughout my master degree, I was so fortunate to have been exposed to different geological fieldworks and trainings. I spent my first summer school in University Centre in Svalbard, Norway. This was one of the most precious experience in my entire life where I lived in a very different environment from I used to. I spent much of my time there doing research and fieldwork that includes living in the middle of wild arctic environment. Not only enriched my geological knowledge of different systems in the Earth, but It also gave me set of skills that I needed to be well-rounded geologist. Secondly, I have spent my second summer in University of Miami, working as visiting research student under the supervision of Prof. Peter Swart at Stable Isotope Laboratory. I spent nearly one month there where I got hands on experienced in how to use different types of analytical methods and learned the fundamental behind it. I was also part of the KFUPM IBA team that won the Middle East Region and Stoneley medal in Global Finals this year held by AAPG in Denver.

My research activities here recommenced under the advisement of Dr. xxx, and Drs. xxx. During my master, I have been actively involved in various type of projects such as sequence architecture of syn-rift Miocene carbonates, sedimentology studies of Miocene deep-marine turbidites, and studying the depositional environment and composition of Devonian stromatolites. These research opportunities have given me a good background and understanding about geology where you can sometime cross apply the knowledge that you have from different fields. In my thesis project, I apply my knowledge of geology and chemistry to interpret the architecture of carbonate rocks and understand past fluid condition that responsible for post depositional alterations. This research includes fieldwork and laboratory works including petrography, SEM, XRD, stable isotopes and trace element analyses which I performed those analyses by myself with the help from colleagues and technicians. I have submitted my master thesis works to high profile journals with one recently got accepted by Marine and Petroleum and Geology. Beside my master research work, I have published four articles in international refereed journal and seven conference publications.

I would like to continue my research on these topics looking at unexplored questions in the deep time by integrating a more fundamental component, namely, the evolution of biological and ocean chemistry, not only my general fascination with these processes but because of its relevance to the past earth system conditions and its evolution. I have a profound interest in carbonate geology with approach that utilizes both traditional and non-traditional methods. I would always willing to go extra mile and include one more dataset in my thesis work. This type of study has the potential to provide better understanding and new insight on carbonate rocks in general, a tool, which is vital to so much of the geological community from both academia and industry. I believe with my strong geological background and the research environment, capability and facilities that you have in University of Texas at Austin will allow me to explore more about the possibility and feasibility of this type of study.

In the future after earning my PhD, I would like to either continue in a high-level research position or work in academia as a professor. I would love to advise students and teach courses in carbonate sedimentology, geochemistry and earth history. By nature, I am self-motivated, inquisitive, analytical and creative; I fundamentally enjoy scientific inquiry. The interdisciplinary nature of geology gives the research an exciting dynamic, but it is the relevance of the questions, which inspires my inquisitions. My courseworks and research experiences have provided me with an excellent foundation on which to continue my research career in graduate school. Above all, my passion for geology is the source of my potential to make lasting contributions to this field.

Review from Michelle Lee, PhD student in Chemistry at Cornell University

This essay looks more like a longer version of applicant’s resume instead of statement of purpose. Even though it has most of the necessary information to make this a good statement of purpose, it lacks of organization of information that will engage the readers better and most importantly will attract prospective advisors to accept applicant in their department.

Most of successful essays to enter PhD answer the following questions:

  1. First Paragraph: Why will the specific program in their department (not in Geology department in general) be a good fit for the applicant? 
    Specifying whom you would want to work for (at least two Professors) is important, especially if the department the applicant applying to is a small department with limited funding.
  2. Body of the Essay: Why will the applicant be a good fit for the department? 
    This question should be broken down to several paragraphs that usually show:

    • Knowledge and background
    • Leadership skills or other skills that show applicant’s ability to work independently
    • Teaching experience (This is not necessary but it is good to have, especially if the department requires applicant to be a teaching assistant.)

    The applicant should use his/her experiences as stated in the essay to prove that he/she has the necessary skills to be a successful PhD candidate at UT Austin.

  3. Conclusion Paragraph: What will the applicant do with the experience obtained from PhD?
    Reemphasizing that only UT Austin that will enable applicant to achieve his/her dream is important.

Rearranging the information in this essay to answer the questions above will help this to be the essay of a desirable candidate for UT Austin’s Geological Sciences Department.

Lastly, the applicant should use active sentences instead of passive voice because this will make the essay succinct.


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