I have some questions regarding my personal statement for graduate school in math. I hope this is not the wrong place to ask. My question(s) are comprehensive and long, as the title suggests, thus I have numbered and sub-numbered the questions.
Note that these questions are targeted at schools that do not allow me to upload a CV otherwise I think half of these questions would go away.
1a) Is it silly or a waste of space to talk about your math background? Or should I assume the graduate committee already has this?
1b) Some schools I have checked out actually asked me to list out all my junior/senior courses along with their books, I guess for those schools I don’t need to? What about those who do not?
1c) Should I write or mention courses I have self-studied? Or is this completely irrelevant to them?
1d) Should I also bother explaining one W and one ‘bad’ mark that happened in the summer?
1e) Should I mention my math department is understaffed and I tried to take as many “hard” classes as possible? How understaffed? We have only at most four math classes at the senior level every year. We are so small that most junior/senior classes stop only at the introductory level.
For example, we only have: introductory PDE, introductory Number Theory, introductory Algebra, and Topology does not even exist at my university.
Very rarely do we get continuations to those courses. In comparison with all the other areas, we have quite a lot of Analysis courses, but all of them are focused in Optimization (excluding Real Analysis, we usually have one to two Analysis classes).
We have no Calculus of Variation, no Measure Theory, almost nothing.
FYI, I had to go out my way to bug a professor to request an extra Analysis course this year to the unit head and even then I am short on Math classes next year.
- TA experience
2a) Should I talk about this? How will they even verify me? Because I have done some things that most TA don’t do at my university – writing exam solutions. The prof I TA’d for left everything for me to do, except the teaching and actually writing the midterms/finals. I never had a class with him, so I am not so sure about asking him to write a letter for me.
2b) I also TA’d for another prof at another campus during one summer term(same university, but different Math department), should I mention this?
EDIT: I can provide a link of my exam solutions through the prof's site. I think he will give me permission, should I include this?
3) Research Experience
I have very very little experience, so much that I could probably only write one or two short sentences about it. I also have no publication, but I think the prof I worked for can
confirm that I did do research under him.
By the way, the “research experience” I had was a problem the prof had written by hand on a math paper and he asked me to answer the question he posed. It was not an analytic problem, it was coding, graphing, and writing a report.
4) Area of Interest.
4a) I already know my area of interest, I am wondering if it is a good idea to write why I got interested in the first place or is this completely irrelevant to the graduate committee?
My reasons are rather absurd, I am going into my desired area because of a textbook writer and the textbook I read by him isn’t even the area I was interested in, although the writer did write a book in the subject and I was simply in love with his style of writing.
I later found out the writer’s background and plus some neat stuff I read on the Internet sealed the deal for me. If people think this reason isn’t silly or “cliché” (e.g. “I liked puzzles when I was young”), then please tell me.
4b) Also one major problem is that I can’t talk too deeply about my area of interest. i can mention specific subfields, but that's about it. For instance, if I liked Number Theory, I could mention "Analytic Number Theory" and the "Riemann Zeta" or if I liked Differential Geometry/PDE, I could mention "Geometric Analysis".
So would it be better to omit the details if I can't comment too much on the details of the subject and simply write "Number Theory"?
5) Thesis Advisor
I can find people and mention their names easily on my personal statement. I am just curious if I should narrow it down to only ONE person? Does it look bad that I am just listing out the people whom I want to work with instead of writing down just one name?
I have never liked the word 'Award', so i am going to use 'Scholarship'. Do I need to mention about a scholarship I got from a professor? Again, how can I be verified for this? I think I could ask the prof who gave it to me (whom I did reasearch for) to mention/confirm this?
How much will it add to my application if I tell them I can use LaTeX (honor's thesis not required for honors degree at my university. I asked one of my profs why and even he doesn't know.), high proficiency with Mathematica, Maple, Matlab, etc...? I was going to add Photoshop, but then I realize how pointless and irrelevant that is. I can also use Python, but since I am postponed my 1st year computer science requirements till my last year I do not think they will buy this. Also my school teaches Java.
Thank you very much for reading and taking this time to read this ridiculously long question(s)
EDIT CLARIFICATION: I am applying to US/Canadian universities