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personal statement re:becoming a CS graduate student

This is the first draft of my personal statement, which is the only essay I get to write for my graduate application. I’m curious what you think of it.

Your Personal Statement should be a brief but carefully written essay regarding: 1) your reasons you want to do graduate work in this particular field, 2) your specific interests and experiences in this field, 3) any special skill or experiences that may relate to an assistantship, and 4) your career plans.
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One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned during my time as an undergraduate student is that computer science is a continually evolving field. Specific languages and procedures that I use now might be rendered useless by new developments in theory or technique at any moment. Keeping abreast of current developments is a requirement just to survive in the job market.

However, I’d rather not just tread water, just keep afloat. I’d rather be part of the group pushing the envelope of what can be done with computers; I’d rather be writing the papers than reading them. Undergraduate studies are a step toward a career coding; they bring one up to speed with curent practice. Graduate studies are the next leap forward; they transform my role from that of a learner to that of an innovator.

WPI’s undergraduate computer science curriculum is project-based. Among other things, this means that before graduation, I complete two projects for class credit: the IQP is worth one class of credit, and the MQP is worth three. The former involved the development of a tool to aid people unfamiliar with computers with the process of setting up a complex database-backed web system. The latter, currently in progress, seeks to extend the Napkin Pluggable Look and Feel (napkinlaf.sourceforge.net) by creating a system which generates icons which look as if they had been hand-drawn, as the icons are called for.

The only common elements between those projects is that they both represented a significant amount of research, of delving into programming territory unfamiliar to me. I learned enough from the first project to qualify as a PHP/MySQL expert at the job I got subsequently; I expect to emerge from the MQP an authority on both Java PLAF technology and the specific graphical tricks involved in tricking people into thinking that a human drew something machine-generated. Some of my most interesting classes have been in AI and pattern recognition. I enjoy extending myself, branching into new areas and fields.

I don’t yet know what I will do after graduate school. I certainly wouldn’t mind doing pure research; holding a job learning things so new I’m the first person to get there could certainly be interesting. Alternately, I’ve had the idea for some time now that it might be fun developing intelligent opponents for computer games. For the moment, I intend to keep my options open.

One of the major reasons I look forward to graduate school is that I often read an article from one news source or another about a really interesting project being carried out by a team of graduate student researchers. Be it developing a control system for DARPA’s unmanned vehicle race, or a system which can beat most people at 20 questions, there are all sorts of interesting developments being made in the computing world today. Linus Torvalds was a graduate student when he wrote Linux. I want to make my mark too.

Any suggestions or comments are appreciated–I have a month before this is due…

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