Common Application Essay
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
I step through the silence towards the metal doors, bathed in the fluorescent glow that accompanies me to my destination. The air gets colder. I stare at my breath, now a cloud, and move through the stale, unflattering light onto the platform. The pure white dome beckons to me–silent, promising–and I step inside. Admiring the giant in the room–a solitary, intimidating block of metal and glass–I know it is my friend. Life floods in, and as the roof splits in half, my lonely, dignified giant swivels on its mount, letting me peer into its eyepiece. Smiling at the sparse walls of the William and Mary observatory, I feel myself shift from observer to researcher-the transformation I live for.
Ever since kindergarten, I can remember deep slumbers giving way to giggles and whispers, sleepy shoe tying, and grass-soaked backs at 1 AM. First came the knock at my door, then the sweet anticipation of another meteor shower as I capered down the stairs into the yard. Against the backdrop of the Milky Way, shooting stars flew everywhere. I asked so many questions, I often fell asleep mid-sentence: “Why didn’t they touch down in the yard? What makes them so fast? Why do there have to be clouds? They ruin everyth-” …out cold and carried to bed by dad. The next morning at breakfast, I would create lines of shooting stars with my Cheerios on my placemat of subatomic particles, and chatter incessantly about burning hunks of rock in the upper atmosphere. Who could blame me for falling in love with the Universe?
As I progressed through school, I became enchanted by the mystery of distant galaxies, constellations, and nebulae- all things out of this world. I pored over The Astrophysical Journal, A&A, even old Sagan manuscripts. However, I remained a bystander; a stargazer- until my summer trip to Oregon for a visit with family. The planets shifted.
I can still feel the dust thick in the air; hear the whirring, chewing and grinding of machinery around me. My uncle, an avid woodworker, was showing me the ropes of his impressive shop. He caught me staring into space, and asked, “So what do you love doing, Tanya?” “I like looking at stars,” I replied, without missing a beat. “Just looking?” he replied. “You know, thinking is wonderful, but making an impact is even better.” It was as if his words awakened me from a trance. “Can I see those goggles?”
Suddenly, I had an irresistible urge to begin building.
It was not enough anymore to love the stars all by myself-the wonder was too grand a gift to keep. I had to share it. So, I applied all I knew, and created a program that enables amateur astronomers to inexpensively analyze emission spectra of stars with pinpoint accuracy. To my delight, it was nationally honored at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, and has also been implemented as an instructive tool for the Williamsburg Astronomy Society.
Working in the observatory, I was able to take photos critical to the testing and troubleshooting of my program, specifically optimizing error reduction and evaluating the negative effects of photo exposure. But more importantly, I discovered my calling–the formalized poking and prodding of scientific research.
My experience at the observatory also motivated my past summer at the High School Honors Science Program (MSU). During seven weeks of snack-filled, seemingly eternal nights, I theorized an efficient and versatile quantum electrical component, and so advanced the future of high power computing. I hope, one day, to help perfect the tools with which we study our precious Universe.
Debugging code and fiddling with focus knobs, I discovered my place in the world–striving to understand the impossible. I will always be the awestruck little girl sprawled out underneath the Milky Way; but now, I observe with the spirit of a true scientist.
Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or artists.*
Books:The Elegant Universe(Brian Greene), Imagine(Jonah Lehrer), And The Mountains Echoed(Khaled Hosseini), Mr Tompkins Explores the Atom(George G Gamow), Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann!(Richard Feynmann et al)
Films: Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Donnie Darko(who doesn’t love a cult
Artists: (painting) Salvador Dali and Francois Miglio (music) Alt-J, Sufjan Stevens, Bowerbirds
What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy?
Newspapers: The Washington Post, The New York Times
Magazines: The Economist, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, Sky & Telescope, Scientific American, Physics Today, National Geographic
Websites: Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, IFLS, Physics World, listenonrepeat (for late night work), Reddit, AOPS, APOD, MATLAB documentation and ROOT documentation sites(these two are lifesavers!)
What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)*
Providing equal economic and social opportunities for women across the globe. From rape culture to gender discrimination, the shunning of feminism to blatant violence, this problem is everywhere. Women like Malala Yousafzai and Emma Sulkowicz are leading a revolution–one that I intend to join.
How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)*
2014:Squeezed years of research into 7 tiny weeks; immersed in creating mathematical descriptions of quantum systems and optimizing those systems.
2013:I was lucky enough to travel to Crete and Spain. Attended lectures on mostly S-
SNMR at the EUROMAR conference, and saw both my family and the ruins of ancient civilizations.
What were your favorite events (e.g., performances, exhibits, competitions, conferences, etc.) in recent years? (50 word limit)*
Events/Conferences: EUROMAR conference, PhysicsFest at William and Mary (I got to man the liquid nitrogen ice cream station!), and every graduate student lecture at FRIB over the summer (the amount of passion was insane)
Competitions: 2014 National JSHS, ODUMUNC 37, and 2014 Cross Country States
What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)*
20th century physics conferences aside (I couldn’t pick), I would want to witness the moment Theodor Kaluza added a 5th dimension to Einstein’s spacetime and derived Maxwell’s equations. Not only was string theory born, this supposedly reserved man leaped onto his desk and broke out in Hansel’s Hallelujah!
What five words best describe you?
Fearless, curious, tenacious, innovative, grateful.
The sterile neutrino.
It was like trying to catch and study a bullet traveling at 400 m/s using a wet piece of tissue paper.
Originally a ‘desperate attempt’ to explain the violation of conservation laws in beta-
decay, the neutrino has a history of anomaly. Neutrinos interact exclusively via the weak force, so interaction is rare–making them nearly impossible to detect. Following the first detector discovery, physicists worked for almost a century to create a non-
contradictory understanding of these elusive leptons. This Standard Model description was supported time after time by experimental data, leading the world to believe that theorists had triumphed–until now. Another conflicting piece of evidence has arisen… But I intend to crack it.
Recent experiments on the LSND reveal substantial evidence suggesting an additional flavor of neutrino. Under the guidance of Dr. Patricia Vahle, I am designing a sensitivity study for a potential Fermilab experiment to discover this new “sterile neutrino”, requiring the testing of the efficiency and purity of thousands of simulations. The hefty PDG Review of Particle Physics is already my lifeline, and my nights are quickly becoming consumed with hours of often frustrating bash scripting.
The subatomic world of flavor eigenstates and unstable decay is strange, but understanding is worth the effort; fresh inconsistency is too good to pass up. I have learned that my place in particle physics is in the challenge–widening the fissures in reality is okay with me. In fact, probing the unknown is the very force that drives my intellectual engine.
Hello, dear roommate.
Let’s break the laws of the Universe.
Although it’s not quite to scale, I like to think of our new home as an atom, and you and I as two wonderfully energetic electrons buzzing around campus. Now, the Pauli exclusion principle lays down the law quite firmly-“No two identical fermions can occupy the same quantum state simultaneously.” However, this presents some serious problems for our blooming room-lationship. I propose a new solution: the Hoatson Insert-Your-Last-Name-Here INclusion principle.
I. Our principle quantum numbers should fall wherever we feel comfortable- if both of us need more time away from the room, we can have equal n’s. Our binding energies remain our own decisions.
II. Azithumal quantum numbers are also ours to choose. If we both have similar interests and comfort zones, then of course our orbitals can take the same shape; if not, then that’s okay! Pauli can win this time.
III. Ah, the magnetic quantum number. An extra orbital is indeed acceptable, even for both of us simultaneously. Just please don’t kick me out to spend time with yours-I promise to follow the same rules!
IV. And finally, the spin magnetic number. As the best particle system on campus, we are absolutely allowed to be positive simultaneously. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way! If you’re feeling negative, I’ll be sure to flip you right side up.
Experimentally, weekly CoHo excursions accomplish this goal.
Get ready for an amazing year at Stanford.
What matters to you, and why?
At ten years old, I was a quiet child, intimidated by the idea of talking to new people.
When my mother chose the location of her sabbatical and flew us across the Atlantic for a year, I became silent. I yearned for the familiar aromas of cedarwood mixed with lavender from our Williamsburg garden, and the perfectly straight walls of a room constructed in the 20th century. Yet Lyon, France would be my new base of operations for the next 12 months, and I would have to adapt.
Within a month, my taste for peanut butter and jelly had been replaced by a passion for freshly baked brioche and Camembert. In the schoolyard where I initially yearned for a good round of Miss-Mary-Mack, I became the ringleader of Dans Ma Maison Sous Têrre. The previously unfamiliar faces that breezed by me at 7AM turned into Florine, Paola, and Mia, and I discovered how connection and communication change the dynamic of a life.
Upon returning to the U.S., I was no longer the shy, cerebral, little girl trapped in her mind. I celebrated my newfound voice by reaching out into the world around me, and today, I feel the effects of this personality change in everything I do. The ability to interact and convey ideas effectively plays a central role in the person I am, and the researcher I hope to become. After all, it’s the process of defense, discussion, and analysis that brings science to life–without communication, progress is dead.
Standardized Test Scores:
- ACT Composite: 36
- English: 36
- Math: 35
- Reading: 36
- Science: 36
- Writing: 10
- SAT Subject Tests:
- Physics: 800
- Math 2: 780
- Statistics: 5
- Psychology: 5
- Human Geography: 5
- Calculus AB: 5
- English Language & Composition: 5
- Government & Politics-United States: 5
- Microeconomics: 5
- Physics C – Electricity & Magnetism: 5
- Physics C Mechanics: 5
- Physics B: 4
School Record and Class Ranking:
- GPA: 4.448/4 Weighted
- Class Ranking: 1/229 Weighted
- National AP Scholar-National-11th Grade
- National Merit Scholar Semifinalist-State/Regional-11th Grade
- National Honors Society, National Science Honors Society-School-11th, 12th Grade
- Mu Alpha Theta-School-10th, 11th, 12th Grade
- Class Vice President, School Reporter-School-11th, 12th Grade
Extracurricular Activities Essay:
Although I am passionate about astronomy, I have never studied the discipline formally. During junior year, I discovered that William and Mary offered an introductory lab-based course. I rushed into the guidance office with stars in my eyes, only to discover that the class times would be impossible to align with my schedule. Devastated, I spent the day brainstorming ways to circumvent the system. I began building lessons based on Science Olympiad study guides and the NASA website. Through my high school’s Honors Seal program, I engineered the birth of the Williamsburg Astronomy Society, a club offering both an experimental and theoretical education in the field. Our curriculum ranges from characteristics of Cepheid, cataclysmic, and binary variable star systems to ancient navigational techniques; features of Type I and II supernovae to constellation-based Greek mythology. We use a class set of 8-inch telescopes for our viewings at the Thomas Harriot Observatory.
Original research in nuclear physics at NSCL-11th Grade
- 35 hr/wk, 7 wk/yr
- Investigated the theoretical behavior of a novel quantum chain configuration as a quantum computing base components, 2nd place at SUMS conference
Original research in particle physics at WMCollege-12th Grade
- 5 hr/wk, 35 wk/yr
- Design and execution of a sensitivity study for an experimenton the Fermilab NOVA detector to search for the sterile neutrino
Original program for amateur astronomers-11th Grade
- 10 hr/wk, 16 wk/yr
- MATLAB program able to measure certain emission data from stars based on any digital photo with <2% error, 5th place poster presenter at NJSHS
Founder of Williamsburg Astronomy Society-11th, 12th Grade
- 4 hr/wk, 30 wk/yr
- Bi-monthly sky viewings, creation of public blog and 15 detailed, original lesson plans on observation techniques and variable stars
Developer of Think., a novel mood tracker app-12th Grade
- 10 hr/wk, 10 wk/yr
- In beta testing. Aimed to aid in recovery from clinical depression and bipolar disorder, will be given to local chapter of AFSP upon completion
Lafayette Forensics Team Co-Captain-11th, 12th Grade
- 10 hr/wk, 20 wk/yr
- 2014 3A State Champion in Extemporaneous Speaking, 2 time TFL ToC qualifier, top 5 finishes at 7/7 tournaments
President of Lafayette Model United Nations-9th, 10th, 11th, 12th Grade
- 5 hr/wk, 15 wk/yr
- Awards at 2/3 conferences, increased activity from 1 to 3 conferences per year, created monthly club research sessions, 21 hrs/week if at conference
Community Service (Volunteer)
Volunteer with Teens Towards Success program-9th, 10th, 12th Grade
- 24 hr/wk, 6 wk/yr
- Facilitating interaction between children on the autistic spectrum in both specialty care sites and general childcare sites
JV/Varsity Cross-country, Co-Captain of Varsity Girl’s Cross Country-10th, 11th, 12th Grade
- 12 hr/wk, 24 wk/yr
- All-conference runner, third woman on States team
JV/Varsity Track and field, Co-Captain of Varsity Girl’s Track and Field-9th, 10th, 11th Grade
- 12 hr/wk, 24 wk/yr
- All-conference and all-region 2-miler