It can be hard to know where to start with your personal statement. To give you some inspiration, we have for you two example Physics personal statements, taken from current Oxford students, complete with annotations.
Example Personal Statement 1
As a student with a genuine scientific curiosity I wish to gain a more rigorous understanding of the natural laws which govern the world around us. As such, I take as many opportunities as possible to challenge myself in my A-level subjects. For the last 2 years, I have attained a merit in the first round of the British Mathematical Olympiad. Moreover, this year I won a gold award in the Cambridge C3L6 Chemistry Challenge and a silver in the British Chemistry Olympiad.
Solid examples of things you have achieved in your discipline beyond the A-Level course really aid your personal statement.
The problem-solving site IssacPhysics has provided me with fun and regular challenges too; while participating in its Y12+ & Y13+ mentoring schemes, I relished the opportunity to teach myself the new maths and physics required to solve the site’s weekly challenge boards. Thus I want to read this course at university because I want to immerse myself even further into the mathematical and physical sciences.
Sentences like this, where you explicitly say why you want to study this course at university, are good.
This summer I wrote an essay explaining the significance of each of Maxwell’s laws; I found it astounding how his electromagnetic wave equation led him to predict that light was in fact an ‘electromagnetic disturbance’. I also conducted an investigation into the mathematics behind radioactive decay, which looked at the equations governing a chain of two radioactive decays and concluded with the general case involving n-nuclides.
This project, more than any other, brought home to me the necessity of mathematical rigour and persistence in problem-solving. More recently I have completed a research project on ‘Millikan’s Oil Drop’ experiment, the first to find the value of the electronic constant e. Learning about how Millikan minimised systematic error in his setup, such as measuring the viscosity of air using five unique methods, helped me appreciate the incredible degree of precision needed in experimental science.
Details of specific research projects completed are good, and they also give the interviewer something to potentially talk about, so don’t lie!
However, it is the interface between the sciences which fascinates me most of all. A first lesson in these connections came when I read Why Chemical Reactions Happen by Keeler & Wothers, which explains the mechanisms at the heart of chemistry using molecular orbital theory. I found it revelatory that it is actually the Second Law of Thermodynamics and quantum mechanics that drive all chemical interactions, forcing me to recognise that a solid background in physics is critical to understand chemistry at a basic level.
A work placement at Oxford University on tissue engineering was an even more striking lesson on the importance of this interface; whilst reviewing literature on the latest methods of 3D bioprinting, I realised that a thorough understanding of chemistry, biology and material science was required to synthesize animal tissue using cell-laden hydrogels. I now know that pursuing a career in research science often requires an ability to work between the disciplines.
I am also passionate about spreading my love of maths and science to others. Last year I mentored students weekly from a local school in C1 & C2; I found it challenging but rewarding to explain core mathematical concepts in a way which my mentees could fully understand. As an editor of my school’s academic yearbook, as well as the maths and science magazine, I encourage my peers to write STEM articles. Through reviewing and editing intriguing pieces, I hope to not only introduce myself to areas of STEM I haven’t met before but also to spark an interest in such subjects in my fellow students.
Outside of the classroom, my adventurous attitude has led me to engage with as many activities as I can. I love long-distance running, singing bass in choir, as well as rowing and playing the piano. Balancing these commitments with the responsibility of being an academic prefect has taught me how to manage my time wisely and prosper in a high-pressure environment. And so combined with my enthusiasm for the subject, I believe that these qualities will enable me to thrive as I work towards my ambition of becoming a practicing scientist.
This is a great example of linking co-curricular interests back to the discipline you are applying to in the final sentence.
Example Personal Statement 2
Every chance it gets, the quantum universe rolls the dice.
An interesting, powerful opening sentence is good, as long as you can link it further to things you understand and have studied.
Uncertainty is so fundamental to our world it is almost magical. It allows electrons to explore the entire universe in an instant and cats to remain both dead and alive at the same time. Physics is ambitious enough to explain all of this and more.
Richard Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained was the first book to really captivate my imagination and sparked my desire to study physics at university; Feynman’s gift for explanation was invaluable in introducing me to the fundamental idea of quantum mechanics and I was keen to further my knowledge on this important topic via Brain Cox and Jeff Forshaw’s The Quantum Universe.
The clock analogy employed by Cox and Forshaw allowed me to grasp quantum mechanics, and the consequential derivation of the Pauli Exclusion Principle explained the quantum mechanism behind the discrete electron shells of the periodic table, revealing the connection between physics and chemistry. I was inspired by the depth and intricacy of the quantum world and blown away by the idea of particles existing throughout all of space, only to be confined to one spot by our own observation.
In year 12, I was delighted to be accepted onto a Headstart course at the University of Oxford. This week-long residential gave me a chance to tackle university-level mathematics, physics, and engineering, confirming that physics is what I want to pursue after leaving school. Reinforcement of this emerged from a physics masterclass I attended at the University of Cambridge – experiencing lectures, alongside similarly enthusiastic peers, was inspiring. These events illustrated the elegant use of mathematics and problem solving that form the foundation of the scientific method, and made me determined to one day be a part of that world.
Good concrete example of time engagement and further exploration of the subject.
In order to pursue areas of physics and mathematics in more depth, I entered the BPhO AS Physics Challenge and the UKMT Senior Mathematical Challenge in year 12 – gaining a gold certificate in both. I attained the school physics prize in recognition of my aptitude in physics and was also awarded the ‘STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Prize’. Additionally, I elected to study GCSE Astronomy during my lunchtimes – receiving an A* in year 9.
My role as a science and mathematics mentor is a rewarding way to share my enthusiasm for science with other students in school. I enjoy debating ideas and the process of argument construction. Having been twice awarded the school English prize, I am keen to further develop skills in this area; I joined the school debating club and earned myself a place on the team for the Magistrates Mock Trial Competition.
Likewise, my role as a party leader in the school’s mock election furthered my debating ability, but the highlight came when I secured myself a place at the Rosalind Franklin Cyber Security Conference at the University of Cambridge; the calibre of debating ability amongst my fellow attendees was impressive and I appreciated the opportunity to test myself against such talented opposition.
I relish my time on the sports fields too. I captain the school’s 1st XI football team, as well as my local football club, and regularly compete in triathlons. These commitments, alongside my roles of House Captain and Senior Prefect inside of school, have ensured that my leadership and organisational skills continue to advance. Additionally, I have participated in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme which served as excellent preparation for when I challenged myself by summiting Mount Toubkal in Africa. Alongside school and sport, I have directed my attention towards music – proudly achieving a grade 5 in classical guitar.
There is still so much to be learnt about our world, its laws, and its origins, and I am eager to be a part of this. My experiences, both in and out of school, have enhanced my curiosity and prepared me intellectually and personally for a physics degree.
Hopefully, these two examples should give you some inspiration. For more help, why not take a look at our guide to your Oxbridge Physics personal statement, or our list of recommended reading for Physics?