sample student essay for UK university
Physics and Philosophy Personal Statement
I initially had no idea what course I wanted to do at University, although if pressed, I said it would be something science-, rather than language- or art-related. This was a problem caused by my wide variety of talents and interests. The subjects I chose to study for my AS/A levels reflect this: Physics, English Literature, French, Maths and Further Maths, Film Studies and German. It was only when looking through the listed courses for Oxford that I saw Physics and Philosophy, and immediately liked the sound of it. As it turned out, no other course attracted my attention as that one did. Why was I so drawn to this course? It is an unusual combination of subjects, but one that reflects the kind of course that I want: diverse, and capable of stretching me in many different ways.
Physics has been a topic that has fascinated me for a long time, although at first I did not recognise is as such, but an interest in the way things around me worked, and what caused them to act in the way they did. Only when I started to study physics academically did I realise my interest was in an area called physics. In more recent years I developed a new way of trying to understand and make sense of things around me: through philosophy. Having been preoccupied with questions such as whether God exists or whether other people are real, or vanish when I turn my back on them from a very early age, I was unable to delve into finding answers to these most important questions sufficiently until a few years ago, when a book entitled “The Philosophy Gym” by Stephen Law reignited my passion for such seemingly unsolvable questions. By this stage I had become someone who liked applying logic to solve various problems, and got great satisfaction from deriving answers that escaped most of my friends. Thus I went about applying my logic to these newly found conundrums and paradoxes. I realised that Physics and Philosophy are essentially about the same thing: trying to understand and make sense of the world. Both of them have universal applications and relevance and together encompass everything that there is to study. As an introduction to the linking subject of the philosophy of physics, I read “What is this thing called Science”. I found it very thorough and it provided me with new views that I had not been exposed to before.
In physics, I developed a stronger interest in the areas of astronomy, light – both helped largely by a book on Isaac Newton by James Gleick –, particle physics and more recently relativity and quantum theory. The latter has allowed me to study the progression of theories, the testing of new theories and rejection of old ones. This helped when looking at theories relating to the expansion of the universe, for example. I have not studied relativity for the physics curriculum, but after being introduced to it by my maths teacher tried to find out more on my own. Particle physics is another such subject, where we have barely touched on it during lessons, but I have found out more on my own. I have also organised a work experience at CERN for next summer (2007).
In philosophy, my interests are not as well developed as in physics, because I have never studied the subject academically, but only progressed my understanding of the subject through literature and discussions. I enjoy thinking about most of the different strands in philosophy, and have expressed opinions and discussed them with various people. This includes a group of students who meet with our maths teacher – which was started off mainly by talking about “The Pig that wants to be eaten” –, on an online forum and even occasionally with my parents. I read “Sophie's World” by Jostein Garder over the summer holidays, which was not only an interesting read, but also a fascinating introduction to some of the main philosophers.
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