Hello!
I've seen great coments and help with motivation letters on this forum, so I decided to ask for some help with mine... They asked for "a letter describing your motivation why you want to study computational neuroscience at ***" (I've removed the name of the University for a bit of privacy...)
Thanks in advance for any comments!

The letter:
---------

Dear Sir or Madam,

In this letter I try to describe my motivations for applying to your master program in Computational Neuroscience. The main reason is really simple: I find the brain and the mind fascinating. I have a bachelors degree in computer science, and when I discovered that I could study the brain based on my computer knowledge, I was immediately interested. I did some research on the topic and that only increased my interest, as I discovered how truly interdisciplinary this field is: it touches almost all natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, math, medicine. I was fascinated to see human behavior being studied with the precision of mathematics, the forces that drive our mind being explained at the level of simple communicating cells. And computer programs that modeled it!

To find out more, I enrolled last semester for the course “Introduction to the Cognitive Neuroscience” with Prof. *** at the *** University. There, I was exposed to neuroscience literature, which I’ve read with great interest, a lot more than what was required for the course. (Some of the books are: M.F. Bear, B.W. Connors & M.A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain; E. B. Goldstein. Sensation and Perception; and D.G. Myer. Psychology)

I’ve also decided to refresh my knowledge on math, and took the course “Mathematics for Physicists”. In the summer semester I will take the second part of this course, and a course on statistics. Although I had already studied this subjects when I did my bachelor, I wanted to repeat them before I could start the master, because haven’t studied any math since I’ve finished my bachelor some years ago.

I graduated when I was 22 years old, and started working when I was still in university. At that time, my goals in life were having a good job and a successful career. I looked for jobs in big companies, and found a good job in Unisys, a multinational company with lots of career opportunities. I’ve worked in the computer industry for more than 5 years as a system analyst, and acquired a lot of programming experience. But at some point of time, it became clear to me that that was not what I should be looking for. When I was young, I was the kind of child that always wanted to know “why” and “how”, who disassembled the toys to see how they worked inside. I had chosen computer science because it appeared to me as a potentially very interdisciplinary field (after all, everything needs computers nowadays). But in practice I’ve found myself developing software that monitored software, or working in an area (mortgage systems) that didn’t interested me that much.

When I took the “Introduction to the Cognitive Neuroscience” class, I found something that really spoke to my passions. I came home after every class talking about the great things I had learned, and even now, weeks after I’ve finished the exams, I still find myself browsing through the books wanting to learn more and more. It was long way to find out what I wanted to use my computer science knowledge for, but I finally found it: to try to understand the “hows” and “whys” of what has been described as the most mysterious thing in the universe - the brain!

Faithfully yours,

my name.

Here are some posts you should review. These posts will give you some ideas on the structure of your letter.

http://www.EnglishForward.com/English/SampleLetterMotivationApplication-LetterUniversity/xpzpl/po...

http://www.EnglishForward.com/English/MotivationLetterUniversityAbhinav-Gaur13/xqjzg/post.htm

http://www.EnglishForward.com/English/MotivationLetter/prrwb/post.htm

http://www.EnglishForward.com/English/MotivationLetter/xqdwq/post.htm

In reading your letter, it has a "story" feel to it. That is, "Once upon a time...." You should focus your letter on the key information and delete the story telling elements. Also, eliminate the contractions. I think you'll find some of the sample letters helpful.
Dear MountainHiker,
thank you very much for your reply.

I had seen the other posts before, but I'm still not sure what the "key elements" are :-(
What I mean is, they asked about my motivation, but my real motivation is the "story"... One thing I didn't write on the letter, but can be seen from my CV, is that I graduated 10 years ago. I worked full time for 5 years, and after that I did only little free lance programming, and I was thinking about leaving the computer thing and startig with something totally new... And than I found something that I really liked in that area. Since it was the real motivation, that is what I tried to write. If you say that is not important, I believe you, but still not sure of what I should focus on...
The course I mention in the letter was done at the university I'm applying to (with a professor that teaches in the programm I want to apply to), so I think the part of "why that university" is clear.
Should I focus on advertising myself more?

Thanks in advance for any more advice.
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
One thing I didn't write on the letter, but can be seen from my CV, is that I graduated 10 years ago. I worked full time for 5 years, and after that I did only little free lance programming, and I was thinking about leaving the computer thing and startig with something totally new... And than I found something that I really liked in that area.

The ten year break can be both a liability and an asset. Because you have a ten year gap, you need to address it.

Liability: This is just a neat thing to try. What the heck, nothing risked, nothing gained.

Asset: You've demonstrated that you have a sincere interest and your actions demonstrate it. Also, mature students tend to appreciate their opportunity to learn at university.

If it were me, I'd have taken some recent university courses that complement your desires. I'd have spoken with some practicing professionals. I'd do whatever I can to show that I have an earnest and sincere desire. Remember, your competition will be extremely focused on getting their long-held dream.

You've done some of that. So that's good. But what you didn't do is speak to WHY it ignited your passions. Tell the reader why you found it so fascinating. What did you learn that inspired you, surprised you, enlightened you, disappointed you.

In short, I want to read why you have a fire in your belly.

Very quickly and without much thought...

I am writing to apply to blah blah blah.

I am passionate about X.

To prepare for my future studies and demonstrate my sincere interests, I have ....blah blah blah. Tell me about what you've done.

My guess is that you have the material. It is just a matter of communicating your information. And, you should speak to your academic results in your recent university courses.

Try another iteration, and I will comment again.

MH
Hello again.

Your comments were very useful, thank you again. I tried to include more information this time.
MountainHikerBecause you have a ten year gap, you need to address it.
I not only have a 10 year gap between bachelor and master, I also have a 4 year "absolut" gap, where I only traveled, learned languages and basically tried to "find myself"...

I wrote the whole thing again, this time trying to explain that. It still "telling stories", but I could not find another way to explain the gap on my CV... I will happily accept sugestions for improvement.
MountainHikeryou should speak to your academic results in your recent university courses.
I still don't have the grades, but my neuroscience professor will write me a recomendation letter. It was a relatively small course with about 30 people, and he said he has not corrected the exams yet, but he thinks I will have a good grade (based on my participation in class). I think having a recomendation letter from him will be very good, he might even be among the people that will read my letter...

I think I can still "polish" more what I've writen, but I want to be sure I have the right information first.

So here it goes:

--------------------------

Dear Sir or Madam,

In this letter I try to describe my motivations for applying to your master program in Computational Neuroscience.

My bachelors degree is in computer science, but I had always had a wide area of interest. I have a true passion for interdisciplinary fields, that cross the boundaries between each discipline and connect different areas of knowledge. The idea of studying the brain with my computer science background is compeling, and I was fascinated to find out how truly interdisciplinary the field of computational neuroscience really is. It combines psychology, studied with the exactness of mathematics and statistics, with computer models and electrical engineering to understand how voltage difference between cells originates our mind!

I finished university ten years ago. Although I studied in one of the best universities in Brazil (at the time, the computer science department was the fourth best in the country), only recently have I decided to apply for a masters program. I received my degree when I was twenty two years old, and started working directly for the company where I did my internship. I worked full time for five years in the computer industry. My goal, same as the goal of so many people in Brazil, was to have a good job and a successful career. I found a good job at Unisys, a big multinational company full of career opportunities, but at some point of time I realized that just a good job was not making me happy. I decided to acquire some international experience and participated on an exchange program to the United States. This program lasts four months, and I repeated it for four years, until I could bring my English to a fluent level. I’ve also visited many countries in Europe, and spent three months in France for a French course in 2006. In 2008 I came back for six months, to further improve my French and get to know different cities in the country. At this time it became more clear to me that I wanted to go back to the university and I decided to stay and study in ***.

I came back with a student visa in 2009, and I studied French for one more year. Because of the long period after my bachelors, I thought I would need to go through a whole bachelors program again before I could apply to the masters. Since your program is not consecutive to any bachelor program, I chose the course *** at the university *** because of the flexibility of it’s curriculum, that would allow me to direct my studies in the most useful way. In the Winter semester 2010/1011, I studied the first part of the course “Mathematics for Physicists”, and the course “Introduction to the cognitive neuroscience” with prof. ***.

Being back in the university for one semester convinced me that I don’t need to complete the bachelors to be prepared for the masters, and that all the preparation that I need can be completed in one year. But, most important, the deeper understanding of what neuroscience is about, that I gained when I took the course “Introduction to neuroscience" course, made me sure that that is really what I want to do, and that I don’t want to spend any unnecessary time before I can start it.

This course made me aware of the amazing computational power of the brain, a structure so complex, that even a 2 centimeter brain rat can perform functions impossible be imitated by powerful supercomputers. I have learned about the senses vision and hearing, and how they not only tell us about what is “out there”, but also do a lot more. Everything we see or hear involve really complex processing that extracts information vital for our interaction with the environment, in a way that computers are still far from being able to reproduce. I have read the course literature with great pleasure, sometimes a lot more that what was required for the classes. (Some of the books are: M.F. Bear, B.W. Connors & M.A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain; E. B. Goldstein. Sensation and Perception; and D.G. Myer. Psychology). Even now, weeks after I’ve finished the exams, I still find myself browsing through the books wanting to learn more. I could also get a practical feeling of how some experiments are done, as I volunteered to be the subject on a series of experiments on visual perception made by ***.

Next semester I will continue with the second part of the course “Mathematics for Physicists” and take a course on statistics. Those courses covers all your prerequisites for mathematical knowledge. Although I had already studied them when I did my bachelors, I think it is important to do them again to refresh my knowledge before I can start the masters. I also plan to learn how to work with Matlab.

In this two semesters I am doing the best I could to prepare myself for your master program, and I hope I will be able to start it in October. I can see that the more I get in contact with this area, the more excited I get about it. I’m looking forward to learn more about what has been described as the most complex thing in the universe: the brain!

Faithfuly yours,
S.


Dear Sir or Madam,

In this letter I try to describe my motivations for applying to your master program in Computational Neuroscience.

I would like to apply to your master program in Computational Neuroscience. My ultimate careet objective is X.

My bachelors degree is in computer science, but I had always had a wide area of interest. I have a true passion for interdisciplinary fields, that cross the boundaries between each discipline and connect different areas of knowledge. The idea of studying the brain with my computer science background is compeling, and I was fascinated to find out how truly interdisciplinary the field of computational neuroscience really is. It combines psychology, studied with the exactness of mathematics and statistics, with computer models and electrical engineering to understand how voltage difference between cells originates our mind!

You start out well with the wide array of interests. And then we get into the minutia of voltages between the cells in our gray matter. If I were you, I'd speak to the higher level stuff and don't get too bogged down with the minutia. So what does that mean?

Although my bachelors degree is in computer science, I always had a wide array of interests. I have a true passion for interdisciplinary fields, where the boundaries are blurred among disciplines and connections are made to different specific areas of knowledge. Through my travels, I have become fascinated by people and how they learn and communicate. So, the idea of studying the brain, especially with my computer science background, is compelling. Moreover, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary nature of computational neuroscience. It requires psychology combined with the knowledge of mathematics, statistics, computer models and electrical engineering. The human mind is truly a fascinating, interesting, and enigmatic organ.

I wrote the paragraph above quickly without much thought. I wanted to impress upon the reader that you have a wide array of interests and that you find this area fascinating. I also wanted to set you up for your discussions on your various travels, and how they relate to your chosen career. So what do you think? By the way, I expect you to improve upon that paragraph.

Notice, no exclamation points. Nothing fancy. Just plain words.

I finished university ten years ago. Although I studied in one of the best universities in Brazil (at the time, the computer science department was the fourth best in the country), only recently have I decided to apply for a masters program. I received my degree when I was twenty two years old, and started working directly for the company where I did my internship. I worked full time for five years in the computer industry. My goal, same as the goal of so many people in Brazil, was to have a good job and a successful career. I found a good job at Unisys, a big multinational company full of career opportunities, but at some point of time I realized that just a good job was not making me happy. I decided to acquire some international experience and participated on an exchange program to the United States. This program lasts four months, and I repeated it for four years, until I could bring my English to a fluent level. I’ve also visited many countries in Europe, and spent three months in France for a French course in 2006. In 2008 I came back for six months, to further improve my French and get to know different cities in the country. At this time it became more clear to me that I wanted to go back to the university and I decided to stay and study in ***.

As I read the above paragraph, I am beginning to feel like a shrink. Your jobs, careers, levels of happiness and so on. Drop the negative stuff and emphasize the positives.

I did this and that. Furthermore, I had a passion to learn this and experiment with that. So off I went and here I am.

I came back with a student visa in 2009, and I studied French for one more year. Because of the long period after my bachelors, I thought I would need to go through a whole bachelors program again before I could apply to the masters. Since your program is not consecutive to any bachelor program, I chose the course *** at the university *** because of the flexibility of it’s curriculum, that would allow me to direct my studies in the most useful way. In the Winter semester 2010/1011, I studied the first part of the course “Mathematics for Physicists”, and the course “Introduction to the cognitive neuroscience” with prof. ***.

I find *** really jarring when reading. I read a fast clip, and those astericks always cause me to stumble. So, please, just make up names. EnglishForwardUniversity or whatever.

Again, too much story telling for my liking. And watch the contractions. Get rid of them. You don't need them.

Try telling me what motivates you and what you accomplished. See if you can reduce your word count by 40%

Being back in the university for one semester convinced me that I don’t need to complete the bachelors to be prepared for the masters, and that all the preparation that I need can be completed in one year. But, most important, the deeper understanding of what neuroscience is about, that I gained when I took the course “Introduction to neuroscience" course, made me sure that that is really what I want to do, and that I don’t want to spend any unnecessary time before I can start it.

This course made me aware of the amazing computational power of the brain, a structure so complex, that even a 2 centimeter brain rat can perform functions impossible be imitated by powerful supercomputers. (See, now that's interesting. Here you're talking about things you've discovered and why you find your new chosen field interesting.) I have learned about the senses vision and hearing, and how they not only tell us about what is “out there”, but also do a lot more. Everything we see or hear involve really complex processing that extracts information vital for our interaction with the environment, in a way that computers are still far from being able to reproduce. I have read the course literature with great pleasure, sometimes a lot more that what was required for the classes. (Some of the books are: M.F. Bear, B.W. Connors & M.A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain; E. B. Goldstein. Sensation and Perception; and D.G. Myer. Psychology). Even now, weeks after I’ve finished the exams, I still find myself browsing through the books wanting to learn more. I could also get a practical feeling of how some experiments are done, as I volunteered to be the subject on a series of experiments on visual perception made by ***.

Next semester I will continue with the second part of the course “Mathematics for Physicists” and take a course on statistics. Those courses covers all your prerequisites for mathematical knowledge. Although I had already studied them when I did my bachelors, I think it is important to do them again to refresh my knowledge before I can start the masters. I also plan to learn how to work with Matlab.

In this two semesters I am doing the best I could to prepare myself for your master program, and I hope I will be able to start it in October. I can see that the more I get in contact with this area, the more excited I get about it. I’m looking forward to learn more about what has been described as the most complex thing in the universe: the brain! (no exclamation points in this letter.)

Faithfuly yours,
S.

You've got the material and I sense your passion. Your challenge is to focus your letter more and reduce/remove the clutter. Remove the story telling elements but tie together your activities in how they have motivated you or taught you about your new chosen career. I've given you one paragraph as a bit of a kickstart.

Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Dear MountainHiker,
thank you for taking so much time to comment on my letter! Your comments really helped and gave me ideas on how to improve it.

There is actually a conection between my travels and being back to the university, I tried to write that. I also tried to keep it all positive.

Here is the current draft. No more asterisks ;-) I will first paste the letter and in the end comment on some of your comments.

-----8<---- cut here ------------8<------------

Dear Sir or Madam,

In this letter I try to describe my motivations for applying to your master program in Computational Neuroscience. My bachelors degree is in computer science, but I always had a wide array of interests. I have a true passion for interdisciplinary fields, that go beyond the boundaries of disciplines and connect different areas of knowledge. I chose computational neuroscience because it centers so many areas of study around a fascinating object: the brain. It amazes me to see behavior being studied with the exactness of mathematics and statistics, and to learn how the processes in our mind can be explained as voltage differences in the cells.

I received my degree ten years ago, but although I studied in one of the best universities in Brazil (at the time, the computer science department was the fourth best in the country), only recently have I decided to apply for a masters program. After graduation I started working right away in the software industry, and acquired experience in software development and system analysis. Working enabled me to afford my old dream of going on an exchange program and I participated in the program “Work Experience USA” in the United States for a total of sixteen months, until I could bring my English to a fluent level. I also visited many countries in Europe. Getting in contact with another countries and cultures broadened my vision of the world and showed me new ideas and possibilities. I was specially attracted to France’s tradition on science, and could see how much more support and opportunities for research exist here than in Brazil. The amazing projects I saw being developed in the universities strongly influenced in my decision to go back to my studies.

I chose the bachelors program “Natural sciences in the Society of Information ” at the University of Lyon as my first course here, because the flexibility of its curriculum would allow me to direct my studies in the most useful way. Altough I had planed to complete this bachelor before I could apply for the master, actually being in the university made it easier for me evaluate what I need to do to prepare myself. I decided to focus on reviewing my knowledge in mathematics and statistics during one year. Last semester I studied the first part of the course “Mathematics for Physicists” (Linear Algebra and Differential Calculus), and I will complete it in the summer semester. I will also take a course on statistics and learn Matlab at an advanced level. At the end of the summer semester I will have reviewed all the material that corresponds to your mathematics prerequisites.

The most important thing I studied last semester, however, was the course “Introduction to the cognitive neuroscience” with prof. José da Silva. This course gave me a better idea of what neuroscience is and taught me its basic concepts. I got in contact with the literature in the area, which I read with great pleasure, a lot more that what was required for the classes - sometimes I still find myself browsing through the books even after the end of the course. Some of the books are: M.F. Bear, B.W. Connors & M.A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain; E. B. Goldstein. Sensation and Perception; and D.G. Myer. Psychology. I could also get a practical feeling of how some experiments are done when I volunteered to be subject on a series of experiments on visual perception done by Maria da Silva.

After taking this course I can understand why it is so difficult, even for powerful supercomputers, to accomplish tasks that can be performed by a rat with a two centimeter brain. I have learned about how our senses, like vision and hearing, do not only tell us about what is “out there”, but also extracts information vital for our interaction with the environment in such a complex way that computers are still not able to reproduce. Far from discouraging me, the limitations of artificial intelligence only increase my wonder for the “hardware” inside our heads.

I am really motivated and I am doing the best I can to prepare myself for this studies. I am confident that in the winter semester I will be very well prepared, and I am excited and looking forward to start this course. To try to understand and maybe help solve the mysteries of what has been described as the most complex piece of matter in the universe: the brain.

Faithfully yours,

S.

-----8<---- cut here ------------8<------------

My ideas about some of your comments:

MountainHikerMy ultimate careet objective is X.
This program is totally research oriented, and I think the plan of most people applying for it is just to spend the days in a lab trying to find out something useful. I also don't have any other plans besides that...
MountainHiker then we get into the minutia of voltages between the cells in our gray matter. If I were you, I'd speak to the higher level stuff and don't get too bogged down with the minutia.
I think the story with the voltages is not minutia, but instead a very important part of the field of neuroscience. Some neuroscientists actually spend the whole day making experiments with voltimeters pluged into animals brains...

So, what do you think?

Thank you again!

I think the story with the voltages is not minutia, but instead a very important part of the field of neuroscience. Some neuroscientists actually spend the whole day making experiments with voltimeters pluged into animals brains...
I find that disgusting. I detest experimentation on animals. Perhaps they could find a few PhDs instead?
This program is totally research oriented, and I think the plan of most people applying for it is just to spend the days in a lab trying to find out something useful. I also don't have any other plans besides that...
Herein lies the rub then. I am used to writing letters for people who have a purpose in mind. They want to accomplish something, find something, discover something. In short, they want to make a positive difference.

I honestly don't know how to write a letter for someone or advise someone on how to write a letter when they have no clear goal in mind. It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland.
Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."
Forgive me if my following comments seem harsh or direct. They are not meant to be hurtful. Your letter lacks focus, purpose and clarity.
In this letter I try to describe my motivations for applying to your master program in Computational Neuroscience. My bachelors degree is in computer science, but I always had a wide array of interests. I have a true passion for interdisciplinary fields, that go beyond the boundaries of disciplines and connect different areas of knowledge. I chose computational neuroscience because it centers so many areas of study around a fascinating object: the brain. It amazes me to see behavior being studied with the exactness of mathematics and statistics, and to learn how the processes in our mind can be explained as voltage differences in the cell.
Your first paragraph should tell me what your end goal or objective is. You say you don't have one.

Most people have neither the interest nor the desire to read stories. They want to know, what's this student's end goal or objective. From what you've told me, you goal is to equip yourself with knowledge and expertise so that you can continue to explore the human mind? Why is that so difficult to state?

Moreover, do you want to teach? Do you just want to play in a lab? (There are not many labs that allow you play for free. Most require a purpose. Although money grows on trees, companies and governments are becoming more demanding.)
I received my degree ten years ago, but although I studied in one of the best universities in Brazil (at the time, the computer science department was the fourth best in the country), only recently have I decided to apply for a masters program. After graduation I started working right away in the software industry, and acquired experience in software development and system analysis. Working enabled me to afford my old dream of going on an exchange program and I participated in the program “Work Experience USA” in the United States for a total of sixteen months, until I could bring my English to a fluent level. I also visited many countries in Europe. Getting in contact with another countries and cultures broadened my vision of the world and showed me new ideas and possibilities. I was specially attracted to France’s tradition on science, and could see how much more support and opportunities for research exist here than in Brazil. The amazing projects I saw being developed in the universities strongly influenced in my decision to go back to my studies.
For someone who learned English as a second language, you have a strong command. However, letters should be written so that they can be digested easily.

Look at this sentence: I received my degree ten years ago, but although I studied in one of the best universities in Brazil (at the time, the computer science department was the fourth best in the country), only recently have I decided to apply for a masters program.

...but although...best universities...bracket materials....only recently...blah blah. I got bored reading it. Moreover, the but although is a sharp turn without significance.

Your job is to write a simple, concise, straigthtforward, easy-to-read letter that provides your goals and objectives and why you want to reach them. You want to make it easy for the reader to reach the right conclusion to admit you into the program.

Anything you do to make your letter complex, unwieldy, complicated, hard-to-read, wordy, lengthy, or boring detracts from your ultimate objective.
The most important thing I studied last semester, however, was the course “Introduction to the cognitive neuroscience” with prof. José da Silva. This course gave me a better idea of what neuroscience is and taught me its basic concepts. I got in contact with the literature in the area, which I read with great pleasure, a lot more that what was required for the classes - sometimes I still find myself browsing through the books even after the end of the course. Some of the books are: M.F. Bear, B.W. Connors & M.A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain; E. B. Goldstein. Sensation and Perception; and D.G. Myer. Psychology. I could also get a practical feeling of how some experiments are done when I volunteered to be subject on a series of experiments on visual perception done by Maria da Silva.
Almost everyone who might read this letter will not care which books you read. Instead, they are curious as to your thoughts and reasons. What did you learn from your books? Why does it matter?

I feel as though we are having a conversation in a coffee shop. I am not interested. Instead, I want a short concise letter.

I am late for the gym. So I hope this helps you refocus.
Hello MountainHiker,

thank you again for all your tips and comments. Some of them were really useful and helped me write something that was much better than what I started with. I decided to go on on my own now.
Thank you for everything,
S.
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