How to write about the experience and interests in your CERN application
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at two items you will be asked fill out in your summer student application: “elaborate briefly your experience of the chosen domain(s)” and “give details of any interest in specific topics or CERN experiments.”
In your answers to those two questions, you want to write down things you have done, skills you have, and how all of this benefits CERN. That last point is very important to emphasize. Whatever you write, explain why certain knowledge or experience is useful to the group that would chose you.
Avoid using phrases and sentences like “my knowledge/experience in X will benefit you in Y”. Make it more smooth and indirect, for example “Besides blabla, programming in C++ on project X in the last six months helped me grow as a programmer. I became more confident, efficient, and overall better with each new task.” This way you are letting them know that you are good for them for xyz reasons without actually saying it. ;)
Another good thing is to show modesty. For example, “working with blabla was truly challenging, but I managed to finish the task successfully. Even though it was quite stressful at the time I learned that I am capable of working under pressure and finishing a task no matter how difficult it might seem.” Here, you show you are not perfect and that everything is easy and yet you are telling them that they can rely on you finishing up the task under any conditions.
Of course, do not use my two examples. If 10% of 10% of people who apply would use these examples that is already 30 people. You should come up with your own sentences.
Make your statements clear and make it “smart”. You can do that by using “big words”, just make sure that it’s still readable after you are done. You don’t want the person reading your application have to grab a dictionary every 5 seconds, right?
And remember, you only have 1440 characters so try to pack as much information as you can but, again, make it easy to read.
Elaborating briefly on experience of the chosen domain(s)
Here you should write anything you have done. In order to raise your visibility, it is a good idea to use keywords such as C++, ROOT, Python, simulation, studies of jets, etc. Do not overdo it, though. They will see through it. Besides, rarely a single person is interested in multiple programming languages, 5 fields of physics, and had time to do all of it within their program of studies. Just focus on what interests you and work around it. Another good option is to find out which groups at CERN are closest to your interest and mention them.
If you have done some volunteer work or outreach, schools or workshops related to the field you chose add that as well. Ask yourself questions like:
- How did that school benefit you that in a way useful to CERN?
- Did that visit abroad make you more motivated to join an international environment like we have at CERN? Why is that?
- Why were you involved in that outreach activity? What did you learn from it?
You get the idea. ;) And don’t forget to indirectly say why all of the things you mention are good thing for people hiring you.
Giving details of any interest in specific topics or CERN experiments
Like with the motivation letter and above section, you have to take time to write this part of the application since it is very important. This one might take a bit more research work if you do not already know were you would like to work.
So, if you know the group you want to collaborate with – great! If not here is a small trick. Go to the CERN Gray Book. There, you will find a list of all experiments and their full names. Usually names give away what the group is working on.
Once you find something that seems interesting, check their latest publications. One publication can be enough. Read through it and find some spots that you particularly like and would want to work with. Then, in this section you can say how you came across this paper and you thought that something you chose from paper is XYZ and you believe your set of skills will contribute to experiment/group in XYZ ways.
Also, you might want to work on an experiment but you are unsure how you can contribute. Then just speak about how much you like the experiment and why. Mention the skills you have and say that you would like to contribute and help the experiment reach its goal in any way possible. My advice is also to say no matter what experiment/group you might end up working with that you will be very grateful for the given opportunity.
Again, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t really use my examples since other students will see them as well. Put your own twist to them and don’t worry, you will do great! ☺