I realize I am not what you call a forum-regular, but I find this forum to be one of the most interesting on the interwebz and regularly find myself reading posts in the 'science' sections. My post count is rather low and I might be asking alot here, but I'll do it regardless
Currently, I'm in the process of applying for a master's track called Cognitive Neuroscience, which is being given in the faculty of psychology in a university near my hometown. Part of the application procedure is writing a motivation letter (Cover letter?) to shine light on the reasons behind your application. As I'm sure some of you have gone through the same process in your educational careers, I'd really appreciate getting some pointers on what (not) to do.
About: Motivation letter Research Master Psychology (Track Cognitive Neuroscience)
Dear Sir or Madam,
First off, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read this letter. My aim for this letter is to make clear my motivation behind applying for the Research Master's in Psychology, and specifically the Cognitive Neuroscience track. Because of my background, I realise I won't be able to enroll this year, but I'm hoping this letter will help me set goals for next year's pre-master.
The last four years I've studied and successfully finished a Bachelor's in Computer Science at the TU in Delft. The part I found most fascinating was 'Artificial Intelligence' (AI). Which I see as a field of research in which techniques (algorithms, or heuristics) are developed and formalized to efficiently find (good-enough) solutions for problems in an 'open search space'. Which can also be seen as a practical approach to the more philosophical question 'what is intelligence?'.
As the (be it human or non-human) brain is, by our own criteria, one of the best and most readily available kinds of intelligence, it is only natural to start with the science that attempts to understand the mind (partly by studying the brain), Psychology. In an effort to find out more about this, during my Bachelor I chose to study the minor 'Mind & Brain', which is an introduction into the Cognitive Psychology field.
While I was studying the minor my interest in Cognitive Psychology grew. Drs. [person1] told me about the Master's program in Applied Cognitive Psychology, which didn't focus as much on the theory of AI, but did focus on human computer interaction (another field I'm interested). With that option suddenly opened up, I started looking into the possibility of doing other Cognitive Psychology masters and stumbled upon the Research Master track Cognitive Neuroscience, which I actually immediately crossed off as 'not-an-option', because of the requirements.
That changed when I visited the 'master voorlichtingsdag' held at the FSW faculty, in which I attended the informational lecture for the Psychology Research Master. During this lecture, dr. [person2] mentioned that it's possible to compensate some of the requirements stated for the Research Master and that it's not uncommon for computer science bachelors to apply. (Though, as it turned, out I misinterpreted that statement) Anyhow, with that in mind, I decided to apply (and subsequently write this letter).
Why Cognitive Neuroscience?
Describing my reasoning in words and this limited space in a way that resonates with the reader is quite hard, but I think it can be neatly explained by David Marr's tri-level hypothesis. I think finding the algorithmic level of Cognitivist subjects like intelligence, creativity and perhaps even consciousness can only be done through an iterative process. In which algorithmic level descriptions (theories) are tested and improved based on implementational level findings. And well, the most obvious way to implement algorithmic theories is on other practically turing-complete systems, namely computers (von neumann or other).
This is where I think my combination of knowledge and most importantly interest in the fields of cognitive (neuro)science and computer science will help refine theories and advance practical application of these theories.
A good way to summarize the reasons behind my application would be: I am interested in taking the 'mind' and putting it in something else.
As my Bachelor's degree is in Computer Science, there are some requirements I don't yet meet for the Research Master's programme. The most obvious is not having a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. Hopefully the pre-master can be constructed in such a way that allows me to gain the necessary knowledge.
The pre-master also gives me the chance to alleviate some problems with the other requirements. My average grade for my Bachelor's was just below the minimum requirement for this Master's, but I'm planning to raise that average to a respectable level during the pre-master. Also, I'm hoping to be able to fulfill the recommendation letter requirement.
Thanks for taking the time to read this letter,
In the spoiler tags is a censured version (names removed etc.) of what I've written so far. What I'm mainly interested in is:
- - what kind of stuff is standard practice to include in these letters?
– How 'to the point' should I be?
- Is it worth the effort to 'show off' aptitude in english (as it is not my native language)?
And specifically to the letter (if you've read it)
- - As I've got a background in computer science, applying and getting in the Master will be very difficult. Also I won't be able to roll in immediately, I have to do a pre-master track first. Is it worth mentioning some of my intentions about back-up plans? (Mainly, a different master which doesn't have the same strict requirements)
- There are some requirements I don't yet meet for the master, is it worth mentioning my plans on alleviating these problems (at the risk of making the letter longwinded?)
- As for referencing established theories in the field of psychology and computer science, is it overdone? (nowhere near enough?)
- Any other general comments on the letter itself? (Specifically spelling and grammatical errors)
Thanks for taking the time to read this!
Edit: Version 2 of the letter.