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I am writing a purpose statement for a PhD program in mathematics and would like advice on properly phrasing this sentence:

My first foray into unusual mathematics was an introductory course in cryptography.

It might be a case of over-reading it, but for some reason this sentence just doesn't sound right in my head. Should I change it to

My first foray into unusual mathematics was taking an introductory course in cryptography during my sophomore year.

Other advice would be appreciated.

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    I would say; my first encounter with unusual mathematics was taking an introductory course in cryptography during my second year in college (or high school). When was the last time you heard somebody using foray or sophomore?
    – Grizzly
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 5:10
  • Hmm, maybe foray is a bit out of place. Do you know of any other good substitutes for "encounter"? It seems over-used to me. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 5:12
  • I agree with Grizzly. Speak plainly and powerfully. Getting pointlessly fancy is to easy to recognize as trying to sound smarter than you are. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 5:13
  • It is not over-used but 'used' because it is the right word for the right thing :) Trust me, make your sentence plain and simple.
    – Grizzly
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 5:15
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    Consider a complete reconstruction. It's a bit dull. Profesor XYZ's introductory course in cryptography was my first experience with advanced mathematics. It set me on a path to... Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 5:23

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"This introductory course in cryptography was my first foray into unusual mathematics" is a more usual phrasing.

i.e "Something was my first foray into ____..." rather than "My first foray into ___ was ".

It may be such a strong tendency that the latter construct does not exist in actual use.

And of course, the best rule to follow is, if you are not sure how something is used, don't use it.

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My first foray into unusual mathematics occurred when I took an introductory course in cryptography during my sophomore year.

I'm not quite sure about the "unusual" part. Is that an official term? If so, ignore the rest. If not, perhaps "non-traditional" or "unconventional" or even "off-beat" would probably be better. If irony is your thing, you might want to consider "quaint," "exotic," "unorthodox," or even "kinky."

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    I agree that "unusual" doesn't feel comfortable (but I'm the first to concede I wouldn't know unusual mathematics from chopped liver). Is there any other "technical" word that might be better? I also think "foray" is a bit flowery rather than strong, and I would use "contact with" or "experience with" - they are much more neutral. I would also just leave it as "... mathematics was an introductory course ...", however i would also add "during my second year at college.".
    – Cargill
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 5:49
  • @Cargill: Back when I worked in IT, I had this boss, a fake blonde. When her boss asked her to promote me, she turned him down, saying, among other things, that my memo writing style was flowery. She was dumb as a post. I know for a fact that you're intelligent. So why not say, "The unimaginative bureaucratic losers on whose frigid desks this purpose statement is going to end up might find the word "foray" too flowery for their philistine taste." ... "My first scouting mission into the realm of ... " I was inclined to agree with you on the sophomore thing before you awakened the clown in me.
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 6:45
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    I expect that clown-awakening is even more satisfying than upvoting. And I must disclose that in one way or another I've spent years being involved in Plain English writing, so I concede I have ultra-sensitive flowery-detection devices, and can possibly be a bit Talibanish about it.
    – Cargill
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 20:36

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