SOP mistakes: what to avoid

116 posts in this topic

Posted

I'm starting this thread as a chance to help others learn from my mistake(s), and I hope others will be generous with their lessons learned as well.

I JUST thought to look at my transcripts, and realized that two of the classes in which I did the most work in my area of study do not reflect that on the transcript!! They just say "ENGL _____, Literature and Culture" and ENGL ____, British Literature. I didn't even think to talk about the work I did in these classes in my SOP, I focused on my thesis, my conference activity, and what I want to do for my dissertation -so, while I'm sure my professor's letter of recommendation discusses it to some degree, essentially I applied for medieval literature with only one course actually labeled as such on my transcript. My SOP focused very heavily on what I wanted to do in a doctoral program, while (now I see very clearly) only nominally, superficially, expressing why I was qualified to do it. WOW. No WONDER some of the programs I applied to didn't even consider me as a serious applicant!!

So - from my experience, check what your transcript says about the classes you took/the titles they are filed under, and make sure you discuss in detail for about a paragraph the pertinent coursework you did - texts read, etc. etc.

And boy, do I feel dumb!! But at least now I can see where to go in my next round of apps!!

Anyone else got some good, specific pointers?

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Posted

I added a section to my CV to explain the coursework I did. I also wrote briefly about a couple of courses in my SOP. When I wrote my statements for this past admissions round, I think I was too modest. I've heard that one reason women are less likely to be hired than men for the same position is that women tend to state their achievements and skills more modestly, whereas men are more confident about it. Not sure how true that is generally, but it definitely describes my approach! Next time I apply for PhD spots I will take a more straightforward approach, and won't bother talking about my weaknesses. No need to draw attention to that. However, hopefully by then, once I've done work on an MA, I won't have many weaknesses to deal with!

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Posted

I just had a professor who sits on admissions committees look over my SOP.

My introduction was talking about how I liked to go to museums as a child and was fascinated by the ancient world. He said that starting out like this is a huge mistake. Obviously if you are applying to study archaeology at the graduate level, it's pretty much assumed that you're fascinated by the ancient world and probably enjoy museums. But so do lots of people. What makes you unique. Attempt to illustrate your passion for the field without really telling some kind of silly story about your childhood. This is also an approach that many people take, and if you really want a strong SOP you'll find a better, more mature, and more creative way to say it.

The next point is, whether or not to talk about the negatives on your application. I wrote mine this year mentioning them extremely briefly and moving on. My thought behind this was to simply focus heavily on all the points that make me a competitive applicant. However, some graduate programs explicitly say that your SOP is the place on your application to mention your negatives and why the committee should overlook them. Obviously, this should not be the focus of your SOP. What the committees are looking for here is growth and improvement above all. Do not make excuses for poor grades, weak GRE scores, or a spotty work record. Do, however, point out how you have grown, how the committee can see improvement, and then highlight the things that make you a fabulous candidate.

The last thing I will mention is also very important, particularly for PhDs. Make sure that you know who you are applying to study under, and what your project is. Demonstrate that you would fit into the department like a glove and that you read Dr. Octopus' latest article on the newest theory, etc. etc. etc. Also, have a concise project in mind. Remember, you're not married to this idea, but you need to show the committee that you can ask the right kind of questions concerning your proposed research and that the project is something that the faculty could help you on based off of their interests and previous work. Do not make this project a carbon-copy of something they have previously accomplished, but a project that complements the research they have already performed. It is also highly advisable, since your job as a PhD student is essentially to perform lots of independent research, to demonstrate that you are capable of performing independent research. Although you want to show that you are a good fit for the program, you do not want to appear as though your adviser will have to hold your hand for the next five years.

Hope that helps! I'm no expert, but these are simply my thoughts on the process.

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Posted

I wish I did that. I thought my transcript would reflect it, but it didn't. In fact, my transcript didn't even list both my majors! I almost cried when I saw a scanned copy of it. (My school doesn't give them to students, they mail it out themselves). It didn't say what professors taught which classes or anything. It looked awful.

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Posted

I wish I did that. I thought my transcript would reflect it, but it didn't. In fact, my transcript didn't even list both my majors! I almost cried when I saw a scanned copy of it. (My school doesn't give them to students, they mail it out themselves). It didn't say what professors taught which classes or anything. It looked awful.

I've never heard of any school that lists professors/instructors alongside the courses taken.

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Posted

I've never heard of any school that lists professors/instructors alongside the courses taken.

No, nor I. But at my undergraduate school if the English 323 I took was called "16th Century Literature Excluding Shakespeare" or, English 411 were called "Violence in Medieval Literature" on the course syllabus, that's what the transcript read, whereas at my graduate institution it just says "Eng 323: British Literature" or "Eng 411: Literature and Culture". I definitely will make it a point to list what we did and who was teaching in my next go-round!!

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Posted

Inextrovert - these are AWESOME suggestions! Thank you for sharing your experiences - I know this will be helpful to others!!!

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Posted (edited)

1. Focus....

2. Fit....

3. Future....

This is a whole bunch of great advice.

For what it's worth, my SoP focused entirely on:

~ideas I had been recently exploring (reflected in my writing sample),

~how they led to the proposal I was suggesting for grad school, and

~why I wanted to pursue said proposal at their institution.

The only mention of my undergraduate degree was half a sentence in the second paragraph, and the only mention of my MA in a related-but-not-quite-the-same field was a line toward the end, and both references tied explicitly to the outline above. I took the same approach with work experience, only mentioning it (briefly) if it was directly relevant. In fact, the whole essay hinged upon what, on paper, was a blip in my student record--a grad lit seminar I took as a non-degree student a year ago--since that course was the Pandora's box that, once opened, led to my current line of inquiry.

And intextrovert brings up a great point about the methodology of a department being an important part of its "fit." To my surprise, one of my two admittances--and the one that I ultimately accepted--was from the only school for which I didn't list specific professors in my SoP. Instead, I talked mostly about how I liked the faculty's general approach to their scholarship, and how this approach would complement the project I was proposing. My other successful app did name faculty members I wanted to work with--and cited them in my writing sample, no less--so I'm not sure how typical the first response was. But I do think it illustrates that, at least in humanities-land, naming profs you love isn't the only way to convince an adcom that you're a good "fit" for their program.

Just my two cents based on my own little bubble of largely subjective data, but I hope it helps.

Edited by BelleOfKilronen

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Posted

1. Focus....

2. Fit....

3. Future...

This is the exact way to go.

Most first drafts of SOPs I've seen start with a narrative of the person's past and background, and only get around to their current/future interests towards the end of the essay. To have a good SOP, however, the focus should be on your current and (mostly) future research plans, and it should be apparent what your interests are as early as possible. It's the same advice I get now for writing papers - don't recount the history of all your failed attempts and bad starts, tell me the path that succeeded and show me what you can do with it.

For a good, focused SOP, you should be able to demonstrate that you are familiar with the inner workings of your field. Address strengths and weaknesses in current thought about your topic, or suggest a fresh way of looking at it; choose a project that is feasible in size for the degree you're applying to; aim to have similar interests/methodology/both as the researchers in the department you're applying to. Remember that you're not committing yourself to actually doing the project, you just want to show the adcom that you can think through the details of a possible project within your area of interest. Choose no more than 1-2 interests as your main interests and spend most of your time talking about them. It's OK to have secondary interests, but it should be clear where your interests lie.

Aside choosing the right kind of interests to discuss, fit is also understanding your intended department's attitude towards things like collaborations, innovation, going in unexplored directions, doing quantitative/qualitative/theoretical/practical/etc work. Talk about things that make sense for that department. Mention anything unique that the program offers - resources, reading groups, any kind of opportunity like an exchange or a diploma. If it's not a school that emphasizes teaching, don't dwell on that. If you're not sure that you'll be encouraged to take courses at other departments, make sure before you mention "resources" that are not really going to be there.

If you want to mention coursework in more detail, most applications will allow you to e.g. upload a summary as a supporting document or as part of your CV. You can also attached it to your transcript. Include a list of course names/numbers, the instructors, and a one-paragraph description of each course (+optionally, the grade and nr of credits, but that should be on your transcript; optionally2: the topic and short description of term papers you wrote for each course). All those details don't really have to be in your SOP, unless they're directly tied to your current/future interests. If you've caught the adcom's eye, they'll go look at your credentials anyway. Optionally: give a link to a website that contains all the work you're comfortable with the adcom seeing. It can be a simple googledocs-based site, I hear they are easy to make. If they're really interested, the adcom might want to know more about your work, and that's a great easy way to give them that extra information.

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Posted

I've never heard of any school that lists professors/instructors alongside the courses taken.

Well, I guess I was wrong to expect that. I've never exactly seen transcripts from any school, even my own, so that's probably why I was in the dark.

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Posted

This is the exact way to go.

Most first drafts of SOPs I've seen start with a narrative of the person's past and background, and only get around to their current/future interests towards the end of the essay. To have a good SOP, however, the focus should be on your current and (mostly) future research plans, and it should be apparent what your interests are as early as possible. It's the same advice I get now for writing papers - don't recount the history of all your failed attempts and bad starts, tell me the path that succeeded and show me what you can do with it.

For a good, focused SOP, you should be able to demonstrate that you are familiar with the inner workings of your field. Address strengths and weaknesses in current thought about your topic, or suggest a fresh way of looking at it; choose a project that is feasible in size for the degree you're applying to; aim to have similar interests/methodology/both as the researchers in the department you're applying to. Remember that you're not committing yourself to actually doing the project, you just want to show the adcom that you can think through the details of a possible project within your area of interest. Choose no more than 1-2 interests as your main interests and spend most of your time talking about them. It's OK to have secondary interests, but it should be clear where your interests lie.

Aside choosing the right kind of interests to discuss, fit is also understanding your intended department's attitude towards things like collaborations, innovation, going in unexplored directions, doing quantitative/qualitative/theoretical/practical/etc work. Talk about things that make sense for that department. Mention anything unique that the program offers - resources, reading groups, any kind of opportunity like an exchange or a diploma. If it's not a school that emphasizes teaching, don't dwell on that. If you're not sure that you'll be encouraged to take courses at other departments, make sure before you mention "resources" that are not really going to be there.

If you want to mention coursework in more detail, most applications will allow you to e.g. upload a summary as a supporting document or as part of your CV. You can also attached it to your transcript. Include a list of course names/numbers, the instructors, and a one-paragraph description of each course (+optionally, the grade and nr of credits, but that should be on your transcript; optionally2: the topic and short description of term papers you wrote for each course). All those details don't really have to be in your SOP, unless they're directly tied to your current/future interests. If you've caught the adcom's eye, they'll go look at your credentials anyway. Optionally: give a link to a website that contains all the work you're comfortable with the adcom seeing. It can be a simple googledocs-based site, I hear they are easy to make. If they're really interested, the adcom might want to know more about your work, and that's a great easy way to give them that extra information.

Wish I had seen this six months ago! Great advice. All the crap websites I read about SOP's never are clear about what to really write in an SOP and what to express... It's a learning process in itself, I guess.

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Posted

Here's my major question about writing the SoP. If you have many awards and/or publications, do you bring that up in the SoP at all or just leave it in the CV. This year, I explained the work I'd done and told at the latter end of the paragraph that the work resulted in X, Y, or Z award. This apparently was deemed arrogance (kiss of death). Since I will be trying again next year, how does one strike the balance between arrogance and proper assertion of strengths? Or again, is it more appropriate to leave that sort of detail out of the SoP and only have it listed on the CV where the adcomm can hunt for it if they decide you interest them post-reading of the SoP?

I appreciate the help, as always!

~ m

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Posted (edited)

Here's my major question about writing the SoP. If you have many awards and/or publications, do you bring that up in the SoP at all or just leave it in the CV. This year, I explained the work I'd done and told at the latter end of the paragraph that the work resulted in X, Y, or Z award. This apparently was deemed arrogance (kiss of death). Since I will be trying again next year, how does one strike the balance between arrogance and proper assertion of strengths? Or again, is it more appropriate to leave that sort of detail out of the SoP and only have it listed on the CV where the adcomm can hunt for it if they decide you interest them post-reading of the SoP?

I appreciate the help, as always!

~ m

Just in the C.V. I mean, the way I see it, that's cool that other people thought you were awesome and gave you awards, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that the adcomm judges you as awesome now, independent of that - as a general rule, they're not going to weigh other people's opinions too heavily (except for your LoRs, which will tell them about aspects of you that they can't ascertain or judge from just reading your writing). This is especially true for English, where they have your writing sample in front of them. They are capable of judging it and you, and constantly reinforcing awards or even publications, unless it's necessary to mention for the story you're telling, could come off as insecure, I think. So no, I didn't say "in my award-winning thesis..." because that's unnecessary since it's in my C.V., and they have that "award-winning" writing to judge for themselves. It also changes the tone, and by the mere shift in focus could suggest that you see the work as valuable because it got you an award, or that you're more invested in what it got you or where it ended up than the work itself - you see what I'm saying? The SoP should be much more earnest in tone, not really focused on telling how decorated you are but on demonstrating in an observable way how much direction, drive, creativity, etc. you have, as well as how deeply invested you are in your work. And again, focused on the future instead of the past.

The bottom line is that they aren't going to care much about awards - none of that is going to get you in. Just the raw writing itself!

Also, where are you getting that your approach was deemed "arrogance"? Did an adcomm tell you that?!

Edited by intextrovert

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Posted

Here's my major question about writing the SoP. If you have many awards and/or publications, do you bring that up in the SoP at all or just leave it in the CV. This year, I explained the work I'd done and told at the latter end of the paragraph that the work resulted in X, Y, or Z award. This apparently was deemed arrogance (kiss of death). Since I will be trying again next year, how does one strike the balance between arrogance and proper assertion of strengths? Or again, is it more appropriate to leave that sort of detail out of the SoP and only have it listed on the CV where the adcomm can hunt for it if they decide you interest them post-reading of the SoP?

I appreciate the help, as always!

~ m

I don't know about arrogance, but it just takes up much needed space from your SOP and doesn't add any information that isn't already in your CV. The SOP should add new information or expound upon existing information, not restate what the adcom members already know about you. The "proper assertion of strengths" is the "show, don't tell" rule. Your passion, enthusiasm and knowledge about your field should shine through your words and actions, not be literally stated.

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Posted (edited)

Here's my major question about writing the SoP. If you have many awards and/or publications, do you bring that up in the SoP at all or just leave it in the CV. This year, I explained the work I'd done and told at the latter end of the paragraph that the work resulted in X, Y, or Z award. This apparently was deemed arrogance (kiss of death). Since I will be trying again next year, how does one strike the balance between arrogance and proper assertion of strengths? Or again, is it more appropriate to leave that sort of detail out of the SoP and only have it listed on the CV where the adcomm can hunt for it if they decide you interest them post-reading of the SoP?

I appreciate the help, as always!

~ m

I agree with the advice others have given. Do not list your awards in terms of what you've earned from your previous work. That's what your CV is for.

However, you can use your SoP to give your awards greater context; to frame them not as mere compliments to your work (again, they'll be the judge) but as extraordinary privileges you are grateful for.

Instead of just listing awards as outcomes of your work, show productive benefits: that each award and opportunity has led you to greater personal achievement.

For example, if certain scholarship programs (yes, that admire your work) have helped you on your way, humbly give them credit and explain how they have helped to elevate you to this moment, where you are applying to graduate school.

Let the school know that your past privileges were beneficial investments in the future you foresee -- with the program you are applying to. Let them know they will become part of a greater narrative by accepting you. You have generated momentum -- and this school can keep you going!

In this way, your awards can be an exciting and meaningful part of your application, not an example of arrogance.

If you have contributed back to the organizations that have given you awards, try to mention your efforts. It is proof of your caring, understanding of your privilege, gratefulness and dedication.

Without saying so explicitly, let the school know that, by accepting you, they are helping put you in an even better position to give back...and hint that you won't forget to give back to them someday, either! (Examples are volunteering, producing more fine work in the program's name, speaking on their behalf, or just by being a good "face" for the program.)

This speaks to your ability to take advantage of your opportunities, learn, work hard, improve, and, overall, to be honorable. Which is why you got the awards in the first place, right?

Not only can this help you get accepted, it can also put you in a better financial aid situation. It says you are a worthwhile investment.

It is always good to show that other people have believed in you, entrusted you with opportunities, and that you consider it your responsibility to continue to do them proud! You consider this program to be the next step that, in turn, helps you pay back all the previous steps.

Then the school knows you aspire to excellence on behalf of people who invest in you.

Who wouldn't want to be part of that?

Edited by Jae B.

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Posted

I agree with the advice others have given. Do not list your awards in terms of what you've earned from your previous work. That's what your CV is for.

However, you can use your SoP to give your awards greater context; to frame them not as mere compliments to your work (again, they'll be the judge) but as extraordinary privileges you are grateful for.

Let the school know that your past privileges were beneficial investments in the future you foresee -- with the program you are applying to. Let them know they will become part of a greater narrative by accepting you. You have generated momentum -- and this school can keep you going!

In this way, your awards can be an exciting and meaningful part of your application, not an example of arrogance.

If you have contributed back to the organizations that have given you awards, try to mention your efforts. It is proof of your caring, understanding of your privilege, gratefulness and dedication.

Without saying so explicitly, let the school know that, by accepting you, they are helping put you in an even better position to give back...and hint that you won't forget to give back to them someday, either! (Examples are volunteering, producing more fine work in the program's name, speaking on their behalf, or just by being a good "face" for the program.)

This speaks to your ability to take advantage of your opportunities, learn, work hard, improve, and, overall, to be honorable. Which is why you got the awards in the first place, right?

It is always good to show that other people have believed in you, entrusted you with opportunities, and that you consider it your responsibility to continue to do them proud! You consider this program to be the next step that, in turn, helps you pay back all the previous steps.

Then the school knows you aspire to excellence on behalf of people who invest in you.

Who wouldn't want to be part of that?

This is a really great consideration, and one I DO - I spend a lot of time thanking those who have helped me in public fashion and maintaining their investment in me by working hard and crediting them for their help and influence - but would never necessarily have thought to write about. Great suggestion!!

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Posted (edited)

I'm going to offer what may or may not be useful advice, so...

I'm willing to bet the committee doesn't even look at your transcript beyond a verification of your GPA. Heck, it takes me 5 minutes to figure out my own and I took the darn classes. How on Earth could they even begin to divine what all that mumbo-jumbo means? I take that to mean you're in no better or worse shape than anyone else. If you feel that you got passed over, it's more than likely NOT because you left out the names of your classes. I'm under the impression (and several professors have confirmed this) that the classes you took are less interesting to them than a sense of whether you "speak the language" and how you got to that point. When you write about your project, do you convey that sense of "I know what I'm doing and I don't have to mention a bunch of names to prove it"? Is your interest in the topic personal enough that you'll stick it out? Why do you want to study this? Why are we the school to do it at? Who here is going to help you and how are you going to help them?

A boring recitation of what you did can be a death knell in my opinion, especially if you don't stand out from everyone else who's applied and provided a list. I handled my "qualifications to do research" section by crafting a kind of personal story of how I studied this with that professor but also supplemented my studies with this other prof and how it informed my ongoing decision to follow my current project. I spoke briefly about how my lackluster performance in the MDiv was offset by a solid GPA for my ThM. BUT, this was barely two paragraphs (if you put it all together) and was definitely interwoven with the overall "story" of my SoP.

In the end, my strong sense of this is that your transcripts are only important for your GPA. The names of the classes you took are meaningless to the committee if you can't talk about your project with a commensurate level of competence (not saying you can't, mind you). Spend too much time talking about the names of classes and profs and you'll shorten the amount of time you can talk about what you plan to do (and bore profs who are now reading the 100th SoP in two weeks). Certainly mention why you're qualified, but keep in mind that taking a class in no way qualifies you to do more advanced research. The knowledge and understanding you synthesized from the class is what matters. One can take a class all day with Cornell West, for example, and still come out just as dumb as he/she went in. Your SoP needs to stand out. If it's interesting and engaging and keeps the profs' interest, you're in great shape. If it bores them with lists of achievements, you're in trouble. No matter what you provide, they've seen more impressive résumés. What they're looking for is "will this person be someone I can stand to have in my office weekly for the next 5 years?"

PS the name of the class is nowhere near as important as the name of the prof. "I studied with Cornell West" is a far more important sentence than "I took 'History of the Civil Rights Movement from 1962-1963' and 'The Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr' and got A's in both." (And please note that I totally made all that up, so don't kill me if I said something wrong.)

PPS I'm not suggesting that the OP is aiming for a "boring" SoP, just that too much information can sink an app far faster than not enough. Boredom is your #1 worst enemy. ;)

Edited by Postbib Yeshuist

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Posted (edited)

Wow, thank you, fuzzy, intextrovert, and Jae B. Excellent advice and input all around. I will do it differently this time. Writing a new one from scratch.

And intextrovert, I've had several people tell me this after reading my SoP, a professor I know at UCLA (in Psych, but on an adcomm), a recent PhD friend of mine, and two professors who know me. Of course, I didn't think to have any of these folks read for me in advance rolleyes.gif . Smart, right? Learning the hard way. Also, Duke has an excellent page on what they expect in the SoP, it specifically lists striking a balance between arrogance and accomplishment. Actually, the Duke page is the best one I've seen, though the DGS at University of Wisconsin also sent me a very informative .pdf that mentioned arrogance as a killer. And then there's a incredibly interesting link on this website to a Kiss of Death article about statements of purpose that also lists arrogance or sounding arrogant.

Mini arrogant rant wink.gif (be forewarned): It's so frustrating to me this notion of expecting folks (and I mean just about anyone who can hope to get into the schools on these boards) who are, in broad comparison, well-accomplished, awards or no, to act as though those accomplishments are "less than" or not worth caring about or omit mention of them in an attempt to get into a program. I would think that adcomms would care if someone's writing consistently won awards, every time they wrote a research paper. I would think that would give them a track record of success in writing that indicates a possibility of continuing in that vein in graduate school, especially if the awards were out of a broad sampling of thousands of other writers. Otherwise, why wouldn't we all shoot for good grades alone? Why put out the extra effort if not to distinguish ourselves? If all the TA/RAships, publications, awards, etc., don't matter, then why submit a CV at all or seek out those opportunities? I suppose Jae B's suggestions do cast this in a different light for me, and I'll be giving this further thought. I gave up a lot of time with my family (and I mean time away from my kids' band concerts, games, etc.) in order to go after those "extras," so finding out that they don't really matter makes me sad.gif .End rant.

Le sigh. Again, thank you, each of you for giving such sound advice. I'll do my best to put it into practice, and I love Jae B.'s suggestions about showing how these experiences have motivated me to each "next step." All great input. I'm grateful!

~ m

Edited by minnares

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Posted

Here's my major question about writing the SoP. If you have many awards and/or publications, do you bring that up in the SoP at all or just leave it in the CV. This year, I explained the work I'd done and told at the latter end of the paragraph that the work resulted in X, Y, or Z award. This apparently was deemed arrogance (kiss of death). Since I will be trying again next year, how does one strike the balance between arrogance and proper assertion of strengths? Or again, is it more appropriate to leave that sort of detail out of the SoP and only have it listed on the CV where the adcomm can hunt for it if they decide you interest them post-reading of the SoP?

I appreciate the help, as always!

~ m

If you are first author on a publication that's placed in something important (a scholarly journal, the New York Times, etc) and what you wrote about relates to the project you're proposing in your SOP, then I would definitely say something like, "The research I performed on my publication in Aren't Primates Interesting on the slow loris inspired me to raise this question that I could pursue under the direction of Dr. X and thus makes me an ideal candidate for this program" (ok, not EXACTLY like that, but you know what I'm saying!).

I'm going to have to agree that the adcomms, especially in this application season where the number of applicants are high, are probably going to look at the basics first, and then your awards second. It sucks, you did hard work and was recognized for it, but a lot of this is simply a numbers game. If your application makes it to a "short list" that's when I think they will be say, "Minnares not only exceeds the qualifications for this department, but on her CV it says that she's won all sorts of awards for being fabulously talented! That certainly puts her above poor sap #45 who only have grades and test scores to go off of."

The process sucks, it's not fair, and all of that. I think that at some point your extras do matter, but think of them like the icing on the top of the cake that is your application.

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Thank you lily (and can I just say that you're consistently very kind and diplomatic on these boards). Well put. And yes, life's so far from fair, no surprise there. I'm looking at this process as a continuation of my ongoing learning experiences. I'm constantly trying to find a way to be softer with my approach and consider others and how they might respond. So this is another opportunity to try to think in those other shoes and see myself however a stranger might. Your point about the end game (icing) is likely very accurate (though it didn't do me a heap of good this year). We'll see how it goes as I try to approach the process with a humbled aspect next time wink.gif .

~ m

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It's so frustrating to me this notion of expecting folks (and I mean just about anyone who can hope to get into the schools on these boards) who are, in broad comparison, well-accomplished, awards or no, to act as though those accomplishments are "less than" or not worth caring about or omit mention of them in an attempt to get into a program. I would think that adcomms would care if someone's writing consistently won awards, every time they wrote a research paper. I would think that would give them a track record of success in writing that indicates a possibility of continuing in that vein in graduate school, especially if the awards were out of a broad sampling of thousands of other writers. Otherwise, why wouldn't we all shoot for good grades alone? Why put out the extra effort if not to distinguish ourselves? If all the TA/RAships, publications, awards, etc., don't matter, then why submit a CV at all or seek out those opportunities? I suppose Jae B's suggestions do cast this in a different light for me, and I'll be giving this further thought. I gave up a lot of time with my family (and I mean time away from my kids' band concerts, games, etc.) in order to go after those "extras," so finding out that they don't really matter makes me sad.gif .End rant.

I understand what you're saying, but I think this sort of misses the point. Of course your accomplishments matter - but not for the reasons you seem to imply. They matter inasmuch as they attest to what sort of scholar you are, what sort of writing you are capable of producing and what sort of ideas for projects you are capable of conceiving. But it's the writing itself that matters - if your writing "consistently won awards," shouldn't it be able to speak for itself? First and foremost, your writing sample and SoP have to impress them, independent of knowing anything else about you. Then, they can look at your C.V. and say, "oh, okay, this awesome piece of writing was not a fluke - she consistently produces this level of work." The awards and pubs are ornamentation, "icing," as lily calls it, perhaps derived from something substantial (the quality of the work itself) - but without concrete evidence of that substance, it seems pretty hollow. Icing without cake (blech)!

And it's not about false humility. Presumably, you didn't spend time away from your kids' band concerts and games because you wanted to get an award, but because you were deeply invested in your work, the substance. The awards or the fact that you got it published are offshoots of that, but even without the decoration, the substance of the work would be the same. So that's what your SoP should mostly be talking about. But they do have your C.V., so it's not like it's totally absent from your application! It's thinking that it should carry more weight than that that seems problematic. Being too invested in what you got as a result of the work is perhaps what comes off as "arrogant" because it indicates that you think what matters is the icing, rather than the cake (to stretch the metaphor). Frankly, when I've gotten awards, I've been like, "Oh! Cool!" but what I really cared about was the piece I had produced, and what I said, the process I had gone through, and what I had gained as a scholar. That's the part that matters, and I suppose that is inherently more humble, but not falsely so - it's just less about the competition that you beat out and more about the inherent value of what you did. I mean, there is a good reason that people dislike arrogance: it indicates a focus on the wrong things.

This is actually one aspect of the admissions process I like - the part where they look to the substance itself, the product, rather than things that could be evidence of substance (grades, scores, awards, etc.).

With publications, I can see how it's slightly different in some cases, because it speaks to some sort of professionalization. If it's important to your narrative, I think it would be fine to discuss what you learned from preparing an article for publication and it wouldn't necessarily look arrogant. But it just can't be all about the end game.

Jae B's suggestions are good because they re-focus it back to the substance and content itself, not the ornamentation.

Edited by intextrovert

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I understand what you're saying, but I think this sort of misses the point. Of course your accomplishments matter - but not for the reasons you seem to imply. They matter inasmuch as they attest to what sort of scholar you are, what sort of writing you are capable of producing and what sort of ideas for projects you are capable of conceiving. But it's the writing itself that matters - if your writing "consistently won awards," shouldn't it be able to speak for itself? First and foremost, your writing sample and SoP have to impress them, independent of knowing anything else about you. Then, they can look at your C.V. and say, "oh, okay, this awesome piece of writing was not a fluke - she consistently produces this level of work." The awards and pubs are ornamentation, "icing," as lily calls it, perhaps derived from something substantial (the quality of the work itself) - but without concrete evidence of that substance, it seems pretty hollow. Icing without cake (blech)!

This is actually one aspect of the admissions process I like - the part where they look to the substance itself, the product, rather than things that could be evidence of substance (grades, scores, awards, etc.).

With publications, I can see how it's slightly different in some cases, because it speaks to some sort of professionalization. If it's important to your narrative, I think it would be fine to discuss what you learned from preparing an article for publication and it wouldn't necessarily look arrogant. But it just can't be all about the end game.

Jae B's suggestions are good because they re-focus it back to the substance and content itself, not the ornamentation.

I cannot cosign this comment enough. However, I regret you edited out the Cornel West reference. :)

Anyway, I'm a huge fan of showing. If you have to tell me you're a good writer? You're not. Same with awards and positions and publications.

As intextrovert stresses, it's about the story. If the award facilitated research that led to a deeper understanding of XYZ then it's relevant. If you just won an award I don't care. If you took a class with someone famous and a conversation in his office about such-and-such profoundly affected how you approach your research? That is fascinating! If you sat next to said famous person? Again, dumb luck.

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Posted (edited)

I understand what you're saying, but I think this sort of misses the point. Of course your accomplishments matter - but not for the reasons you seem to imply. They matter inasmuch as they attest to what sort of scholar you are, what sort of writing you are capable of producing and what sort of ideas for projects you are capable of conceiving. But it's the writing itself that matters - if your writing "consistently won awards," shouldn't it be able to speak for itself? First and foremost, your writing sample and SoP have to impress them, independent of knowing anything else about you. Then, they can look at your C.V. and say, "oh, okay, this awesome piece of writing was not a fluke - she consistently produces this level of work." The awards and pubs are ornamentation, "icing," as lily calls it, perhaps derived from something substantial (the quality of the work itself) - but without concrete evidence of that substance, it seems pretty hollow. Icing without cake (blech)!

And it's not about false humility. Presumably, you didn't spend time away from your kids' band concerts and games because you wanted to get an award, but because you were deeply invested in your work, the substance. The awards or the fact that you got it published are offshoots of that, but even without the decoration, the substance of the work would be the same. So that's what your SoP should mostly be talking about. But they do have your C.V., so it's not like it's totally absent from your application! It's thinking that it should carry more weight than that that seems problematic. Being too invested in what you got as a result of the work is perhaps what comes off as "arrogant" because it indicates that you think what matters is the icing, rather than the cake (to stretch the metaphor). Frankly, when I've gotten awards, I've been like, "Oh! Cool!" but what I really cared about was the piece I had produced, and what I said, the process I had gone through, and what I had gained as a scholar. That's the part that matters, and I suppose that is inherently more humble, but not falsely so - it's just less about the competition that you beat out and more about the inherent value of what you did. I mean, there is a good reason that people dislike arrogance: it indicates a focus on the wrong things.

This is actually one aspect of the admissions process I like - the part where they look to the substance itself, the product, rather than things that could be evidence of substance (grades, scores, awards, etc.).

With publications, I can see how it's slightly different in some cases, because it speaks to some sort of professionalization. If it's important to your narrative, I think it would be fine to discuss what you learned from preparing an article for publication and it wouldn't necessarily look arrogant. But it just can't be all about the end game.

Jae B's suggestions are good because they re-focus it back to the substance and content itself, not the ornamentation.

Once again, all well said and diplomatically (gently) so. I'm grateful, intextrovert. And you're right that I made the choices I did for the intellectual challenge and the process rather than thinking there would be any award at the finish and certainly not every time (not just a fluke). And, in fairness, I did say "awards or no," so I think that it's interesting every focuses on the awards part of my mini-rant rather than the TA/RAship, publication, etc. part of the rant. When I mentioned skipping my kids' activities, I meant for things like TA and RA jobs, which also apparently do not matter much in this process except in the sense that I gained teaching experience and experience supporting larger research projects for myself and others. I've just got to focus on what I learned in each instance, how the work furthered my thinking or interest in my subject and then leave it to them to *glance* at my CV (hopefully). I've been keeping notes on all of your excellent input, so I hope to do this right and not shame myself twice rolleyes.gif .

~ m

Edited by minnares

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I've never heard of any school that lists professors/instructors alongside the courses taken.

Oh, it depends. The school I attend does that.

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