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scientific

Looking for tips on organization of SOP

6 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

 

I have some topics written down for my SOP, but am looking for a way to organize it. I am applying for PhD programs in physical chemistry, and will pursue research careers after graduation.

background: I graduated in 2014 in chemistry. a time line is something like:

  • undergrad 1st year - community volunteer outreach
  • undergrad 2nd year - underprivileged community outreach, elementary school teaching aide, 2 part-time job, research internship
  • undergrad 3rd year - research internship, 2 part-time jobs
  • undergrad 4th year - community arts program participant, college-level science TA,, private tutoring
  • undergrad 5th year - part time jobs, research internship, research internship abroad
  • post-grad 1 - unrelated full-time job
  • post-grad 2 - unrelated work, volunteer science outreach assistant/teaching aide
  • post-grad 3 - 3 part-time jobs, volunteer research

 

other stats: 1 conference presentation, 2 publications, 1 other poster, 162/162/5 GRE, taking subject test later this year

 

1. I think that my paper will be organized by year, since I think doing it by "type" of extracurricular could be confusing. So, if roughly one paragraph per year, would it be better to discuss my research experiences in the beginning of each paragraph, then outreach, then part-time work, or is it better to end each paragraph with the research experience? 

2.  My undergrad GPA is subpar (below 3.3), mostly because I was doing a lot and had kind of a naive attitude towards grades. Time after graduation gave me perspective and time to consider what i wanted to do and essentially mature. Is it a bad idea to talk about this? How else would I talk about the gap since graduation and the poor GPA? 

3. Are there different "rules" when writing SOP for science programs? I.e., keep it short and to the point, etc? 

 

Thanks. I know these are nit-picky details but trying to make sure everything is as close to perfect as I can make it.

Edited by scientific
change gpa

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1. I don't even think you need to address everything you listed above, unless you feel it absolutely pertinent to the message you're trying to send. This seems like an awful lot to include. If it can be said in your resume, then I'd keep it out or briefly mention that you managed to do all these things at once at the very end of your SOP. 

2. I don't think that 3.4 is terribly low that you'd have to explain it away, unless you have some glaring grades that are bringing it down.

3. There are not outright "rules" for an SOP in the sciences. Tips, however, are definitely to focus on experiences that will boost your apparent potential to do research in your field of interest, whether that be research experiences outright or other. 

Also, take all this with a grain of salt, because I'm just out of undergrad. 

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Thanks for your response, i_mix.

My gpa is sub-3.3, and has some questionable spots, so I'm not sure if the resume itself implies that I was doing a lot or if I should address it. I hear a lot of mixed advice about this, so I figured if there was a way for me to touch upon it while pointing out I was doing a lot otherwise, it might help.

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Or would it be more focused if it were:

1 paragraph each of - discussion of poorer grade, outreach activities/extracurricular, then a discusison of all research? I figured that might seem a bit clunky, but you're right, it is an awful lot to discuss.

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@scientific, if you feel that those questionable spots are important enough to address then address it. Personally, I've addressed my own subpar grades, but my GPA was worse than yours. 
Regarding your second question: I really can't tell you how to structure your SOP or whether or not that structure would be good for your purposes. It really depends on flow etc. and also, I guess, your style of writing as well. Were I in your position, I would stop mulling over the small details and just hash out a first draft. Get it all out there first and then evaluate with something more concrete.

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I agree with the above posters that you should not include everything on this list. The SOP is not meant to be a summary of your activities, that's what a resume or CV is for! For many of the things on the list, you just need a line on your CV. In your SOP, you should be focussed on the future and also discuss what you want to do in grad school, so spending a bunch of space on your past is not helpful. Also, in your list here, you spend a lot of space detailing what you did year by year but I would say the thing to focus the most on your SOP is what you're simply listing as "other stats".

Here is how I might structure a SOP for someone with your background:

1st paragraph: What do you want to do in a PhD program? What are your main interests? Why this school?

2nd paragraph: Discuss the research project that lead to your first publication. What was the goal of your project? What did you do? Be sure to say specifically your contribution, especially if it's a big contribution. What did you learn? Did you have to compete for this internship/position? If the conference presentation was part of this project, say that here (no need to elaborate, just say that you presented your work at X).

3rd paragraph: Discuss the research project that lead to your second publication. Same thing as above.

4th paragraph: Discuss any other research you've done in addition to the above publications. For example, if the research work you've done since graduation is not mentioned above, say it here. If everything is already included in above, then skip this.

5th paragraph: Instead of addressing your GPA, I would just focus on the positives. So, my advice would be to spend a paragraph showing how you have matured as a student and a researcher (if securing that unrelated job was related to this development, then you can mention it, otherwise leave it out). So, you might want to have a paragraph that discusses what you've been doing since graduation. How did you get these volunteer positions? You might want to end up combining this paragraph with the 4th paragraph.

6th paragraph: Only if it is truly important to you, this is a place for you to briefly talk about your passion for teaching and outreach. Keep it short. It should not be longer than paragraphs 2 or 3. Talk about all of your outreach here---you don't have to worry about the timeline or saying you did X then Y then Z etc. Again, that's what the CV is for. Instead, just discuss your outreach in broad strokes: why do you do outreach? what did you do? what were you responsible for? what did you achieve? 

At this point you are probably 2/3rds of the way through your word limit. If you're over, then cut it down. The remaining 1/3 should be looking forward. Here, you can dive deeper into your research interests that you started discussing in the introduction. You can name specific names here if that's something your field does. Don't be too specific that it makes you sound like you only want to work in one lab. But this is where you make it clear that your research interests are well aligned with the department you're applying to and a good fit is extremely important.

Next, you should provide more details on why you are applying to this specific department and tie it to your interests. Are there specific facilities, researchers, resources, locations, etc. that makes this department the best fit for you?

Finally, most SOP prompts want you to end with some discussion of your future career goals. It's not terribly important what you write and you won't be held to these! But the point is for you to demonstrate why this particular graduate program and your research interests will lead you towards these goals. Many places will want to see that you chose to go to grad school and you chose their school because you need it to meet your goals, not just because you randomly applied to their program!

Hope that is helpful. Looking through the list that you provided, I think the things I would recommend leaving out are: details about individual outreach work, elementary school teaching aide, part-time jobs, community arts program, private tutoring, and unrelated jobs.

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