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UndergradDad

Statement of Purpose Question

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What are the ideal number of areas of interest to include on the SOP? Too many and you may look insincere. Too few and you may miss an interest of a professor who may have taken you on.

Thoughts?

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There's no ideal number. I would focus on two or three, but no more. It's especially good if they're complementary, though (e.g. metaethics and metaphysics, or phil. of science and epistemology, etc.).

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I found that the more important thing is a coherent narrative about yourself, to emphasize @maxhgns its not the number but rather that you convey a sense of cohesion between the AOI you mention and your personal background.

They aren’t looking for sincerity or authenticity, but rather more that you have a sense of what you are interested in, and that the level of focus you have is appropriate to where you are in the process (if you have a BA going for an MA it should be more open, going for a PhD should be more refined, and with an MA into PhD it should show even more specificity and a clear narrative connecting your BA and MA experience into those exact AOI). 

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Thanks, can you clarify though what you mean by the sense of cohesion between the AOI and personal background? By personal background are you referring to prior courses taken?

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7 hours ago, UndergradDad said:

Thanks, can you clarify though what you mean by the sense of cohesion between the AOI and personal background? By personal background are you referring to prior courses taken?

E.g.

I worked with a pilot Ethics Bowl, and my research interests are in applied ethics and philosophy of education

E.g.

I worked with advocacy groups for minority inclusion, and my research interests are in political philosophy and economics

E.g.

I have been a long time backpacker and wilderness tour guide, and my research ethics are philosophy of biology and philosophy of science

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Makes sense-I appreciate the explanation Duns. Unfortunately does not apply in this case with interests in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, but thanks anyway.

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7 hours ago, Duns Eith said:

E.g.

I worked with a pilot Ethics Bowl, and my research interests are in applied ethics and philosophy of education

E.g.

I worked with advocacy groups for minority inclusion, and my research interests are in political philosophy and economics

 E.g.

 I have been a long time backpacker and wilderness tour guide, and my research ethics are philosophy of biology and philosophy of science

 

23 minutes ago, UndergradDad said:

Makes sense-I appreciate the explanation Duns. Unfortunately does not apply in this case with interests in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, but thanks anyway.

I'm also not convinced that any of these examples make a lick of difference for PhD admissions. It seems like the main goal of an SOP is to demonstrate that you have clearly defined, interesting research foci that are informed by recent scholarship and that the department can support. Beyond that it's probably good to show to some extent in your application that you have the personal qualities that will allow you to complete and PhD program and succeed in it (motivation, determination, integrity, commitment, etc.) and perhaps also that your research interests are stable enough that they're not likely to change completely every week. 

I'm highly skeptical, however, that you need some grand narrative explaining how you came to be interested in your subfield and why it's important to you. I doubt this will hurt you too much (unless it takes away from the above), but I don't seeing it doing much to benefit your application either. Stick to the philosophy and try to be as clear and compelling as possible.

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On 7/20/2019 at 4:46 PM, UndergradDad said:

Thanks, can you clarify though what you mean by the sense of cohesion between the AOI and personal background? By personal background are you referring to prior courses taken?

Sure.

By sense of cohesion, I mean something like this: Does your AOI relate to courses you took in undergrad or an MA program? Can you give examples of this area consistently across two programs, or even from several years within undergrad? @Glasperlenspieler definitely put it in the right tone: show that your interests are stable, but without being too hyper-specific. (A balance you won’t strike on your first draft, it requires getting someone else to review your draft to tell you where you are in that balance.)

You are not building a grand narrative that connects everything together, just a sense of definition or cohesion. Thing of it more like smoothing our rough edges than giving fine details. For example, if you have an MA is psychology, but are now trying to do a PhD in philosophy, you need to be able to explain why this MA would be an asset and you understand how they relate, and not that you are just jumping from one field to another. An area of interest at the intersection of the two fields would help immensely in a case like that.

Mentioning specific courses you took that give a sense that you are prepared for your areas of interest is a great tactic. If you wrote papers on that topic specifically, great, mention it once or twice. Interested in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard? It would be good for them to know: you took a course on Nietzsche, and a course on German Idealism, you wrote a phil. of religion paper on Kierkegaard, and that you’ve taken German for two years (or whatever! Fill in your background). Don’t tell them that you started reading Nietzsche when you were 16. Don’t give reasons why one class led you to the next, the listing of them will suffice. This isn’t about how you ‘think deep’ or some story about how nietzsche moved you, its about making clear that you have real, material proof that you have done work that would prepare you for the next degree.

 

 

 

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I agree with @Glasperlenspieler in that I think that there is limited utility in talking about non-philosophical particulars. That being said, I think that one can talk about non-philosophical stuff as long as it's brief and relevant. For example, your studies in mathematics or the sciences may have led you to philosophy, or you may have overcome major challenges in getting your degree, etc. Keep in mind, though, as Geoff Pynn from NIU says in this useful essay (I recommend you check it out, @UndergradDad), you should aim to do no harm with the SOP. As Pynn also mentions, doing this requires framing things carefully and concisely and not including too much information of a personal nature. If in doubt, it's probably better to leave non-philosophical stuff out, since doing so isn't ever going to hurt you.

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Posted (edited)

For what it's worth, I was fairly broad. The advice I had was that it shouldn't look like some list. To be fair, my AOI is not nearly as specific as some people's on here. My advisors suggested that I make it clear I know what I was talking about without "pigeon holing" myself. Here is the section from my statement of purpose if it helps,

"At this point in my academic career, I find myself most drawn to the way that philosophical issues connect and intersect with one another. I am especially attracted to the studies of epistemology and metaphysics. Metaphysical theories of personhood and of Truth, for example, overlap quite with genuine moral concerns and epistemological ones respectively. What it means to be a person or for something to be true or false have implications throughout the field of philosophical inquiry."

My application was middlingly received, so take that for what it is worth.

Edited by TheFormOfTheGood

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