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Statement of Purpose (SOP) vs Research Statement


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Hi all,

I know this question has already been addressed in another post, but I can't seem to wrap my head around the distinction between a Statement of Purpose and a Research Statement in the context of a biology PhD application.  My SOP currently outlines what led me to the field of interest, my research history, and my aspirations.  It overall avoids super technical details and talks about projects in a more limited way. 

Would a Research Statement bring up these ideas in a more detailed way (talking about specific experiments conducted and what I did exactly? How much stress is dedicated to a Research Statement when an SOP is required, as the research statements for the programs I am applying to seemed to be more supplementary and not like their own tab (whereas the SOPs are always in their own specific page)?

I know this varies from program to program, but I wanted to see what everyone though.

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So as far as I can tell there are three types of essays for grad school apps:

personal - often called a personal statement, sometimes framed as a diversity statement - want to hear mostly about your research trajectory and future goals in the context of pursuits outside of research. So maybe you talk about how you became interested in science, what mentors/role models you've had along the day, what major struggles you've had in your pursuit of your education/research, where you hope to end up in the future, and/or extracurriculars broadly related to your goals like TA-ing, volunteering, significant coursework etc. 

research-oriented - often called a research statement. Here they definitely want you to go more in-depth into your research experience(s) and see that you are able to show that you know what you're doing and can put your work in the broader context of the field and of your own goals. If you hav multiple significant research experiences, you should connect them in a meaningful way and relate them to your broader research interests. You don't want this to read like a research paper where you're in the weeds about exactly what you did, but you do want to show that you get why you did certain things and that you weren't just following protocols blindly - paint the research in broad strokes and focus on the goals and maybe describe overcoming some research-related struggles.

combo - often called the SOP, its usually what schools want if they're only asking for one essay. Combines the elements of the two previous choices into one cohesive narrative. They are still expecting to see that you understand the research that you did and its context but also want to hear more about your background and goals outside of research.

Hope this is useful

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This is actually super helpful! Thanks for the clarification!! I found that 7/10 of the programs I'm applying to needed SOP, but the other 3 required the Personal Statement and/or Diversity statement + Research Statement.  Good to know that I can just split it up and maybe go into a tad more detail, but I think I now understand the distinction between the two essays.

As a side note, I hope you are enjoying Stanford Biosciences! It's one of the places I am applying and would love to hear your thought on the BioSciences program if you ever have time :) 

Edited by dopamine_machine
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18 hours ago, dopamine_machine said:

This is actually super helpful! Thanks for the clarification!! I found that 7/10 of the programs I'm applying to needed SOP, but the other 3 required the Personal Statement and/or Diversity statement + Research Statement.  Good to know that I can just split it up and maybe go into a tad more detail, but I think I now understand the distinction between the two essays.

As a side note, I hope you are enjoying Stanford Biosciences! It's one of the places I am applying and would love to hear your thought on the BioSciences program if you ever have time :) 

Happy to help! The way I did it was write up the personal and research statements first and then frankensteined them together until I was happy with it for the combo SOPs I had to do. 

And definitely happy to share my experience with Stanford Biosciences and give ya some perspective on the different home programs - just DM me any questions you like. Its been a great place for me so far.

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