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SoP.....is this a bad idea???


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A little background: For years I had planned on going into genetics research, but within the past year I have switched over to immunology. I'm most interested in autoimmune diseases and hypersensitivities, which obviously could be classified as a mix between genetics and immunology.

I've been brainstorming on ideas for my SoP. I know that it is not advised to write some sort of childhood story as an introduction, but......

In my SoP, I was planning on writing a little about how I found an old 1970 genetics textbook at a flea market at age 9. My mom forked over the 25 cents (even though she thought I was weird ha) and I was fascinated by the book, read it during free time rather than playing video games, etc.

Then my junior year during undergrad, I was inspired by my pathogenic micro/ immuno teacher. She literally sparked my love for immuno.

So basically these two mini stories show how both interests were first sparked. Genetics + immuno = my new interest in immunogenetics, autoimmune disorders, etc.

After that, I had planned on going into the research I have done as an undergrad, and then explaining the research I am interested in at University X (which obviously will involve autoimmune disorders)

Bad idea? I've read some of the threads here about SoP, and I'm starting to think that mentioning childhood is an awful idea. Please let me know what you think. Should I cut this part out all together? If the answer is yes, then I have NO IDEA how to begin a statement of purpose. I haven't had any publications or honors, so I don't have much to write about there.

<<by the way---obviously I just wrote this thread in a 2-3 minutes, and the SoP idea has NOT been developed in any way. My writing will be MUCH better on the real thing!>>

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Write whatever makes you feel that your SOP will be it's best. I don't think anyone can say 'dont write that' (even though they do on the boards). I would just say to keep it short and sweet. Don't ramble on an on with every detail about you getting the textbook blah blah blah. In my SOP I wrote about a family situation that changed my outlook (and major) and I kept it to about 3 sentences. It was enough to state 'this is the event that happened and this is what happened in my life because of it'. Remember, this isn't really a highschool english essay but more like a university level paper. If you think about it that way, you might be able to have a better idea of what you should or should not include. They want to know more about your specific interests in your area of study, what you plan to do in the specialty, what research you want to get into, etc.. If you keep the history part of your story to a brief intro type para and really get into the good stuff quickly after, I think that would be fine.

Some schools want the majority of the paper to be about your future plans, while others want a more journey type of SOP of how you got to where you are now with your current interests and a bit about where you see yourself in the future. If your school doesn't really specify what should be stated, like I said earlier, just go with whatever makes you happy. Nobody can pinpoint what part of an SOP might turn people off. I don't think having a super brief paragraph would harm your letter in any way.

Key words: super brief

Hope that helps you out a bit!

Edited by Vacuum
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I went through the same thought process - I had a cute childhood story, which tied into both my early interests and my late-hour field switch. But I decided not to go there. Really, most of us were geeky little children. It's not a distinguishing factor. biggrin.gif

My first paragraph of the SOP ended up being something like the first paragraph of your post. You could really say something like that. I thought of it as more of an executive summary than an opening paragraph, really.

"For years I had planned on going into genetics research, but within the past year I have switched over to immunology. I'm most interested in autoimmune diseases and hypersensitivities, which obviously could be classified as a mix between genetics and immunology. As a student, I have been inspired by professors who have combined excellence in basic research with a commitment to teaching. I hope to follow their example by pursuing a career in academics."

(Obviously, you would tidy that up - and insert your own goals! And it's just my $0.02, but it worked OK for me.)

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Really, most of us were geeky little children. It's not a distinguishing factor. biggrin.gif

This. An SOP is sort of like a cover letter for a job - you wouldn't write about your childhood for a corporate job, would you? I think at this stage reference to childhood is somewhat childish. You want to come off as mature and thoughtful about your research interests, it needs more than "I really liked it as a kid!" An adcom wants to know why you like the subject now.

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I think it's definitely a good idea in a Personal Statement... But I'm not sure about the SoP. I know I used childhood development in the personal statements I sent to all my graduate schools (none of them requested a Statement of Purpose, just a Personal Statement- which is usually written a bit more about you and then drifting into your research experience and ending with your interests/proposals), and it worked for me.

Most of the NSF fellowship personal statements I've seen start with childhood as well.

A lot of times, showing how you've developed (and that it's been a long held interest) can be great- just don't spend too much space on it.

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I think it can be used as an interesting hook for the start of your SoP, as long as it's brief and you very quickly tie it into your current interests. One sentence about the textbook, second sentence that it inspired you to study genetics in college, where you met a wonderful immuno professor who inspired an interest in immunogenetics, third sentence about your research experience in autoimmune disorders and future goals. If it's snappy, catchy, and leads directly into your current interests, I think it can really engage a reader and demonstrate your writing ability, which is an important consideration in grad admissions. I did something similar, against much advice that I read on the internet, to quickly explain something in my application that needed to be addressed, without making a big deal out of it.

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Here is one adcomm member's opinion on childhood stories. Check out the comments too for a diversity of professional opinion.

The SOP is meant for you to describe/demonstrate why you would fit the program specifically as far as interests, qualifications. Absolutely tell this story in the personal statement, but the SOP is more nuts and bolts. It doesn't have to be the most enjoyable piece of writing ever. When I had my friend (who is in grad school now) look over my SOP, she told me to lose the fancy hook - it ate up my word count and didn't say anything about my goals in history.

Besides, your story is extremely charming and is best saved for an in-person interview.

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Ok, I now feel really stupid. I thought SoP and personal statement were the same thing. Obviously, I am completely in the dark with all of these application processes!

I am applying to the immunology phD programs at places like UAB, WUSRL, UF, and WashU. I checked their websites, and all say "personal statement." I think my high-school-level training in essay writing will come back to haunt me on this. It's going to be extremely difficult to be short and blunt with no "fluff," since it probably won't sound too great when it's done.

Thank you all for your input and help. If I put the info about my childhood in my personal statement, I will definitely keep it short and try to stay away from going into story-telling mode. Any other advice would also be greatly appreciated!

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If it's a personal statement, then don't worry too much about cutting out the fluff. A personal statement should be, well, personal- tell them something about you. I started all of mine off with a personal bit about my childhood and developing interests, and it seemed to be well received.

Some schools also have a statement of purpose that is supposed to be relatively fluff-free, and to the point about what research you want to do (stating your future purpose).

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So can I safely assume that, in general, personal statements CAN be slightly cheesy and tell a brief bit about childhood, as long as I cut to my research interests within a few paragraphs? The websites for the programs don't go into any detail other than just "submit a personal statement." I was thinking they most likely wanted to hear about my development as a person (what sparked my interests) before i jumped right into my research and future goals. But now I'm slightly lost, because I'm not sure if what I read on these boards and college confidential boards was about SoP or personal statement, since I didn't know they were two different things.

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You had the right idea to begin with on your personal statement.

Other people in this thread are talking about a Statement of Purpose, which is a bit different.

If you want to PM me, I can give you some more detail on how I did mine a few years back.

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If it is a personal statement, including your background story is fine. I'd still keep it brief though (1 small para). Schools who ask for a personal statement are interested in knowing your personal journey to where you are now. For mine, the outline basically was:

Brief Intro Para 1: background story ending with why I chose the field i am applying for (this would be the 'fluff' portion)

Para 2: School experiences surrounding my major

Para 3: Life/Work experiences

Para 4: What I want to focus my studies on and why

Brief Para 5: Why I want to go to X University.

My entire statement was 1 page. Not double spaced or anything like that (2 pages double spaced I guess). It was tough to keep it short and sweet, but most places have word limits anyways, so it worked out for me. You want a WHAM-BAM-THANKYOU-MA'AM type of letter. Put it all out there as succinctly as possible. Use the best of your limited space!

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If it is a personal statement, including your background story is fine. I'd still keep it brief though (1 small para). Schools who ask for a personal statement are interested in knowing your personal journey to where you are now. For mine, the outline basically was:

Brief Intro Para 1: background story ending with why I chose the field i am applying for (this would be the 'fluff' portion)

Para 2: School experiences surrounding my major

Para 3: Life/Work experiences

Para 4: What I want to focus my studies on and why

Brief Para 5: Why I want to go to X University.

My entire statement was 1 page. Not double spaced or anything like that (2 pages double spaced I guess). It was tough to keep it short and sweet, but most places have word limits anyways, so it worked out for me. You want a WHAM-BAM-THANKYOU-MA'AM type of letter. Put it all out there as succinctly as possible. Use the best of your limited space!

Very well outlined. Mine was pretty much the same. I think it's the general boilerplate personal statement format.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My advisor told me to just sum up childhood interest in about one sentence. He said if you tell a cute little story like that, it's a little too "folksy", and that's not what adcomms are looking for. Focus on more recent things that show a deep interest and understanding of the topic- not stuff from when you were a kid.

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