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SOP: Is my first draft on track?

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Hey, I'm looking to apply to Ph.D. programs in neuroscience and was wondering if anyone would want to read and critique my first draft (posted below). I don't really know what I am doing, I researched some websites and tried to hit every point and keep it under 500 words.


Waking up on the floor with surrounded by 150 strangers no recollection of what happened was not how I envisioned my first “Fundamentals of Neuroscience” lecture. I have blood-injury-injection phobia and facing a trigger may lead to a temporary loss of consciousness. This day, a video demonstrating blood flow within the body taunted my every nerve until my fears finally subsided and darkness took over. I was embarrassed and discouraged. Could I be a successful neuroscientist if I faint whenever I see blood? No, I could not and my grades reflected it.

That summer, as my Alzheimer’s disease inflicted grandmother’s health declined, I became increasingly interested in the mechanisms of memory and neurodegeneration. I quickly enrolled in “Neurobiology of Disease” and “Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience” for the fall semester. In these courses, I found myself captivated by the enthusiasm in my professors as they lectured. Their passion was undeniable and I knew I must overcome my phobia.

In working for the [name of lab] research laboratory under Dr. X, I challenged my phobia through performing dissections and perfusions, while satisfying my curiosity by investigating the effects of chronic stress on spatial memory and motor learning. In examining the effects, I could not help but wonder what was the chronic stress specifically effecting in the hippocampus causing this memory and learning deficit? To answer my cellular and molecular inquiry, I joined the [name of lab] laboratory under Dr. Y. I soon began to explore the cellular and molecular mechanisms in learning altered by nicotine use, specifically JNK1 activation.

In addition to research, teaching has been a major part of my undergraduate career. I began tutoring peers in neuroscience, psychology, and biology courses and recently became peer teacher for “Fundamentals of Neuroscience” under Dr. Z and the [name of] Scholarship. Under the scholarship, I clarify misunderstanding of course material and concepts, as well as, help spark interest within the field.

Upon entering the Ph.D. program at University of ABC, I would concentrate on neurobiology of disease, specifically mitochondrial function. Under the guidance of Dr. A, I would be able to successfully investigate the mechanisms of mitochondria dysfunction and threshold in which neurodegeneration begins. Understanding the disruption in mitochondrial function within neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, could be the key to successful treatment and prevention.

The multi-disciplinary interactions of both research and teaching, along with courses in contemporary interests, and a diversely specialized faculty within the neuroscience program at the University of ABC provide an ideal learning environment. With admissions to the University of ABC neuroscience program, I can receive the proper training to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a faculty member at a university, or an institution, where I could perform research, as well as, teach future scientists.

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Very briefly, you are not on the right track right now, in my opinion.

P1: delete. This is a completely unrelated personal story that does not tell the adcom why you are a good candidate for their program or why they should choose you over the other applicants. It's also really not how you want to be remembered.

P2: beginning: delete (it also has some strange typos/words missing). Again, personal and irrelevant. At most you could briefly mention you are interested in memory research because of exposure to your grandmother's Alzheimer's disease. Second half: the fact that you took the courses is found in your transcripts and the fact that the instructors were enthusiastic is irrelevant. You're now a third of the way through your statement and have yet to give the adcom a single reason to admit you.

P3: good content, requires some rewriting. Delete the part about overcoming your fears. Instead stick to what you've done and what you've learned from it. I also think the description following "under the scholarship" is completely cliche and doesn't add anything (we all correct mistakes and try to interest our students when we teach).

P4: details, please. Don't say you'll do something successfully, just say you could do it. Are there other faculty members with research interests relevant to your own? Having just one POI is not very encouraging. Remember, you'll eventually have to form a dissertation committee. What if you don't have chemistry with your proposed advisor (or, what if they move away/get sick/are denied tenure, etc)? You want to have more than just one option.

P5: back to banalities. The program doesn't need you to tell them how good they are, they assume you think so because you applied, and they are flattered enough by that. You really haven't said anything of content in this paragraph.

Bottom line: get rid of fluff. Expand (a lot!) on your previous research. Directly address your current research interests. Say more on why you fit the school, and mention more POIs by name.

Re: word counts, make sure that the 500 word limit is relevant for the schools you're applying to. Different schools have different requirements.

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  • 3 months later...

Hope you don't have an easily bruised ego, but I like to be brutal in my critiques. I hope it'll be helpful. :)

The last sentence of your intro is too discouraging. Don't be hard on yourself in front of an admissions board, why would they invest in you? Don't point out your flaws. Your negative emotions, no matter how you overcome them, has no positive affect on their judgement as to whether you will fit into and succeed in their program.

It's the same with your eagerness. Don't waste words on telling a trivial story. What does this entire second paragraph describe? I took a class and the professors were super into it. Sure, you mention that you were motivated by that. But, you just wasted 2 paragraphs talking about a negative.

You now begin talking about your lab experience. Firstly, I'm curious as to how you got into this work. It seems as though you were just going through the motions. What motivated you to do that?

Secondly, you start laundry listing. You connect your curious research questions (GOOD!) with the work you've done, but you don't explain how they connect. Use your words here, describing your research, instead of telling an anecdote about your personal life.

Next, you talk about teaching. 1. Your transition seems awkward and belittling to your accomplishments. Draw a connection between the two parts of your academic experience. 2. by saying "clarifying misunderstandings", you are talking down to either the students or the original teacher. Use a more positive word. 3. HERE is where you can use anecdotes. How did you inspire interest? What kinds of methods did you use to teach students? You must've learned a lot about educating if you accomplished, because not everyone can teach. (don't say that). But, what is it that sets you apart from the rest? What did you LEARN from your experiences??!

Your PhD aspirations are too broad. There is no need to qualify neurodegenerative diseases. Neuroscientists know examples. And this lab probably only works on one, if that. Instead, talk about HOW you could utilize the resources of the lab. WHAT you can learn from the PI, and WHERE your research may ultimately take you. WHY are you interested in this? If you'd like to help cure a disease, SAY IT! Don't think they know you by your implication of how close you are with your grandmother. They can't get to know you over a few paragraphs of personal stories. Use the tone of the essay to imply your emotion. Qualify your experiences with explicit thoughts about why you are into it.

Your last sentence is blah. It doesn't say anything. You wanna be a professor and do research? Big whoop. So do a lot of people. And it's hard. And you have no choice of where you move. And most people change their minds. Write about what won't change. Show them who you are.

Happy editing! gl.

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