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School of Information SOP

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This is an earlyish draft of my SOP for the School of Information at UT Austin. I need to give myself a break from it for a little bit before I can come back and make cuts, but in the interim I wondered if anyone would be helpful enough to take a look at it and give some feedback.


Is it too long? Too casual? I've read that it's best to avoid humor, but I think what I've included would be described more as levity. Does it work, or not at all?

I really appreciate all input.




Some people (Justin Bieber, Doogie Howser, Prince William) know what they want to do with their lives from a very early age. Other people (Grandma Moses, Julia Child, Colonel Sanders, my mother) take a little longer to find the right path. So rather than regret the lost time between finishing my undergraduate degree and realizing that the School of Information at the University of Texas is the right place for me, I'm grateful for the experiences that have let me here and can't wait to see what lies ahead.


My interest in library and information science dates back to my teenage years when my mother, at the age of 50, decided to take a second run at her career and get a Master's degree in that field. Previously I'd had no idea that this was a subject that would merit a dedicated graduate degree, but watching her progress through her classes and reviewing the materials illuminated what a rich and complex area it actually is.


It's not easy, however, for an independent and intellectually curious person to admit that she wants to follow in her mother's footsteps, so I spent the years after college trying out other career paths. I worked in a bookstore and knew I loved handling the books, talking about them with customers, knowing what was coming up, and being surrounded by the magic of all those stories and sciences and styles. However, I didn't care as much for the pressure to actually sell them, and the focus on books as a source of revenue rather than information or pleasure. Later, when I worked as a teacher, helping my students learn and discover was a delight but I was not as fond of grading assignments and the mundane details of class management. 


Currently I love my job at Apple Inc. as a content and training support engineer, where I've been able to explore a lot of exciting new technologies for maintaining databases of information and online repositories of articles. I work with business stakeholders or subject matter experts to take complex information, content analysis, research, or process knowledge and restructure it into documentation or training. This can involve redesigning our internal knowledge base portals for greater user efficiency, or total overhauls of documentation organization. I have to be able to communicate effectively with business managers, content authors, department heads, and advisors to explain how things are organized or how the structure works, and evaluate their feedback for implementation. Every day I try to improve the availability of our information resources in general, then assisting employees at different levels, in different departments, with their individual needs.


I've been volunteering at the Austin Public Library for over a year, and I often think about how these techniques could be applied to the changing state of libraries as they increasingly incorporate and rely on technology. At Apple I've had the privilege to work with experts in many different kinds of database and instructional design software, which has opened up possibilities I hadn't even considered before. What is particularly inspiring to me is the incorporation of the human element and the ability to work directly with people to help provide the information and research they need.


Eventually I could no longer ignore what had been in the back of my mind for over a decade: I want to pursue a degree and career in information science. In this field I can combine my love of research and learning with the sincere joy of working to meet the specific needs of patrons or clients. In our age of information we have more options for content, production, and consumption than ever; however, concerns about permanence, accessibility, and security have grown along with them. I passionately believe that open access to information is a requirement of a diverse and functional society that wants to move forwards instead of backwards, and designing and supplying systems to deliver and maintain that information is a critical role as our world increases in complexity.


Therefore I'm drawn to the School of Information at The University of Texas because of its emphasis on people as the fulcrum of the information life cycle and the possibility of the exploration of new forms of systems to make information more available, more searchable, and more usable. Though I'm open to all aspects of the field, I'm particularly interested in Dr. Tanya Clement's research in the ways the study of the humanities can be reconsidered and revisited by using digital tools, and how digital collections should be structured and made accessible. Dr. Yan Zhang's focus on information systems as perceived by the user and accessed by search behaviors is specifically related to the work I do every day, and I would love to delve into it more deeply.


Far from the fusty rows of thick cobwebby tomes, libraries are increasingly positioned on the verge of new technologies that not only impact the way librarians do their jobs, but the ways they help serve their patrons and communities. The University of Texas's School of Information appeals to me particularly for its status as an iSchool and the large body of courses it offers involving not just information and technology but how they interact with the people and societies we hope to serve. I would like to contribute to the effort to preserve our modern information in the medium most appropriate to the users. The resources and scholarship available at the University of Texas School of Information create the perfect environment to delve deeply into this field and I hope to begin my career there.
Edited by fleurdelivres
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Guest Gnome Chomsky

Your helpful and insightful comment is very much appreciated, please do continue your support of forum participants. Seriously, don't waste my time.

Ok I'll try to be more elaborative. Also, I'm not really familiar with your field, so forgive me. 


I understand what you were trying to do with your introductory paragraph, but--to be honest and frank--the references are so random and ridiculous that it almost makes it hard to take the rest of the SOP seriously. And that's not good since you mention Justin Beiber three words in. I get that the first three references are people (though Doogie Houser is a fictional character) who had things "figured out" early on (though Prince William was born into it). And I get that the next three references are people who didn't come into the spotlight until later in life. I actually watched a documentary on Colonel Sanders so I understood the reference, but most people view him as a fictional cartoon character on KFC buckets. 


You use these six characters to imply that your mother discovered a passion for graduate school at a late age and that her passion inspired you to pursue graduate school. I like that idea; however, your SOP makes it confusing. Upon first read it made it seem like you too are late in age (probably in your 50's like your mother was), since you make a comment about not dwelling on waiting after undergrad. But everything about your SOP--from the six characters referenced, to the writing style, to your job and interests--makes me think you're actually quite young. So it's confusing that you're trying not to dwell on waiting until you were "so old" when I have no idea how old you really are. 


You then get into talking about the years after college spent trying to find yourself. However, you don't mention anything about your years in college. I have no idea what your undergrad expertise is. You spend one paragraph talking about working at a bookstore and as a teacher, only to conclude that you don't like selling stuff or grading papers. I know this transitions into the positive feelings you have toward your Apple Inc. job, but it might not be a good idea to tell a prospective grad school your lack of interest in teaching. 


You go into A LOT of detail about the technological aspects in the next three paragraphs when you talk about your Apple job. I assume this is related to what you want to pursue in grad school. These three paragraphs are good but can probably be condensed into one long paragraph. Some of the sentences run on and are wordy, and some of the thoughts and ideas seem scattered. But, overall, the SOP is getting into the heart of what you are passionate about and what you want to pursue. 


You then spend the last two paragraphs talking about why you want to go to UT and which professors you'd like to work with. This is good. This is usually the most important part of the SOP. You might want to get into this part earlier on, rather than at the very end, since they typically consider your "fit" in the program more than any other part of your SOP. I like the wording of the "Far from the fusty rows of thick cobwebby tomes" and I think it would make a more intriguing introduction than your Justin Beiber one. 


Anyway, I hope I could be helpful. Maybe I'm blowing the Justin Beiber/Doogy Houser/Colonel Sanders thing out of proportion. Maybe other people weren't as bothered by it as I was. But, just being completely honest, if I was on an admissions committee, I would probably stop taking your SOP seriously as soon as I saw that. 

Edited by JoeyBoy718
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  • 2 weeks later...

Maybe try to sound less negative about your teaching experience. I don't know if this is true in your program of choice, but many grad students have to teach or at least grade papers. If you might be doing that in your grad program, then telling them you don't like that stuff probably won't make you an appealing candidate.

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