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SOP research question

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A little bit of background about my situation: I graduated very recently with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. In the last ~1.5 years or so of my undergrad, I decided to change directions and pursue a career in programming/software development. I've taken three lower-division computer science courses, as well as most/all of the math prerequisites for a CS degree, but that's the extent of my formal education in CS.


I do have a couple of research experiences, and I'm trying to decide whether I should talk about one of them, or both, in my statement of purpose. They are:


1) About a year and a half of research in chemistry. No publications, conferences, etc. though. Even though it's not at all related to CS (and in fact was one of the reasons I decided not to pursue a career in chemistry), I feel that it might be good to talk about it just to show that I've had this amount of research experience.


2) ~3 months in a computer science lab. Basically, in my second to last semester of college, I decided to try to see if I could volunteer with a computer science professor to gain experience and show graduate programs that I was serious about my new career direction. I found a professor who, very kindly, was willing to take me in despite having only a single programming course under my belt. However, due to circumstances I was not able to start until very late, and this led me to only be able to volunteer there for a couple of months. Also, I'm not sure that the things I did would really be able to be classified as "research," even though I was formally called a "research assistant." Basically, the professor gave me a small project to do, which was related to his area of specialization, but was really more of a "learning experience" for me than anything else (ie., it was mostly for my own learning benefit, not to contribute to the lab's research). While the Ph.D student I worked under told me I exceeded his expectations with the project, I'm not sure I really did anything substantive enough to include in my PS. I'm also kind of concerned how graduate programs would look on this kind of experience.


So my question is... Should I talk about chemistry research, or CS experience, or try to talk about both even though they're not at all related?


Thanks in advance.

Edited by scaredapplicant2
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Just a couple of points:
1. What is the course you are applying for? Considering you changed your program I think it's CS but is it a research based course or taught program? This will help in determining how much of research based knowledge is important to demonstrate.
2. Any sort of experience is valid. The first example could be useful to convey the message why you changed your field of study this way if someone reading your application wonders why you changed?....could say practical experience etc. shaped your decision and it wasn't just impromptu. May be cut this part short only to give a brief of your old background but highlight mainly the skills you picked up during the course which is valid for anything you may do in future.
3. Don't undermine your potential, rather glorify it! So highlight the work you did rather what you didn't!
Hope this helps!!
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Hi Zoe, thanks for the reply. To address your points:


1. I am applying to a computer science program. In the U.S. where I'm applying, we don't have designated research and taught programs like in the U.K.; however, the program I'm applying for seems to be less research-focused compared to a lot of CS programs. The program includes the option to a do a master's thesis, a master's project, OR a cumulative exam, and I intend to do the master's project. Given that, I'm not sure how relevant research experience (especially outside of CS) would be to making their decision.


2. Unfortunately, my chemistry research experience really didn't have any bearing on my decision to change to CS (except to convince me that I didn't want to do chemistry research anymore). I'm also not really sure what skills I picked up in that research, if any, would be relevant to CS at all. If I were to mention my chemistry research, I think it would be mainly to show that I have motivation and the ability to do research in general (not that I would state it so bluntly)... But maybe programs wouldn't really care about that.


3. Good advice, thanks :)

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Talk about both.  Even if your chemistry research is mostly unrelated, you still learn important research skills in a lab.  Research as a process is similar across fields, and so you probably realized that you liked research but didn't necessarily want to do chemistry research and switched to CS.  YES, programs DO indeed are about you demonstrating the motivation and ability to do research in general in addition to demonstrating more specialized skills.  And you can state that explicitly in your statement!

But your 3 months in the CS lab aren't insignificant either.  Few undergraduates make substantial contributions to research, and most of their research projects are indeed learning experiences for them.  If your PhD student mentor told you that you exceeded expectations, that's something noteworthy!  Nobody expects you to have changed the world as an undergraduate student - they want to see that you have a foundation in research and some idea of the mess you're getting yourself into.

So yes, discuss them both.

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