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Discussing other departments in personal statement


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Hi all,


Does anyone have a sense of how adcomms react to applicants who discuss professors and resources outside of the immediate department in their personal statement? I assume it varies by school and probably by person. I think I've seen one school that encouraged it, and I have yet to see commentary elsewhere.


I ask because I'm interested in the sociology of food and nutrition, and quite often I find faculty and courses in anthropology, public health, etc. that would be excellent resources (and, honestly, are a huge pull factor for me).


Is it a good idea to bring this up, or will it leave adcomms wondering why I'm applying for a PhD in sociology rather than an MPH?

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I think like you said it really depends on the department. I would venture to say that the more interdisciplinary a department is, the likelier they would be to encourage it. But in any case, you shouldn't let mentioning other depts overshadow your interests in the department itself or at least let it be perceived that way in your statement. Good luck!

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It really depends on how you bring it up. In my opinion, it's fine (and maybe even a good thing) to mention professors in related fields that have official adjunct status in your department. This is really common in multidisciplinary fields like mine--plenty of professors in my department are adjuncts in physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology etc.


I think you have to be careful how you phrase these resources, though (the following may be dependent on field, so keep that in mind):

1. You don't want to just name-drop. Just because "Greatest Professor In Anthropology" (GPiA) is at the same school doesn't mean you'll magically benefit from being near GPiA. If you mention professors, you need to specifically say how you can utilize the resource. Are you planning on collaborating with them? Working under their supervision (if so, check that either they have adjunct status and/or your department allows co-supervisors from outside of the immediate department).


Personal example--my research interests lie between Planetary Science and Astronomy and for many schools, the profs I wanted to work with were faculty in one and adjunct in another. Before applying, I reached out to these professors and talked to them about applying and got their advice on which department I should apply to.


2. I don't think it's useful to mention courses in other departments. The main priority of a graduate student is to produce research, not take more courses. Also, unless Course X in Department Y at your new school is especially widely known to be one of the best, there's no point mentioning it because pretty much every school will have "Course X". When you discuss specific resources and opportunities at a certain school, you want to target the things that are unique to that school. Before doing this, you should definitely look into your potential future department's policy on taking courses outside of the department and how widely encouraged this is.


3. Other resources--this is useful to check! My personal example is that the astronomy department at my school owns a portion of several large telescopes that graduate students at the school (not just those in the department) can apply for permission to use. So I definitely included this in one of my reasons to apply to my school's planetary science department (even though they don't run the telescope). You can check these possibilities by doing some research. Also, you should check if people in your department actually uses these outside resources. Sure, you can be the first one to do so, but it's a stronger case when you are suggesting you use an instrument/equipment that many others in your department have already used.


In my opinion, I would not mention any courses outside of the department. In fact, I would say that it's pretty rare that a SOP would directly mention specific coursework as a reason to be interested in a certain school! Again, grad students don't go to grad school for courses. So, it would be weird, to me, to read a SOP that discussed the virtues of courses in an outside department. I would only mention professors in outside departments if you actually have a plan to work with them (I'd say to email them ahead of time and make sure this is possible before spending SOP space on it).

Edited by TakeruK
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I only mentioned one person from the sociology department in my statement, plus one by courtesy person who was in the religion department, and one political scientist.  That's probably not the optimal strategy, but it turned out that it was a good one--my adviser works very closely with the political scientist I mentioned, which is not surprising since he's huge in the substantive area I was applying for.  I know some of my colleagues mentioned people in our ed school and school of public health and they obviously got in.  As long it clearly relates to the specific project you propose in your statement of purpose, I think it's all good.  It should not read in the least like "These people are also dope, and I'm trying to find a backdoor way to work with them."  There should also definitely be one, preferably two, people in the department who would be excellent advisers for your topic.

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Departments don't mind bringing you in as an interdisciplinary type and even trying to sell you on how they're more open than other places as long as you have competent reasons for going outside the department (see Jacib's finish), and as long as you signal that you understand the limited scope of doing so and that your greatest benefit will derive in learning the methods and theories common in sociology.  

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