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SOP Critiques please? Going for PhD in materials engineering

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So I wrote a first draft of my SOP and I would like some helpful critiques if anyone can. 


Background: I am completing a Bachelors in Mechanical Eng and I am applying for a PhD in Materials Science and Eng. GPA: 3.75, 90th percentile verbal and quantitative. I am shooting for top 20 materials schools. 


                I want to pursue a doctoral degree in Materials Science and Engineering at University XXXX to study solar cells and other photovoltaics used to generate electricity. I am very interested in the materials used to fabricate solar cells and I would like to work to make them more efficient at producing power and more cost effective for consumers.


                As an undergraduate I chose to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering because an interest in machinery and equipment that I gained from use on my grandfather’s farm as a child. In my third year at Florida State I took a materials science class taught by Dr. David Larbalestier. He had a great excitement for materials research and urged all the students to think critically about materials. The more I learned about materials, the more I wanted to learn and be involved in the field of materials science. My fourth year I took a thermodynamics course and a large portion of the semester was based around power generation. My professor was very enthusiastic about renewable energy, specifically solar power. He talked a lot about two major issues of solar power is that the panels cost too much and are not efficient enough except in certain environments. I found that I wanted to combine my strong interest in materials science with improving solar panels.


After taking my first materials science class I applied for a research assistant position at the Applied Superconductivity Center near the college of engineering. I started the following semester and began to perform characterization and quality assurance testing on high temperature superconductors, specifically YBCO. This superconductor was to be used for the assembly of a 32 Tesla all-superconducting magnet, the strongest superconducting magnet ever built. At work my tasks consisted of sample preparation for critical current testing, hardness testing, chemical etching, imaging with both optical and scanning electron microscopes, and focused ion beam cutting. I loved my time in the lab and because of that I applied for and received a research internship at Oak Ridge National Lab. At Oak Ridge I performed research on refrigeration systems powered by the magnetocaloric effect present in gadolinium. My work consisted of modeling with various software including Solidworks and Vent 2, design and construction of an accelerated life testing device, and testing of a new prototype refrigerator that will produce the same cooling power as current systems, but without the harmful refrigerants used in most refrigerators.


                I chose to apply to University XXXX because of your large focus on research and the flexibility you offer students in their studies during the pursuit of their graduate degree. (Insert Professor Specific comment here?) With over two years of research completed as an undergraduate I have found that I very much enjoy the atmosphere and that I would fit very easily into your system. I feel that your research facilities, specifically the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX would allow me to make strides in my work as a graduate student that no other University could provide. I have worked under several different researchers and have learned that each one is a little different in how they like to approach their work. This has made me adaptable to new situations and a quick learner when it comes to new skills and techniques.


                With a doctoral degree from University XXXX, I would be more than prepared for my life following graduate school. I plan to continue my research into materials science at either a National Laboratory or in the private sector as a researcher so my work can be used to benefit the next generation of photovoltaics and renewable energy. The amount of solar energy that could be harnessed into electricity is incredible and if only a small increase in efficiency of solar panels could be made, it would have a profound impact on society.I would like to thank the selection committee for considering my application to University XXXX and I look forward to continuing my education in your institute.



I am lacking a "hook" but I have no idea how to make that work. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


Thank You!

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Congrats on your excellent academic record. Your SOP is off to a good start. Yes, a hook would help tie it all together and create a stronger, more attention-grabbing introduction. On that note, I would suggest cutting most of the first sentence; it is redundant to say "I want to pursue a doctoral degree in Materials Science and Engineering at University XXXX" (that is already clear from the fact that you are applying! Don't worry, this is one of the most common SOP mistakes. But cutting redundant phrases can really improve the essay and also free up room for you to talk about more important things.)

Instead, in the first sentence, you could use your anecdote about your early experiences on your grandfather's farm as the hook, explaining how that gave rise to your interest in machinery and equipment. Then, connect the hook to your current desire to study "solar cells and other photovoltaics used to generate electricity." How to seamlessly connect those two rather different ideas? Well, there are a number of ways; here's where it helps to get a little creative, and choose your words/construct your sentences carefully.

Another simple but effective way of improving your SOP would be to use stronger, more emphatic verbs and adjectives. For example, instead of saying "I am very interested in the materials used to fabricate solar cells and I would like to work to make them more efficient at producing power and more cost effective for consumers," you could perhaps say something like "At a time when the world is in dire need of new sources of energy, I am passionate about the potential of solar energy and hope to dedicate myself to making this promising technology more efficient and more accessible to consumers." It says the same thing but with more vivid language, and also connects your interest to a broader social purpose.

It might seem like things like choosing certain verbs and adjectives are unimportant, especially for a program in Materials Science or some other "hard science," but it can actually make a lot of difference in how the SOP is received (and at the very least, make you seem like an excellent writer in addition to being a well-qualified engineer.)

Hope this helps!



Edited by fuzzylogician
edited to remove advertisement
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Your strong interest in research of solar renewable energy doesn't seem to identify with the experience that you've described. You chose to talk about one thing in your field of coursework, but then talk about something else entirely different in your given opportunities without tying it back to what led to your interest in materials science in the first place. You're a materials science major, so talk more about materials relations that you would like to further study or pursue. Try to convey a concrete research goal and build the reasoning of your college experiences from that.


Also I hope you don't seriously consider to use your University XXXX paragraph as it stands. For each school you're applying for, it is way too general and says nothing about your suitability and genuine interest in the program. Talk about why the department suits you including research and faculty, campus life, and relevant facilities.

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