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Anyone able to review my SOP (Neuro PhD)?

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Yes, another generic thread asking for people to read my SOP and give me feedback. I really feel completely lost in my approach, and probably need a lot of reworking to do, but I was hoping someone out there could help give me guidance on what direction to start in.


Below is my SOP for a specific school, though all names have been removed for anonymity purposes. All constructive criticism is welcome.




After months of coloring and making meiosis diagrams with pipe cleaners, my high school AP Biology teacher finally provided an opportunity for some open-ended learning by assigning individual literature review projects. It was through this assignment that I had to unlearn years of being taught that the brain does not make any new neurons once it is fully developed. I ate up all the articles I could find about adult neurogenesis, but once I stepped into my role as an undergraduate student, I took a detour into the world of biomedical engineering. It was a logical step, as I knew I excelled at and enjoyed math and science, like all of my colleagues. Three years in, and my interests returned to that subject that first sparked my scientific hunger: neuroscience.


As a student in Biomedical Engineering, I have taken coursework in a wide breadth of areas, including cell and developmental biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, cell and tissue engineering, and micro- and nanotechnologies. For my Neuroscience minor, I have taken introductory classes in molecular and cellular, and behavioral neuroscience, and will take Advanced Behavioral Neuroscience and Structure and Function of the Nervous System during my last semester as an undergraduate.  Through all of these classes I have maintained an excellent academic record, and my CV highlights the numerous research experiences I have had both in and out of the classroom.


I currently volunteer in a motor neuropathy lab under the supervision of Dr. [Name].  The main project I am assisting with involves behavioral testing via paw print analysis of transgenic mice in a nerve crush study.  Through this, we wish to examine the impact that various treatments have on neural recovery time.  I also help with general lab maintenance and perform various tasks as requested, including PCR and gel electrophoresis, cryostat sectioning, and sample elution and ligation. 


During the summer of 2013 I worked under the supervision of Dr. [Name] within [school]’s Department of Biomedical Informatics to analyze miRNA expression in intermediate-risk prostate cancer patients.  Through this project I had to completely self-teach myself the basics of survival analysis and the statistical software package R.  I examined miRNA expression in tumor, stroma, and serum samples to determine the correlation of miRNA expression between tissue types and with prostate cancer recurrence. Ultimately, we discovered that miR-26a in tumor and serum acted as a protective agent against recurrence, and these findings were presented at the BMI Student Internship Poster Session and the Undergraduate Research Fall Forum at [school]. Currently, a manuscript of this project is in preparation.


Since my initial discovery, adult neurogenesis has always stood out as a large research interest to me. I am also extremely interested in neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders from knowing people close to me who have experienced types of these ailments, and simple human curiosity. Ideally, I will establish my career in medical research upon completion of my PhD, although at this point in time I am unsure if I prefer to pursue my career in industry or academia.  It is for this goal of a career in research that I wish to obtain my PhD in Neuroscience. [school] offers a high quality neuroscience program with a large number of diverse labs. This breadth of research provides many opportunities that match my interests, including many professors whose research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases, neural regeneration, or even a combination of both, such as in the case of Dr. [Name]. It is for these reasons that I am greatly interested in studying at [school].

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Hi there,


I am also in the process of applying to Neuroscience PhD programs! I've gotten a lot of advice on my SOP and hopefully some of this will be of help to you. I'm kind of critical, so please take everything I say with several grains of salt.


1) References to high school are discouraged, even if AP Biology is a "college" level class. There are a lot of different ways to start SOPs, and the "cute anecdote" is definitely one of the more challenging introductions to pull off successfully. I recommend the "boring" introduction, because although it is very easy, it is also very easy to do WELL. Biomedical engineering is a UNIQUE undergraduate endeavor, so flaunt it! I studied math and biology in undergrad, so my introduction brags up my "quantitative reasoning" skills that only math folk, like you and I, can truly own in a statement of purpose. Neuroscience is interdisciplinary, and your background is, too. Embrace what you have.


2) It isn't too clear how you became interested in neuroscience. Perhaps you could provide a concrete example (something you learned in a class once?)


3) You write in the passive voice. If you don't know what this is, you may want to Google it. I could try to explain it but my English background is lackluster -- the passive voice means that you write as if things happened to you, rather than you happened to things (awkward phrasing, sorry). Take more credit for your experiences. Oh, you took some classes? I know plenty of people who have done that. Did you engage yourself, ask lots of questions, stay involved? Turn the stituation around -- YOU happened to those classes, YOU took a lot away from them. Own it!


4) Also, for the 2nd paragraph: these schools have your transcript. You don't need to talk about your record. Talk about why these classes were significant enough for you to think of them in the first place. Did they sculpt your interests, inspire your future direction? Say it!


5) Good description of your research. However, see #3. Even if you did "help" and "assist" and "volunteer", there is no need to put emphasis on those things. The schools that you are applying to are competitive and you may want to rephrase things. "My research in a motor neuropathy lab..." "I am working on behavioral testing..." etc. Let me know if you want more help with this.


6) 4th paragraph is good! Notice how you take more credit for the things you accomplished here. BUT, did you present the findings? Or did somebody else? If you didn't present them, I would leave it out.


7) Last paragraph. Do some quality brown-nosing...ERR, name dropping. For each of your schools, dig through the professors and name 3-5 of them that you would be interested in working with. Nobody will ever hold you to these names. It just demonstrates that you've done your homework and are applying for more than the school's name.


8) Overall: I think the structure of your SOP is logical, and you've got a good "skeleton" here. It may be wise to fill in each paragraph with a few details about WHY the experiences relate to your current interest in neuroscience. For my SOP, after paragraphs about research, I said something like "I found the challenge of research enjoyable and that's why I want to pursue graduate education". Sprinkling this shit throughout really aids in emphasizing the underlying message -- that you are wholeheartedly committing yourself to 5 years of this stuff.


Please ask me if I can clarify any of my suggestions! I love editing!

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