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Could you help to critique my SOP please?

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I would appreciate any feedback on my SOP for an application to a political science Ph.D. program. I edited out the names (school, professor) but hopefully it will still flow nicely. Please let me know what you think, I'm especially curious if you feel my description of prospective research project is too vague. Additionally if you would like any feedback on your SOP please send me in a private message or post to this topic. 


Statement of Purpose

Long been preparing to step into academia of international relations, I have achieved my Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Master of International Relations (with Honors). While accomplishing these two degrees, besides familiarizing myself with essential knowledge in this area, I also became acquainted with conducting independent research by doing my master thesis. I strongly believe it is a timely decision to strive for a doctoral degree.


In lieu of a formal introduction of my research interests and aspirations I offer a summary of my master thesis, which is entitled “X”. As indicated by the title, this project engages with the immediate debate over whether Beijing’s hardening diplomatic posture represented a significant change in China’s policy towards North Korea, after the latter conducted its third nuclear test. By juxtaposing audience cost theory with China’s domestic situation at the time, I forged an intriguing but underemphasized approach to understand this puzzle. My argument is that a clear causal connection between attitudinal change and policy cannot be made on the grounds that Chinese foreign policy statements were strongly influenced by domestic public opinion rather than a shift in strategic interests. In brief, my research tempts to identify Chinese intentions and use it to explain China’s seemingly paradoxical rhetoric and policy toward North Korea.


This first venture into serious political analysis has affirmed my passion for analyzing China’s foreign-policy strategy in Northeast Asia; and it has given me the confidence to apply neoclassical realism theory in this process, in regard to study the perennial problem of clearly identifying Chinese intentions. Continuing along these avenues of research in Ph.D. program, I would like to use my thesis as the basis for a future dissertation. Though I remain wary about committing myself prematurely to a specific topic of research, I am also eager to study China’s future Asia and the Pacific strategy under the influence of its ongoing internal political and economic transition. Indeed, many of the conclusions reached in the thesis, such as my claim that China’s strategy interest and regional policy in Northeast Asia will remain consistent for a long period of time, serve as starting points for future research and study.


On a more basic level, doing this project not only gave me the chance to make my modest intellectual contribution, but also gave me the chance to get better accustomed with the essential of political analysis. Longing for identify Beijing’s intention behind its attitudinal shift, I navigated the sea of primary and secondary sources, from the end of the Cold War to present, in pursuit of identifying if multiple perspectives of China’s regional strategic interest have changed. As my analysis indicated such change did not occur, I then turned my focus to Chinese domestic situation and judiciously utilized audience cost theory. From deciphering esoteric intention behind political behavior to developing an awareness of the importance of time and funds, I experienced the mundane realities of research that inevitably stunt the political scientist’s aspirations, and thus had myself better prepared.  


The project I wish to pursue in the doctoral program, as I mentioned above, is to study how is the interplay of international and domestic politics, or the ‘two-level game’, influences China’s political behavior in Northeast Asia. On international level, my research would primarily concern the impact of the bilateral relations between China and US, Japan and both Koreas, the US-Japan-Korea strategic triangle and the overarching US ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy. On domestic level, my research would focus on the impact of China’s ongoing political and economic evolution under the present administration, as well as the increasing influence of public opinion. These are the themes and issues I would focus along doing both my coursework and research.


I should also stress that at the heart of my specific research concentration lies a more general interest in the evolving political landscape in Asia and the Pacific. To date, my knowledge of strategic rivalry, international political economy and foreign policy making in this region has been informed and sustained by an array of relative courses. My personal penchant for this area stems largely, I believe, from my training in policy observation and analysis. Also of crucial importance to a professional career accessing and analyzing data is my fluency in Chinese.


University S’s political science program looms large in my mind, largely because of its outstanding faculty and the program it provides. I was thrilled to learn that Professors A, B and C taught at University S. Professor A articles on North Korea and Northeast Asia have provided important inspirations on my previous and prospective research, especially his coauthored article, “Y”, which comprehensively introduced me why engagement, rather than sanction, is more likely to elicit North Korea’s cooperative behavior. Together, Professor A’s cutting edge research, B’s knowledge on Chinese military and Professor C’s expertise on politics of Chinese Communist Party would make my experience at University S a challenging and enjoyable one. 


In addition, University S provides an ideal climate for me to develop my multi-subfields interests of political science. In my own quest for a suitable graduate program, I was thrilled to find that University S offers an interdisciplinary doctoral program in political science and international affairs. My research interest, regional focus and my academic training, as I mentioned previously, all fit closely with this program. The comprehensive subfields options of University S’s graduate program would broaden and enrich my research as well as my general knowledge of these particular aspects. 


Edited by ArchieLi
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Yeah, but who are you?  Why are here?  How did you get here?  One of the programs I'm applying to is actually a political science program with a focus on public policy and administration.  This will be my second time in graduate studies.  My personal statement in the first go-around contained plenty of pertinent background information (of course I'm an older student with plenty to say).  I was accepted in all programs I applied to, including the PhDs.  I took the MPPA I'm at now due health issues with my family.  Now that they are resolved I'm applying again.

Readers need to know about you as well as your research interests.

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  • 1 month later...

I know this is a month old, but I have to speak out and say I noticed you have copied very specific phrases as well as the general format of this sample statement of purpose provided by Berkeley http://ls.berkeley.edu/files/statement_of_purpose.pdf

In lieu of a formal introduction of my research interests and aspirations I offer a summary of my master thesis...

In the sample: "In lieu of a formal introduction of my research interests and aspirations I offer a summary of my senior thesis..."

This first venture into serious political analysis...

In the sample: This first venture into serious historical..."

Whether you realize it or not, this is plagiarism, which I think is about the worst thing you could do in a statement of purpose. Furthermore, trying to fit your statement to the format of the sample has made your statement rather bland and generic. I suggest you scrap this completely and write YOUR statement of purpose, without looking at someone else's. Don't even think about using it as is; if I could tell you plagiarized parts of this, I am certain committee members will be able to as well.

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The troubling plaigarism issue aside... 

Are you an international student? This reads as if written by someone who doesn't have a firm grasp of English. The first sentence is very oddly constructed, for example, much of the vocab seems to come from a thesaurus (e.g. Americans do not use the verb "accomplish" with "degree"), and the whole thing is stiff and formulaic. Perhaps this is an attempt to sound academic, but a more natural voice would allow more personality to come through and be more engaging for the reader. You should sound excited about your research!

There are also a lot of redundant sentences ("These are themes and issues I would focus along doing both my coursework and my research" is both obvious/unnecessary and misuses "along"), so the whole thing would benefit from a style/grammar/sentence structure review. I'd also say that it's better to talk about your research interests generally than to summarize your MA thesis, which they will presumably read as your writing sample.

Further, do you have any relevant research experience or other accomplishments you can discuss? Did you do research abroad during your MA? Did you present at conferences? Did you do relevant internships, TAing, volunteering, or professional work? In other words, what makes you more qualified to pursue a PhD than any other person with an MA and grasp of a second language? You want to convince the adcoms that you are worth investing in. This should be more sophisticated than saying that you enjoy the field and have completed a degree - you want to illustrate that you are exceptional and that you will bring unusual dedication and skills to the table. 

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