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Statement of Purpose critique


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Hey everyone,

I am going to be submitting my applications to PhD programs in chemical biology or pharmacology fairly soon. Was wondering if anyone would be willing to look over my SoP and tell me what you think.

Thank you all,


The easiest way to differentiate between industry and academia is to simply look at the cars in the parking lot. Characterized by block-buster drug sales and unparalleled earnings potential in the stock market, it is no secret that the biotech industry offers lucrative monetary incentives to the erudite scientist. However, as the cliché adage suggests, there is one thing that money cannot buy – the satisfaction of pursuing a dream. As a biotech employee with an undergraduate education and malnourished appetite for discovery, I wish to continue my studies at the graduate level.

My interest in pharmaceuticals began during my sophomore year of undergraduate studies while pursuing the daunting task of earing an A in organic chemistry. The way in which functional groups retain specific chemical reactivity and physical properties, and the way in which chemists are able to harness these properties to assemble diverse structural motifs has always been fascinating to me. Considering my seemingly innate attraction to this field of study, I began research under the supervision of Dr. XXXX. Dr. XXXX is an organic chemist whose research is focused on the isolation of biologically active small molecules from natural sources such as plants, fungi, and insects. While performing research in the XXXX laboratory, I spent a great deal of time learning about the isolation, purification, and structural determination of organic molecules. My responsibilities included isolating compounds from natural sources via column chromatography, and subsequently purifying by HPLC those compounds displaying putative antimicrobial activity in vivo. I was also responsible for collecting NMR data for lead compounds and helping to elucidate their chemical structure utilizing 2D NMR experiments. Our endeavors resulted in a publication titled XXXXX, which described the isolation and structural determination of the chemical compound lupeol from a novel plant source. Although I thoroughly enjoyed studying under Dr. XXXX, I was very interested in exploring another facet of organic chemistry – synthesis.

My interest in organic synthesis eventually led me to the laboratory of Dr. XXXX, whose research interests lie in the synthesis and mass spectral analysis of functionalized thiophene monomers. In the XXXX laboratory, the tools of organic synthesis and mass spectrometry were utilized to probe the relationship between the structure of a compound and its physical properties, such as bond dissociation energy, proton affinity, and collision-induced fragmentation pathway. My responsibilities included synthesizing, purifying, and spectroscopically analyzing a library of thiophene carboxylic acid derivitives. In order to synthesize these compounds, I was taught numerous chemical reactions to generate molecules containing acid-derivative functionalities such as amides, esters, ureas, and carbamates. These reaction schemes provided me an opportunity to learn various synthetic techniques that are uncommonly seen at the undergraduate level, such as organolithium chemistry and air-free synthesis. Once these compounds were synthesized, impurities were removed by recrystallization or distillation techniques. We then confirmed the structure of these compounds by analyzing them via NMR, mass spectrometry, and infrared spectroscopy. I studied with Dr. XXXX for the remaining two years of my undergraduate education. During that time period, I gained a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in the field of organic synthesis, and I learned how to operate analytical instrumentation that is absolutely crucial to performing effective research. Our studies have formed the basis of multiple poster presentations, all of which I presented at regional conferences held by the ACS. Currently, a manuscript is in preparation to be submitted for peer review. Like all good things, my time in the XXXX laboratory eventually came to an end. Graduation came and I was forced to integrate into “the real world.” However, one good thing ended and another began when I was hired by XXXX.

XXXX is one of the fastest growing and most well-known biotech companies in the industry today. XXXX specializes in the development and production of human antibody drug candidates against both novel and validated drug targets implicated in diseases such as macular degeneration, dyslipidemia, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. My job responsibilities at XXXX include the large-scale purification of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) from genetically modified CHO cell lines. I have been trained to perform various techniques utilized during drug production activities such ligand affinity, anion/cation exchange, and hydrophobic interaction chromatographies, as well as ultrafiltration/diafiltration, drug formulation, and aseptic technique. My time at XXXX has allowed me to experience what working in the biotech industry is really like. In doing so, I have concluded that the biotech industry is undoubtedly the place where I would like to pursue the aspirations of my professional career. However, I feel that my opportunities within the industry are severely limited with my current qualifications. I feel that my current job responsibilities do not challenge me enough intellectually, and by obtaining a graduate education I will be able to acquire a position working in a more mentally demanding environment. The laboratory experience I obtained during my undergraduate research, coupled with my time at XXXX has motivated me to pursue graduate studies in order to one day secure a job that will exploit my curiosity and provide a more suitable and intellectually satisfying work environment.

My research interests lie at the interface of synthetic chemistry, molecular biology, and pharmacology. In a broad sense, I want to understand the molecular processes within the cell that contribute to its normal functioning, and how these processes become altered in pathological states. More specifically, I want to utilize the tools of organic synthesis to create molecules capable of probing the function of biological targets. By establishing a thorough biochemical framework of the cell, it will be possible to more efficiently design biologically active molecules, determine new drug targets, and discover novel biochemical markers for the diagnosis of various malignancies. When I first considered exploring the field of drug development, I was interested in small molecule research exclusively. However, the tremendous success of XXXX has broadened my interests to include, drug-biomolecule conjugates, synthetic peptides, and peptidomimetics as areas of considerable interest. A contemporary issue I am interested in is the role of NMDA receptors in the pathology of depression. It has been recently shown that certain NMDA receptor antagonists have profound and rapid onset antidepressant effects. I am interested in the design and synthesis of NMDA receptor antagonists for the treatment of depression, as well as understanding the mechanism of action of these drugs in order to rationally design more effective therapeutic compounds.

[School-specific paragraph]

Thank you for your time and consideration. I am very excited at the prospect of attending “XXX” University for graduate studies and look forward to your response.




Jakob M. Hebert




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  • 1 month later...

I would completely drop / change the first paragraph. I sense that talking about monetary motivation (even when you are not after it) in any way when you're going to be paid like shit for 5-8 years is a terrible idea.

I would not use the word "things" in an official piece like this

Air free synthesis.... Not uncommon in undergrad. Everyone knows how to use a glovebox if they've worked a summer. 

I would make the first part of your essay more personal after all this is when you made the (bad by the way) decision to go to gradschool because you fell in love with chemistry.  Not by using more flashy adjectives but by describing something in more detail. I have no idea what reactions you did and what the challenges were, if you optimized etc. For all the admissions knows you've just replicated someone else's notebooks and compared your data. 

Same goes for the biotech industry. Chemical biology is a bunch of kits with instructions where if it works it works and you're lucky, if it fails..god why? Details of optimizations or anything. something specific that started your interest then just bunch all the kit business in one sentence and move on. 

If the company you work for is the fastest growing i'd bet universities know already. get rid of that sentence it says nothing about you.

Don't end sentences in prepositions "like." it's still a thing after college to not do that

There's too many words dedicated to techniques or bond dissociation energies or really things that belong in a notebook not a personal statement that explains your motivation. Running hplc is not what is bringing you to gradschool.


Also i assume you know but all graduate schools will want you to teach. You may want to do industry but if you don't say anything about any teaching love that may be a minus...


Good luck

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I would echo many of the things yolo963 mentioned.


Most importantly, over all else, drop ALL negative remarks. By negative I mean not only straight out negatives like "serverly limited opportunities" or "not enough intellectual stimulation", but also comments like your first sentence about the cars. They give a very poor impression of your character. Focus on why you want to do things and your passions.

Avoid over usage of complicated words. It seems like you are trying to impress by showing that you know tricky GRE-type words, which also contributes negatively towards your character.

Avoid cliché statements, no one likes to read those.

Drop the whole intro paragraph, it is overly cliché. It is good to have something personal and eye-catching in the intro. However, it needs to be truly personal and highly relevant to your passion for science and what you what to do.

Use less "me" and "I", everyone knows its about you.

I would skip the descriptions of your labs and work places. If anyone is interested they can look it up, if they're not already familiar with it. This is about you.

Write about what YOU did. You write a lot about what "we" did, which makes your contribution very unclear. If I was in a committee reading your letter I would more or less assume that you did nothing of it, as I would trust that you'd specify what you actually did.

Sometimes I think your text is overly descriptive. This is not a place to describe your research in detail. I would still mention major techniques (such as air-free synthesis or advanced instrumentation) that you are familiar with. However, don't let it take up a lot of space and make sure that it comes naturally in your text.


Hope my comments are helpful to you!



Edited by nani'
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