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How specific to be about academic interests?


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Hi guys!

I was wondering what you think is a good way to present one's academic interests in one's PoS for American/Canadian PhD programs. As many people here, probably, I ended up worrying that if I sound too specific and narrowly focused, I will seem not flexible enough for them; if I on the contrary write about too many broad interests, I'll appear too vague and immature. I ended up discussing one particular interest and highlighting two questions within it that I'm mostly interested in, and then briefly mentioning two other areas of philosophy I'm interested in ('secondary' interests, kind of). Thoughts?

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I don't think there's anything wrong with listing 2-3 primary interests and then noting some areas that are of interest that you haven't been able to study extensively yet. For example, my favorite areas of philosophy are philosophy of mind, logic, and applied ethics, but also make note that I'm interested in learning more about philosophy of science.

I agree that finding a middle ground is difficult, but I think that as long as you give them a general idea of the direction you're aiming to go, you'll be fine. Delivery and wording might be key here.

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I think that with an SoP it is important to keep in mind that there are lots of different opinions on what a good SOP looks like. Typically, the idea is to give the adcom a good idea of not only what what your primary and secondary interests are, but to also provide a  picture of how/why those are your interest. That is, I think it is important not only to list and describe your interests, but to also provide the philosophical motivation behind your interest. And, regarding the amount of detail per interest, one professor gave me this advice: don't even mention that you are interested in a specific topic unless you can say one intelligible thing about it in your SoP.  In other words, if it is worth saying you are interested in a topic, it's worth the extra sentence or two telling the school what makes that topic interesting to you. And if you are describing your interest in a sentence or two, and also providing some sense of your personal motivation or investment in that topic, I doubt it would come off as 'too narrow'. And oppositely, it shouldn't read as too general if your presentation of the ideas is interesting.

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I'll share the backbone of my statements of purpose:

1 I want to concentrate on x, but I understand that my interests may change for very good reasons at the graduate level. Nevertheless, my application to school is informed by # philosophical interests: a, b, and c.

2 Here is where I spend a paragraph explaining what questions or issues in a interest me.
3. Here is where I spend another paragraph explaining what questions or issues in b interest me.

4. Like (2) and (3), but concerning c.

5 Why this School?

5.1 I chose to apply to school because there are potential faculty who might be interested . . . list faculty, their research program, and how that program intersects with my areas of interests, etc.

6 Diversity Statement - this may be optional, depending on who you are. My ethnicity and class are important factors in my life and they shaped my decision to continue studying philosophy at the grad level.


Edited by thatsjustsemantics
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