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Critique My (2nd Draft) SOP!

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Based on feedback I got here, and on my own thoughts, I now have a second draft of my SOP. This version is specific to one school, but the other versions would likely to be similar. I would greatly appreciate hearing any thoughts about this.


Thanks in advance.

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I'm in a completely different area (literature!) but this looked good to me. My favorite bit was the parenthetical aside "where a paper I wrote on Laguerre planes consumed many happy weeks of my life" -- that made me smile:o) Your statement makes it very clear that you LOVE math, which is great.

The sentence "One of the factors attracting me to Texas A&M is your diverse areas of research" seems a bit odd grammatically. Could you try rephrasing this? Something like "I would like to attend Texas A&M in part because of the diverse research opportunities available"? Or anything that could help you sidestep the grammar problem of getting "One of the factors" "is" and "areas" to all agree:o)

I'm not a fan of the sentence "Any number of topics within those areas could interest me." I think you're trying to say that once you get to Texas A&M you would like to take a few courses and talk to a few faculty members before choosing your area of research. Can you just say that instead? And emphasize at the same time that you're really excited about research? I think that's the biggest problem I see with this statement right now... I can tell you're excited about math in general and also Texas A&M... but you need to be excited specifcally about doing research! Maybe it's different for math than for English, though:o)

When you say "I have a good, challenging, high-paying career" I think you could remove the word "good" since it's so generic... and could would "lucrative" be a better word than "high-paying"? Or maybe you could use a completely different idea there? I get what you're trying to emphasize (that you alread make a good living but want to pursue something personally fulfilling), but it seems awkward to tell the admissions committee flat out that you make lots of money... they don't care, and they probably don't make lots of money themselves:o) I might be nitpicking this, though!

You might also try rewriting the final two sentences in some way that would help you delete the "And" that starts the final sentence. It's not 100% taboo to start a sentence with "but" or "and," but I think you have to have a really good reason... and doing it in the very last sentence of the statement draws a lot of attention to it.

Good luck!

Edited to add: You use parenthetical asides in a couple of places, but then you use dashes for the phrase "we handle dozens every month." You might want to pick one or the other and use it consistently. I recommend dashes.

Edited by Quark
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1000 times better, Tam! Nice work :)

One nitpick: "specific speciality" is repeatedly redundant!

Thanks much!

And yes, good catch there. It's just too bad I don't have a specific specialty that I'm especially interested in. :D

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If math had revealed its true nature to me earlier, it would not have taken me so long to discover my desire to pursue a doctorate, but in the seventeen years since I started college the first time, I have developed the intensity, persistence, knowledge, and maturity to be a successful researcher in mathematics. I hope that earning my doctorate at Texas A&M will give me the tools and experience to make meaningful contributions to the field.

-This paragraph is mostly unnecessary. Saying that you have the intensity, persistence, knowledge etc. means very little. Showing it is what an SOP is all about. The last sentence should absolutely be removed: their program is obviously designed to produce mathematical scholars and saying that you "hope" it will do so it a little strange.

Until two or three years ago, most of the math courses I took (up through the calculus sequence) seemed to be about algorithms and techniques for solving different kinds of problems. I enjoy that kind of work, but once I got into the proofs-based courses, math really began to sing for me. I especially enjoyed my classes in projective geometry (where a paper I wrote on Laguerre planes consumed many happy weeks of my life), discrete math, and, these days, advanced calculus. Whenever I can trace things right back to axioms, I am in a good place. I love showing and explaining math to other people as well as writing about it. I have never had a math class I did not wish were harder.

-It seems to me that this paragraph would be much more forceful if you elaborated on this paper you wrote and explained, in depth (for that is the major thing this SOP lacks), what you loved about it. What, specifically, interested you? Can you pursue the same (or similar) lines of inquiry in other instances? You give no specifics which compromises your ability to demonstrate depth of knowledge and careful consideration of your interests.

I am not quite ready to lay out a research proposal or choose a specific specialty within mathematics. One of the factors attracting me to Texas A&M is your diverse areas of research. I am especially interested in learning more about the work being done by the Geometry and Topology, Groups and Dynamics, and Number Theory groups. Any number of topics within those areas could interest me.

-You do not have to pursue the area of interest you adopt in your SOP, but this sort of generalizing could easily portray you an uninformed and superficial in your pursuit of graduate studies.

I have a successful career as a land, geological, and engineering technician in oil & gas. I currently work for a consulting company, where I wrangle technical problems, find creative ways to manipulate data, and manage multiple conflicting priorities and deadlines. Every project is a new challenge, and I am adept at working collaboratively and at exchanging ideas and techniques with my colleagues. I enjoy completing projects -- we handle dozens every month -- and I understand the importance of getting things done. I have many technical skills that could be relevant to work in mathematics, from programming skills to competence with LaTex and Mathematica.

-If you love your job so much, why make this sort of career change? What's missing from your career that would be fulfilled by grad school? I'm not sure what your goal is with this paragraph. Again, you are saying how prepared you are without showing it. Why should they just accept everything that you claim here?

I started working on my degree at the Metropolitan State College of Denver almost ten years ago. I chose the school because of its strong local reputation and because I was able to take almost all of my courses at night. At first, school was more of a hobby for me, and I was working on a degree related to my work - Land Use, with a GIS concentration and computer science minor. But over time I was pulled more and more in a math direction. In May, I will earn my B.S. in Mathematics.

-This paragraph is not a good idea. It basically shows that you are not serious about academics. Change this to say something about the determination necessary for completing your degree, its importance, how it didn't complete your education but motivated you to continue it.

Going to graduate school is not the default option for me, but a decision I have made carefully. I have a good, challenging, high-paying career, but I want to put my skills to better use and pursue something more difficult and intellectually rewarding. And the strong mathematics program at Texas A&M will allow me to develop the skills I need to understand and eventually produce mathematics research.

- So, you end this SOP by claiming that you've made this decision carefully. You need to demonstrate this - explain how your current situation is insufficient, what you would like to do that you are currently unable to (and "doing research" is not specific enough).

-Also, they know that they have a strong mathematics program that enables graduates to do research, so why are you telling them this?

-I think you've gotten off on the wrong foot here. My suggestion would be to concentrate on developing a specific set of questions which you would like to pursue. A good way to do this is to expand on the paper you mentioned and reveal what it was that interested you so much. Also, use your work and educational experience to explain why what you've done isn't sufficient. What, specifically, makes you want to trade your current life for an academic one? Your statement is so general it makes it difficult to believe that a) you really are interested b ) you know what you're talking about and c) that you've considered this choice carefully.

-I don't want to be so critical but you hint at a few things that could be very productive for you in this essay (your work experience and drawn-out education) but you don't use them effectively.

All that said, I'm not at all familiar with mathematics, but you need to focus on including more specifics, and showing what a great candidate you are, not just saying it.

Good luck! and don't be discouraged. These things are very hard to write!

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