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I have three specific questions I'd like to get some feedback on regarding including the following information in my SOP. To provide some context, I am an international student who completed my Bachelors in a US institution and a Masters in the UK. Post-Masters, I returned to my home country (neither the US/UK) where I have been working in a research associate position at a national research institute for 2 years.

1. It is very likely that I will be talking about the research I've done in my country of citizenship as I have 2-3 publications during my time here. I understand international students are at somewhat of a disadvantage as PIs outside of the US or UK may not be as internationally renowned or may have limited connections with those in the US. However, my PI has working relationships with a couple of researchers in the US and I am listed as a co-author on a manuscript where we have collaborated with 2-3 of them, however I did not work intimately with them. Would it be perceived negatively (i.e. trying to namedrop) if I were to mention their names in my SOP when writing about that particular project (one of them works in the NIH)? The publication is listed on my CV but I don't know if I should draw more focus to it in my SOP, just in case people are not familiar with the PI I work with (in addition, he is a clinician-scientist). Is this a good move or does it seem like I'm trying too hard?

2.  For a particular top school/program in my area, I had pretty extensive conversations with a recent PhD alumni as well as a current grad student who works in the same lab I am intending to join. Do you think it is a good idea to briefly mention this in my SOP? Again, I'm on the fence because I don't know if it will make me seem like I'm name-dropping/trying too hard vs. actually impressing the committee/POI that I have taken great efforts to speak with past and current students in the program. 

3. Would it be wise to mention that my previous research supervisor was on maternity leave for a rather extensive period of time (this happened during my Masters)? I ended up acing my masters thesis despite it being quite a challenge. I don't know if this will come across as me being negative about my experience or if it may be positively perceived as being independent, able to overcome obstacles etc. My advisor did mention after reading my thesis that he was impressed that I was able to do a good job despite these circumstances.

Thanks very much and I appreciate any advice anyone can offer!


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