Popular Science References in Statement of Purpose for Ph.D?

Dvij
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Nov 17, 2017 9:03 am

Popular Science References in Statement of Purpose for Ph.D?

Postby Dvij » Fri Dec 01, 2017 5:12 am

I am currently in the process of writing my SoP for applications to Ph.D. in Physics programs starting Fall 2018 (in the US schools). I am definitely writing about the content that I have studied rigorously as well as about the research projects that I have been involved in and so on. But I also want to involve something about a paragraph (**not** a specifically small one) about some of the colloquial talks and articles that I have read during my undergraduate years that have played a significant role in shaping my interests inside theoretical physics. I have been quite a YouTube buff and have watched a lot of semi-popular level talks and have been quite motivated by them in my interests. These talks have been very useful in making me aware of the current frontiers of research as well as in narrowing down my interests for good. Of course, these are not the only factors but these are among the non-negligible factors. So, I wanted to ask whether mentioning this part would be considered good or it would give my statement a non-serious and a childish tone. Or worse, might it look like I am confusing real physics with what is shown in the popular level talks?

Along with anyone interested or knowledgeable about this kind of a situation, those with a first-hand experience of looking at someone’s statements with such references or those with a first-hand experience of writing such a kind of statement are particularly requested to comment/respond.

TakeruK
Posts: 932
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Popular Science References in Statement of Purpose for Ph.D?

Postby TakeruK » Fri Dec 01, 2017 12:35 pm

I don't have the first hand experience you seek (perhaps only a few users on this board would).

My first question for you is what is the reasoning for including these references? You say, "These talks have been very useful in making me aware of the current frontiers of research as well as in narrowing down my interests for good."

However, the SOP is not really about how you got interested in Physics (i.e. the past). It is about what you are interested in doing in grad school and beyond (i.e. the present and future). For the latter, you can and should include the past when it is directly relevant. For example, you should discuss undergraduate research experience because it helps prepare you for graduate work. It's okay to have a little bit of stuff about how you became interested in Physics, but you say this is "not a specifically small" paragraph.

So, from your description, my concern is that you are going to spend too much time on off-topic materials in your SOP.

My second question for you, if you decide to include the references anyways because they are more related to your work than I had thought (e.g. perhaps you want to make it clear that your future goals lies in Physics education/outreach/communication and you are applying to programs that support this), is then what are you actually going to say about these videos? You would need to be able to provide interesting and intelligent commentary in order to provide value for your essay, I think. So if you just want to discuss how great they are, I don't think more than one sentence is necessary. If you have your own career aspirations to do something similar, you could think about discussing the methods the videos used to present the science and critique them or compare them to other forms of science communication (e.g. podcasts, blogs, etc.) Again, this type of analysis should only really be included if it's really relevant to what you are applying to.




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