The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

TuftedPuffin
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The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby TuftedPuffin » Sun Jun 28, 2009 3:41 pm

There's probably a topic about this somewhere, but I didn't see in on the front page.

What kind of things should I say in a statement of purpose essay? How much attention do grad schools pay to essays, as opposed to test scores, etc?

slugger
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby slugger » Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:00 pm

There are a lot of pages devoted to this online. The general consensus is to use this as an opportunity to try to explain any strange blips on your record (if need be), talk about your undergrad research, and mention one or two of the researchers at each university that interest you most, and why. Shoot for a page and a half, and have some fresh eyes look it over before you send it for grammar, punctuation, and run-ons, etc.

You should look at the post in the articles section about this. Grant wrote out a lot of really good advice

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twistor
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby twistor » Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:26 pm

It's your chance to sell yourself.

TuftedPuffin
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby TuftedPuffin » Fri Jul 03, 2009 2:51 pm

Grant's advice is helpful, but it's missing a discussion of what sort of thing should be included. I understand that I need to persuade the admissions committee that I'm the kind of grad student they want...what I want to know is, what kind of grad student do they want? What are admissions committees looking to learn from the personal statement? Is it information about personality? Interests? Are they looking for a plan of research? What should the structure be like?

Also, is it a problem if I don't talk about my undergrad research in the essay? It's covered in the recommendations anyway, and in my case it doesn't have much to do with what I'm interested in (I'd like to go into theory, but all of my undergrad research so far has been in experiment).

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zxcv
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby zxcv » Fri Jul 03, 2009 6:38 pm

Buy this book (or find it at your local library):

Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way into the Graduate School of Your Choice by Donald Asher

It also has fantastic advice for applying to grad schools in general.

nathan12343
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby nathan12343 » Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:50 pm

TuftedPuffin wrote:Also, is it a problem if I don't talk about my undergrad research in the essay? It's covered in the recommendations anyway, and in my case it doesn't have much to do with what I'm interested in (I'd like to go into theory, but all of my undergrad research so far has been in experiment).


Definitely DO talk about your undergrad research. Your research should be a large portion of your essay.

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grae313
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby grae313 » Sat Jul 04, 2009 12:47 pm

I agree, talk about your research, even if you just use it to explain why you want to go into theory.

Only the first two years of your graduate career are spent taking classes, the rest is about doing research and being a semi-independent scholar. Your goal is to convince the graduate committee that you will thrive in this environment, so showing past success in research is important. Tell them why you want to get your phd in physics--what motivates you and drives your towards this goal. Tell them what, in particular, you want to do in grad school and why, and tell them how specific people or facilities at their institution would be a good match for you. Tell them about your past successes because they indicate your abilities and suggest that you will continue to have success. Tell them anything unique about you that will make your application stand out in a positive way. That's a good start, I think.

TuftedPuffin
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby TuftedPuffin » Sun Jul 05, 2009 6:03 pm

Is there a kind of structure expected? For example, do the essays generally explore these topics via one theme, or are they more scattered arguments for admission?

nathan12343
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby nathan12343 » Sun Jul 05, 2009 6:44 pm

The basic point is to sell yourself. How you want to do that is up to you. Be professional, keep it relatively short (page and a half, max) and make sure that you're leaving the impression that you will thrive in grad school.

Part of that recipe is discussing your accomplishments and research experience, focusing on results, especially papers, posters and the like.

I guess mine was more scattered, but it needs to be coherent and needs an explicitly stated thesis which you defend.

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grae313
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby grae313 » Sun Jul 05, 2009 8:23 pm

There is no expected structure. Write an essay according to the guidelines given on each university's application, and that's it. Mine was two pages--most say "no more than two pages."

terrence
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby terrence » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:52 pm

Hi,

I have a doubt about the structure of my SOP: I
think the core part could be
1. a description of my research up to date,
2. something about future research, both close to my
current work and more in general, also in connection with
professors at the school I am applying to.

Now my question is: in point 1., I am going to describe
research that has been published or is going
to be published soon, so should I basically restate what
can be found in the papers? This sounds like a repetition.

On the other hand, I do not think committees actually
read applicants' papers, so the SOP could be the only place
to talk about research...

Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Terrence

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grae313
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Re: The Grad Essay: What goes in it? How important?

Postby grae313 » Fri Nov 06, 2009 3:38 pm

Your past research experience is certainly a big part of it, but it's definitely not the place to write all about your research findings and write a research proposal for what you plan to do in graduate school. Write about what you accomplished, but use it to highlight what you learned by participating in research and how it has better prepared you for graduate school. Nobody wants to read what you published in the experimental section of your paper, but they do want to know in what capacity you were engaged in research and how much you were involved in the process. You are right that they most likely will not look at your paper, because that doesn't tell them anything they particularly want to know. Even if you were first author on that paper, your contributions are still ambiguous. Make your accomplishments clear in your SOP, and again, focus mostly on how the experience affected you and what you learned, not necessarily the main results of your publication. Mention what you are interested in doing in the future, but don't write a research proposal. Basically this essay is your chance to tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person, and highlight the reasons why you think you would make an excellent graduate student and scientist.




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