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Admissions How explicit should my goals be in my Statement of Purpose?

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ams

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Hi everyone,

I'm writing my statement of purpose for Masters/PhD programs in Physics (Condensed Matter Experiment, specifically superconducting quantum computing related). I've seen a lot of advice online for how to write SoPs, and I've made and answered a list of questions the statement has to address.

I wanted to know just how explicit I should be in stating my goals and intentions. For example, I want to do a PhD because it's the only way I can enter the field of quantum computing (except for the annual Jr.Quantum Engineer posting at Rigetti, there are virtually no opportunities for undergrads!!! Feel free to tell me if I'm wrong!!). In the future, I intend to join a company and not continue in academia. If I say this in my statement, will it reflect negatively on it? I'm just worried if admissions committees want students who only intend to stay in and contribute to academia (ie. ultimately getting a professorship). I know a lot of PhD graduates end up in industry and it's normal, but do they MENTION this in their statements/during their interviews?

Also, there is a particular university I want to go to just for a professor who's recently joined. His work is exactly what I want to do, and his lab is new which means I would probably get to help set up as well. Apart from that, I don't have any strong reasons to go to that particular university (their facilities and other professors' work are great but I feel it to be a secondary aspect). Would I still have to mention these in the statement (ie. 'the x, y, and z facilities at your university are perfect for doing such research', etc)?

Basically, can I be this clear and concise in my statement, or would it somehow come off as arrogant/unrealistic/disrespectful to the univ?
 

Choppy

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Generally speaking, I think graduate programs want their students to go on and become successful. That's not limited to academia. So it's fine if you intend on completing your PhD and then transitioning into the industrial workforce. Even better if you can articulate why an education from that program will help you to do that.

Wanting to work with a particular professor because you've read about his research and want to get involved is a perfect reason for wanting to attend that particular program. I think if you've got that and can explain how that degree is going to help you toward your career goals, you've got the basis of a fine statement letter.
 

ams

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Hi Choppy, thanks for your help.

I forgot to mention it in the main post, but could anyone also give me advice on how to write about switching fields because the first field you chose just wasn't your cup of tea/didn't see career aspects? I switched to q computing after three years in biophysics, but I don't want to be rude by saying biophysics was 'boring' or 'unchallenging' (it is most certainly not either of these, I just did not see any meaningful end to my work). If it helps, I really like what I do now because I can see my work being used immediately, and also this field is the perfect mix of theory+experiment for me.
 
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Instead of phrasing it like "I didn't like biophysics because of X, so I'm switching to quantum computing which does not have X", can you phrase it like "I found that I enjoyed the Y component of my biophysics research, so I am pursuing quantum computing"? It might be a stretch, but I think it's the better way to go.

I did something similar, but because I switched fields entirely, it was SO incredibly vague. My research in undergrad was entirely computational and didn't have real applications, and now in graduate school I work on micro-robotics. "I really enjoyed working on [really boring computer science project that led to a new algorithm for a really specific thingy] because of its immediate applicability, so I look forward to working on [microbots where I didn't even know how they worked]."
 

Vanadium 50

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In the future, I intend to join a company and not continue in academia. If I say this in my statement, will it reflect negatively on it?
Are you asking if dishonesty is the best policy? It's not.

Furthermore, I think your concerns are misplaced. Faculty know that not all of their students will get faculty jobs. For that matter, the majority won't. Worst case, if the department, against all evidence, believes this and trains their grad students accordingly, is that really where you want to go?
 

ams

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Are you asking if dishonesty is the best policy? It's not.

Furthermore, I think your concerns are misplaced. Faculty know that not all of their students will get faculty jobs. For that matter, the majority won't. Worst case, if the department, against all evidence, believes this and trains their grad students accordingly, is that really where you want to go?
I did not imply dishonesty, rather my question was about whether I should refrain from saying anything at all.
I was not aware of the faculty consensus on the matter, thanks for letting me know. I will write accordingly now that I know.
 

ams

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Instead of phrasing it like "I didn't like biophysics because of X, so I'm switching to quantum computing which does not have X", can you phrase it like "I found that I enjoyed the Y component of my biophysics research, so I am pursuing quantum computing"? It might be a stretch, but I think it's the better way to go.

I did something similar, but because I switched fields entirely, it was SO incredibly vague. My research in undergrad was entirely computational and didn't have real applications, and now in graduate school I work on micro-robotics. "I really enjoyed working on [really boring computer science project that led to a new algorithm for a really specific thingy] because of its immediate applicability, so I look forward to working on [microbots where I didn't even know how they worked]."
Thanks a lot for your help Dishsoap! Perhaps it is a stretch, but it's a good idea.
 

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