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Talking about research in statement of purpose

  1. Nov 20, 2012 #1

    I am applying to physics PhD programs, and am currently working on my statement of purpose, a good chunk of which is dedicated to research that I have done. Right now, I have two drafts which I wrote in parallel, which take different approaches toward describing one of my research experiences.

    Approach 1 - technical. I describe what the research was, then say what scientific concepts motivated the research (it has to do with comparing different ways of storing energy, and how competing types of energy storage devices use them), then I basically say what a typical day was, ie., what sorts of experiments I did and how I used the results to further the research. Then I mention a couple of awards I won.

    Approach 2 - "what I gained from doing research". I state directly how doing research improved me as a scientist (eg., stuff like quickly assimilating scientific literature, efficient data collection, effective presentation of results). Then I mention a couple of awards I won.

    The way I see it, the advantage to Approach 1 is that it gives me an opportunity to prove that I'm a good technical writer, as well as shows that I understand my research. On the other hand, the awards I won also show this, and Approach 2 states the qualities that make a good researcher, and so makes the argument that I am one. It is also easier to read - after all, like most technical writing, my Approach 1 is concise but dense. People used to reading abstracts in scientific papers shouldn't have trouble with it, but anyone, scientist or not, could understand what I'm saying in Approach 2 after a single read. Yet, Approach 2 has nothing to do with the type of writing I will be doing in grad school, so doesn't demonstrate the type of student I will be.

    So, I humbly ask - which approach is better, ie., more likely to get me into PhD programs? For that matter, is the answer the same for personal statements as it is for statements of purpose?

    Thanks for any help you can give.

    -HJ Farnsworth
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2012 #2


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    I fail to see why you cannot combine 1 and 2. To be sure, your statement should NOT be essentially a 2 page long abstract describing your scientific work. But you really don't need that much detail anyways! The goal of the statement is something like 'to describe why you would be a successful phd student' (in the ways that the other info: grades, recs, GREs, do not).

    To do that, I think it's necessary to include a small description of the technical results, but certainly also to speak about what 'wisdom' you gained from this research experience. These are two bits of information contained nowhere else in your application, since it demonstrates 1) That you actually understand and can write cogently about what you researched and 2) How you've grown as a scientist as a result.
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