Best Practices for Writing a Statement of Purpose for Ph.D.
Statement of purpose(SOP) largely depends on the program, institute, and country for which you are applying. However, in this article, several generic aspects of SOP for a PhD are described. You will find here Do’s and Don’ts while preparing documents along with some great tips to write an effective statement of purpose for a PhD.
In any field, the highest academic destination is a doctorate in that discipline. Millions of students have a dream of getting admission to the best universities in the world for pursuing their doctorate. Many top institutes offer the best programs in various research fields.
Every year, universities receive thousands of applications from students who are willing to opt for higher education. It is a challenging task for universities to shortlist suitable candidates to hire for their programs. Due to huge competition, these institutes have placed strict application screening processes. One of the critical parts of the application for a doctorate course is the statement of purpose or SOP.
This part of the application is a front end for the admission committee who is responsible for your selection into the program. Hence, a student must create a strong and impressive statement of purpose for a PhD. There are certainly effective ways by following which you can write a remarkable SOP for your doctorate application.
What is a statement of purpose for a PhD?
- The statement of purpose for a PhD is a personal profile or statement that is presented to the admission committee. It is one of the critical parts of the application while applying for your doctorate in any University.
- By seeing your SOP, the selection committee will decide if your research topic and education goals are aligned with their institute faculties. For example, your research objective should be beneficial for the program and it should satisfy department goals.
- By reading your statement of purpose for a PhD, they should be convinced that you are fit for the program and you will be able to comply with their organization’s reputation. By seeing your SOP profile, the reader will judge that if your research work can add value to their functions in the future.
- A good SOP can be a positive trigger in getting selected for higher education in top institutes. It gives surety to committee members that you have the necessary qualification to join their organization for pursuing your PhD.
- A well-written SOP should be able to influence jury members that you are the best suitable candidate for their research program. A systematically written SOP will influence them in the shortlisting or finalizing your nomination for your doctoral studies.
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How statement of purpose for a PhD is different from other SOPs?
- You can come across many SOPs but all of them may not be applicable for a PhD. For example, SOP for undergraduates will cover most of the points from childhood, schooling, etc. Whereas if it is an MBA SOP, it would cover management related experience and interests.
- Similarly, SOP for PhD should mainly focus on research. It mentions experience in research, area of interest for research, etc. This document should be able to convince the readers about the candidate’s research ability and skills like problem-solving, innovation, data collection by in-depth research, and data analysis, etc.
You can also check out our article on Statement of Purposes for Masters
What should be covered in a statement of purpose for a PhD?
SOP is a very important aspect of the application process. You need to tell about yourself like who you are in terms of your background and connection with the field of interest you have chosen for research. Describe your personality such as your hobbies, interests, and your likings. For example, if you are opting for PhD in computer science then you can tell about your love for artificial intelligence or some advanced computer technologies.
2. Professional goals:
You need to mention your purpose in applying to the specific university. You may discuss what inspires you and what is your expectation from this program. For example, what you want to study at the specified institute. What do you want to achieve with this research or what is your objective after completing this research? You can mention something like along with the research you want to deepen your skills in mentioned field and would like to become a subject matter expert(SME) in this area etc.
3. Talk more about your field of interest:
Tell more about your field of interest like how you got interested in this field and why you want to choose this particular field for research. Just an example, if you are applying for PhD in the field of pharmacy then you may correlate your childhood desire of discovering pills for every ill and mention this is the reason since school days you were interested in this area.
4. Describe your academics and internship:
Your academic interests and experiences relevant to the research field should be described here. Any real-time experience in the relevant field will enhance your chances of selection. Hence, you can mention your on-job experience if any such as site visits during an internship or hands-on experience in a specific area that can be included in SOP.
Mention experience in researches:
You may write about your past researches, success stories relevant to the field where you are applying. You can also mention major projects that you have executed, papers you have written or published, and presentations given during your academics. You can also include names of particular faculty or mentors with details of their expertise in the subject area. This will assure panel members that you are qualified to undertake a research study in their organization.
Best practices for writing an effective statement of purpose for PhD.
Read instructions carefully:
Every university, the program has its own rules, guidelines for SOP application. It is very essential that you first read all instructions carefully and should strictly adhere to the procedures shared by the program. You can get details specific to the institute from any senior or faculty associated with the programs, It will avoid last-minute modifications in the application. Any missout in following the directions may shrink your opportunity to join your dream university. Hence, it is always recommended to thoroughly study all specifications in the application before starting SOP creation.
Customize your SOP:
It is very important to customize the document as per the specifications of the program. Using the same SOP for all universities may not work effectively. There may be some particular topics they are looking for. You need to include a considerable part of SOP specific to the university or program you are targeting. For example, you may want to tell the admission committee that why you have chosen their school over all other options. For which you need to mention a few good or positive points of this program. It indicates that you have researched all details about the program and applied only after understanding their requirements. This will influence the admission committee to shortlist your application.
Use positive and focused language:
Always write your formal documents in affirmative language. Positive talks influence readers more. Make sure you are including only relevant information. It is essential to be short and focused on your points without any hotchpotch. Unless there is no specific word count mentioned in the application, keep the length of the document one to two pages maximum. Focused and concise writing creates a good impression on readers.
Have third party review:
It is a good idea that before submitting your application, get it reviewed by a third person. It is a normal human tendency that you do not catch your mistakes even after reviewing them many times. Similarly, you may miss a few important points which are critical for the application. Any third person who checks your work can immediately identify such issues and give you feedback for improvement.
For example, you can send the draft copy to your lecturer or any senior who has already experience in creating SOPs. You may request them to review your document and seek feedback. This will help you in understanding any shortfalls so that can correct them before submitting them to the universities. It is a good practice to create a draft copy first and after reviews finalize it to make a perfect SOP.
Include your qualification and skillsets:
Write a summary of your undergraduate or any previous graduation. You may mention any additional qualification which is relevant to the field you are applying for. Also, mention your skill sets and any extracurricular activities that help in the program you have chosen. For example, knowing a foreign language can be an added advantage for many universities. By seeing your skillset, committee members should be assured that you are fit for their program.
Strong content writing:
Make sure your content shows your confidence. Use your sentences in the active voice to give much weightage to what you are talking about. Give numerous examples of your past academics and experience to emphasize your statements. The content should be clear and effective so that it can communicate your ideas to the admission committee at first glance itself.
It is a must to recheck again and again for any grammatical mistakes, weak vocabulary, and format issues.
There are many online checkers are available for spell check and grammatical corrections. Please make sure you have done a hundred percent proofreading of your SOP.
Create a Checklist for quality checks:
It is a must to have a checklist for any formal document. You have to do quality checks (QC) against the checklist before submitting your SOP. The checklist may contain the following points:
- Academic background- Mentioned all relevant experiences and qualifications for the chosen field.
- The reason for selecting the particular program is included
- Skillset and interests added to show you are fit for the program.
- All SOP instructions mentioned by the program are followed.
- Feedback is taken from a third party reviewer and taken care of the improvements suggested.
- Proofreading is done and all corrections are done.
- The final revision is considered for submission and all previous revisions are discarded.
Structure of statement of purpose for PhD.
Below is a generic structure for an SOP for a doctorate. More or less for all universities and programs, the structure is common. Only a few modifications may happen as per the specifications given in the application.
In this part, you need to introduce yourself. in the starting part, you have to talk about what program you are applying for. You may add one or two quotations, in the beginning, to have more attention You also need to discuss your interests and motivation behind selecting this field, This will give selection committee members a brief idea about yourself.
In this part of your SOP, you have to give details of your achievements and endeavours. Detail descriptions are required for each milestone. For example, you can write short success stories for your major accomplishments. You should include here your experience relevant to the field you are applying for. It may be your internship details or projects you have done in related fields. Try including real-time situations you handled in your previous researches. If any onsite experience then that would be a great value addition to any program is looking for. Also, if any researches are done in past in an applicable area then those details also need to be mentioned here. In achieving your academic milestones if you faced any challenges then you can share them with the focus on the ways how you handled them.
In this final part, you need to tell how you are going to contribute to the program and university by your specific skills and knowledge. For example, if you are applying for the engineering field then you can mention the problem-solving skills you would like to take more challenging and complex engineering topics during your tenure in this program. If a student can assure that any of his experience or innovative skills can help the program and institute to enhance its reputation then there are bright chances of getting your application selected.
A Sample statement of purpose for Ph.D.
Statement of purpose for PhD in astrophysics:
“Necessity is the mother of invention”. Change is the only constant in this world. I strongly believe that in every aspect of life there is a scope of some kind of innovation that triggers new inventions in this world. Since my childhood, I was curious about the history of the universe. I always used to read books on how stars, galaxies, and planets get created and how they get destroyed in-universe.
During my school days, I was a big follower of great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. I was quite influenced by his theory of black holes and the universe. This triggered my passion for becoming a physicist. I hope, through my PhD in astrophysics I will not only be on the path of pursuing my dream of being a top scientist of Physics but it would also allow me to discover many more unseen facts of this universe.
When I had around 2 years of job experience in a research laboratory in India, I decided to go back to studies. To fulfil my dream of becoming an Astrophysicist, I was determined to pursue my doctorate from one of the top universities in the USA.
After graduating in first class with honors from the college of engineering, Pune, I joined a defense based research laboratory. The reason why I joined this organization is that I wanted to give myself some time to have a feel of the research environment before I decide on taking admission for my doctoral education. This strengthened my aspiration and interest in the research field, This was my first step towards fulfilling my ambition.
I could explore here several unseen dimensions of Physics. This job allowed me to study and understand the in-depth details of quantum mechanics. Here I got to work with many established research scholars. This gave me good learning and exposure to various research processes.
It was great to work on analytical models along with a team of talented researchers. In this institute particularly I enjoyed working on a few amazing aspects of Quantum Physics. I submitted several research papers in this field along with my fellow researchers. Seeing my ambition and innovative attitude, my seniors suggested going for higher education in this area which forced me to go one step further and apply for Ph.D.
In my previous researches, I got a chance to work on quantum mechanics which has shown me an altogether new dimension of Physics. I am hoping to continue my journey of skill enhancement during my doctorate with a more focused approach. Before selecting Princeton University for my PhD. I reviewed feedbacks of many other universities. I found this institute has got excellent feedback on quality education.
I also got a chance to discuss with a few seniors from this institute. I came to know from these students that here professors are wonderful, some of them are Nobel Laureates. They also appreciated the cooperative working environment of this organization. Here students and professors are extensively connected and they share a great bonding with even ex-students. All these reviews influenced me to opt for your program for my doctoral studies.
I am excited to work with such brilliant colleagues and seniors. It will give wings to my ambition of exploring the universe above and beyond the limits. My innovative skills will surely benefit the program and students of this institute. I strongly believe that I will add value to the reputation of this program and establish myself as one of the best scholars of this university.
Things to avoid while writing SOP:
- Not starting early: You should not keep this document for last-minute preparation. I would recommend starting working on it a month before your submission. You can refer to samples from the internet but do not rely on them completely. You should create your content by using creativity and innovation. There would be many iterations before you finalize the document. Hence, avoid a last-minute rush, start early.
- Do not exaggerate your achievements. Do not try to be perfect. You should keep in mind that the admission committee may not get impressed if you overly populate your SOP with self-boosting. Do not overuse ‘I’. You can include some challenges also like how you had difficulties in achieving particular milestones. There should be a balance of content between your personal information and the information specific to the program you are applying for.
- Avoid informal language: Restrict the words ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘like’ etc. Use formal and professional language but same time it should be simple to understand at first glance. Avoid using slang expressions. Also, acronyms should be avoided, do not assume everyone knows the abbreviations of all short forms.
- Weak introduction: If your SOP beginning is weak then the reader will lose interest in the starting itself. It is very important to have a strong and impressive introduction to your SOP. As it is said that well beginning is half done. So, please make sure the introduction of your SOP is impressive. You may start with a quote appropriate to your field of interest. similarly, a weak conclusion may not leave a good impression on readers. Always make a good and effective ending. You may close with your expectations with the program and how you can contribute to the reputation of the institute.
- Format and length issues: Do not exceed the word length specified for the program. If no particular length is defined by the program then normally you should keep the limit within 1000 words. If you keep on adding your accomplishments then it may become too lengthy and the reader may lose interest. Also, stick to the format suggested if any by the university. If no specifications are given on font then you can maintain 12 point font size. Font type can be a simple font such as Times New Roman and always justify the text, align to both left and right margins.
- Submitting SOP without editing: Never skip the quality check of your document before its final submission. There may be grammatical errors that you may have overlooked during your SOP creation. You must take the time to proofread your work. Skipping this step may result in submitting your papers with a bunch of errors. There may be some issues related to formatting which need to be fixed before finalizing your SOP.
Perfection is a key to success. If a task is completed by putting in your best efforts then victory is bound to come in your way. Hence, if you follow all the Do’s and Don’ts given in this article and stick to the guidelines given by the programs then there are bright chances of getting your application selected for admission into your desired university.
Applicants should keep in mind that the objective of the statement of purpose for a Ph.D. is to influence the admission committee. Hence, the content should be written in a convincing mode so that readers get assured that you have a strong background of the subject. They should be satisfied with the examples provided by you to support your points. A well-written SOP is a key to getting your application selected. This can truly demonstrate your potential and lead you towards success.