Advice for the Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose for MPH and PhD Programs?

Discussion in 'Public Health Degrees (Masters and Doctoral)' started by publichealthpolicynerd, Aug 8, 2015.

  1. publichealthpolicynerd

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    Hello,

    I'm applying this fall for MPH and PhD programs in Public Health (Health Policy and MCH) for the Fall 2016 cycle. I would love your advice on the following:

    (1) qualities of an outstanding statement of purpose/personal statement (2) key experiences or personal qualities to highlight (3) how to describe non-research work experiences in public health (or public health nutrition when I don't want to focus specifically on nutrition in a PhD program)

    From what I understand, a good essay (especially for doctoral programs) should demonstrate understanding of the field and where your research interests fit in, your experiences in public health research and instances that show your potential as a researcher (proof of academic excellence, motivation, past awards/grants), and a description of how your research interests fit in with the university and specific faculty members/research groups.

    Aside from my PH research experience, I'm not sure which of the following should make it into my essay. I want my essay to be focused, but there were many non-research experiences that shaped my interest in research.


    -->Professional development training related to organizations/management for PhD programs in health policy and management?
    --> Public health work experiences: statewide school nutrition and wellness programs, community-based work, etc.?
    -->Work as a teaching assistant for a health-focused journalism course in college?
    --> Specific coursework in Public Health and Public Policy in college?
    -->Leadership experiences in college related to public health?

    I'd greatly appreciate any advice you can offer me!
     
  2. Stories

    Stories Life Afficianado
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    My personal recomendation is stick to your point 1: focus on your understanding of the topic areas, areas where you see yourself fitting in for research, and then your experiences and how they tie in. Non-research experiences a less useful to gauge your potential success for publishing and becoming an expert in your future field (unless it shows you have become an expert in another field through academic-style research).
     
  3. PeanutBrittle

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    I think that motivation is a big deal, in terms of selection for a PhD program. Ideally, the adcoms don't want people who just choose the PhD route as a default, but are looking for candidates who have both an appreciation of the field but also a high degree of motivation in terms of wanting to be a researcher, or enter an associated career. If you are well motivated then you have a clearer understanding of what skills you hope to obtain, your professional goals, and how your experiences gel together before grad school. I think a good idea is to start talking about your initial interest in public health and how that lead you to decide upon an MPH or PhD. Everybody faces forks in the road when it comes to career choices, and a key experience would be why you want to do MCH, for example.

    I think that public health work experiences would be integral to your personal statement. You need to explain how the work you did influenced you, such as "I discovered that I enjoyed thinking about public health issues in class, and that knowledge gave me more insight into my public health work at x, y or z." Leadership is good to talk about as PhD in public health are expected to take up leadership positions as they are the 'buck stop here' experts! A formulaic approach used by many applicants is an interesting chronological narrative that ties together who you are in a nutshell, give yourself credit you've made a lot of adult decisions regarding your planned career in public health. Talking about coursework is good, but I'd make it personal such as discussing a discussion you had with a student or professor and how you look forward to developing a network of colleagues in your anticipated future area of interest.
     
  4. PeanutBrittle

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    I don't think this is a good way to organize a personal statement!

    It could be jumbled and it isn't necessary to delineate an "understanding of the topic areas." The adcoms have the transcripts, they know what the student has learned. Yes, when applying for PhD programs it is good to discuss how you will fit in regarding research interests at a given institution, but research interests can, and do, change. Motivation is key, not simply regurgitating little nuggets of knowledge and using public health jargin.

    For MPH programs, and even PhD programs, the non-research aspects let the programs know that they are getting a well-rounded student, and is probably more important in public health related areas as having an interest, and understanding, in community issues is desirable. I don't think that potential success for future publishing is key as a lot of PhDs don't become research scientists, also "becoming an expert in your future field" would need to be refined by saying that they want to get students who have demonstrated a strong interest in public health who are committed to future career development and independent study as working professionals.
     
  5. Stories

    Stories Life Afficianado
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    I think you might be a little misinformed about a PhD program's goals. I agree that for a MPH program, a well rounded student is a good candidate. However, a good MPH candidate does not necessarily make a good PhD candidate. PhD programs have very different criteria for admission, training, and future success. A PhD program is to develop someone into an expert and scientific researcher in that selected discipline--not a general public health professional. What you're suggesting is someone applying to a DrPH program, which is much more analogous to a MPH program, where being more broad and diverse carries more weight.
     
    #5 Stories, Aug 11, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  6. PeanutBrittle

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    The person who started this conversation is applying for both PhD and MPH programs, and regardless my personal statement advice is good for both types of programs. Both PhD and MPH programs are looking to see "who the person is", not their record. The characteristics that portend success in an MPH program are very similar to those for a graduate school program, such as tenacity, creativity, organizational skills, mature perspective of life decisions, motivation. It is practically nonsensical to argue that a PhD program is vastly different from an MPH program in terms of selection criteria and personal statements. Yes, the job specifics may be different, but skills for success in graduate study, be it MPH or PhD level work are similar.

    I understand that you believe you are trying to help, but frankly I find your advice to be generic, misleading, paper-thin, and devoid of details or evidence of real experience regarding PhD and MPH adcoms! Most folks who have applied to graduate school, be PhD or MPH, would agree with what I wrote and these are just the basics of writing a personal statement. Yes, even PhD programs look for evidence of good writing skills and interests outside of a give field which give perspective to one's work, and resiliency in terms of overcoming life's obstacles.

    I think you need to honestly look at your post and see if it contains any useful information for the person asking this question. It is obvious that you have not served on an adcom for a PhD program.
     
  7. Stories

    Stories Life Afficianado
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    Condescending attitudes aren't appreciated and against the TOS here. Don't be a troll because you disagree with my personal experiences. We're all here to provide what we've experienced and how we've gone through our educations and careers.

    PhD vs MPH admissions are vastly different. General advice for writing a personal statement for most masters programs (non-academic but professional such as the MPH) have a focus on general career and personal goals pertaining to that field. Academic programs (MS, PhD) which lead to an academic degree are focused on academic research and training in that specific discipline. The core curriculum of the professional degree versus the academic degree are different, and as such, different orientation of personal statements is required. The personal statement in a PhD program should in reality be called a 'research statement'.
     
    #7 Stories, Aug 11, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
    rpflash100 likes this.
  8. Stories

    Stories Life Afficianado
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    Gradcafe has a good set of examples focusing on writing a personal statement: http://forum.thegradcafe.com/forum/73-statement-of-purpose-personal-history-diversity/
     
  9. PeanutBrittle

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    I apologize if you think my posts were condescending, they are not. I categorically disagree with your advice regarding a personal statement as it is bad advice. It is a mischaracterization to say that I "disagree" with your personal experiences as I have no idea what your personal experiences are. I am just disagreeing with the personal statement advice which would probable lead somebody astray to write a very bad personal statement which many adcoms would consider a bland regurgitation of their c.v.
     
  10. Stories

    Stories Life Afficianado
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    It's right there in my signature in the first post. Been involved here since 2009. I'm also the moderator of this board. I suggest taking a look at the Gradcafe's posts for suggestions about SOPs which are applicable mostly to academic (thus PhD) programs.
     
  11. rpflash100

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    Stories,
    That gradcafe link is very useful. Thank you.
     
  12. smarcailTU

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    As a follow-up question, is it frowned upon to apply for a PhD and a masters at the same school at the same time? I would obviously be hoping for a PhD and be applying for a masters as a backup
     
  13. Stories

    Stories Life Afficianado
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    No. Some schools will even automatically consider you for a masters if you get rejected for PhD and you don't already have a masters.
     

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