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Grad school SOP

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by chaos, May 6, 2007.

  1. chaos

    chaos Member
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    So I know for applying to undergrad, the more original and creative your application essay, the better. I know grad school's not like that...but to what degree, if any, should you deviate from the 'this is why I want to go to your school, this is why you want me' format? Should you at least open your SOP with something semi-original- like a quote (or is that way too pretentious?) that describes your attitude toward psychology, or an experience that led you to be interested in human nature. I mean obviously you don't want to open with a poem you wrote in high school but I'm just curious if it's declasse to open with anything that isn't dry and scholarly like 'I first became interested in subject x when working in the lab of...'
     
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  3. JockNerd

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    I say you'd have to be an exceptionally skilled writer to pull off something creative and not run the risk of it being read as pretentious, offtopic, hyperbole, or inappropriate. The essay is very often the only piece of writing of yours that the prof will see-- has to count for a lot. I've read about people being able to pull off using a quote or something (but, hey, mercy on you if you quote B.F. Skinner and an antibehaviourist is the first person to read it!).

    I think personal experiences leading to an interest in psych can be great, as long as its clearly relevent and doesn't come across as something like "my experiences have made me uniquely qualified to deal with population x, and a lack of these experiences would mean someone isn't as able to deal with them."

    The personal statement can DEFINITELY, I think, be a sort of story about the growth of your interest in psych. How you got interested, what you did with your interest, what you want to do with that interest and where you want it to take you in the future.

    Good luck with your applications. Applying this winter? Good on you to start now.
     
  4. chaos

    chaos Member
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    Yeah I'm thinking of opening with maybe a paragraph about how volunteering at a therapeutic riding center first got me interested in psychology back in high school, since a lot of the kids had psychological/developmental disorders as well as physical...but I'm not sure if it's a little off topic since my research interest is cognition/cognitive neuroscience and schizophrenia, in adults of course.

    Heh I'm not even applying this winter- I'm just a junior so it'll be winter '08...I just like to plan things in advance...way in advance :rolleyes:
     
  5. RayneeDeigh

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    My anecdotal stuff: I opened my statement by talking about a project I did in junior high that started me on the path to grad school. When I wasn't getting calls from grad schools I thought in hindsight that it had been the wrong way to go. But then I did get a call from one school, and the prof even mentioned some extra work I could have the chance to do that directly relates to the project I talked about.

    I guess this means that it all depends. Go with your gut on this one. If you think you can use it to show that you've had long-term dedication to the field (because schools DO want to see this), then go for it. If you think it would be misconstrued as clouding the waters, then leave it out. It's a tough call to make and unfortunately it will likely depend on chance (like I think it did with mine).

    Sorry I'm no help! I just took two paragraphs to say "well, it depends". lol
     
  6. KillerDiller

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    In my very humble opinion, anecdotes that aren't directly related to the research you want to do are risky. I think that personal statements can be peppered with bits of your personality, but it is also best to keep to the topic at hand (ie. what specifically you want to do and why you are qualified to do it).

    When in doubt, have as many people as possible read your statement to give you feedback. Also, try to read statements from other people, even if they aren't in the field.
     
  7. clearcolor

    clearcolor Junior Member
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    My first paragraph was also about a clinical volunteer experience. At the end of the anecdote, I used it to show how I became interested in research. Worked well for me.

    I know I've responded now and furthered your thoughts on the topic, but please, do not start to write this essay now. It is not worth starting until you are least in your application year. I wish I could say these things and have you beleive me because I worried too much when applying to grad school. It scares me to read that you are planning this far in advance because you are going to worry yourself unnecessariy. Planning in advance is critical (rack up research experience, etc.), but you might be taking it to an extreme.
     
  8. JockNerd

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    Well, none of us know the OP's coping style. It could very well be that writing the statement now is a way of alleviating stress or worry, or it's a way to focus on the goal. Anything written now isn't in stone; I'm sure chaos wasn't planning on writing his final draft tonight.

    PS what's a "therepeutic riding centre"? Riding horses? Neat.
     
  9. chaos

    chaos Member
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    I know...I'm probably going to end up writing 6 versions of it a week for the next year and a half :rolleyes: I only decided last year that I even want to go to grad school...before I was just sort of wandering aimlessly through my degree...and now that I've decided I want it, everything is 'omggradschool! must learn everything about gradschool! must score 1400 on the GRE and get into Yale!' If you think I'm obsessing over the SOP, you don't even want to know how much time I spend worrying about the GRE (yes, that's 'worrying about' as opposed to 'studying for' which would actually make sense). Ideally, the thing to do would be to stop visiting these boards several times a day...but almost everyone in my classes seems to view the B.S. or B.A. as the end, not the means to an end, and my non-psych friends have basically told me they'll tape my mouth shut if they ever hear me utter the words 'GRE' 'research' or 'graduate school' again. I guess it's pretty sad when your non-psychologist family members are like 'sure, UNC isn't in the top ten- but look at its gorgeous match rates!'
     
  10. chaos

    chaos Member
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    Yeah...it can be really something- you sometimes get a pretty severely autistic kid who barely responds most of the time, but within a few sessions remembers that you use the curry before the brush, how to put on the saddle, etc.
     
  11. perfektspace

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    My experience: Applied 1st time with a somewhat creative personal statement and did not get in (1 interview). Applied this year with a nearly identical CV and retooled my statement to be more straightforward and accomplishment based and got in (with several more interviews). Outside of the luck factor the statement had to have made a difference. The best thing you can do is to consult with a prof. and/or grad student who can critique and optimize your SOP. They have seen them all or recently written a successful statement so don't be afraid to utilize that experience.
     
  12. GiantSteps

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    Most schools state very little as to what they really want in a personal statement. However, one interesting statement is the following one which can be found on Harvard University's Psychology Department's website.

    " Here is some advice from Prof. Marc Hauser for writing a good application essay:
    Over the past 12 years, I have been reading graduate school admissions’ essays. These include essays from students applying to work with me as well as those from my own students who are preparing to apply to other graduate programs. When my own students apply to graduate school, I give them very specific advice about the nature of the essay, what I think most candidate schools and advisors are looking for. I have always had a particular view about what makes for a good read, of course from a personal perspective. I have been struck by the fact that many of the incoming essays lack the kind of content that I am looking for, having the appearance of an undergraduate application essay. This seems unfortunate because I often use the essay more than almost anything else to get a sense of the applicant’s intellectual potential and passion. Many students that apply have stellar GPAs and GREs, but only a few present carefully reasoned essays that really motivate the reasons for going to graduate school. In essence, essays that capture my attention are ones that develop ideas, propose experiments, point to holes in the literature, and do these things with passion and excitement. These very general comments, which will certainly not capture every advisor’s perspective, or even the majority, can be distilled to a few essential ingredients, presented below as questions:
    • Why continue on with your education? Why do you need to learn more? What skills, theories, and knowledge do you lack?
    • What are the kinds of discoveries and theories that sparked your interest in the chosen discipline?
    • In graduate school, what kinds of questions do you hope to address? Why do you think that these questions are important? Given the set of questions that you will focus on, what kinds of methods do you hope to apply? What skills do you bring forward as you enter graduate school and which skills do you hope to acquire?
    • What holes do you see in the current discipline [big picture stuff]? In what ways do you think that they can be addressed during your graduate career?
    • What kind of graduate environment are you looking for? Are you particularly keen on working with one faculty advisor, and if so, why this particular person? If you are leaning more toward a cluster of advisors, as well as the department more generally, why? Hint: faculty are engaged by students who have read some of their work, have thought critically about it, and wish to develop some of the issues addressed. Further, it helps with admissions to have one or more faculty championing your case.
    Essays that have the above ingredients are truly informative. They tell each faculty member why the candidate wants to go to graduate school, what problems they hope to tackle, what skills they bring, and which skills they hope to acquire. Following this format is, of course, not a ticket of admission, but it will certainly make your application more interesting and informative."

    How one can get all of this into two pages (many schools have a page limit or word count limit) I am not sure but I suppose capturing some of this would be good.
     
  13. psych00

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    Keep in mind also that there are usually specific issues they will expect you to address (at least in my experience; all schools I applied to listed several things that needed to be explained within your essay). However, since it is really early in the game for you, I'd really encourage you to focus on getting as much research and clinical experience for preparation, or even preparing for GREs, instead of starting the actual applications themselves. I wouldn't really write essays more than a year ahead of when you will be applying; a lot will change in the meantime. :)
     
  14. Ollie123

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    For what its worth....

    I know someone who had a really really REALLY good, beautifully written, creative personal statement. He showed it to one of his profs. The response? "This is a beautiful, brilliant essay. Its a shame you have to scrap it and start over because this is not what professors want to see".

    Anecdotal, and just from one person, but still. Its one thing to include a "hook" its another to make it flowery. These are (generally) scientists, so they want facts.

    As a side note, if I had more time, I was going to write a 10-page empirical paper on why they should accept me as my personal statement for Yale. Complete with statistical analyses comparing my GRE/GPA/etc. to the mean, and citations from papers written by Yale professors.

    I figured I had little to no chance of getting accepted as is so maybe if I did something totally off-the-wall I'd get looked at. If not, I'd probably at least give someone a laugh.

    For the record, I don't recommend doing that at any school you seriously have a chance at.
     
  15. Sorg1123

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    I didn't do anything that the Hahvard Prof Suggested and I got a pretty good response rate (7:12). My statement opened with why I am applying and what my goals are. I wrote about my clinical expereinces and how those got me interested in my current research area. Discussed my research experience and how it has prepared me for graduate school. I finished it off with a paragraph about how school XXX will prepare me for my field and what I can bring to their dept. It worked for me.

    I've been told the following about SOPs:

    It's your first (perhaps only) chance to sell yourself to the prog.

    You only have two pages (usaully). Don't waste space.

    Know what you're talking about (duh).

    -Good luck
     
  16. merideen

    merideen Junior Member
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    From my limited experience (applied twice, just finished first year), professors are interested in how you will contribute to their lab. If your personal experience can be related to how you'll contribute, then add it. But if its a story illustrating why you love psychology I would think twice before putting it in. These statements are short and you want to use every sentence to make the biggest impact in convincing the professor you will be a valuable member of their lab.
     
  17. psychwanabe

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    There has been some really good advice disseminated here. I wish I had known some of it as I labored over my SOP. I got a lot of help and feedback from graduate students and professors at my UG program though.

    I did start with a "hook" which was the reason for my late entry into undergrad. I then talked about what I learned in UG and how it spurred me to want to learn even more. I focused on research as this was what I wanted and also what I knew they were looking for.

    It is really tough to answer all their prompts plus include the things you think are important in two pages. It takes a lot of time and editing.

    One thing that no one has mentioned is talking about your time-management skills. I had several Prof's at my UG say that the SOP should relflect your demonstrated ability to manage your time, as this will be key in your ability to handle grad school. Some students mention their volunteer/work activities while maintaining high grades. I mentioned being a volunteer, working, and raising my son while keeping a high GPA, top % of my college.

    Good luck! :luck:
     
  18. Duckygirl

    Duckygirl Back on the saddle
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    I think you've got it, psych00. I never really understood people referring to the statement of purpose as a single entity. I applied to 15 schools and had 15 different statements of purpose. Every single school, except one, had very specific requirements of what went into each essay. Some of them were VERY short (I am thinking George Washington was one of them): 500 words, and some of them were very long: 4 essays around 6 pages total (Northwestern). And then there were lots in between that were around 2 pages. Most of them had structure, and you don't have space to relay long anecdotes. You can make reference to things that sparked your interests- but I know that if you are applying to research-oriented programs, too much information about your clinical experiences won't help you.
    Additionally, you have to tailor your essay to the school's program and faculty. I applied to several schools with child-clinical focused faculty, so I had to include my experience in working with low-income minority families in some, and my great deal of history working with kids with ADHD in others. My essays for two universities in British Columbia were night-and-day different in contrast to my USC essay.
    I did some cutting and pasting of my favorite sentences, which were most often about my goals entering grad school. If you try to come up with one perfect statement before seeing all the different requirements per school, you'll be doing a lot of extra writing and and re-writing.
     
  19. JockNerd

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    I had to write a 1000 character SOP. *Character*. It was shorter than the last post, and it was hell to do.
     
  20. LadyInRed

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    Duckygirl is absolutely right here. There is no point whatsoever unless you have the actual application in front of you and already know who's lab you want to work in at these schools. So much varies from school to school about the essay requirements, and your essays will vary a lot to best support the interests of the professor you are applying to work with and the program's strengths.
     
  21. Duckygirl

    Duckygirl Back on the saddle
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    JockNerd~ I totally had one of those too! I was like, "What?!? Now I have to count the letters I use?" Maybe I even had two of them. How arbitrary and ridiculous!
     

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