I am a prospective Ph.D. applicant in the area of Robotics Controls and Biomedical Engineering (US universities). As a part of universities' SOPs, I am supposed to talk about my professional goals in pursuing a doctoral degree (or current degree goals).

I am really confused over what to discuss about it in my SOPs. If you ask me about my goal of enrolling in a doctorate degree, I would say that I want to be able to make a contribution in my field through my research, and subsequently develop core expertise in the field so that I can join some top-level R&D organization/startup after completing Ph.D. (This answer might be a cliche and other applicants might have written the same thing.)

Is it literally that easy to talk about one's doctorate goals? Or do I need to work on it more and come up with a better answer?

Any direction/feedback/critique is welcomed.

  • Think also about what sort of position you want to have after you finish. Where do you envision yourself five years after completion? The R&D stuff shouldn't be omitted. – Buffy Nov 24 at 17:30
  • Thanks. If I say that I am interested in applied research and after completing my PhD, I plan to join R&D org/startup where I want to play my role in product conceptualizing, prototyping and commercialization, is it good enough or am I just limiting myself? (I have entrepreneurial exposure and industry/R&D experience so I think my previous experiences complement my PhD degree goals) – Elon Nov 24 at 20:02
  • It isn't limiting in any way. Your goals may certainly evolve no matter what they are now. – Buffy Nov 24 at 20:03

Your SOP as a whole should cover your professional background in terms of classes, research, former professional experience, and your goals going forward. It sounds like you're asking about the last part of this.

Yes, your goals going forward are to do a good PhD and to get a job at a start-up. Those are reasonable goals, so it's reasonable to list them.

To the extent possible, you should be specific: what kind of research, which core skills, what types of jobs, etc. Obviously you want to leave yourself enough room so that your interests can evolve, but if you can articulate a well-thought-out, realistic plan for what you're going to do with this PhD after you get it, that will put you heads-and-shoulders above most applicants, who will be focusing on the PhD as an end in itself, or haven't considered jobs other than hyper-competitive faculty positions.

  • Thanks. If I say that I am interested in applied research and after completing my PhD, I plan to join R&D org/startup where I want to play my role in product conceptualizing, prototyping and commercialization, is it good enough or am I just limiting myself? (I have entrepreneurial exposure and industry/R&D experience so I think my previous experiences complement my PhD degree goals) – Elon Nov 24 at 20:06
  • I like it except for the "conceptualizing, prototyping, and commercialization" -- virtually all companies do those things, so it's sort of empty words. If there's a particular industry/role you're interested in, I would say that; if not, I would just omit the last clause. Your SOP will not limit you in any way, though you may be formally or informally paired with an advisor based on what you write, so it's good to be honest about your interests and plans of course. – cag51 Nov 24 at 20:32
  • Got it sir. Thanks for your input – Elon Nov 24 at 20:42
  • No problem. If this resolves your question, please consider accepting the answer. – cag51 Nov 24 at 20:51

While I believe that previous answers already gave interesting feedback, I would like to add this additional point.

Maybe in your field it is more common to obtain a PhD to have "better" jobs later in industry, however, I would be careful in phrasing this concept. It should not sound like: "I want to do a PhD so that I can then continue with what I really like, which, by the way, it is not academia".

If you are really certain that your goal is to end up in industry, try to be specific on what a PhD will give you to be better in the industry sector later on in life.

It is totally ok to do a PhD and then not continue on that path, however, showing passion for research in a university environment is always welcome.

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