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I am an undergraduate intending to apply to an American graduate program. In my SOP, I decided to write one paragraph about my final year thesis. However, the truth is that I failed to propose something new in my final year thesis. The only positive things, I believe, is that I have found related papers quickly without any guidance.

I hope to talk positively about this experience. Is it positive to mention that "I have found papers quickly?" And how to mention such a "failed" final year thesis in SOP?


More background information:

Field: graph theory

My supervisor was busy and he did not spend much time discussing the topic with me or teaching me about it. I have a problem understanding papers that are somewhat concise. At last, I had no choice but to change my topic. He only described the topic, did not give any references to read. I found the references by myself, which were exactly what he wished me to read. The time is limited and hence I do not propose many new things in my final year thesis.

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    What field are you in? I would say that the ability to find the right references is very basic and a minimum requirement for graduate students. However, I would not expect that someone proposes something really new in a bachelor's thesis. – non-numeric_argument Nov 28 '13 at 8:45
  • It is in graph theory. – John Hass Nov 28 '13 at 8:52
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I am not so sure that your final year thesis has actually 'failed'. It is not actually expected that many students will propose something truly new in their bachelor's thesis. The purpose is to teach you how to research a topic and write about your research. In this case, the fact that your supervisor did not give you much guidance or direction may actually be seen as positive, since you have succeeded in finding the relevant papers on your own, and have (I presume) written a decent paper about your research.

You are now heading into a phase where you will be expected to go beyond a literature search and propose "something new". Finding the relevant references is a basic skill required of any researcher. So is being able to work independently (that is, without someone always telling you what to do and where to focus your research). Your current supervisor's supervisory style has forced you to do this--point out this fact in your SOP! Take credit for having initiative and independence, and do not see your final year thesis as failed. It may not be outstanding, but it has served the purpose well.

  • failed means only propose very trivial things in thesis. – John Hass Nov 28 '13 at 13:49
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    @J.A.F In an academic context, failed often has a very precise meaning which is different than just a lack of success in finding something new/amazing. – Matthew G. Nov 28 '13 at 17:17
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At undergraduate level usually it is expected that student has basic understandings of intended field. Your SoP must state that what kind of motivation you got from your thesis/studies and how it is influencing your decision to select future field of research. Sometime you may select a topic (due to to lack of guidance and experience) which is not suitable to you. If this the case and you want to change your major research area be honest and explain why you want to change and why you are selecting new area of research.

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