In statement of purpose for applying to a PhD program, is it good to mention about learning from some professor's lecture notes and books (not papers, because don't get to read them yet), and finding them helpful? Will it make the statement more personal and therefore good?

Or is it better not to say so, and rather to keep the essay short?

  • 1
    Why "don't you get to read" a proposed supervisor's papers? If you cannot get access (if you aren't currently enrolled at an institution, for example) to a journal, email the supervisor and ask for a copy of the paper(s).
    – Moriarty
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 9:03
  • @Moriarty: I didn't get enough time to read and understand. Also I am interested in the research of several professors, probably more than half of the professors in the department. Is it good to mention all their names?
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 23:49
  • I would be very hesitant to mention more than a few professors, and Dnorg Spu's answer is spot-on in answering how you should mention them. Gushing praise about a dozen different professors will give an unwelcome and untrue impression of desperation.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 6:21

2 Answers 2


You do not want to convey the message, "I am applying to your school because I think Professor X is great." Everybody knows Professor X is great. That's why they hired her.

The question is, why should they want you?

A message you do want to convey is, "I am applying to your school because my research goals are well-aligned with existing interests in the department." If you can incorporate Professor X's notes and books into that story, great. Otherwise, leave them out of it.

  • 1
    Indeed... but/and, even so, exhibiting awareness of specifics of a given school is better than completely-generic applications, I think. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 14:53
  • Agreed. So maybe I should say: think hard about how to incorporate Professor X into the latter story! If his notes are an introduction to a generic topic like calculus, it might be hard. But if they're on a specific, research-oriented topic like astrobiology, it will be easier.
    – Dnuorg Spu
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 14:55
  • 1
    Indeed, if would be a silly gaffe to ooh-and-aah over calculus notes (as nice as they might be), but definitely good (I think) to show appreciation for "high-level", non-generic (as you say) notes. Appreciation for special things. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 15:01

On the whole, indication of awareness, of taking initiative, is a very strong positive.

On the other hand, if one attempts to do this artificially, to "create an impression", there is risk of "looking silly", to say the least. For example, do not try to mass-produce in an afternoon "awareness of Prof. X's notes and papers" for Prof. Xs at a dozen+ different schools to which you're applying. Such things tend to result in extreme superficiality, and inevitably some silly errors, such as referring to Prof. Y at University Z while purportedly addressing the admissions committee at Univ. W about Prof. X. Good for a laugh at your expense, sure, but, ... :)


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