I am currently preparing my applications for various theoretical physics/physics master's programs in Canada and Europe. Canadian institutes typically require you to write a 1000+ words SoP. Now I am mostly certain about what to include in my SoP and how to do so. However, I am in a dilemma regarding my introduction. In particular, is beginning with a childhood story of how I was inspired to pursue the subject is a good way to start or not?

Some sources like this call it "cheap talk" whereas some sources like the one here stress having a narrative and gripping the reader from the first line on. The two suggestions might have an intersection but the latter source particularly encourages beginning with an impactful childhood experience.

In my case, the story goes as follows:

I happened to tag along with my father to an ophthalmology conference in the US. While my father was busy, I was left with this engineer colleague who was relatively free. He spent the next three days talking to me about some interesting areas of research in modern physics. We spoke about topics like QM, dark matter, LHC, and gravity. Of course, it was more of a first popular science introduction to things but it sparked my interests and genuinely led me to pursue physics. This was 7 years ago.

Now, I wish to mention this in the introduction and spend about 60 words doing so. I am unsure as to whether the above comes off as something unprofessional or unnecessary. Any help would be appreciated.


3 Answers 3


In physics culture, most people do not care what inspired you. Telling stories (in the sense of a narrative with a sequence of events) is not a popular activity among physicists. I would not include an inspirational or motivational story in an application for anything relating to physics.

Your statement should describe what you want to do (your purpose) and why you are able to do it, with factual evidence.

  • 6
    In the context of the question, yes. These stories make for some interesting talk... After you've spent some 15 odd years working together.
    – Lodinn
    Sep 26, 2021 at 16:26
  • Thanks! I shall refrain from doing so. You provide a convincing answer. Sep 27, 2021 at 2:17
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    "In Physics culture", most people do not care what inspired you. Huh?? Motivation is always required. If someone don't know why should we do it, can not be a good researcher in mathematics and natural science.
    – learner
    Sep 27, 2021 at 4:03
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    @MAS Scientific motivation is not necessarily the same as personal inspiration.
    – ddkk
    Sep 27, 2021 at 12:08
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    One border case that could make sense to include (feel free to pick it up if you agree): if a story explains why you came into contact with the subject exceptionally early on or deep into a particular area. But then keeping the story part short is imho essential. E.g. "my father was a pilot. That got me hooked in aviation and I started already looking into more complex aviation simulations in middle school. I won this and that competition in this area and would love to look more into topic X and Y to improve plane fuel efficiency" (if it fits with the research direction). Sep 27, 2021 at 17:19


Telling stories about your childhood will not "grip the reader from the first line on," it will put them to sleep. Possible exception if something truly unusual happened during your childhood (e.g., being hunted by the mob), but chatting with your father's friend does not rise to this level. Moreover, this is a professional document in which you are asked to state (and justify) your purpose; telling inane personal stories is not a reasonable way to answer this question.

I'm writing this so emphatically because this is such a common mistake. And it's understandable -- writing the first sentence of a statement of purpose is not easy, and including such stories is often encouraged during grade school English classes. But now is the time to make the transition to professional documents written for an audience of your peers, and that means providing logical thinking with factual evidence rather than cute stories.

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    I'm an undergraduate in the US (admittedly not in physics), and I wouldn't be surprised if people do this based on their ugrad admissions experience (where, to my understanding, this kind of thing is basically required). Sep 27, 2021 at 21:38
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    @JoshuaGrossoReinstateCMs This underscores one of the differences between undergraduate and graduate admissions. At the undergraduate level, the essay is there (essentially) to ensure that you are (1) literate and (2) an interesting and/or engaged human being who will contribute to the "culture" of an undergraduate cohort. They want to know who you are as a human being. At the graduate level, you are (essentially) applying for a job---they want to know that you have the skills and interest to do that job. It is a bit reductive, but no one cares if you are a person at that level. Sep 28, 2021 at 2:15

It was okay to mention colleagues/relatives/family friends getting you interested in some particular topic during the initial assignment at the university right after high school, at least where I'm at.

By the time of writing master's SoP, however, one is expected to know lot more about various areas of modern physics. Writing about "inspirational" childhood experience actually would undermine my confidence (as a hypothetical member of the admissions committee) that your understanding of the field has increased enough since that story's time, which is supposedly way back in high school - before you have actually gotten all your advanced education in physics.

So, ultimately my advice is the same as in the Anonymous Physicist's answer:

Do not do that.

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