I am an UG senior year student, now applying to graduate schools.

One of my research experiences was in Theoretical CS. Although I find TCS quite tough, I approached a professor for working with them.

Considering that I was "new", most of my work involved literature review, and even though we had a few problem statements - we were unable to make any substantial progress towards any of them, despite working for almost two semesters.

This experience showed me I was not made for TCS, and I moved on to approach professors in other areas of CS. I have 3 other LoRs, which would be stronger than if this professor writes one, so they cannot address this issue.

My question is: Considering that this is indeed a research experience but one without any kind of "results": Should I mention this experience in my CV or SoP, and if so, how?

  • Yes! You definitely should. That was a valuable research experience. Make sure to include all the tasks you did with the supervisor. No need to mention the outcome if there is none meaningful
    – Neuchâtel
    Dec 4, 2022 at 13:41
  • Let me recommend that the CV is the place for this, not the SoP. Make the latter entirely forward looking: what you intend to accomplish and your short and long-term goals. The CV is about the past. The SoP about the future.
    – Buffy
    Dec 4, 2022 at 14:13
  • @Buffy Some universities ask for that in SoP. For example, UIUC says this about the SoP : "It is good to include any past work history, your interests, and reasons for pursuing a graduate degree in computer science."
    – whoisit
    Dec 4, 2022 at 15:31
  • 1
    But only in so far as they support the future goals. If you make it about the past you lose an opportunity.
    – Buffy
    Dec 4, 2022 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


Yes I would definitely put it in both. Experiences where you learn what you don't like are just as important as the ones that you do. Additionally, for my field (Chemistry), having theoretical experience is a plus even if you do experimental cause now you are better suited to make connections between the two fields and understand concepts that may be more abstract then the ones experimentalists are used too.

Most statement of Purposes for each application may have different prompts asking for different things. Some universities may only want to hear about the research experiences that were paramount in finding which field of study you are passionate about (if it was paramount include it). Otherwise, this experience should definitely be mentioned. You can discuss how it allowed you to have a more focused trajectory and pursue research field [x] as opposed to theoretical CS.

If the application allows for four letters of recommendation and this theory PI would write you a good one, it may not be a bad idea to include it. However, if the other three are good LORs, then I cant see why including the theory PI's letter would be necessary.

  • 3
    Let me add that "two semesters" isn't that long for serious research and it is a lot to expect significant outcomes from undergraduate research. You learned, at least, that some things are very hard and that some approaches don't work. This is valuable. And the advice in this answer is good. People will interpret it correctly in an application.
    – Buffy
    Dec 4, 2022 at 13:58

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