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I majored in computer science and I am writing a personal statement to apply for a PhD in computer science. The research direction I'm interested in is somehow related to computational biology in which I have some relevant experience and I have found some computer science programs in this direction.

Now I am not sure if I should write a personal statement that is department-oriented or research-oriented.

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  • Application in which countries?
    – Buffy
    Oct 17, 2023 at 12:55
  • United States of America
    – siran Lee
    Oct 17, 2023 at 14:11
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    What do you think is involved in making your personal statement department-oriented versus research-oriented? What would the contents be under each of those descriptions?
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:39
  • @BryanKrause A large part of them would be similar but I don't know if it is a good choice to include biology experience in the department-oriented statement, as it might be considered irrelevant by the committee.
    – siran Lee
    Oct 18, 2023 at 2:24

3 Answers 3

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If you will hold only a bachelors degree your statement can be quite general, aligning with the department in general - even quite loosely. If you will hold a masters it should be somewhat, at least, more specific and perhaps related to the research of some group (more than one person) of faculty.

The first task in most US doctoral programs is to pass comprehensive exams, not immediately begin research. There is time for reflection and refinement. You will eventually need to align your dissertation research with those of an advisor, but that isn't normally the first task.


Caveat: There are a few exceptions in the US, especially when your funding is initially coming from some specific research group's funding under a specific PI. In that case, you need to think about that and about how your ideas fit with theirs. But even then, for a bachelors holder there is a long road ahead with many options.

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I would try very hard to find a place where they align.

Given that you already have a relatively clear research interest, you should try to find programs (and maybe even a potential mentor in each) that are strong in that area. I think this will not only make you more likely to get accepted (although I have no data on this) but make you have a happier PhD experience once you are in.

I did this .... And then, the semester after I got in, the mentor I had in mind retired. But I still think it's the right approach.

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You may want to focus on your research interest with particular professor or group of professors to increase chance of being accepted by one of the faculties and emphasis why the department is a better fit for you. Usually dept can only accept students if faculty's interest and students' interests match for advising and mentoring process.

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  • Thank you. It's very constructive.
    – siran Lee
    Oct 23, 2023 at 15:15

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