By a scientific work I mean any work of mine that either belongs to my field or belongs to some related fields of my field. A work that is not a scientific work is called off-topic.

Since I occasionally (but seriously) compose poems and popular songs, I am wondering whether it is suitable to integrate these off-topic works into the collection of my scientific works that is prepared for application to phd programs.

My principal concern is that I am unsure about how this act would look like from the reviewers' angle? Would it be deemed an affectation? Indeed, my wish is merely to present more of me.

Hope ladies and gentlemen (preferably with experience as a reviewer for phd admission) would share me your thoughts, much appreciated.

If answering this question requires more information, please feel free to state that.

2 Answers 2


Being a mathematician, I must address a logical loophole: I will assume that your field is a STEM field and thus poetry and songs are actually off-topic (and not just called off-topic).

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg. -- Abraham Lincoln

Assuming this: no, I would not submit such creative materials as part of an application to a STEM PhD program. I wouldn't go so far as to say that submitting such things would be deemed an "affectation": however, unless you make a clear connection to your chosen field, they are simply not relevant. Including irrelevant things is not a disaster, but it does indicate that you don't have a clear understanding of what is relevant information in the consideration of your own prospects in that program, which is not great.

Most such applications have a personal statement. Mentioning somewhere in the personal statement that you write poetry and songs sounds about right to me: from one human being to another, that is interesting, and personal statements are often not so interesting. But be careful here: a "personal statement" is not a statement about you as a person! It is really an essay explaining why you would be a strong candidate for the program, so things which are not relevant to that should not be dwelled upon.

Many programs do look at the personal statement as a writing sample -- and good writing skills are very relevant in any PhD program, probably more so than any other single quality -- so if you are an unusually good writer the personal statement would be a good opportunity to show your superior skills. However, trying to do that in the genre of either poetry or song would be so risky and open to negative reactions based on personal taste that I wouldn't recommend it: after all, in most STEM programs you need to be able to write prose, not poetry, and you are not really permitted to burst into song. This is probably a "color between the lines" situation.

Added: I spent four (recent) years on the committee in charge of graduate admissions in the UGA mathematics department, and I still read some PhD applications every year.

  • Many thanks for your holistic and sincere advice, Prof. Clark.
    – Yes
    Jul 12, 2014 at 2:15
  • +1 for "but it does indicate that you don't have a clear understanding of what is relevant information in the consideration of your own prospects in that program, which is not great." I've witnessed some bad situations involving graduate students who didn't understand going in what graduate school was really about, and I always look for red flags that that might be the situation when I read applications. Off-topic materials are definitely such a red flag. Jul 13, 2014 at 20:12

Admissions people are looking for deep thinkers, hard workers, well-rounded individuals, who can collaborate well and communicate effectively. You can send them a CV that has a section containing secondary things that you're proud of, but which aren't directly relevant to the studies you propose to do.

My experience going to grad school as a returning student leads me to believe that good graduate programs look at the whole person.

  • 1
    Graduate admissions committees in academic fields are not specifically looking for well-rounded individuals, in my experience (on these committees). Given two candidates, one of whom seems like a "more interesting person" and the other is more narrowly focused on the subject of interest: well, if that narrow focus results in more knowledge, skills or perhaps even enthusiasm for the subject of interest, the narrower person is going to do better. Mar 30, 2015 at 13:16
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    Also, given that the top graduate programs in my field admit students based on only on their written application, I am confident that "good graduate programs look at the whole person" is not always true. If you think it is true in your field, maybe you could provide some further delimiting information. On the other hand, it would be helpful if you could clarify whether you have any direct information about the admissions processes. Inferring admissions philosophies from a small sample size (1?) does not seem very convincing. Mar 30, 2015 at 13:18
  • @Pete L. Clark, one rejection, two schools attended (with the corresponding pool of fellow students), memoirs, novels, short stories (e.g. Perri Klass, simultaneously med student and writer). I guess a lot depends on the philosophy of the dept one applies to. Personally, I think that talents with communicating ideas to a broad audience would be a huge selling point. Anyway, what harm can be done by including a CV, containing a short auxiliary section, as a supporting document to the main application? Btw, the admissions process is also a way for the student to find the right fit school! Mar 30, 2015 at 18:00
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    I am not interested in your "life story". This is an academic Q&A website. To determine whether advice is good or on-target, it is helpful -- sometimes necessary -- to know about the experience of the person giving it. In your answer you make a strong claim about graduate admissions. Since it does not square with my direct experience, I was interested to know whether you have done graduate admissions in a different department or in a different part of the world from me. If you have never done graduate admissions, that is relevant to those trying to evaluate your answer. Apr 1, 2015 at 6:06
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    -1 for making claims about things you apparently have no actual knowledge about. Apr 1, 2015 at 14:10

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