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This question might be more suitable for they who are or were application reviewers of STEM ph.D. programs in U.S. universities.

I want to know what kinds of s.o.p. do catch reviewers' attention? Should I emphasize more at biography or more at research experience and intention or more at introducing past works? May I make my s.o.p. concentrated solely on research?

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As the name implies, a statement of purpose should be forward-looking as much as possible. The "biographical" element of a statement of purpose should be included only to the extent that it helps to explain what you want to do as a graduate student. You most certainly do not want to start off with recollections of early childhood and the first time you realized you want to be a researcher.

Instead, spend your efforts explaining why you want to be a graduate student in the department to which you're applying. You should make specific reference to how your research will fit into the department's interests. (For instance, don't propose a project in area X if the department doesn't have a specialist in X.)

If you're in a field where the advisor selection is made after matriculation, then you likely want to present a somewhat broader profile. If you show interest in only one professor's work, then you are dependent on the decision of that single advisor (who may or may not be on the admissions committee!).

  • But if you want to work with a particular advisor and you have a project in mind, contact them. Whether they are on the committee or not, they can usually pull your application out of the stack and get you admitted, if you convince that one person. – David Ketcheson Sep 1 '14 at 7:36
  • @DavidKetcheson: That is a strong function of department. In chemical engineering, for instance, that's essentially impossible unless you bring your own funding. – aeismail Sep 1 '14 at 11:03
  • "You most certainly do not want to start off with recollections of early childhood and the first time you realized you want to be a researcher": Heh. I did that. Luckily, I got in anyway :-) – Nate Eldredge Sep 2 '14 at 2:19

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