In one of Ben Bitdiddle's comment, he confirms that quoting famous scientists in the SOP is generally bad. But I don't know why. Isn't SOP the place to tell our stories, our inspirations, our motivations, our goals, etc? We scientists, who incur ourselves to solve the hardest problems of the world, are inspired by giant scientists, don't we? So I don't know why...

Thank you for answering my question. I get that a SOP "is forward-looking, not about your childhood". But the quote is not necessary to be something like: "The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.". I hereby have two questions:

  1. Does that mean we should definitely get rid all things from our past? Not even a paragraph? I have read some samples, many of them start with "I remember the day as if it were yesterday...".

  2. Also, what if the quote I'm about to use is not relevant to any specific field, for example when I want to write down this quote because I want to change field? "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change". (I can say that I'm not intelligent, but I really want to change the field - this is just an example). This kind of quote is the results of real scientific activities, it applies for every aspect of life, not an inspiration from pop science books.

I know what makes me confuse now. I was mistaken the SOP to the applicant essay. When I search for the sample SOP in my native language, someone has put the 50 best Harvard applicant essays with the title 50 best SOP. After searching it again by English, I acknowledge where I'm wrong. Thank you so much for helping me.

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    Isn't SOP the place to tell our stories, our inspirations, our motivations, our goals, etc? - No. See this answer
    – ff524
    Dec 9, 2014 at 18:45
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    – user541686
    Dec 9, 2014 at 23:32
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    @Mehrdad I never thought I'd see the day where a C&H comic is relevant on Academia.SE...
    – Moriarty
    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:06
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    "I remember the day as if it were yesterday..." — Wow. That is an awful statement of purpose.
    – JeffE
    Dec 10, 2014 at 14:12
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    @BenBitdiddle I want people to hire me, because I'm cool XD
    – Ooker
    Dec 11, 2014 at 1:06

2 Answers 2


A statement of purpose is forward-looking. It is not meant to be, to paraphrase Wordsworth, "recollections of early childhood." I don't really care why you decided to study mathematics when you were seven years old, nor do I care about some generic quote from a scientist that inspired you. I want to know what you might want to study as a PhD student, and why you are motivated to study that specific project.

If a famous scientist said something relevant about your proposed project, that's a different story, because it's actually significant to what you want to do in the future. Otherwise, leave it out—it just annoys most of the referees who will eventually read it.

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    How do you consider a quote is generic or not? Let's say Stephen Hawking said about something about the universe, and I want to apply to study in astronomy, will that quote is relevant?
    – Ooker
    Dec 9, 2014 at 19:18
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    I mean if you want to study quasars, and there was a relevant quote about quasars, fine. But astronomy is too broad. If in doubt, leave it out.
    – aeismail
    Dec 9, 2014 at 19:36
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    I think using a Stephen Hawking quote in your SOP is going to make you look like an immature fanboy. Even though it may be a completely accurate account of how you got your inspiration, the information the reader is looking for is "what is this person going to do?", not "does this person have the right heroes?".
    – msouth
    Dec 9, 2014 at 20:41
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    @Ooker: Again, that's a general quote about anthropology, and probably has little to do with the particulars of your project. If you have to ask if you can include it, then it's not worth including!
    – aeismail
    Dec 10, 2014 at 4:00
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    @Ooker The point is, the people reading this had damned well better know that the purpose, or, better, one purpose, of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences. You are practically talking down to them if you say stuff like that. What they want to know is what you are going to do as an anthropologist. They know what all the great minds in anthropology have done. You're not trying to sell them on those guys. You are trying to sell them on you. Don't wave a big flag that says "I don't have any original ideas, lemme just pull a great quote out instead."
    – msouth
    Dec 10, 2014 at 5:55

Because the people who worship famous scientists usually aren't the ones who've done actual science. Generally their main scientific experience comes from books marketed to a general audience. You do not want to be lumped with that crowd, because it shows you don't know what you're getting into.

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    I agree. But then, how can you surpass all the pains to get a PhD if you don't have some, erm, ideals, curiosity, passion, etc? Quoting a quote doesn't necessary mean you worship someone, it's just because you think it's right.
    – Ooker
    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:17
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    @Ooker In most scientists, their curiosity and passion is specifically targeted towards the nuances of their field, and not towards broad goals like "understanding the universe." Dec 10, 2014 at 1:27
  • What if the universe is their specific field? See my comment on the other answer.
    – Ooker
    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:35
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    @Ooker: The point is that you should be proving that you're ready for graduate study. Part of this is displaying some familiarity with your field of study, so they know that you're serious and know what you're getting into, and aren't just applying to physics programs because you think physicists are smart or whatever. You will have a much easier time displaying this familiarity if you talk about narrower, more field-specific topics instead of quoting books that are popular among poseurs. Dec 10, 2014 at 1:56
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    "Less pop, more science", to paraphrase it
    – smci
    Dec 10, 2014 at 14:19

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