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This question was inspired by the following comment by Johanna on another question:

I just had to say: including the idea "I believe I was born for scientific research" is a terrible idea. Did no one tell you to avoid cliches? Try to change that to "I have done / am doing X, Y and Z, all of which demonstrate an aptitude and passion for scientific research" instead.

Here is my paragraph, which Johanna is commenting on:

I believe that I was born for scientific research. I had my first experience in research when I was in high school. Although my interest are natural sciences, my first research was in social science. For a long time ago, I had always queried about why when Vietnamese people in love, the female one always addressed herself (and was addressed) as the little sister, and the male one always addressed himself (and was addressed) as the older brother, while in fact there were many couples which the female had the same or larger age than the male. I couldn’t understand this convention because the couples had to change the way they address each other, and from my (naively) feminism point of view, this was unacceptable. In the research, I had proposed a hypothesis to explain this, and even when I broaden my objective to homosexual couples, this hypothesis still worked. This is a biggest proud of all my scientific activities so far.

Johanna's advice seems inconsistent with ff524's answer to my question about withholding information in my application.

Is putting the statement/conclusion at the beginning of a statement of purpose considered a cliché?

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    The "cliche" in this example isn't that you put the conclusion first, but what your conclusion is ("I was born for scientific research"). I think that there is a very real chance that the reader basically stops paying attention after this sentence. – xLeitix Jan 29 '15 at 8:23
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    I think the last paragraph, in small, is not appropriate. – Davidmh Jan 29 '15 at 8:28
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    What @xLeitix says applies to many of your questions: it's not the writing patterns (putting statement or conclusion first, using hypophora, having "about me" in CV) that make your writing clichéd, it's the actual words you write inside those patterns. – ff524 Jan 29 '15 at 8:46
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    @Ooker The first and the last sentences are certainly the worst offenders, but the rest of the paragraph honestly isn't great, either. What is the hypothesis that you proposed? What is the scientific research you did, which also held for homosexual couples? Why is this observation from Vietnamese culture even relevant to your application in Biology? To be frank, what you describe sounds more like a shower thought about Vietnamese culture peculiarities, and not a lot like scientific research. – xLeitix Jan 29 '15 at 8:54
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Ooker Jan 29 '15 at 9:19
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The reason I'm criticizing your statement is, as it has been pointed out in the comments, not because you put the conclusion first but because the conclusion is terrible. In a personal statement you want to (1) give concrete reasons why you will be an asset to the program as well as (2) explain what you plan to do with the degree, so they know that they aren't wasting funding on someone with no idea what they will do with the degree. You also want to (3) provide evidence that you have the motivation needed to finish the degree. Finishing a PhD has surprisingly little to do with intelligence or talent (though that certainly helps). It is mostly about being willing to work very, very hard for 3-5 years, and you need to convince the admissions committee that you will do that.

Your "I believe I was born to do scientific research" could loosely be sorted into the last category. However, since it is such a vague statement, that's not really possible to back up, it doesn't do anything to convince whoever is reading your application. Instead, you will want to give specific examples of things you have done that show how motivated you are to complete a PhD in biology. In your case, it is even more important, since it sounds like in your other question that you are switching from a fairly different discipline. How to you convince the reader that you won't lose interest in biology too?

Finally, let me give an example of what I mean when I say that every statement has to be backed up by concrete evidence: A bad SoP would state "I'm a hard worker / willing to work very hard" and leave it at that. A good SoP would say "last year, in the final phase of experiment X I stayed in the lab until 10pm every night for two weeks so we could finish the experiment before the deadline". The second version shows, not tells. You want to do the same thing to every main point in your SoP, and anything that can't be backed up by an example should be cut from the SoP, because it is most likely a cliche that doesn't tell the reader anything. There is no way to back up "I believe I was born to do science" with evidence, therefore it has nothing to do in your SoP.

The final phase in making a good SoP is having all your recommenders read it and (hopefully) back up any concrete evidence you gave in their recommendations.

Best of luck with your application!

  • According to your third paragraph, will it be better if I simply remove the "I believe..." sentence and make the second one ("I had my first experience in research when I was in high school") become the first one? – Ooker Jan 30 '15 at 8:05
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    @Ooker Definitely. Just remember to keep connecting everything to how it makes you able to add something no one else can to their program. – Johanna Jan 30 '15 at 16:19

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