I am UK national applying for a PhD (microbiology) in the USA. The application process requires a statement of purpose which includes, among other things, a section on recent / current work activities that are relevant to the application.

I am a Master's student and have plenty of relevant details to talk about from an academic perspective (there is a separate section for this), but I also run a successful IT business and the transferable skills that I have learned from this form a core part of my relevant work experience for this section.

To illustrate my motivation and potential for success at graduate level, I was going to mention that I essentially started my business from scratch a few years ago and now earn a six-figure income. However, I am worried that the selection committee might view this unfavorably (talking about income is quite a taboo subject here in the UK), or worse they might question my commitment to a graduate program if they think I have a comfortable job to fall back on.

I should also mention that the PhD program I am applying to is fully-funded, but the cost of living in the area is notoriously high and most grad students have to supplement their income by teaching. I wouldn't need to do this as I have enough savings to be financially secure for the duration of the program.

Should I mention my income to demonstrate my aptitude, or will it do more harm than good?

  • 4
    They might think you're insane for ditching a that kind of income for a career in microbiology. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 22:47
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    Can you word it in terms of how profitable your business is instead of your personal salary? For example, maybe talk about how many people you employ, how many stakeholders, etc...
    – Hobbes
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


No, don't mention income here. This just looks smug. But ofc you should mention that you are running a successfull buisness and explain how this can contribute to your Phd (experience, skills,...). The problem I see is that you want to do a microbiology PhD while running your own buisness? This could be a big problem because they don't want to fund people who are not 100% focused on their work here.

  • Thank you for the suggestion. I have made it clear in my statement that somebody is being trained to replace me in the business so I can focus solely on my PhD when the time comes. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 23:14

You may mention your successful business venture in your CV, but it's not relevant to your SOP -- unless it's directly related to what you want to do in your graduate studies in microbiology.

If you were applying to business school, the answer would be different.

In the CV, take the usual approach -- use lots of verbs to describe the types of tasks you have carried out. In this way, you will be able to subtly convey the general level of success the venture has enjoyed, without being crude. (Yes, in this regard, what would be crude in the UK would be crude in the US as well.)

Re your ability to support yourself without a teaching assistantship, just don't apply for one. If there's any ambiguity, you may mention in a cover letter that you will not be applying for one.

HOWEVER: if you have aspirations to be a professor later on, it might be helpful to have some teaching assistant experience under your belt by the time you graduate.

  • Anyway, even if the work itself is relevant to the area of study, the profitability of the business almost certainly is not. The work will be evaluated based on whether it's scientifically interesting, not on whether it made money. Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 3:57

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