Chapter 9 Statement of Purpose – Advanced Communication Skills Laboratory Manual

9

Statement of Purpose

INTRODUCTION

Students who wish to join a university are asked to submit a Statement of Purpose. It is an essay that briefly describes the career goals and research interests of the person applying for admission. Although the applicant’s eligibility is not decided on the basis of this essay alone, it plays a vital role in the admission process. The Statement of Purpose is the only part of the application process that informs the admission committee about the applicant. This chapter discusses the importance and the nuances of writing an effective Statement of Purpose.

A student who might be an excellent candidate but fails to draft a Statement of Purpose that highlights his credentials has every chance of being rejected. Along with expressive and apt language, awareness regarding what to include and what not to include is crucial. In a nutshell the essay should effectively portray the candidate as an interesting, enthusiastic, and confident person, worthy of admission. So neither should you be in hurry to write this essay nor should you ask anyone else to write it for you. As a rule of thumb, do not hesitate to take an expert’s guidance if required.

WHAT TO INCLUDE

The admission committee is basically interested in knowing why you have selected a particular course, what you have done so far, what you plan to do in the future and how the course that you have selected will aid you in achieving your career goals.

What did you do so far: The admission committee would like to assess your capabilities, interests, skills, and personality through your earlier activities. These include the course you did, the motivation behind taking that particular course and your participation in various curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. If you have completed your undergraduate course, focus on that; write about your schooling or intermediate level only if you have anything special to convey.

Answer the following questions to find out how special and important your contribution to various fields is;

  1. Do I have any significant achievements in schooling?
  2. Did I receive any special recognition or award till now?
  3. Did I do or think differently in any matter?
  4. What are my interests till now?
  5. Did I participate/volunteer in any curricular/co-curricular/extracurricular activities in school/college/university?
  6. Do I have any work samples to exhibit?
  7. What kind of a person am I?
  8. Do my personality and skills match the career I am opting for? If so, how?
  9. What is the best way to introduce myself?
  10. Do I have any interesting anecdote or context to narrate that would strengthen my argument?

Why did you select a particular course: Students take up courses for various reasons in different circumstances. The students who are not particularly interested or forcing themselves for more than one reason are likely to produce poor results and cannot contribute successfully. As a result they keep changing their career goals very often. Beyond all this, because of this kind of a candidate, a deserving applicant might have missed the admission. So the admission committee would like select only those applicants who are really passionate about the subject. They want to comprehend your aptitude for the course. You might have to show this in terms of your score in that subject, the projects you handled, papers you submitted, any related activities you have taken part in or organized. For example, you may have opted to do your masters in structural engineering after attending a workshop at IIT Madras.

If an applicant’s project and the subject he/she opts to study are different, the applicant should be able to convince the committee with substantial evidence; and logical, interesting arguments are significant and important. Now, ask yourself the following questions and answer them genuinely.

  1. What prompted me to opt for this course?
  2. Did I do fairly well in all the concerned exams and are my scores good?
  3. What aspect of the course am I interested in?
  4. What is the connection between what I have done previously and what I wish to do now?
  5. What do I know about the course I am opting for?
  6. How would my skills (both hard and soft) add value to the course I wish to join?
  7. How does my personality match the course I wish to join?

What do I wish to do in the future: The intention of any admission committee is to give admission to an applicant who will make use of the education in the most effective way. It is important for them to know the candidate’s future career objectives and goals, and how he/she plans to realize them. How the candidate sees the course helping him/her achieve these goals is a crucial point in this regard. The career vision should show some continuity of what was done previously by the applicant, what he/she proposes to study now and what he/she hopes to do in the future.

Answer the following questions to comprehend your career vision.

  1. What opportunities do I see for myself after the course?
  2. What opportunities would suit me most?
  3. What do I wish to do in the future?
  4. Why do I think I can do so effectively?
  5. How sensible and sensitive am I to environmental and social issues?
  6. Do I have any plans to contribute to these issues in any manner?
  7. How do I support the fact that this course is going to help me achieve my career vision?
  8. What are my career goals, both short term and long term?

Methodology and important features: Now that you have answered the questions genuinely (written answers), you can start writing the essay. The essay should have an impressive opening and the reader should feel interested enough to read further. Write the essay in a chronological or logical order or a combination of both. If you think narrating an anecdote suits the requirements you can go ahead; observe the following examples.

EXAMPLES
  1. My interest in International Relations and my decision to continue my education in this field is the outcome of my profound interest in Asian studies. Majoring in Indian history, during my final year I became especially interested in the sphere of International Relations and Foreign Policy of India, and I wrote my thesis on Indian Foreign Policy during Nehru’s government and Indo-Chinese relations.
  2. Recent Indian government figures show an alarming 40% increase in mental illness amongst young people in the last ten years. These figures are just one more factor that persuades me that my choice of a career in neuroscience was the right one, and motivates me to study further at PhD level in this field in order to help combat this serious problem.
  3. An International conference on Robotics conducted in our college has stimulated my interest in the field. I attended and listened to the papers presented in the conference and discovered my passion for the field. Ever since then I have presented five papers in international conferences on robotics.

Each of these examples show how the applicant started taking interest in the field he/she is opting for. Each of them impress the reader in a genuine way. Thus, the opening of the essay should grab the interest of the reader. The basic features of the opening of the essay should be:

  • It should be factual and not a piece of bluff, created only to attract the reader. This is important because the admission committee can cross check and if you are proved to be a liar the chances of you getting admission would be nullified.
  • Do not begin/attempt to praise the university/course you wish to join. The committee is well aware of the university’s merits and demerits. They want to assess your eligibility, and not that of the university or the course.
  • Do note if you are supposed to answer any questions. Start answering the questions, otherwise you will end up without doing what you are supposed to do.
  • Grammatical mistakes and poor choice of words takes away the entire charm.
  • Show your awareness of the field; illustrating a piece of real life information is very important.
  • Attract the attention of the reader with specific information or reference to something which is important.

As you proceed with the essay try and understand the features that will make it noteworthy:

  • Each idea should be properly connected to the next idea, i.e., there should be a logical flow.
  • The information provided should be properly referenced and authenticated, and should have greater relevance to your proposal.
  • Be clear, complete and concise; word limit is an important feature. See the examples under Methodology and important features.
  • Your use of language should be positive and preferably in the active voice.
  • Do not write all simple sentences or all complex/compound sentences; Your essay should be a balanced mix of sentences.
  • Divide the paragraphs to illustrate the difference of ideas, but show proper connectivity by using appropriate connectors—“further, more so, apart from” etc.
  • The coherence of the essay is of paramount importance.

After you have completed writing the essay, do edit the essay till you are satisfied. Show it to your friend or a well-wisher who can correct you without being hesitant. Each time you edit you make it better. After you edit the draft compare it with an earlier version to see the difference.

EXAMPLE 1

 

Format for Statement of Purpose (SoP)
(only for candidates applying to Aerospace Engineering Department/CTARA)

 

INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY BOMBAY
Powal, Mumbai 400 076
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

Statement of purpose (SOP) is your opportunity to share with the admission committee your thoughts and feeling about postgraduate studies at IIT Bombay including your preparation for the same. Briefly describe past project/research work done by you. Restrict yourself to 500–600 words. The personal SOP will aid the admission committee in evaluating your application.

 

Name

:

Programme of study
(M.Tech/PhD etc.)

:

Department

:

 

 

 

 

 

Date___________

Signature___________

EXAMPLE 2

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

Write a brief (1,000–2,000 word) statement addressing the following two questions:

  1. What are your reasons for undertaking graduate study at the University of Maryland? Indicate, if appropriate, any specific areas of research interest. You may wish to discuss past work in your intended field and allied fields, your plans for a professional career, or how you developed your interest in or knowledge of your chosen subject.

  2. What life experiences you have had that you feel have prepared you to pursue a graduate degree at a large, diverse institution such as the University of Maryland?

    Among the items you might care to include would be your financial, community and family background, whether you are the first person in your family to pursue a higher education, or any other factors that you feel would contribute to the diversity of our academic community. You may also wish to give the graduate admissions committee some examples of your determination to pursue your goals, your initiative and ability to develop ideas, and /or your capacity for working through problems independently.

EXAMPLE 3

SoP of a Mechanical Engineering Student

I decided to pursue my Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering after I’ve had academic success during my four years as an undergraduate student and because of my interest in the field of Thermal-Fluid Sciences. Additionally, positive experiences from assisting with undergraduate research have also led me down the path of graduate study. The completion of a Masters program will allow me to deepen my knowledge in the field of Thermal-Fluid Sciences and prepare me for a research career with the ultimate goal of completing my Doctorate. I chose the University of New Orleans’ Mechanical Engineering graduate program because of the quality of the academic program and my interest in research.

In the past four years I’ve worked hard for academic excellence. I have consistently done well in all of my classes with a current cumulative grade-point average of 3.88. In addition, I have topped the university in third year second semester and scored a 4.0 grade-point average. In the area of Thermal-Fluid Sciences my grades are equally outstanding. I have worked part time for the School of Engineering grading papers for Thermodynamics and Fluid Dynamics in addition to teaching Thermodynamics labs for the Mechanical Engineering Technology program. I have also been the recipient of scholarships including the University Merit Scholarship for outstanding score (2005), Pratibha Puraskar given by state government for being an outstanding student at the intermediate level.

I am currently involved in undergraduate research. While I do not have any publications at this time, I have received funding from the Andhra Pradesh State Board for Technical Education for the academic year 2009-10 in my final semester to research the modeling of residual stresses in aluminum from friction stir welding. My goal is to develop a model that will predict the residual stresses based on the rotational velocity of the welding fixture and the translational velocity as the fixture moves along the substrate. We are currently in the process of doing a literature survey and will be starting the research in the next few weeks. While this research is just beginning, the goal is to eventually model the effects of electrically pulsing the aluminum while it is being welded so that the residual stresses and microstructure can be predicted based on the current density. For some metals (including aluminum), electrically pulsing increases their formability which should lead to a higher quality weld. Concurrent experiments are being run by another student to experimentally determine the effects of varying the current density, pulse frequency, and pulse time. Our results will then be verified using experimental data and changes will be made to the model if needed.

The three specific aspects of thermal-fluid sciences that are most interesting to me are aerodynamics, cardiovascular fluid mechanics and convective heat transfer. Since aerodynamics is mostly unrestricted, the teams are free to come up with whatever design they deem most effective in getting more down force or changing the dynamics of the car. It is interesting to see all the different devices and slight shape changes that they can use to get an important increase in the performance of the car. Cardiovascular fluid mechanics is interesting not only due to the difficulty of modeling the behavior of non-Newtonian fluids, but also because the flow is constantly changing as the heart beats and the boundaries are continually expanding and contracting. The human body is an amazing machine and trying to understand how it works is fascinating. Lastly, convective heat transfer is an interest of mine because of the sheer number of things that can be done to manipulate the amount of heat transfer. Interior fins can be added in heat exchangers to trip the flow from laminar to turbulent to increase heat transfer, fins can be added to the outside of the heat exchanger, or small channels could be cut into the piping to increase the surface area of the heat exchanger. There are many different solutions to the same problem but the key is finding which one is best suited to the application and among those, which is most economical. The Mechanical Engineering program at University of New Orleans would give me the opportunity to pursue all three of these interests in their research labs.

While the University of New Orleans has many interesting research areas, three in particular ignited my passion. The first was the research by Dr William Richards in experimental turbulent fluid flow. The uncertainty and lack of understanding of turbulence makes it one of the most difficult parts of aerodynamics. In order for the aerodynamic devices to be fully effective, the flow of air must remain attached to the various wings and spoilers. As soon as the flow becomes turbulent and vortices are created, the amount of down-force is greatly reduced. Understanding how to prevent the onset of turbulence and how turbulence behaves would be extremely beneficial to increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of the racecars. The second was Dr Tony’s research in biomedical fluid flows. What interested me the most was the modeling of blood flow after coil embolization of intracranial aneurysms. I would also not have a problem taking a few biology courses if required for his research. The last research area was that of Dr James involving smart heat exchangers. It is interesting that, by simply adding an electrical charge to the working fluid, you can increase the efficiency of a heat exchanger. In the pursuit for more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles, smaller radiators and heater cores made possible using electro hydrodynamics would decrease the overall vehicle weight leading to greater fuel efficiency. All three facets of research are equally interesting and I would be happy working with any of the three faculty members.

In addition to academics, a number extracurricular programs and activities have prepared me for a graduate education at the University of New Orleans. In February 2005 I attended a ten-day NSS camp in the adopted village of Maisammaguda. This has changed my perception of society and my understanding of intrapersonal skills. I led the team of 25 students and comprehended the true meaning of team work, leadership, hard work, and service to society. We spent around 100 man hours and conducted a programme on environmental consciousness, literacy, health and hygiene. I also served in a number of leadership positions in the programmes conducted by the college. My experiences at different camps gave me the opportunity to work with a large and diverse group of individuals over the years. I had the opportunity to work with a number of people doing everything from cleaning up local government hospitals to constructing a school building.

This coming semester will be our first as a chapter and I’m looking forward to serving in a leadership position.

Besides community service, I have gained a great deal of experience from my part time work at Indus Solutions. I was instructor for the students who come to Indus Solutions for projects. This experience has helped me to see the Engineering program from the perspective of the faculty and has given me teaching experience that will be beneficial as I pursue my Masters and Doctorate. My work at Indus Solutions included teaching about various combustion turbine and hydro power plants and I have taken the students to see the workings of a coal power plant doing entry-level engineering work. I had the opportunity to work on a number of projects including setting up a system for identifying leaks into a water storage reservoir by measuring the local water table and evaluating new technology for increasing the efficiency of the air heaters used to increase the overall efficiency of the power plant. The diversity of my work experiences has given me a deeper understanding of the different aspects of Engineering.

I’m confident that, if admitted to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Orleans, I will be successful academically and can greatly contribute to the all three of the research labs that I’m interested in. I work hard in everything that I do and strive for continuing improvement. My positive experiences in academics as well as my extracurricular activities, coupled with the experience that I will gain from my undergraduate research will make me an asset to both the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the school as a whole. Thank you for taking the time to read my application and I look forward to attending the University of New Orleans as a graduate student in Fall 2009.

LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION

A letter of recommendation is another document that provides an opportunity to express something about the applicant. The applicant can approach his/her research supervisor, immediate boss, colleague and anyone else who knows the applicant for quite some time. The applicant is supposed to discuss his/her plans and his SOP with them. If need be, show it to them so that the person giving letter of recommendation can truly complement the SOP. The letter may sum up the applicant’s capabilities and his/her suitability to the proposed course. They may also hint at any negative personality streak without being coarse. Read the following example to understand it better.

EXAMPLES

I have known Mr Ravi Chandran Dantuluri for the past ten years, first as a student of MA and then as a researcher working for a project with me. I have always found him to be a keen student of literature, especially drama, ready to research new areas and experiment with new forms of performance and dramatic presentation.

Mr Chandran is a warm and approachable person with good interpersonal skills. He is hard working, intelligent and possesses a highly developed critical acumen that he carefully uses in analysing texts and performances. I have no doubt that given a chance he will certainly make good use of admission into PhD program and make a worthwhile contribution to his chosen field of study.

I wholeheartedly recommend him for admission into the PhD program.

Finally before you begin to draft your SOP go through the following do’s and don’ts.

 

Do’s Don’ts
1. Do learn about the course you are opting to study. 1. Do not choose a course frivolously.
2. Do a primary survey about the opportunities after the course. 2. Do not change your field of study without proper reason.
3. Select the information you wish to disclose. 3. Do not dump all information without being selective.
4. Be lucid in your writing. 4. Do not write without being sure about the information you are stating.
5. Do not write ambiguous, complicated sentences. 5. Write simple, clear sentences.
6. Write positive sentences in the active voice. 6. Do not use negative vocabulary and passive voice.
7. Be prepared before you write. 7. Do not start drafting without proper preparation.
8. Do edit the draft. 8. Do not finalize the first draft.
ACTIVITY SHEET

Write a statement of purpose to a foreign university for admission into any course you wish to take up after B.Tech. Limit your essay to 1000 words.