We’ve read several technical postgrad SOPs, and put together this note on the dos and don’ts of writing one. If you’re going to study for an MS or any higher degree in engineering, or a technical subject, here are some pointers to make your SOP stand out.
1.Generalities are empty calories
Do not, for instance, waste words on why self-improvement is important, or quote from books on the important of learning. You must focus on the art of selling yourself in an SOP, and ruthlessly prune the generalities from your essay. We all have a tendency to drift into the abstract, and unless you consciously watch out for it, chances are, such lines are lurking somewhere in your SOP.
Another thing we notice in many essays is students saying something on the lines of “This degree will help me achieve success in my career.”
Why is that sentence bad? It’s rather clichéd, but more importantly, writing this will be counterproductive because it doesn’t say anything at all. Does the reader know anything about you, what success means to you, or even what career you want, on reading this sentence? It’s the equivalent of empty calories—calories supplied by food that has very little nutritional value--in SOP writing. Just as when we eat junk food, the food does nothing but adds weight, this line does nothing for your SOP except add unnecessary words, without contributing to the quality of the essay. Instead, what should you talk about? Specifics, especially what subjects and courses you’re interested in, whether you’re interested in any branch of research, what your experiences in the field have been so far, and the like.
1.Do talk about relevant research, lab work, papers published
This is the skeleton of your SOP. Don’t forget to mention anything by way of research that you’ve done. An MS or any other higher degree is research based, and if you can demonstrate strong research skills, it will be a great plus for your application. Elaborate on any internships and work placements you’ve done, devoting a line or two to comment on the experience, and maybe even make it longer if your internship was particularly eventful. If you’ve had work experience, of course, you should devote a paragraph to it.
Feel free to talk about other projects as well. If you are applying for an MS in computer science, for example, and you have worked on a programming project on the side, even if it is not directly connected to your coursework, you should mention it. Modesty is good, but in moderation.
2.Talk about your goals relevant to your studies
Finally, don’t forget to explain how you intend to put both your advanced degree, as well as your year(s) spent earning it to use. How will this degree help you achieve your career goals? Write about your career goals—do you want to enter academia or research full time, or do you prefer to work in a company? How would your degree help you in this journey? Don’t just say it will; explain how.
Putting together the points made in this essay, this is what a shortened version of the substantive parts of a technical graduate SOP might look like. This is just to illustrate the way specificity can be used to show focus.
I did my Bachelor’s in [field] engineering in [college], Delhi. During my four years of undergraduation, the subjects that I especially enjoyed learning about were [x], [y] and [z]. My classes in Year 3 were almost solely devoted to [y], while currently, in my fourth year, I am concentrating on [x]. During the summer break of 2011, I interned in [Name] Lab, and worked on the designing aspects of [x]. This was a novel experience, something that I had not tried my hand at before, but I learnt several valuable lessons from the stint at [Name], the foremost being how important design is in [x]. This was especially impressed upon me when I noticed the stark difference between the two versions of my project; I could a palpable difference. This internship has influenced my paper that I wrote in my final year as well, on [name title] published in [name journal].
After graduation, I hope to work at a major lab, such as [name], University of[x], in field of [field], and my eventual goal is to be a [profession/post]. I am sure my graduate studies would put me on the right track towards this. First, I believe that an advanced understanding of the subject would be invaluable, something the University of [x] offers through its [specific] course. I am particularly interested in the optional subjects of [x] and [y]. Second, the course is one of the few offering practical experience through the [name] programme.
And lastly, something that’s true for whatever type of SOP
you’re writing—technical or non-technical. Get it thoroughly proofread and checked for grammar, logical errors, and problems with flow, by a friend with an eagle eye, or by a professional. Such mistakes make a terrible first impression on the admissions committee.
Writing an SOP is different from most types of writing you’ve done so far in the course of your studies, but with focus and a little thinking out of the box, you can ace it. Best of luck!
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