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Example Graduate School Statements

Below you can access the statements I submitted to UPenn as part of my application as well as a combined 'statement of purpose' that I submitted to another program where I was ultimately accepted. By allowing public access to these, I trust that viewers will appropriately access these documents while understanding that taking direct passages from these documents is a violation of use and plagiarism. You will notice that I have redacted information from my statements for one of two reasons: 1) personal information or 2) descriptions of unpublished experiments.

General Tips

Have non-STEM people in your life read your documents

Why? The application review committee will be comprised of people from multiple backgrounds. While your research might make complete sense to someone in the same field as you, a PI from a completely different background might get lost in the small details if you make your statements too technical.

Weave in related accolades where relevant

Most likely in your application, there will be a spot to either upload your entire CV or list your accomplishments. Therefore, it's not necessary to list every single award you've received in your statements, but it is appropriate to state how a certain fellowship or scholarship allowed you to pursue more intellectual experiences. It can be difficult to be your own cheerleader, but I found that writing my accolades with purpose helped overcome that barrier in my mind.

Say this: "My dedication to academic learning has resulted in my nomination for ____ departmental award. I hope to enrich my intellectual curiosities through ____ and ____ programs/courses at ____ university/institute."

Don't say this: "I was awarded ____ departmental award for maintaining a high GPA throughout my undergraduate studies."

Personal Statement versus Research Statement versus a Statement of Purpose?

I left some general tips for each type of statement, but generally here were the guidelines I followed to distinguish the three:

Personal Statement: Your personal narrative and growth inside and out of the lab that has lead you to pursue a Ph.D. This is where I heavily weaved my personal values into how the school/program would be a good fit for me.

Research Statement: A detailed highlight of a few research experiences that have informed your decision on which area of research to pursue in your career. You should definitely include a time you struggled and/or failed in lab - this shows reviewers that you know research is an imperfect process.

Statement of Purpose: Merge of the two!

PERSONAL STATEMENT

RESEARCH STATEMENT

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

  • limit the "fluff" of your story

  • discuss your path that brought you to the idea of a Ph.D.

  • briefly touch on the research experiences that have prepared you to be successful

  • discuss your scientific curiosities as a function of your education

    • does not have to be linear, but try to make it into a digestible story​

  • discuss how you have impacted your communities as a leader and contributor

  • explicitly state how you want to use your Ph.D. after graduation

  • address why the graduate program/school fits you
     

  • write it like a biography of your lab experiences

  • don't be too technical with techniques - just name which techniques you used to solve the problem

    • if your research is technique/workflow development, make sure someone outside your field can follow along​

  • usually chronological order is easiest to follow

  • emphasize gaps in knowledge in the research field that your project(s) addressed

  • discuss the deliverables of your research: presentations, awards, fellowships

  • highlight an example of when your research did not work and explain how you navigated that in a scientific manner

If you use your personal statement as a template:

  • bulk up the research portions

  • explain the gaps in research that your project addresses

  • include research accolades

  • list specific PIs at the institution that interest you

 

If you use your research statement as a template:​

  • include 'story' details that connect different avenues of research in which you pursued

  • weave in details about how leadership or volunteer roles in your communities have impacted your desire to pursue a PhD

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Personal Statement

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Research Statement

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Combined Statement

This is the 'personal statement' that I wrote to UPenn where I was ultimately accepted. 

This is the 'research statement' that I wrote to UPenn where I was ultimately accepted. 

This is the 'statement of purpose' that I wrote to a chemical biology PhD program where I was ultimately accepted. 

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