Thought process when writing a graduate school statement of purpose for a research PhD

You make a feeble attempt at creating an eye-catching, possibly witty, and definitively memorable opening statement. All at once. You cross this sentence out, rewrite it, and re-rewrite it. Rinse and repeat for about 4 hours. You finally write a sentence about this statement that you made, perhaps with some qualification about what exactly that statement meant. You may possibly recollect a younger, more foolish hopeful and inspired you. Segue into your amazingly detailed but concise autobiography here. Remember, you only have 1000 words or less (in most instances) to make your case.

Begin listing facts about why you think you’re awesome. You try to keep it modest, but who are you kidding, it’s exactly like trying to sell yourself in a speed-dating section, except you’re not exactly sure whether you even like this person/these people at all because you’re doing all the talking; it’s a bad date and they’re simply staring at you with an impassive face and maybe they give you the illusion they’re listening to what you have to say. They have 40-60 prospective dates lined up, so they aren’t terribly concerned about you. You keep writing anyway, because on the off-chance that they do decide to pick you, they’ll pay you a sum of money barely above the poverty line to be their slave.

This could be one of the most emotionally abusive relationships that you embark upon. You know that marriage isn’t even in the question, and that at the end of the 3-5 years, there’s a breakup waiting for you. You, however, can’t do the same because this man or woman is your sugar daddy/mama – your meal ticket, the only way you can afford rent, etc. You are starved for attention as your polygamist supervisor seems to attend to all members of their harem except you.

About ten hours have passed since you finished writing a satisfactory first paragraph. Everything you’ve written so far, you feel really dirty for trying to sell yourself to this uninterested party. To boost your self-esteem a bit, you sing a bit of “I feel pretty” a la Adam Sandler in Anger Management.

Alternating between singing that and repeating to yourself, “I’m not a dirty cheap whore who may or may not do anything for money to do research”, you remind yourself that if you don’t get this, you may spend the next year doing some  job, either waiting tables, being a bottom-of-the-food-chain research assistant, or doing something completely unrelated to your research like working in finance. This is just no bueno.

Finally gotten a decent draft with all your relevant research and its relation to your inspirational life story? Check. Talked about future aspirations of research and inspiring colleagues, students, and your mentor? Check. What? You did it in 800 words? Excellent, that leaves 199 words to brown-nose your prospective mate supervisor, the faculty, and the institution as a whole.

Finished that? Good. Does the name of the school you’re submitting this file to match the name you have mentioned in this version of the file? Good. Now double check and triple check. Submitting the file with the wrong school in the text body is like screaming the wrong name mid-coitus. Super no bueno.

Make sure your grammar and spelling is correct; I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s no bigger turn-off than someone that can’t tell the difference between its and it’s or your and you’re (and all the similar mistakes). Make sure your subject-verb conjugation agree. Spot the mistake there? Good. Now go do it with you’re your paper (that hurt a little bit to even jokingly write).

SUBMIT! You’re finally done with the first one! It gets easier from here…you just need to delete the 199 words words of sucking up, change your header, footer, and everything else to a different school name, and just repeat that part of the process.

Remember that by January 15th, these will all be done and you just need to do the hard part: wait. All of this will be over, for better or for worst, by around April 15th. In the meantime, good luck, and keep on writing these and remember:

I feel pretty,
Oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright!
And I pity
Any girl who isn’t me tonight…
(Lalalalala la la la lala)

Disclaimer: If you are a professor or on an admissions committee at a university that I applied to for PhD, my name is not Guang Yi Chua and I did not endorse this entry. 

Comic courtesy of PhD Comics

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