Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SOP Fun, Continued

These quality entries to the Statement of Purpose Contest resemble many real ones that I have read. If these look anything like a real SOP that anyone is contemplating submitting with an application, I urge you to reconsider.

Thanks to all who submitted SOPs. I enjoyed reading them all.

We must know. We shall know.--- a mathematician, David Hilbert's epitaph

I know I want to know. I seek to know how we know what we know. I'll always be training myself in the hope that I can raise questions to which the answers can raise more questions than answers. For this cause, I choose to apply to your X program where my three favorites can be explored if accepted: relations between germline immortality and somatic aging, everything about the chromatin and the X animal system.

Math? Chemistry? Biology?

A childhood saturated with love, 6 years committed to playing the piano followed by violent adolescent years, upon retrospection of these, I became aware of the freedom and responsibility of choice early. I chose to spend most of the high school time teaching myself advanced math, chemistry and biology together at university level. This fun and challenging experience benefits me by making it second nature to relate things and by lightening the memorization later in college years, which enables my focusing on great experiments that lead to textbook knowledge: by the end of the freshman year, I spent hours reading prestigious periodicals with the question "what's next" in mind. However most importantly, having realized my comfort zones in math and chemistry, I found that my curiosity goes straight into biological questions.

Careful. Professional. Independent.

Transition from library to lab was first attempted thanks to Dr. X's support from Jan. 2007, when I began with my project proposal on Functions of ABCs in cell senescence in his lab. To investigate whether ABCs function consistently with the cell senescence mechanism of tumor suppression, several candidates with significant expression difference in young and senescent fibroblasts were identified by microarray. I started from cloning the candidate genes and overexpressed the ABCs using retroviral vector in human senescent model cells, void vector and seed region mutation as controls, and did phenotypic quantifications of both replicative and stress-induced cell senescence. During the first week in the lab, Dr. X told me to note and gradually form a good sense of the liquid surface positions in the tips commensurate to the volume pipetted, which helps train my hands to produce repeatable results. He also insists on our being professional and independent. I kept a copy of experiment record as detailed as possible (120+ pages till now) and I always avoided leaving halfway an experiment or counting on others although I had 40hrs+ classes per week. By careful plans I ensured that time for classes mostly fell into waiting time for experiments, by having a working cycle 6:00-8:00, 18:00-24:00 on weekdays and full-time on weekends and vacations. Independent thinking is greatly encouraged in our lab. By the time of qualification report I managed to address caveats in the first-hand experiment design and upon cloture I perceived deeper about the many layers of ABC regulation and could propose further experiments from perspectives of epigenetics and TF-ABC network. Actually I was the only student in our grade that finished the Undergrad Research Funded Project and the only one that was challenged for 30 minutes in the defense.

Big question. 95hrs/week hands-on. "not fully-employed".

The 14 months in Dr. X's lab inspires while the 10-week Summer Student Training Program at N institute pushes. 56 of us were selected from the more than 600 applicants nation-wide and upon arrival, Dr. Y *someone famous* asked us to raise BIG questions of current biology and propose research outlines to address them. This mental exercise saved me from a tendency to care too much about detailed techniques. For field work, I chose one lab doing X animal genetics to identify 'eat-me' signals on dying cells other than phosphatidylserine, since the X animal system, the engulfment-degradation question and understanding life as genetics are most unfamiliar to me. The 95hrs/week hands-on made me proficient in genetics and other approaches dealing with X animals; it also assured me that I don't hesitate leaving my comfort zone to learn something new and keep pushing as long as I have passion for the question. Besides, inspired by comparing 4 PIs' big pictures and projects they actually carry on when discussing with them our group's favorite big question, I decided to spend two months "not-fully-employed" reading intensively for brainstorming diverse topics as well as thinking up and jotting down projects to address them. Now I'm prepared to start my undergrad thesis either in Dr. Z's lab at T institute, Singapore on ABCs in neurodegenerative diseases or in Dr. X's lab working on TERT's role other than telomere elongation and ABC-X-Y cluster both at the same time.

Adolescent's brain. Germline immortality and somatic aging. Dr. A's lab

I think asking "what happens in an adolescent's brain" is to some extent the beginning of the ends of biological research proposed by Dr. Crick in his What Mad Pursuit: how does the zygote develops into a mature organism and the physiological basis of mental activities. On the meta-individual level, the link between germline immortality and somatic aging is of equal interest to me. For my Ph. D. training, I'd choose to address the second using the X animal system, for the convenient cross-links between each two of cell senescence, post-mitotic aging and germline immortality, and for taking the advantage of such a mature model system to achieve an all-around training. I found Dr. A's lab ideal both because of the first excitement when I searched PubMed for "X animal, telomerase" and the contacts we had later on. I also found several IGF-1 workshops, 6 groups working on aging and cancer, other X animal people focusing on chromatin in XXXX, U of C and the X Area X animal Lab Super Meeting of special attraction: rotations and exchanging ideas in future can all add sparks. With the full appreciation of the past time immersed in research besides an exceptional experience when I was tutoring senior citizens to play the piano and touched by their perseverance with the career they have keen interests and their sophistication as a scholar, it will be my honor if one day I can be fully engaged in the process of knowing by running my own lab (best to be at university for I had best mentors all my way and would love to identify myself as one of them). I believe XXXX provides the best training, training and contribution perfectly coordinated and an ideal.

When I ask "what is life", I understand it's a question that life asks me. When I am answering by making choices, I'm writing this in the hope to be admitted to XXXX.

Y. Yin

*****************


Science. I have often seen is as a lofty ambition when I was young, and never in my freshman year did I imagine I would be applying to graduate school in chemistry, yet here I am. I never imagined it because I saw myself as following the artistic tradition of my family; according to my grandmother, one of my ancestors was William Yeats, but she often has been wrong though. Nevertheless, I saw the potential for artistic expression in science and I after I fell in love with chemistry, I decided to join the discipline and unite the two worlds of science. My view of chemistry, and my desire to join your graduate program may be summarized by this poem that was written by my ancestor William Yeats.

"I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above"

This is a reference to the ivory tower of academia. I see my future in contributing to science and society through the discoveries that I will make.

"Those that I fight I do not hate
Those whom I guard I do not love"

Science is very impersonal and our successes in the laboratory, our scientific manuscripts and world-changing discoveries, are independent of being good or evil, or about doing science in the right country such as Iran or the USA. We have to keep that in mind and always think of not letting chemical progress get away too much from the society that it is supposed to serve.

"My country is Kiltartan Cross
My countrymen Kiltarta's poor"

Well, I'm not really sure what that line of the poem means since my grandparents were born here and we don't really talk much about the old country. So, let's move on to the next part.

"No likely end would bring them loss
Nor leave them happier than before"

I don't like this part of the poem either since I believe that chemistry has the potential to change lives, and if I succeed in your graduate program, I hope to change the lives of the less fortunate of our society. But like that Irish Airman, I also know that I'm ultimately doing this for myself and that I must find something that I am happy with myself. And that is chemistry.

"Nor law nor duty bade me fight
Nor public men nor cheering crowds
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds"

Exactly! I agree with my artistic ancestor there 100%. When they were saying on CNN about how this country needs more scientists and that we're losing the competition to China and India and innovation, I didn't really care. All the money was in business and I was young. It seemed that science jobs are just destined to be outsourced. But after I went into the undergraduate lab and set up my first Grignard reaction, I knew. I knew that I needed to go into the lab again and start setting up other reactions. Reactions that have never been done before. Discovering mechanisms and transformations that would take me to the clouds of scientific discovery.

"I balanced all brought all to mind
The years ahead seemed waste of breath
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life. This death."

Well, the poem ends pretty bleakly there, but there is a grain of truth to is if you substitute "chemical research in your institution" for "death". I have considered many other graduate programs and I balanced the pros and cons, and I looked at my life in the past. High school was easy for me and even though I planned to go into art history, I changed majors to chemistry in second year in university since I wanted a guaranteed higher income later in life. I was planning to get a secure degree and never challenge myself. My life, before starting graduate school can truly be called "a waste of breath". But also I showed resolve in switching majors to hard science and I will show resolve in becoming successful in your graduate program, so "chemical research in your institution" or "death", will truly be in balance with my previous commitment to overcoming adversity and pursuing goals.

I hope that you will seriously consider my application for graduate study in your chemistry program.

Sincerely

-Jonah Yeats (B.S.)

12 comments:

Labness said...

Dear FSP. I understand that some of the things in the SOP series are meant to be obvious, but I wonder if you would be able to give us (young undergraduates) a few pointed hints - the worst offenses in bold, perhaps?

Quoting questionable ancestors and having a SparkNotes version of understanding of science in politics are clearly on the "do not write in SOP" list. I am having a hard time finding too much fault with the first SOP in this post, however. It is clearly way too long, but my senses are not offended by it. Not something I'd write, but also not something I'd throw into the "reject" pile. If I was on the FSPU Committee, of course...

Thank you in advance!

Labness

Southern Grad Girl said...

I'll admit, this series has left me far too nervous to go back and read my SOP, even if it managed to get me in.

Candid Engineer said...

Ha, Jonah, I love yours!

but there is a grain of truth to it if you substitute "chemical research in your institution" for "death"

This whole thing is so absurd, it's beautiful. Thanks for that.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The thought of having any of these people as trainees in my lab and having to edit their writing is making my teeth hurt!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Labness. I also hope we'll see at least one good example. It's hard not to include some personal history "I first got interested in science" or "growing up, I had a chemistry set" because most of the examples of supposedly good statements that you find online have that kind of stuff and it sticks in your mind.

I just remember when I was writing mine thinking that I couldn't wait until I was writing applications that only required career focussed things.

Anonymous said...

As a long term member of several grad admissions committees, I agree with "Labness" about Essay 1 in this series. While it had some weaknesses, it was well within the range of normal, and not nearly as superbly over-the-top as the others. I wondered what FSP found in it that made it excell in this contest?

Mark P

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Oh, the last one is too funny. The line by line analysis had me in tears.

Now the first one hit a little *too* close to home-- the (poor) writing "style" is a little too similar to that of Annoying Coworker. After 18 months of editing AC's crap, I finally took to highlighting several lines at a time, and inserting a comment in Word with a link to the relevant grammar site.

Anonymous said...

I sense a professor/student divide in the reaction to Y. Yin's SOP. I'm a professor and unfortunately have seen writing like this in graduate students (and not only non-native speakers!).

Pete said...

Excuse me, but am I the only one thinking "never ever" when reading Y.Yins SOP?
"... relations between germline immortality and somatic aging, everything about the chromatin and the X animal system" - come on, that would serve for more than a dozen lifes!! This person must be either stupid or ambitious far over the top.
And then asking "What is life" in the end - a funny question from somebody that does not seem to have a life apart from science, isn't it?
I would not want to work in the same lab with somebody like that - no matter how succesful he/she might ever be.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone really use SOPs for admission purposes? Around here almost all are awful, regardless of the quality of the candidate.

We are asking students to describe their research goals when all they've done is finished an undergrad. IMHO the best SOPs read something like this:

During my third/fourth year I took [advanced class] with professor FSP. In that class we went into a discussion of the latest research on prokaryotes. I approached FSP after class and ended up helping a bit in her lab. This opened my eyes to the world of research and now I want to pursue a PhD degree. This may or may not involve prokaryotes but it should certainly be centered around the biochemical processes that take place in basic organisms.

quasarpulse said...

Labness and Anonymous 1:

#1 suffers primarily from truly dreadful writing.

It has numerous misplaced modifiers like:
"...I choose to apply to your X program where my three favorites can be explored if accepted:..."

and gibberish clauses:
"relations between germline immortality and somatic aging, everything about the chromatin and the X animal system."

and things that would be run-on sentences if only they actually had enough verbs to qualify as sentences:
"A childhood saturated with love, 6 years committed to playing the piano followed by violent adolescent years, upon retrospection of these, I became aware of the freedom and responsibility of choice early."

and inappropriate mixing of the passive and active voices:
"...several candidates with significant expression difference in young and senescent fibroblasts were identified by microarray. I started from cloning..."

and is chock full of ridiculously long sentences without any discernible meaning:
"With the full appreciation of the past time immersed in research besides an exceptional experience when I was tutoring senior citizens to play the piano and touched by their perseverance with the career they have keen interests and their sophistication as a scholar, it will be my honor if one day I can be fully engaged in the process of knowing by running my own lab (best to be at university for I had best mentors all my way and would love to identify myself as one of them)."

Altogether, it's incoherent and unreadable. I do hope that's what the submitter was going for.

Anonymous said...

re: Y. Yin's essay

notice also the excruciating, utterly unimportant detail and incomprehensible writing:

"The 14 months in Dr. X's lab inspires while the 10-week Summer Student Training Program at N institute pushes. 56 of us were selected from the more than 600 applicants nation-wide"

and

"I had 40hrs+ classes per week. By careful plans I ensured that time for classes mostly fell into waiting time for experiments, by having a working cycle 6:00-8:00, 18:00-24:00 on weekdays and full-time on weekends and vacations"

also,
"because of the first excitement when I searched PubMed for "X animal, telomerase" and the contacts we had later on."

OMG PubMed searches are super exciting!!!1!11

This is a typical case of "I worked on X as an undergrad and so I wanted to keep working on X as a grad student," without showing a shred of having learned deeper understanding of the subject matter at hand, OR even interest in it...