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My statement of purpose from a successful graduate school application

In this post, I am sharing my statement of purpose from a successful graduate school application.

I wrote it over 5 years ago, so I definitely cringe at a few things now, but hey, it got the job done and I am still rather proud of it. 

oindree banerjee at her college graduation at nc state on blog how to phd write a statement of purpose for graduate school
The author of the example SOP in this post, that is, me 5 years ago ;)

At the end of this post, I have pasted my statement of purpose as I had submitted it.

A statement of purpose is about telling the school what you want to do there while backing it up with things you have already done.

Good news is the majority of the document is describing things you have already done.

This is important as it demonstrates why you are a good candidate.

As shown below, I talk about my goals and aspirations while describing my activities in college. 

Splitting the document into sections and assigning appropriate headings to each section tells the reader quickly what to expect and what is in the document.

In the first section, I briefly mention who I am and what my goals are.

I mention my short-term as well as my long-term goal right in the beginning.

I go over my goals again at the end of the document.

I talk about my college experience making sure to mention part-time, on-campus positions I held as well as service and leadership roles I played.

These make me well-rounded outside of the classroom and lab. 

I worked on three research projects in undergrad.

I wrote about each of these in its own section.

These research experiences and the associated letters of recommendation were the strongest part of my application.

Successfully completing a Ph.D. requires one to be a strong researcher.

Demonstrating that you already are a strong researcher goes a long way and helps to offset less strong parts of the application such as grades or the GRE. 

Under each research section, I specify the length of time I worked on that project.

I also point out special responsibilities I undertook such as being the Lab Safety Officer.

While describing the research it is very important to be able to succinctly state the problem you were trying to solve and the approach you took. 

My research sections demonstrated, both in their heading and body, that I was a well-rounded researcher.

This was consistent with me saying that I was flexible and open to different research opportunities in the department.

It is totally OK to be less flexible as well but in that case, it is better to first make sure that your research interest will be supported in the program.

This would involve contacting professors whose research you are interested in and making sure that they will support your application.

Let me know any questions or concerns in the comments below!



I am a 22-year-old woman from Kolkata, India and currently a senior in Physics at North Carolina State University (NCSU), aspiring and training to excel in an interdisciplinary research position or fellowship opportunity en route to earning a PhD in Physics with the long-term goal of making meaningful contributions to the world through science and education.


Early in middle school, I developed a permanent love for the sciences, especially Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics. Growing up, I was eager to be a practicing scientist, and not be limited to classroom knowledge. I also aspired to contribute towards developing an improved education system that would encourage and enable all students in the world, irrespective of age, race, and gender, to pursue the subjects that they want to study, especially the sciences, in an open-minded, free-thinking study environment. Upon completing 15 years of study (K-12) in India I arrived in the United States to further pursue my goals in science and education.

College Experience

In my first two years at NCSU, I took classes in both Physics and Chemistry, before deciding to focus on Physics. Besides the sciences, I have a passion for music, especially the violin, so I took classes and lessons in music and played for the Raleigh Civic Symphony for a year.
During my college career, I have held several jobs such as Staff Reporter for my university newspaper Technician, Assistant at the Physics Demo Room and Volunteer Note-taker and Proctor for the Disability Services Office. These experiences have trained me to be responsible, discreet and considerate. In my junior year, I was a Physics tutor at TRIO Student Support Services, where I learned about different learning styles and improved my professional communication skills.
In my junior year, I was the Outreach Coordinator for the Society of Physics Students (SPS) at NCSU. I coordinated SPS participation in a record number of outreach events at different local elementary schools. I am currently a Student Ambassador for the College of Sciences performing duties such as representing the college at university events like the Majors Fair, to help educate first-year students about career options and research opportunities in the sciences, especially Physics. I seize any opportunity to encourage other undergraduate students to pursue research because, personally, my most valuable college experience has been my undergraduate research under the mentorship of three excellent scientists.

Sombers Lab – Interdisciplinary Research

            I started working in Sombers Lab under Dr. Leslie Sombers of the Chemistry department at NCSU in the second semester of my freshman year on an individual project called Quantification of Fenton Chemistry, which is partly funded by an Undergraduate Research Award. My goal in this project has been to quantify the Fenton reaction given by:
Fe2+ + H2O2 → Fe3+ + OH· + OH
In Sombers lab, we do this by measuring currents generated by the chemistry between a sample species and the oxygen species that populate the surface of a carbon-fiber microelectrode subject to fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. In this way, we can obtain current versus potential curves for different species, called cyclic voltammograms, which form a chemical signature for a given electro-active species besides giving us a precise way to quantify the same. The Fenton reaction produces an extremely aggressive reactive species, the OH· radical, and can take place in the brain of an animal. The motivation behind this research is that this reaction may be responsible for the death of dopamine neurons in iron-rich parts of the brain like the substantia niagra, leading to Parkinson’s disease. I perform experiments in an in vitro simulation of the brain and collect cyclic voltammograms of individual as well as mixtures of components of the Fenton reaction.
Additionally, as the designated Lab Safety Officer, I develop and administer safety rules and regulations, fire exit plans and lab inventories. This role has given me a great sense of responsibility which I enjoy. Sombers Lab happens to be my first opportunity in scientific research and I am glad to have grabbed it with both hands and stayed on. By the time I graduate, I will have spent 7 semesters and part of two summers in this lab. That and the success that I have achieved here should bear testimony to my ability to remain motivated, committed and persistent in research and thrive within a team. This experience has been invaluable and I believe it will give me a definite edge in interdisciplinary research.

Daniels Nonlinear Lab – Experimental Physics Research

            I worked in Daniels Nonlinear Lab under Dr. Karen Daniels of the Physics department at NCSU from May 2011 – August 2011 on an individual project called Instabilities of Spreading Droplets. I studied droplets of silicon oil, water, and glycerin under rotation, using imaging with camera lenses and a laser. We were interested in learning how these droplets spread under rotation. Do they spread evenly, do they form a thin film or do they break and become more like a doughnut? I built several experimental setups and spent the majority of the summer trying to determine a suitable experimental regime for my experiments. In the process, I became a trained user of shared Physics facilities such as the Clean Room, and other lab equipment such as the dry box, vacuum desiccator, and spin-coater. I trained in the machine shop and learned shop drawing for a part that I needed to be made for my experimental setup.
 I collaborated with Dr. Josh Bostwick from the Mathematics department who created a mathematical model for such droplets under rotation. I learned about experiments, data storage, lab techniques and the subject of thin films from my adviser Dr. Karen Daniels and her graduate students. I enjoyed this hands-on Physics research project and I am confident that I can adapt well to a Physics experimental research lab in graduate school.

Frőhlich Lab – Theoretical Physics Research

I started working with Dr. Carla Frőhlich of the Physics department at NCSU in the second semester of my junior year. I received an Undergraduate Research Award to continue this project through my senior year. Unlike my other two research experiences, my work with Dr. Frőhlich has been mainly theoretical and computational. We are interested in learning how and where the light neutron-capture elements (copper to barium) were formed. My research project uses two complementary approaches. One approach is to analyze observational data in the literature and find constraints for the process and location of formation of the elements that we are investigating. The other approach is to perform nucleosynthesis calculations using a nuclear reaction network simulating temperature-evolving, proton-rich conditions as found in core-collapse supernovae.
The origin of the elements has been a long-standing open question in Astrophysics and I find this topic fascinating. I took a graduate course in Astrophysics in Spring 2012 and a graduate course in Computational Physics in Fall 2012 which have helped me with this research project. I understand that theory and computation are as important and powerful in Physics as doing experiments, and I am glad to have had this opportunity to think and do Physics like a theorist. I am especially excited to be a part of the field of Nuclear Astrophysics and believe that I could be a good fit in a future lab or group in Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics or Cosmology.

Conclusion and Future Goals

            My primary goals in graduate school are to learn more Physics and pursue research. I am a self-motivated, committed and persistent researcher and feel confident that my undergraduate research experience, together with my course-work will have prepared me well for Physics graduate school.
I am excited to explore new boundaries in Physics and in research while strengthening the knowledge and skills I already possess. I am particularly interested in the fields of Astrophysics, Cold Atom Physics and Condensed Matter Physics at The Ohio State University (OSU); however, I am flexible and realize that the Physics department at OSU has many exciting research opportunities. I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue my goals in Physics while proving to be a valuable addition to the department and university. I am eager to apply the knowledge and skills obtained from my past experiences in tutoring, outreach, and leadership to the outreach and mentoring programs conducted by the Graduate Women in Physics organization at OSU.

After graduate school, I want to stay in academia as a scientist and research mentor. I plan on giving back to the community by teaching science, especially Physics, to children from all backgrounds through university outreach programs. I especially want to encourage more women and minorities to pursue science. I aspire to travel the world and contribute to the improvement of scientific research and education in under-privileged states and nations, including parts of my home-country, India. I believe an improved and accessible science education can bring about positive change, responsible well-being and lasting peace in this world.


  1. Absolutely brilliant ma'am, but I noticed one thing that your projects are not actually related to deep astrophysics thing , but you made it for the OSU.........

    1. Thank you, Saif!

      Yes very true!!

      I had NEVER worked on Particle Astrophysics before grad school, haha!

      But I learned how to be a scientist/researcher in college by working on research projects even if not in the same field!

      You can learn ANYTHING at ANY time if you are really interested!

      Thanks for your comment :)

  2. Indeed a great SOP!
    However, I don't see an explanation reasoning the connect between your past experience and the choice of Astrophysics or cold atom research! What's your thought on reserving the connect (if there was any).
    Why did you hold yourself aback from writing down any research problems that you would have been thinking on.

  3. Great points, Vinayaka!!

    Indeed there was not any direct connection between what I had done in undergrad and what was available at this grad program - where I ended up going!

    My undergrad research experience STILL made me a strong candidate even though the specific topics I worked on were different.

    It really does not matter what you worked on but how you are willing and able to apply yourself next.

    I had demonstrated that I could pick up and do well in any research - as echoed by my letters of recommendation - each written by a professor in a different field.

    So I did not specify a research problem because I knew it would be all new stuff there, not things I had already worked on.

    However, if you DO have research problems in mind that will be supported at the next place - then those are GREAT to mention!


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