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Statement of Purpose (SOP): Comparison

20 Min Read
November 07, 2022

storyStatement of Purpose (SOP) 1

17th century was marked by the birth of Newton's law of motion and law of gravity. Centuries later, Einstein generalized the former and unified it with the latter in his relativity theory in 1916. The world in early 20th century also witnessed the fall of the classical atomic physics and the reign of the quantum mechanics, which could explain wider range of physical phenomenon at atomic scale. Presently, though physics and other natural sciences are still aggressively progressing, the way I see it, the 21th century will be the era where applied sciences triumph. This is the period where accumulated knowledge and well understood theories are transformed into real life applications. This period will also allow indulgence in working on scientific problems, which, if solved, would foster societal advancement. The abovementioned point of view and personal driving force confide me that applied science is the direction I would like to set my graduate studies to. Dreaming to be a mathematician when I was in secondary school, I was quickly swayed by physics in high school. Though I enjoyed doing mathematics, I was much more absorbed with the application of mathematics in physics itself. Excelling at the subject, I was given the opportunity to represent my high school in physics Olympiad and obtained the first place in East Jakarta region and bronze medal at national level. The end of high school did not end my affinity for physics; in fact, it led me to study the subject at higher level by majoring physics at School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU). At NTU, besides taking regular classes, I realized that SPMS presented me opportunity to immense myself into world-class cutting-edge research. In the second semester, I started working on a project with Prof Lars Egil Helseth; studies on ferromagnetic materials which had potential application for magnetic sensor. I employed magneto-optic imaging technique using Kerr and Faraday effects to map the magnetization vector in the region near crack lines in ferrite garnet film of composition Lu2.5Bi0.5Fe4.9Ga0.1O12. The polarization of the incoming probe light will be altered after passing through the magnetized film. By measuring the polarization shift, the magnetization profile of an area on the film could then be determined. My work with Prof Helseth resulted in my very first contribution to scientific community, a Physical Review B publication titled “Large domain walls near crack lines in ferromagnetic garnet films”. Within several months after the project was concluded, I found out that Prof Alfred Huan and Prof Tze Chien Sum just started a project on organic light emitting diode (OLED). This project quickly pulled me into it as the goal was clear yet challenging; to find out why an OLED is efficient or inefficient by investigating the underlying physical processes at molecular scale. This work was highly relevant with low cost efficient lighting applications. I began by familiarizing myself with the device engineering by working in Organic Electronics Laboratory, where the main equipments (e.g. thermal evaporator and twin-glove box systems) were located. I also performed film and device characterization using atomic force microscope, x-ray diffraction, linear absorption, photoluminescence emission, cyclic voltammetry, etc. In optical spectroscopy part of the work, I built time-resolved spectroscopy setup in Xc-Lab integrating streak camera, monochromator, and pulse generator, which has been being used by other group members for time-resolved measurement. The OLED system I studied was Ir(ppy)3, an organometallic emitter with 100% internal quantum efficiency. This project was continuation from a publication that the previous post-doctoral researcher had done in Xc-Lab, in which an OLED device with external quantum efficiency of 20% was achieved. Employing the streak camera-based time-resolved electroluminescence setup, I monitored the wavelength-resolved emission profile of the Ir(ppy)3-based OLED device as function of time as it was being excited by pulsed electrical bias. The emission profile could then reveal the dynamics of the excited states population. The effort spent during my final undergraduate year eventually culminated with my thesis titled “Time-resolved electroluminescence on organometallic triplet emitter” which I presented at ICMAT MRS 2009 as a relatively new method to study the electroluminescence dynamics of OLED devices. For this project and my undergraduate academic record, I was awarded the first class honors in Physics with minor in Mathematics. Around this period, the group expanded and the research focus shifted towards alternative energy application. After discussions with Prof Huan and Prof Sum, I decided to explore organic photovoltaic (OPV) and work under their supervision as a research assistant upon graduation. Besides these two professors, I also started working with Prof Cesare Soci, who joined NTU around this timeframe. Due to his experience in optical spectroscopy and organic semiconductors, discussions with him have always been intense and have resulted in ideas which I utilized to create forward thrusts in my research work. In OPV, I look at the exciton dissociation at the donor-acceptor interface. With the femtosecond laser (75 fs) in Xc-Lab lab, physical processes happening at ultrafast time scale such as electron (and energy) transfer can be observed using home-built white light transient absorption setup. I employed this technique to look at the charge transfer efficiency in OPV systems such as P3HT:PCBM and water-soluble polymer:fullerene. We found large number of charges in several water-soluble polymer:fullerene systems, judging from the unrecovered bleaching signal in the transient absorption spectra. However, the device performance was low, hinting poor charge transfer or charge collection at active layer-electrode interface. After optimizing the phase segregation and active layer-electrode interface, I found that the device's power conversion efficiency was enhanced up to 0.2%. For water-based OPV, this is considered high, as the highest efficiency is still less than 1%. The findings on this project are being summarized in a manuscript that I am currently writing. The second project that I have been working on is a collaborative work with Prof Lam Yeng Ming from School of Material Science and Engineering, NTU. With her, I have been focusing on nanofiber-P3HT, correlating its device performance with the optical spectroscopy data. Nanofiber system exhibits high efficiency without post-thermal annealing, unlike the conventional regioregular-P3HT, which could potentially realize OPV on plastic substrate with low glass transition temperature. Indeed, from transient absorption measurement, I found that the exciton dissociation was efficient. I also devised a method to improve the active layer-electrode interface without resorting to thermal annealing at one point in this project. Based on the findings from this work, I am preparing the second manuscript for publication. One side project that I have been exploring is ternary blend OPV employing low band gap polymers to assist P3HT:PCBM harvest photons in the low energy regime. The challenge I am facing now is doping P3HT:PCBM without compromising its optimum nanostructures. Lastly, the most recently initiated work was on the insertion of ferroelectric material in OPV to inhibit charge recombination. We are probing the lifetime lengthening of the charges using transient absorption at timescale from 100 fs to 1 ms. At this very moment, under supervision of Prof Huan, Prof Sum and Prof Soci, I am devising a method to perform optical pump-probe measurement on functional device. Contributing to the advancement of society will remain my strongest driving force to do research on renewable energy and advanced devices. I would like to be the agent who brings sciences from laboratories to useful applications that improve people's quality of life. Having been working on both device engineering and optical spectroscopy makes me well rounded and able to grasp wider range of concepts in organic semiconductors in particular and solid-state physics in general. I have decided to set the next phase of my education in material science and engineering, and have learned that Stanford University would be the perfect fit for me to learn how to engineer and put science into effective uses. I believe my research experience on organic semiconductors, which parallels with the works of Prof Michael McGehee and Prof Alberto Salleo will put me straight to the front of their cutting-edge research. Moreover, with my physics background in general and optical spectroscopy in particular, I believe I will be able to bring in some important physics perspectives to the group. I will be very happy for the admission to Stanford University and will strive to make as much contribution as I possibly can to the research group, the university, and the society. ########## Word Counts: 1386  

Statement of Purpose 2

My mother always believed that I would grow up to be someone intelligent and useful for the society. Proof of her strong faith is the surname she gave me; Kurniawan, which translates to “gift to the world” in Indonesian. Honestly, I had been taking it only for granted as a kid. However, I started to seriously think about ways to contribute to the society when I was about to attend university. A thought of becoming a scientist was never absent in my mind since I represented my high school in Physics Olympiad and obtained National Medals. As it turned out, the competition was a life-changing experience, which eventually answered the question I had been pondering. I realized that I could contribute to the society with Physics by creating innovations for real life applications.   Besides keeping my GPA near maximum, I also immersed myself in various research works as much as I could during undergraduate. Excelling the physics in class was very important. However, it was even more crucial to actually apply the physics learned in class to the laboratory. The research atmosphere in the young Physics Department of NTU was highly conducive for independent learner. In all groups I worked in, the faculty always gave me freedom to invent and grow original ideas. Moreover, close interactions with the faculty also made my research experience fruitful and productive. In the end, besides obtaining 1st Class Honours, I also published and presented several scientific publications.   When joining research groups, I always put effort to do something substantial. I had my first research experience earlier than most students. In the second semester, I started working on characterization of a particular ferrite garnet film, which could be utilized for magnetic sensors, and components of lab-on-a-chip. I mapped the magnetization vectors of the film employing Kerr and Faraday effects and constructed a comprehensive physical model to describe its unique profile. The work resulted in my very first contribution to science; Physical Review B publication titled “Large domain walls near crack lines in ferromagnetic garnet films”.   Working on fundamental studies in the ferrimagnetic project was truly pleasurable, especially the modelling part of the work. The “Eureka!” feeling was unforgettable. There was a part of me that just wanted to enjoy physics and nothing else. However, I could not stop thinking about the gap between materials characterization and materials integration (into device). Both are equally important and necessary in technology development. This was when I approached Prof Alfred Huan and shared my thoughts with him. Prof Huan was very understanding and encouraged me to explore both physics and device aspects of Organic semiconductors. Moreover, besides performing experiments in laboratory, I also had the chance to “build” the laboratory itself. Under his supervision, I designed and developed optical spectroscopy setups and device fabrication systems in my Final Year Project and Research Assistantship upon graduation.   The first part of the project was to set up Time-Resolved Photoluminescence and Time-Resolved Electroluminescence system integrating femtosecond laser, streak camera, monochromator, and pulse generator. This work required understanding in the detailed working mechanism of the components, experimental skills with ultrafast laser, and precise alignment of the optical components. Eventually, I managed to complete the project before the projected timeline and presented it at ICMAT-MRS 2009 as a novel technique to study the energy/charge transfer dynamics in Organic devices.   In the second part of the work, I extensively employed the abovementioned systems (in conjunction with Femtosecond Transient Absorption) to probe Nanofiber-P3HT:PCBM. I observed that the charge transfer was highly efficient but the charge collection was not. Thus, I started attempting to enhance the active layer-electrode interface, but without eliminating the free-thermal merit of this system. When I explained it, everyone thought it was a dead end. However, I came up with an idea to carefully apply certain magnitude of pressure on the device. I demonstrated that not only the issue was solved but the PCE also increased by 10%. Finding out that this tricky idea worked made me really excited. It was another “Eureka!” moment I will never forget. The work was presented at the E-MRS 2011 and has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. At the same time, I am leading 2 undergraduates to develop this idea further on our ternary blend systems. We ambitiously aim to develop high performance photovoltaic devices, which necessitate no high-temperature treatment.   In my graduate studies, I wish to deepen my knowledge in materials and solid-state devices. Light emitting diodes, photovoltaic, and transistors are of my special interests. Carnegie Mellon University with its centres such as CNXT and CEIC has excelled in the development of these fields. Other areas that I am also interested in are photonics, biosensors, fuel cells, and other energy-related works. In short, my background and field of interest will match best with the works of Prof Lisa Porter, Prof Elias Towe, Prof Paul Salvador, and Prof Jay Whitacre at Carnegie Mellon University.   I trust that PhD in MSE at Carnegie Mellon University would be the best career path for my ambition to be a scientist. Upon graduation, I will be well prepared for professorship position, work at research institution, and many other possibilities. In whichever routes I eventually embark on, I will strive to give my all to the betterment of the society. ########## Word Counts: 879  

Statement of Purpose – Side by Side Comparison

  If you are applying to graduate schools, one part of the application package that will consume a lot of your time is Statement of Purpose (SOP). SOP is required for college application to most USA graduate schools. In this SOP, the applicant can write anything she wants, ranging from her background, accomplishments, hobbies, extracurricular, her passions and dreams, or obstacles she overcame in the past. One has a complete freedom to craft her SOP and can choose the writing style, choice of words, or things to write about. The main purpose of SOP is basically to relay one single message to the admission committee; that you are the perfect candidate that they are looking for!   While other components of the application package are pretty much “standardized” (e.g. degree transcript, TOEFL, GRE) and do not show the human side of the applicants, SOP provides them an opportunity to show their uniqueness and convince the admission committees that they are a great fit for the school/program. With this SOP, an applicant who does not have the perfect scorecards can use her creative persuasion and imaginative writing skills to induce emotions on the audience, eventually securing her admission to her dream school. If you research on the SOPs that get the applicants offers from top schools, you would find some common denominators. This aims to do just that; to give you some useful tips that you can use when you write your own SOP.   Take some time to read the two sample SOPs from the same candidate. SOP 1 is the candidate's very first draft, and SOP 2 is his final version (e.g. after multiple touch-ups and was eventually submitted to the application system). Read carefully and imagine yourself as a professor in the admission committee at a top school, sitting in a desk with many tall piles of application packages from thousands of hopeful applicants. Which SOP do you like better? Why do you like that one better? After you are done reviewing these two SOPs, read on below. We will break it down and share with you why SOP 2 will give the candidate a better chance of leaving a strong impression on the admission committee.

  1. Article Length

Notice that SOP 1 has 1386 words, while SOP 2 has only 879 words. SOP 1 is very wordy and takes much longer time (e.g. almost twice) to read and digest. SOP 2 on the other hand, feels more “straight-to-the-point” and more catchy. Although SOP 1 has many more details and substance, it is far from succinct and concise. When you are bombarded by so much information in a single article, would you remember everything in it? Many applicants have plenty of accomplishments and interesting things about themselves to share. And naturally, they would try to squeeze everything in their SOP hoping that the admission committees know how accomplished they are. They are likely to write something similar to SOP 1. This will actually backfire because the super long SOP 1 is now too long, unfocused, incoherent, and even worse; boring. Notice how many extra details SOP 1 has and how long the first paragraph is. The first paragraph does not even mention anything related to the candidate! Even worse is paragraph 3 and 4. They are so long and flooded with plenty of technical jargons, which will just lose the readers instead of engaging them. In short, SOP 1 is too long and too highly technical. Our advice #1 here is to keep your SOP simple and flashy. Mention only few of your TOP accomplishments, as what we have in SOP 2. You can exclude smaller accomplishments, especially those that are pretty insignificant and occurred long ago (e.g. 1st rank in class in elementary school). Focus on accomplishments that were built on top of each other (e.g. they are related). This way, you can stitch them together, resulting in an SOP that reads more like a story with a nice obvious flow. Also, mention something memorable and unique about you early on in the SOP without being long winded. In the short first paragraph, SOP 2 mentions the meaning of the candidate's unique name, the fact that he excelled in high school and won a national science medal. This is all in a single paragraph! Compare this to SOP 1, which takes the first 2 paragraphs to “warm up” before entering the main part of the story. It can be something creative that you did in high school, a difficult obstacle that you overcame in your life, or big event in your life that really shapes you. You need to get the readers hooked quickly. Admission committees have to read thousands of SOPs and they will find most SOPs to appear the same after a while. Use your creativity to stamp the memory of you in the readers' head within the first few seconds.

  1. Details and Specifics

While one should avoid using generalities in writing SOP, overindulging in details and specifics are not advantageous too. SOP 1 has numerous, mostly unrelated, details. They are not coherent and are frequently described using technical jargons. You can find this problem in paragraph 3 and 4. These two paragraphs are long-winded and very difficult to digest. It takes a tremendous effort to read and really understand all the intricate details in these two paragraphs. All the technicalities mentioned here are very specific to organic electronics field and people outside of the field would have a hard time trying to understand what is being written in these two paragraphs. Now, take a look at paragraph 2 and 3 of SOP 2. In these two short paragraphs, the candidate brought up the fact that; 1) he proactively looks for research opportunities outside of class, 2) he got a near perfect GPA, 3) he got a 1st class honors, 4) he joins a research group, 5) he publishes his first paper! These accomplishments are NOT his main/best accomplishments. However, the candidate flashes them quickly to build an impression of him being a high achieving student early on in the SOP.  Notice how the two paragraphs are succinct and brief. By craftily showcasing his accomplishments in these two paragraphs, the candidate effectively gets the audience awed and keeps them interested to know more about him.

  1. Climax

Great SOPs are ones that read like a superhero's story. It starts with some background and unique things about the superhero when he was little. The story then tells the audience some talents that the superhero starts to show when he is younger. As the superhero grows older, he polishes his talents and achieves even greater strength. People start realizing how great he is. The story eventually climaxes when the superhero beats his archenemy using his superpower and supertalent. Now, in your SOP, you are the superhero and your GREATEST accomplishment is the story's climax. There is some flow in paragraph 3 and 4 in SOP 1. However, since these paragraphs are very long, they “feel” flat and lack any climax. The candidate basically shares his accomplishments and what he did in his research. He also shows how one thing leads to another. However, it is hard to tell which accomplishment is his greatest. All the accomplishments the candidate mentions feel like they are all not that significant. Paragraph 3 and 4 in SOP 1 are great example of a candidate trying to cramp all his past accomplishments but fails to create a climax in his story. SOP 2 is written with a different style. The presence of the flow is very obvious in paragraph 2 through paragraph 6. The events are told chronologically and the story follows the candidate from earlier to latter stage of his undergraduate life. The candidate's accomplishments are mentioned rapidly and they of ascending magnitude (e. g. maintained high GPA à joined a research group à published his first paper à join another group à built lab from scratch à presented finding in an international conference à made breakthrough improvement à in process of publishing second paper!). Building the momentum from paragraph 2 through paragraph 5, the story culminates when the candidate overcomes a difficult task in paragraph 6. This is the story's climax. When you read SOP 2 and read this part of the article, you can feel that the candidate is on top of the world.

  1. Get rid of the cliché

SOP is an article where you can share anything about you that makes you a strong candidate for the school/program. It is advisable to minimize the amount of information in the SOP that is not directly related to you. Also, avoid generalities and big words such as “…making the world a better place...” or “…improve people's lives..”. These are things that ANY candidate can say. Having these words in your SOP does not make you unique at all. Thousands of other candidates are very likely writing the same thing. You can find many of these types of big words in the first and last paragraph of SOP 1. Our advice #4 for you here is to use simple yet specific terms. Notice how the first paragraph of SOP 2 is simple and succinct. It gives a great introduction of the candidates. On the other hand, the first paragraph of SOP 1 is just plain boring and does not say anything about the candidate or more importantly, his accomplishments. Now, go on and read the last paragraph of SOP 2. In there, you can find specific plans that the candidate has after his graduation from the graduate program (e.g. industry, professorship, or scientist). It is straight to the point. This is far better than the last paragraph of SOP 1 where the candidate has some sentences which are unnecessary and do not contain enough specifics (e.g. “I would like to be the agent who brings sciences from laboratories to useful applications that improve people's quality of life.”).   There you have it. Re-read and re-review these two sample SOPs. Figure out which components make one better than the other. Additionally, you can also find a number of great SOPs on the web, especially those that result in offers from top schools/programs. Read as many as you can and get some inspiration from them for your own SOP. Once you are done with your first draft, ask your friends to review it and do some touch-ups after getting their feedbacks. Repeat this process, preferably with different sets of friends, multiple times. The whole process will take some time but if you iterate many times enough, your final SOP will be sure to impress and leave a lasting impression on the admission committees. [contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]