PhD Application: Statement of Purpose

PhD Application: Statement of Purpose

This is the Statement of Purpose (SoP) as I sent it off (I got the position). It’s by no means perfect, nor is this the “only correct” way to write it. However, I am sharing this because as I was trying to figure out what to write, I would’ve found it helpful to see an example letter.

Basically, the SoP should include the following things:

  • An introduction to you and your interests
  • What you want to study, and why
  • What experience you have in that field (undergraduate & graduate studies, professional experiences, etc.)
  • Why you choose a particular institute

Show them why you are a great fit and that you are excited about this opportunity! It is also 100% okay to not know everything, nobody expects you to. This is why you want to do a PhD, to learn!

 I wanted something different than the normal introductory paragraph, and that was a bit more personal. 

It’s part of my daily ritual. My phone lights up, notifying me about the newest Google Scholar Alerts. I open the e-mail and scan through the latest published research articles in political science, and feel a rush of excitement as my curiosity is repeatedly sparked. Digesting article after article, my desire to do research and ask my own questions to better understand the world we live in grows stronger. This is why I want to pursue a doctoral degree at the Political Science department at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institute (JFKI) at Freie Universität Berlin.

 After stating that I want to pursue a PhD, I briefly describe my research interests. The three aspects of my project – the media, the public, the Supreme Court – are mentioned, and I explain why this topic is important. 

My primary research interests lie in media framing. In particular, I want to investigate partisan media’s framing of the U.S. Supreme Court and its impact on public opinion. It is widely known that partisan media outlets communicate in ways that appeal to the political views of their target audience, especially when reporting on political issues such as domestic and foreign policy, for example. This, however, is deeply problematic when political framing also affects institutions that derive their legitimacy from being ‘not just another political institution’, such as the Supreme Court. Since the Supreme Court is detached from the public, it greatly relies on the media to function as a mediator and communicate its decisions to the public. If the public perceived the Supreme Court as a political institution, it could lose its legitimacy and therefore become unable to deliver compliance with its decisions. Some of the negative impacts of a politicized Supreme Court could already be seen during Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. Here, the Senate, which at the time was dominated by Republicans, refused to hold hearings for almost 300 days until his nomination expired with the end of the 114th Congress. To better understand the unique relationship between the Supreme Court, the media, and an increasingly polarized public, it is important to investigate how the media frames the judiciary, and how that influences public perception.

 Then I talk a bit about my academic and professional background and try to tie everything back to research. This part is also about why I want to do a PhD, and how my past experiences have strengthened my desire to do a PhD. 

After receiving my Master’s degree in North American Studies from the JFKI in 2016, I went on a journey to explore another side of academia. Publishing my Master’s thesis made me eager to learn more about how research is shared and communicated and I delved into the world of scholarly communications. Through my position as an Editorial Assistant at the Open Library of Humanities, I have become actively involved in the publication process and am now comfortable with a range of editorial tasks. Although I greatly enjoy this experience and understanding, I still find myself primarily drawn towards the production and sharing of knowledge. Seeking research-oriented positions, I recently became a Research Assistant at the Scholarly Communications Lab at Simon Fraser University (SFU) Vancouver, Canada, and at OpenAIRE, a project funded by the European Commission (EC) and located at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen. Here, research focuses on the implementation of the EC’s Horizon 2020 policy. At SFU, my ongoing research focuses on institutional policies for hiring, promotion and tenure in North America, as well as the large-scale development of Open Access and novel peer review models. These positions gave me an incredible experience, and affirmed and strengthened my ambition to do research. Even now as I catch myself analyzing news stories and looking for different frames, I know my heart is set on returning to political science.

 This paragraph is about why I want to join the institute I am applying at. As a past student, I could use my experiences to say what I liked especially. If you have not studied at the institute you are applying at yet, you could ask current students to share their experiences and refer to those. (In any case, however, I recommend talking to current grad students and ask them about the program.) 

For me, the JFKI is especially appealing because of its focus on interdisciplinary approaches, its international group of students and teachers/professors, and its remarkable dedication to invite, and collaborate with, internationally renowned guest lecturers. It was a fortunate coincidence that Robert Entman was visiting the JFKI during the writing stage of my Master’s project, which also focused on partisan media’s framing of the U.S. Supreme Court. Meeting the expert whose research much of my own project build on was incredibly valuable. But my respect is the same high level for the JFKI’s own scholars, who are world experts in their own rights too.  Starting a political science major at the JFKI in 2014 with no prior experience in the field, I found the lecturers to be uniquely inspiring and extraordinarily welcoming and helpful. For me, the JFKI is the ideal environment for pursuing a PhD as it does not only have an outstanding academic reputation for high-quality research, but also because of its friendly social environment. Instead of competing students, I found friends and potential future collaborators. Instead of seemingly distant professors, I found encouraging mentors. I know the JFKI would make an excellent academic home for me.

 Here, I talk about my skill set and what I have to offer to the institute. I also refer to the interdisciplinary nature of both the institute and my PhD project, showing that this would be a good fit. 

During my time at the JFKI, I became familiar with qualitative research methods such as content and frame analysis, and learned to critically engage with whatever is presented to me. Over the last eighteen months, I have further broadened my skill set through being involved in several collaborative interdisciplinary research projects, which also introduced me to survey research and coding. This diverse skill set will form a strong foundation for my PhD project, I see a PhD still as a learning opportunity, and I am eager to further deepen and expand my knowledge during the graduate program and through mentorship and collaboration with exceptional academics. As my proposed research project focuses on mass media, communication, partisan and ideological identities, and the American public, it combines political science, sociology, and cultural studies and fits in well with the interdisciplinary nature of the JFKI.

 I finish with determination, reassuring that my decision is not because I needed a Plan B, but because I want to go back to research. (For me, taking a break between the Master’s and PhD was really important. It gave me time to recharge, helped me get some perspective and realize that I will find a job that I love, and ensured I was in it for the right reasons. So, don’t be afraid to say that you’ve been away from research for a while, but know how this can also be an advantage.) 

One and a half years have passed since I first thought about pursuing a PhD. Since then, my professional experiences have been inspiring and energizing, and now I feel ready and determined to embark on this journey. My excitement for doing research has never been stronger, and it is something that I can see myself doing as a career without losing any of my curiosity and passion.

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