So you want to go to grad school?
Future grad students of the world unite!
SOP help please! 
28th-Nov-2012 03:38 pm
NCIS - Gibbs & Kate & Tony
I know this is terribly short notice, as this app is due on Saturday, but I really hope that someone here could please take a moment to read over this SOP I have drafted for a Well-Regarded History PhD program.

Version 2 at Pastebin (edited)

Thank you thank you THANK YOU to anyone who can offer me suggestions to make this SOP awesome.

EDIT: The program doesn't have a special application for people who want to TA, etc. Should I add something about that into my statement? I have my TA information from my master's in my CV.
Comments 
28th-Nov-2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
Quick review:
I am applying for admissions to the Doctor of Philosophy program in the Department of History. I have been a student of history since 1995, when I took my very first Ancient World class at [Junior College]. Despite some early uncertainty about my career plans, I have always returned to history. [Add something about ongoing interest - don't mention career uncertainty.]
I want to learn and, eventually, I want to teach. [At what level]? To that end, I have taken classes in education which will give me a stronger foundation in teaching once I arrive at that point in my career;. I have also studied a diverse array of disciplines to make myself a more well-rounded individual. [If you want to say something about what you've studied and how it relates to your studies that's good, but they don't care if you're well-rounded in grad school.]
My research interests are firmly grounded in the High to Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance in Europe, but are varied within that era. [Contradictory statement] I am extremely interested in studying religion on the Continent during that time period: its spread, its effects, and its permeation into the myriad facets of everyday life at all levels of society.
I am very much a social and cultural historian, and I have a particular affinity for the idea of mentalités as espoused by the Annales school, so one of my eventual goals is to conduct a thorough examination of the spread of Christianity across Europe during the Middle Ages, investigating the forms it took and the effects it had on the population. [Serious run-on sentence] The research being conducted by Dr. [Faculty Member] on [topic] would be invaluable to me in the course of my own studies. [You're applying for a PhD. What are you going to contribute to Dr. Faculty Member's research?]
In my own coursework, I have studied the First and Fourth Crusades, conducted a survey of medieval religion, and investigated the phenomenon of witchcraft in the later Middle Ages, and I plan to spend the spring term researching the Reconquista. My master’s thesis is on the topic of the French knighthood – its tentative title is “The Rise and Fall of Chivalry: Medieval Knighthood and its Cultural Legacy.” [Should be two sentences] In it, I am seeking to answer questions about the nature of knighthood, the qualities a successful knight was expected to possess, the decline in the prestige of the knighthood after about 1400, and the resurgence of interest in knighthood and chivalry in the modern era. [What questions? How are you answering them?]
[University]’s History program has an excellent reputation, and I believe that not only would it be beneficial for me to continue my studies there, but that I could be a credit to the program as well. I hope that you will grant my request for admission into your program. Thank you for considering me.
28th-Nov-2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Editing now, and will edit the pastebin to reflect.
28th-Nov-2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
General comments:
- Your structure is all over the place. Try a chronological structure - what you did previously, how it leads into what you're going to do, and what you're going to do.
- Most of the emphasis should be on your research plans, and how what you've already done contributes to that.
- Just name-dropping a prof or two isn't enough - you need to be specific about how your planned topic of study fits into theirs.
- Do not, under any circumstances, give the impression that you're applying for grad school because you're not sure what to do next. That might be true. It often is. It can also completely scupper your application if they think you're wasting time or avoiding real life. Just don't even go there.
- I'm really interested in your research on knighthood and what you're proposing for new research. If this were me, I'd focus mostly on that, and less on your personal motivations.
28th-Nov-2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I built this off my SOP for my master's program, so I was afraid it might read too inexperienced. I'm editing like a crazy person now. :)
28th-Nov-2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. Just remember that a master's a phd are pretty different. A PhD is more like a junior job than moar school, so you want to focus a lot more on research and originality and less on the coursework aspect.
28th-Nov-2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
28th-Nov-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Much better :) It still needs a grammar going-over, but it's a lot more focused on what you actually want to do, which is great.
28th-Nov-2012 11:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your help! :D
29th-Nov-2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
I agree that this version is good, but I think you could be more focused and explicit on what you want to research in grad school and how you are prepared to do so.

I'm not a Medievalist (I'm a historian), but from what I know of it, there's already been a lot of studies of religion, especially Christianity, during that time period. (I initially thought you just meant Christianity, so it would be helpful to make it clear in the SOP if you mean other religions). You should be more explicit as to what you might add to it, including what kinds of questions you would ask. You should also mention your affinity for mentalites and identification as a social and cultural historian when you discuss your research interests in the second paragraph. (I'm sure you did this already, but definitely make sure that the prof you want to study with agrees with this methodology - which you should be able to get from his research). It's just that I am most especially interested in studying religion on the Continent during that time period: its spread, its effects, and its permeation into the myriad facets of everyday life at all levels of society. comes off extremely broad to me. You might also put "everyday" in italics to emphasize that aspect of the research. Looking at the everyday is a relatively new trend in historiography more generally and would make clearer that you understand how you are adding to it. In other words, you want to be careful to show that you understand the historiography and how you might add to it with your research. You shouldn't just be identifying areas of interest.

I also wonder whether there is a more significant connection between your master's thesis and your PhD research interests. What methods are you using in the thesis that prepare you to research religion on the Continent during that time period: its spread, its effects, and its permeation into the myriad facets of everyday life at all levels of society? If you found anything interesting in during your thesis research that sparked an interest in studying religion, that would be a good to mention too. Try to be as explicit as possible as to how your master's thesis is going to help you study your PhD research interests.

In terms of the TA application, if it's a top program in the US, then you probably don't need to do one. All PhD students in this program are admitted with full funding that includes TAships.

Despite all my comments, I think you're very close to having a strong SOP. A lot of what I'm asking you can probably easily get from your experience in the masters program.

Edited at 2012-11-29 02:48 pm (UTC)
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