When you go seeking admission into a PhD programme at any reputed university, you are most likely going to be asked to submit a personal statement in addition to other documents, such as letters of recommendation, research proposal, essays, writing samples, transcripts, IELTS or TOEFL score, GRE or GMAT score to support or strengthen your PhD application.
Often drafted in a page or two (i.e., 500 to 1000 words), a personal statement is nothing but a short essay that gives a personal touch to your PhD application by covering some important pieces of information, such as your motivations for applying to a PhD programme, your academic background and your personal strengths.
This document is often looked at or reviewed in conjunction with non-personal metrics, such as GPA and test scores, by the university’s admissions committee or PhD supervisor in order to assess your overall suitability for the PhD programme in question.
In this article, you will get to learn how best to draft and structure your personal statement so as to maximise your chance of getting admission into the PhD programme of your choice.
Components of a successful PhD Personal Statement
There is a no one-size-fits-all approach to writing a personal statement as its content varies from one applicant to another. However, you can use the following list of topics as a guide when you go about drafting your individual personal statement.
1. Why you want to study this PhD programme
You need to spell out in detail as to what motivates you to pursue the PhD programme you are considering applying to. Let the reader know what particularly appeals to you about the course in question.
You need to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have thought through the research topic that your wish to explore further as well as your career plans that you intend to follow post the completion of your doctorate degree.
Whether you wish you to pursue a career in academia or you want to follow a different industry path after your graduation, you must talk about it. Discussion about your future aspirations and goals would help the university understand your academic needs better which, in turn, would ensure that your PhD programme is fully tailored to help you realise your end goals.
Additionally, detailing clear academic and career goals on your personal statement would instil confidence in the admissions committee or the prospective PhD supervisor that you will see the programme through until the end despite all the hurdles and obstacles.
2. How your work will be advantageous to the university
While seeking admission into your desired PhD programme, you need to sell yourself to the admissions committee or the future PhD supervisor. You can do so by showing how the university will benefit from your previous education and past experience.
If you have carried out academic research as part of your previous education, please feel free to highlight it in the personal statement. For example, it would be worth talking about the methodological approaches you used in the past to fetch results and the positive impact that resulted from the academic projects you were a part of. Using such examples in the personal statement would definitely get some bonus points.
Once admitted into the PhD programme, you will most likely join a relevant department of the university as a junior academic, and a part of your routine work would be to teach undergraduate and master-level students. Hence, you should consider mentioning any teaching job experience that you possess when drafting your personal statement. If your experience is not directly linked to your application, please highlight the transferable skills that you bring to the table and how those skills may benefit the university. Doing so will definitely stand you in good stead and increase the likelihood of your acceptance into the PhD programme.
3. Why you want to study for your PhD at this university
In addition to the above-given topics, you need to show your motivations for choosing the university where you wish to study the PhD course of your choice.
Whether it is the university’s undisputed reputation in your field of study that catches your attention or it is probably the location of the university that gets you excited or it is something else that draws you close to the university, you need to explicitly talk about it in the personal statement.
It is worth investigating the existing projects at the university that you wish to join and demonstrating how your proposed research work can contribute to some of these ongoing projects. This would further add strength to your PhD application.
4. Give an explanation for lower grades (if applicable)
If your academic results have suffered due to unfavourable circumstances that were beyond your control, you must talk about it in an honest manner in your personal statement. The university you are applying to would be interested in knowing about the problems you faced and how you went about dealing with those. Your ability to solve problems will definitely go in your favour.
5. Highlight extra-curricular activities and interests
You can highlight these in your personal statement to shed some light on your overall personality and demonstrate some of the transferable skills (e.g. teamwork, communication skill, ability to shoulder responsibilities, etc.) that can help you thrive in the PhD programme of your choice.
6. Write a solid conclusion
In the end, you can conclude by summarising your interest in the subject area, your skills and experiences. You may also want to re-iterate how the PhD programme fits in with your intended career path.
It is highly likely that you would apply to more than one university when seeking to study PhD. If you do so, please make sure that your personal statement is tweaked to include the specifics of the university, including its existing research priorities. This would help you maximise your chance of success at getting admission into a PhD programme that truly interests you.
Tips for writing a winning personal statement
In order for your personal statement to be as impressive and effective as possible, you may want to follow the below-given tips:
1. Read the instructions
While some universities offer very little in terms of guidance on writing a personal statement, other universities require their applicants to follow a specific set of guidelines revolving around content, format, word count and submission method. Hence, it is important for you to read through the instructions on the university’s website and decipher what exactly is expected of your personal statement. If you happen to disregard any of the instructions, you would likely lose the battle to someone who made sure to follow the guidelines in a meticulous manner.
2. Engage in self-reflection
It is important to sit down and think about the strengths that you would like to highlight in your personal statement. You need to demonstrate how exactly your strengths are going to add value to the department you would be joining as a junior academic. When you confidently share your positive attributes with the admissions committee, you bid fair to get admitted into the PhD programme of your choice.
3. Be authentic
You must understand that universities go through thousands of personal statements in a year and hence, they can figure out the difference between a genuine personal statement and a cooked-up one. Try to present a real account of who you are and what you care about. By doing so, you would be able to maximise the conversion rate of your applications.
4. Keep it specific and relevant
You need to remember that you have access to limited space when it comes to drafting a personal statement. Hence, you should utilise the limited space in the best possible manner and mention only those points in your statement that are relevant and specific to your application. For example, if you are motivated to join a particular university because your proposed research work is relevant to what one or two faculty members at the university are already researching, you must highlight it in your statement. At the end of the day, universities want to ensure that they recruit PhD candidates who value their programmes and have specific reasons for applying.
5. Get feedback from outside sources
It is advised that you have your personal statement reviewed by another pair of eyes with an intention to understand whether or not the document in question is engaging and well-organised.
6. Customise the personal statement using examples
If you submit a generic copy of the personal statement along with your PhD application to the university of your choice, it would simply indicate that you have minimal interest in the course. So, do not copy content from another personal statement and paste it onto yours. Instead, customise your personal statement using a set of specific examples that can further support your eligibility for the PhD course in question.
7. State your achievements
When drafting your personal statement, make sure to highlight your achievements to show to the universities that you have what it takes to win and achieve.
8. Proofread before submission
Spend an adequate amount of time drafting and proofreading your personal statement before its final submission. Remember that a personal statement showing errors related to grammar, syntax, repetition and spelling will leave a bad impression on the PhD supervisor, thereby causing your application to get rejected in the end. So, in order to avoid any unpleasant outcome, you must ensure that your personal statement is duly proofread by experts before it is submitted to the university.
Hopefully, the information and tips shared in this article would prove to be helpful in drafting a winning personal statement, using which you can get admission into the desired PhD programme at the university of your choice in the foreseeable future.
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