Recently, I received one of the best emails ever sent to me by a student. Pranava, an electrical engineer from India, used the Structure is Magic method in writing her graduate SOP for schools in Europe and Canada – and her success was astounding.
Yet, it wasn’t the slew of her admissions and scholarships that blew me away. What impressed me most was how, in her email, Pranava articulated that all-important aspect of graduate application essays – elaborating a scholarly purpose.
All too often, I have to remind applicants that they’re writing a statement of PURPOSE. Sometimes it’s called a statement of INTENT. It’s not an autobiography. It’s not a curriculum vitae written out in prose. And it’s certainly not a statement of HISTORY. Instead, as those words purpose and intent should indicate, it’s a declaration of your academic plans for the future. If you’re applying to become a scholar or researcher, then your SOP should revolve entirely around all the wondrous and fantastical things you hope to study in the next few years.
For Pranava, that’s solar photovoltaics and nanowires. When I started reading her SOP, I realized right away that it possessed a quality that I always find in the essays of successful applicants – it taught me something. It wasn’t just about her past life and education. It was about renewable energy tech: the questions she’s encountered, the problems she hopes to study, and how she’s ready to contribute to the future.
But don’t let me ramble on and on. Pranava is a saint, and she allowed me to publish her email and SOP in hopes they’ll inspire the next crop of ambitious science students to express a clear research plan in their applications. So, without further ado…
A Massive Thank You
My name is Pranava. I’m an international applicant from India. I connected with you a few times on reddit. [note: link supplied by Jordan] I asked you a few questions regarding my SoP and you were ever so gracious in responding to me. I’m pretty sure you get a ton of emails like this one every day but I need you to know that the goldmine called “Structure is Magic” that you created truly changed my life (like literally). Before I tell you about my acceptances, I’ll tell you why I loved this resource. It is truly unlike anything I’ve seen on the internet. “Why is that?”, you’ll ask me. It is because you’re the first person to make a case for my SoP to sound like a story that has a flow, as opposed to three distinct paragraphs with no connection whatsoever. More importantly, you inspired me to formulate a research question. [note: bolded emphasis by Jordan] I read a ton of papers in my field of interest and was able to identify gaps in current research. I, then, came up with possible solutions to tackle those issues. You’ve no idea the kind of confidence boost I got knowing that I’m able to ideate and identify issues.
Thank you for making quality resources accessible to everyone.
When I started out with this process, I thought I’d get into no university. That was obviously because I had pretty average grades but over the course of this entire process, I’ve realised that your SoP can truly flip your application’s destiny (for better or for worse). That of course, depends on how nicely/ badly you write it.
Now, my acceptances. I only applied to universities in Europe and Canada.
- EIT InnoEnergy Dual degree Program – MSc in Energy Technology (40% scholarship for 2 years)
- Aalto University, Finland – Electronics and Nanotechnology MSc (100% fee waiver for 2 years)
- McMaster, Canada – MEng Engineering Physics
- uOttawa, Canada – MEng ECE
- University of Glasgow, Scotland – Nanoscience MSc
- TU Delft, The Netherlands – Electrical Engineering MSc
- Concordia, Canada – MEng ECE
These are the acceptances I’ve received so far.
I’m truly indebted to you for helping me shape my story. I’ve recommended you to at least 5 people till now. Thank you for everything that you do. I’ve also attached my SoP for you to have a look.
Since I don’t consider myself an expert on admissions to schools outside the US, it’s awesome to see students taking Structure is Magic and using it to generate success with their SOP for schools in Europe and Canada. Either way, Pranava’s experience does prove a few things that I believe are true in every country:
- The narrative flow of good essay writing is universal. Even if an admissions committee typically expects something relatively dry, a beautifully written, persuasive essay can turn you into a rock star.
- The key to success (at any level of graduate study) is to have big, ambitious ideas supported by a mature understanding of your field. If you can formulate a research question and prove that you’re capable of studying it in a profound way, you will get admitted. (Of course, if you’re a PhD applicant, this is relative to your competition.)
- If you can combine both of these in one application, you’ll earn a slew of admissions and become the kind of student who gets offered great funding packages.
Let’s take a look at how Pranava accomplished this in four paragraphs.
Statement of Intent
A community visit to a slum as part of a group project with my college’s chapter of Enactus made me aware of poverty’s debilitating impact on India’s energy access. A staggering 400 million people still live in the dark. My summer internship at the Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell Plant (ASSCP) of BHEL strengthened my belief that solar photovoltaics could be a game-changer in the hunt for ensuring access to energy in developing countries, owing to its ability to integrate into mini-grids, thereby benefitting people that don’t live near transmission lines. At ABC University, I intend to learn nanotechnology applications in the context of solar cells.
The curricula on semiconductor physics and materials and their applications in photovoltaic devices would help my learning pursuits – to engage in energy entrepreneurship that helps develop off-grid PV solutions for rural households in the future. Coursework like ENG PHYS-705 III-V Materials and Devices and ENG PHYS-777 Advanced Photovoltaics would help strengthen my understanding of the materials used and their characterization for optoelectronic devices. This knowledge would prove vital as I begin to understand Prof Tony Stark’s work in combining III-V semiconductor materials on the mature Si technology to achieve higher PCEs. Such courses seem particularly interesting because of their intensive treatment of topics like the electrical and optical properties of III-V materials and deposition techniques like molecular beam epitaxy, which are crucial to tandem solar cells. Most importantly, however, is the opportunity to study under Prof Stark himself. I’m fascinated by his research in the design and characterization processes of semiconductor nanowires. They are an excellent prospect for enhancing conversion efficiencies, owing to their superior light trapping ability and tunable bandgap, among other benefits. Nanowires also demonstrate a higher open-circuit voltage as opposed to their planar counterparts. My proposed master’s research would fall into the broader goals of studying the challenges that keep nanowires from being exploited to their full potential. At ABC University, I intend to examine the characterization techniques for nanowires. Their one-dimensional structure makes it hard to fully describe their electrical properties, which are crucial for optimizing device performance. Another challenge that needs to be addressed is improving the built-in potential of the p-i-n junction. Boulanger et al.’s research on GaAs nanowire solar cell on Si substrate using electron holography made me realize that this issue could be addressed by increasing the dopant concentration. Prof Bruce Banner’s work in nanostructure electrodes for OPVs made me wonder about another dimension that I could explore using nanowires. I want to employ these methods during my exploration. I am confident that this Department, with its expertise and its research facilities at the CEDT, is the perfect place for me to further my knowledge about this area.
Driven by my passion for energy access and my experience working on a meaningful technology-aided service, I am acutely aware of the necessity of learning and training in solar photovoltaics. Through internships and MOOCs, my learning assignments have heightened my curiosity and reinforced my interest in this domain. During a traineeship at BHEL’s ASSCP in Gurgaon, India, I calculated the quantum efficiency of HIT cell samples, which inspired a research effort to study the impact of ZnS nanomaterial on the performance of a HIT solar cell. I also compared various commercially manufactured HIT cells on their physical properties. My work has recently been accepted in the LNEE Series of Springer. I completed my first internship at TERI School of Advanced Studies, Delhi, India, just after the second semester of my undergraduate studies. Here, I learned the applications of control system devices like PIDs and VFDs in the given Thermal Energy Storage setup, which inspired me to complete external courses on controllers. My most recent internship, where I developed a machine monitoring system for factory shop floors, made me wonder about the functional intersection of design in renewables. A school project that I’m currently working on is about a real-time forest fire monitoring device powered by solar energy. It is based on a Zigbee module. This project’s unique feature is its ability to monitor data without the Internet. Additionally, less energy consumption is achieved by employing renewable sources.
I am aware of the challenges — curricular and external — in my learning pursuits in this domain. Yet, my previous record evidences the fact that I thrive under pressure. Curricular challenges, peer pressure, or just bad days, I have learnt to face these with courage and positivity. Learning to be optimistic wasn’t easy; it is a work-in-progress. Yet, it is that inimitable feature about me — the ability to turn around — that inspires me to persevere. I’ve successfully balanced my classwork and internship assignments during academically intense semesters while maintaining a good GPA. As an 18-year-old college freshman, my interest in renewables inspired a research effort in the form of a review paper for an IEEE conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the domain of biofuels. The effort, unsuccessful though, was a learning experience wherein I self-learned to read and review published research. My early education and college have significantly impacted my personality traits — a curiosity in thought, diversity in approach, and a strong urge to find my path. With its long tradition of fostering a multicultural learning environment, I believe ABC University is the right place to nurture my learning goals and diversify my personality. If allowed to enroll in the Engineering Physics Graduate Program, I will work hard to be a credit to the institution and make every contribution possible to our understanding of SiNWs in photovoltaics.
I’m indebted to Pranava for allowing me to post her SOP. It’s a shining example of what good students can accomplish if they consider the SOP not as a tedious application requirement, but as an intellectual exercise that’s deeply intertwined with their future. Her essay describes an intellectual journey. It explains her goals with pinpoint accuracy. Perhaps more importantly, it explains how this specific university is the right place for her to pursue these goals, and does so with tremendous detail and maturity.
In the end, the SOP leaves the reader 100% confident that this is a student who will achieve success. Any applicant who can write such a compelling SOP is undoubtedly a scholar capable of organizing her life and work with rare insight and discipline. This is what I hope for all of my students, and exactly what I believe you can achieve as well.
If you found this success story helpful, do me a favor and click the links below to share it with someone who might need help with their graduate application. As Pranava said, “your SoP can truly flip your application’s destiny (for better or for worse). That of course, depends on how nicely/badly you write it.”
Newer Readers: For those unfamiliar with my blog, I have three high-quality SOP Guides in order: 1) The Ultimate SOP Starter Kit, 2) Structure is Magic and 3) Structure is Magic: The Official Guidebook. In order, you learn how to outline and answer the 4 most essential questions in any graduate SOP, how to structure it in a compelling narrative, and how to troubleshoot the most common problems applicants face. The first two are free, and honestly, the Starter Kit is all most applicants need. Afterward, you may find the SOP FAQ helpful (and I’d love for you to email me new questions to add).