SOP vs LOI vs Personal Statement vs Research Proposal

This document is originally compiled by Abdullah Al Maruf, PhD (University of Toronto).

Year of Publication: 2015

©PBSCU Any unauthorized use of this article, including copying or editing is prohibited. If you want to use the article, you need to take permission from us: or from the author and you must mention the author's name and the group's name in all cases.

Statement of Purpose = SOP

Letter of Intent = LOI

Personal Statement = PS

SOP, LOI, and PS are terms used interchangeably for graduate student admission. Sometimes they are also referred to as "cover letter". The main points of SOP/LOI/PS is to concisely present your education and research background and how they are connected with your “research interest”. These can be written specifically for a professor (targeted) or many professors (focusing on some research areas).

Research Proposal = RP

RP is very specific. Sometimes, professors ask for them to test your reading and writing skills. They may give you a specific format for writing. If they do not give you a guideline, use your own guideline but be consistent throughout. RP may also be needed to apply for scholarships. You will learn more about this during your graduate studies.

Hundreds of samples are available online. Read SOPs for your subject and get an idea.

SOP - General Guidelines:

©PBSCU This portion hes been written by Anil Mahmud (Univeristy of British Columbia).

If you have done everything else well, the SOP is the only place where you can screw things up.

So before delving into the SOP writing consider some points.

SOP is yours to write, these are guidelines not gospels. Read a considerable number of guidelines & SOPS, find out what suits you.

It is very common among students to write one SOP and use it everywhere, in part this is not a bad idea but it should be kept in mind that SOP is the only way you are talking to the faculties of a University, surely you wont find the same bunch of faculties everywhere , thus you cant expect the same SOP to work everywhere. SOP should be something like an individual, geared for the University you are applying to. It may be totally formal or it may try to evoke emotions, all depends on how you present and what you need to present. It is your duty to analyze what you got to present depending on University, whether you have got positive replies from the professors or not and other factors.

i) If you have got a positive reply form a professor you can very well afford to limit your interests just to one topic and surely you will mention how you admire the professor and his works (the one you have contacted). You may mention his name in BOLD so that the one sorting the SOPs/ Applications to assign to faculties to review (if such a sorting is done) doesn't miss the target Professor. DO NOT MENTION THAT YOU CONTACTED THE PROFESSOR EARLIER UNLESS HE/SHE SAYS SO.

ii) If you have not contacted any professor and there is no option to mention your research interest formally excluding the SOP, then it is PROBABLY better to mention your interests in the beginning of the SOP. Every faculty takes a limited number of students and goes through a few number of applications and read fewer SOPs, so if you write your interests in the beginning, it is likely all the faculties of the related topic will receive/pick up your SOP/ Application early, increasing your chances. (This is just an opinion. It surely is not that important when you can mention your interest explicitly somewhere in the application or have made a strong connection with any faculty who will seek out your application no matter what)

For example you could write :

I am interested in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Graphics and Parallel Processing.


I want to contribute in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Computer Graphics and Parallel Processing.

Then you start your SOP.

Since I was a kid ..... (or any other way you start )

iii) A SOP is a chance to write what you cannot inform through other papers , so do not waste words saying again and again things what you have already stated in your CV and Certificates if it is REALLY not that important.

For example while writing a SOP in which you will mention your interest in a field where a strong background in mathematics is required. You can mention " I have a strong base in mathematics and it is proved by my SSC, HSC , GRE Scores and relevant Undergraduate courses."

Instead of CGPA , you should mention your skills in mathematics. Why ? Because this matters to the professor and moreover if you did get the highest grade in all the Mathematics courses then this combination of results and allusion made in the SOP is suppose to make the reader notice it.

But then again of course you can mention your CGPA. If you have a CGPA of 4.00 it would be foolish not to mention it in the SOP. Whether it is important or not is up to you to decide.

iv) If you have applied to a university without contacting any professor be extra careful with the SOP , do not mention interest in a subject if the university lacks professors in that area.

v) Again if you have applied to a university without contacting any professor be a bit relaxed with your choice of research area. Say you are most interested in X , Y , Z in this order. But after analyzing the faculty members you see that there is no faculty interested in X, many in Y and few in X , then you should write your SOP as if you are interested in Y the most , and then comes Z or you can also take a little risk and try Z first then Y as you see fit.

vi) Keep consistency in what you say. Say you implemented a parallel algorithm for a neural network on a GPU. If you want to study in parallel processing , do mention that you implemented the parallel algorithm on a processing unit with parallel architecture - the GPU, mention the courses you took related to parallel processing , mention if you have any teaching experience related to this. If you want to study on graphics, mention you were interested in Graphics so you wanted to do something related so you utilized the Graphics Processing unit to implement your algorithm, cite your experiences related to computer graphics and also mention your knowledge about the graphics processing units (GPUs). If you want to study Artificial Intelligence/ Neural Networks mention your interest , why and how and how it made you interested in the algorithm related to Neural Network.

In summary you can state the same thing but giving them different flavors, its like making mashed potatoes , french fries , sauce out of the same potato according to the taste of your potential supervisor.

vii) Eat what you like , wear what others like. Make a group of friends who are applying , read each others SOPs and correct each others mistakes. It helps. Don't make the group too large lest you spend more time reading than correcting.

viii) One page SOPs are far more attractive to opt to read than multiple page ones. ( If it is possible WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE QUALITY OF THE SOP then limit it within one page.)

SOP Samples

SOP of Anil Mahmud submitted at University of British Columbia:

I am interested in Computer Graphics, Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Parallel Processing. I intend to achieve the doctoral degree soon after the MS and always be a part of academics and research with a reputed university or research institute.

During my B.Sc. final year thesis I accelerated some image processing algorithms and a Hopfield Neural Network (HNN) on a 9800GTX Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). I derived optimized parallel algorithms for the HNN and achieved up to 60 times performance boost over the algorithms that ran on a 1.8 GHz Core2Duo Intel processor. During my service as a lecturer in the Asia Pacific University of Bangladesh, along with taking other courses I have conducted a course on Computer Graphics and have supervised two final year projects on image processing.

I have good knowledge about the GPUs and having conducted course on Computer Graphics I think that I am fit to work in this field, where I want to contribute by developing efficient real-time algorithms for Global Illumination, Animation, Tessellation etc, in summary, areas of Computer Graphics that are related to games as I intend to contribute, in whatever extent, to the attempt of making games look as good as the pre-rendered movies.

I have a good background in mathematics which is proved by my Undergraduate, O level and A level results where I always managed to excel in Mathematics. I have experience of deriving efficient algorithms that I gained while working with parallel algorithms for a HNN during my final year project and also while working with graph related algorithms during my “Algorithm” course during my B.Sc. degree. Given the pleasure that I get at each successful modification that I can make to an algorithm to make it perform better or faster, I am highly interested in the field of Algorithms.

I studied courses like Parallel Processing, Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence with the utmost enthusiasm and having worked with the parallel architecture of the GPU and Neural Networks during the “Neural Networks” course and also my final year project. Thus I have a good background that makes me capable of contributing in the field of Algorithms, Parallel Processing and Artificial Intelligence also.

Among the awards I have achieved in my student life the most important one is the 3-year full free scholarship in B.Sc. from OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) which was worth $15,000; it waived my living and tuition cost at the Islamic University of Technology for the first three years. I also received the Daily Star Award for achieving “A” grade in 3 GCE ‘A’– Level subjects; Daily Star being the top English newspaper in our country.

Based on my final year project, a paper titled “Accelerating Hopfield Neural Network on Graphics Processing Unit” by Anil Mahmud, Sultan Al Mahmud, Abdullah Chisti, Dr. M.A. Mottalib, is under review in the 26th IEEE International Parallel &Distributed Processing Symposium, where I am the first author.

After the completion of my graduation, I decided to be a teacher – a profession that I have always fancied. I joined the University of Asia Pacific in the department of Computer Science where I have been working as a lecturer from April 2010 to present. My teaching life has been greatly rewarding and satisfactory in its own way. I have taught subjects like Computer Graphics, Computer Architecture, Assembly Language, etc and have also supervised a thesis on image processing and another thesis is ongoing under my supervision. I just love the stimulating discussions that I have with my students. I am still serving as a lecturer in the University of Asia Pacific.

Apart from these, I worked as an intern programmer at Subra Systems Limited, a software firm in Bangladesh, for one month; that opportunity was arranged by IUT in 2008 November.

Now as far as I have known myself I believe that if I get the chance to work on things I like, I will be able to produce good results. After going through the Computer Science department of the University of British Columbia, I have found that it has a very rich faculty in every aspect I have interest in, and with proper guidance I am confident that I will be able to prove myself on the world stage.

SOP written by Dr. Halim

Download here:

What should an SOP include?

©PBSCU This document is originally written by Mahmud Hasan, Writer & Poet (Western University).

The total essay should not cross one page (personal opinion).

Statement of Purpose

©PBSCU This portion is compiled by Md. Asadul Islam, Computer Science, University of Alberta.

1) Introduction:

//It would be a blatant fabrication if I were to say that I wanted to be Computer engineer from the very beginning of my life though I had a natural predilection to mathematics and science. Now I wonder, in my school days, how I could relate everyday occurrence with theories of physics and tried to develop my own theories as long as I could not explain the occurrence with classical physics. Those theories that I developed may be little childish, but this led me to think seriously about an academic career in applied science. Engineering, to me was the form of applied science that would be most suitable in every respect in a third world country like Bangladesh. The sheer diversity in the field of Computer Science and engineering covers every aspect of life with its flourishing nature in developed countries and necessity in developing countries like ours inspired me study in this field. //

2) Introduce your subject of studies and make some point that lead you to do higher study:

//e.g As an undergraduate student, I always tried to maintain an excellent academic performance with a basic understanding in introductory Computer Science subjects. In my undergraduate years of study, I was introduced with a wide gamut of subjects. I tried to build a strong base in core Computer Science subjects like Computer Networks, Data Communication, Theory of Computation, Operating Systems and Data Structures but due to limited scope in undergrad study, I was left with many questions without an answer. Some of these questions may require some intensive research to be answered. In my third year project work, I developed an adaptive transmission technique for distance learning where a student able to learn from distance through internet broadcasting of Video presentation. The project was developed using Java language and the preliminary concept of networking. As I know only the basics, I did the project by spending enormous amount of time and by changing the design several times, but this urged me pursue higher studies, to dig deep inside the heart of the matter, to satisfy my ever-inquisitive mind. //

3) Introduce yourself vigorously:

// But not only my thirst of knowledge but also my dynamic academic performance led me to take the decision of higher studies. From the very beginning of my undergraduate study, I was committed for academic excellence and worked accordingly. My efforts are paid off and I stood first among 49 graduating students in my class with a CGPA of 3.83 (on a scale of 4.00, 87.40% Marks) and I have received University GOLD Medal. My undergraduate thesis was A New Distributed Evolutionary Algorithm for Multi-Objective Optimization where my objective was to find out solutions of Multi-Objective Optimization Problems (MOPs). Evolutionary Strategy helps to solve such real world problems efficiently and quickly. But sequential Evolutionary Algorithms (EAs) require an enormous computation power to solve such problems and it takes much time to solve large problems. To enhance the performance for solving this type of problems, I proposed a new Distributed Novel Evolutionary Strategy Algorithm (DNESA) for Multi-Objective Optimization. The proposed DNESA applies the divide-and-conquer approach to decompose population into smaller sub-population and involves multiple solutions in the form of cooperative sub-populations. In DNESA, the server distributes the total computation load to all associate clients and simulation results show that the time for solving large problems is much less than sequential EAs. Also DNESA shows better performance in convergence test when compared with other three well-known EAs. Based on the research we (along with my supervisor and a classmate) published a conference paper titled “A New Distributed evolutionary algorithm for multi-objective optimization” at IEEE xplore.*//

4) You can explain why you are interested in research:

// While doing my undergrad thesis, I found research work very interesting. I may have done a minor research, but it has made a significant effect in my life. I started to read research papers and was astonished to see that the amount of versatile research works going in different fields of Computer Science and Engineering. After graduation, I joined the department as a lecturer and being an academic person, I got the chance to conduct my research work further. I submit my another two work based on Hashing and Caching Approach for Reducing Call Delivery Cost and Location Server’s Load in Wireless Mobile Networks for publication purpose and they published in IEEE Explore as well. I spend most of the times online visiting the website of different schools and astounded by the works and projects done or undertaken by the faculty members of the schools. I have come in close contact with different people who are working successfully in their respective fields in both home and abroad. Their achievements along with their participation towards the welfare of the nation propelled me to be a productive academic individual. //

5) Certification and Language efficiency:

// My aptitude in mathematical formulations and analytical works is a logical culmination of numerous mathematical courses that I took in undergraduate level. I also completed Cisco Certified Network Associate(CCNA) program in addition to my undergrad studies. Due to the well-versed knowledge in programming languages C and C++, Java, C# ,the experience of performing simulation using software like NS2, MATLAB 7.0,MPI, I am quite confident to perform research work utilizing programming knowledge and analytical formulation ability.//

6) Your preferred program where you want to get admitted:

//Now it is the time to start chasing something bigger, something better. With the knowledge I have gained in my undergraduate studies, I believe that I am ready to take on new challenges that await me in the field of research and development and I am determined to maintain the high levels of excellence throughout my career. My immediate degree objective is an MS in Computer Science and Engineering and I wish to follow it up with a PhD and ultimately would like to work as a research scientist for an academic institution in the area of research and development.//

7) Mention your particular field of Interest:

// I have interest in varieties of fields like Computer Networking, Distributed Algorithms, Load Balancing, Global Optimization and Client Server paradigm for Distributed Computing as it has many applications and has the opportunity to apply once mathematical and computational skill on it. I am also enthusiastic in Distributed Computation and Wireless Sensor Network, Minimization of power consumption of Wireless Sensor network and Fault tolerant of Wireless Sensor Network. As Wireless Sensor Network is a novel field for research, where computation is used to analyze and synthesize the information of a large network and underlying the problems, always excites me. I want to utilize my engineering cognition to explore the basic science behind an occurrence at an area which is not yet known to people. Then using the knowledge, I would like to design or develop something useful and efficient that will make a mark in future generation engineering. //

8) Why this university?:

//University of Alberta is reputed to be one of the best graduate schools in Canada. The research activities and the facilities have made this university a perfect milieu for me to fulfill my dreams. I hold a strong belief that I would be able to fully utilize my talent if I get the opportunity to be a member of the wonderful academic and intellectual environment of this university. As I came to know that about the research facilities, resourceful research center like Center for Parallel, Distributed and Intelligent Systems, Supercomputing Center , Department of Computational and Systems Biology, Department of Biomedical Informatics and a strong faculty doing panoptic researches in different fields, I strongly desire to be a part this university so that I can put my ability to its maximum use. Now I am not sure about my specific field of interest, but I am quite sure that I can pick one after being a part of University of Alberta and getting in contact with excellent faculty members.//

9) Conclusion:

//Ten to fifteen years from now, I see myself as a successful individual, doing extensive research in one of my desired fields and working in a well reputed research institution. I believe I have got the potential, but all I need is proper environment with technological support. Being in regular contact with reputed faculty members of University of Alberta I am sure I will be able to reach my destination and I am eagerly looking forward for that.//

Web Resources:

11 Tips for Writing a Powerful Statement of Purpose:

How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose:

Writing the Statement of Purpose

Research Proposal: How to write a good research proposal:

Ten tips for writing your research proposal:

Research Proposal Samples:

PhD Research Proposal:

Sample provided by Imteaz:

Research Proposal:

Sample provided by Dr. Halim: