SOP Sample From Khorana Alum

Here is a sample of an SOP by Diya Joseph. Here is a link to her other article about navigating an internship. 


“What is life?” This question posed by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger in his book of the same name sparked
the imaginations of physicists, chemists and biologists in the 1940s. It led James Watson and Francis Crick on
a quest for the structure of the molecule that they felt would hold the answers to the mystery of life. The
second half of the twentieth century was a time of rapid development in biological research. This
unprecedented level of acceleration can be attributed to the integration of traditionally isolated streams of
science like biology, physics and chemistry to give rise to modern biology and biotechnology. The idea of
working in this dynamic field with its constant crosstalk between different disciplines motivated me to apply
to the University of Wisconsin, Madison Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB).

Undergraduate education at the School of Biotechnology, National Institute of Technology, Calicut shaped my
outlook on biological sciences and research by helping me develop a strong theoretical and practical base.
Courses derived from diverse streams like mathematics, physics, chemical engineering and nanotechnology
coupled with a biological sciences base, ensured a unique and intellectually stimulating experience. The
guidance and advice received from the experienced research oriented faculty at my Institute inspired me to
enhance my skill set by gaining work experience. With the firm foundation laid by the coursework, I aimed to
strengthen my undergraduate career with experiences that would increase my confidence and help me achieve
an understanding of the research process.

Exploring the various avenues of biological science and technology through internships and training programs
seemed a necessary step to make an informed career decision. To understand a corporate work environment, I
underwent a short training program at Eppendorf, India. In addition to understanding the functions of an
Applications Manager, I also participated in a workshop on ‘Research tools in Molecular Biology’. A 3-week
internship at the Biotechnology facility of Sami Labs, Bangalore exposed me to the industrial scale
applications of biotechnology. The internship included rigorous training in the practical aspects of large-scale
fermentation processes including inoculum preparation, quality control, sampling and downstream processing.
I worked in the R&D section on media optimization for fermentation processes involving sporulation and also
served as a trainee in the Microbiology and Biochemical Analysis section. The internship exposed me to an
industrial work environment and made me aware of the challenges involved in the translation of research to
production capability.

The defining experience of my undergraduate career was participating in the prestigious Khorana Program for
Scholars funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India, The Indo-US Science and Technology
Forum (IUSSTF), University of Wisconsin, Madison and other partner Universities. The summer project was
carried out at the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology (MCTP) at the University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor under the guidance of Dr. Chandan Kumar-Sinha, Asst. Professor at the Department of Pathology. The
project dealt with the ‘Functional characterization of ZNF700-MAST1 fusion protein’ found in a sub-set of
breast cancers. I was also assigned a small independent project involving the cloning of two novel gene
fusions found in pancreatic cancer cell lines to facilitate further expression studies. Through the internship I
was afforded a glimpse of the pace of work and the level of dedication expected of a graduate student.
Moreover, I found that I was able to establish a rapport with the members of the lab which enabled me to learn
a lot about the different research projects undertaken at the MCTP. Presenting a poster of my work at the
Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program Summer Symposium at the University of Michigan and at the
Khorana Program closing seminar in Delhi, helped me become more comfortable with presenting my work to
both an informed audience and a layman.

I am currently working on my Bachelor thesis major project which involves the identification of genes
involved in relieving galactose toxicity in yeast strains with metabolic defects in the galactose utilization
pathway. During my third year of undergraduate studies, I worked on my minor thesis entitled “Molecular mechanism of ethanol tolerance in yeast S. cerevisiae”, under the guidance of Dr. Md. Anaul Kabir at NIT-C
which was selected for the Innovative Project Award of the NIT-C Alumni Association.
I have also been actively involved in writing a review article under the guidance of Dr. Rajanikant G.K
entitled ‘Oxidative Stress: Assassin behind the ischemic stroke’ published in the journal Folia
Neuropathologica, for which I have received co-author credit. Carrying out an extensive literature review and
compiling the first draft of the article served as an excellent introduction to scientific writing.
Participating in the ‘Indo-US Workshop on Bio-computing’ jointly conducted by IUPUI, Indianapolis and
National Institute of Technology, Calicut gave me insights into the cutting-edge research being carried out in
areas like data mining, systems biology, protein folding and drug discovery. Additionally, I was part of the
organizing team for the ‘International Conference on Genomics and Proteomics’ conducted by the School of
Biotechnology, NIT-C from 14th to 16th July, 2011. All these experiences have enhanced my undergraduate
career by bringing me in contact with new ideas and exciting research arenas.

In addition to offering graduate students a wide range of potential research topics, the CMB Program also
aims to personalize each student’s graduate training to suit their professional goals. This commitment to
making each graduate experience unique and optimally suited to the career goals of the students motivated me
to apply to this Program. As a student aspiring to a career in academia, the Program promises an environment
where I will have the chance to interact with experienced faculty who have established successful careers in
biological research. An undergraduate course in Cell Biology and experiences as a Khorana Scholar piqued
my enthusiasm for the area of cell signaling and the elucidation of signal transduction pathways involved in
cancer progression. In particular, I would like to study the complex interplay between hormones and signaling
pathways leading to cellular proliferation, invasion and migration. I was delighted to find that Dr. Linda
Schuler’s laboratory researches the role of hormones and growth factors in breast cancer. Also, Dr. Elaine
Alarid’s laboratory addresses the post-translational regulation of the estrogen receptor, which is a known
player in breast cancer pathogenesis. The fact that established laboratories affiliated with the CMB Program
are involved in this interesting research area convinced me that the Program offers the ideal learning
environment to transform my research interest into original scientific contributions.

I believe that my academic background and research experience coupled with an unbridled enthusiasm for the
biological sciences will help me meet the demands of the CMB Graduate Program. If admitted into the
Program, I will strive determinedly to make a significant impact on my area of specialization while enhancing
my skill set and developing my own unique approach to research. My strong background in biological
sciences supplemented by in-depth courses in mathematics, computer programming and bioinformatics will
stand me in good stead while tackling real scientific problems in a laboratory setting. Moreover, the
internships and research projects I have undertaken have helped me develop a work ethic based on discipline,
hard work and perseverance. As an international student, I would be able to offer my views on the specific
problems facing my country in terms of health care and life sciences research to the graduate student

I aim to transfer the momentum gathered during my undergraduate years of study to my graduate career,
making it a transformative experience that will serve as the foundation of the independent research career I
aspire to. In addition, my receptiveness to new ideas and concepts will help me when working in a new
laboratory environment. Most importantly, I feel that I possess a passion for my field of study which is
essential for sustaining a career in research. However, passion is often lost without the requisite direction and
instruction to channelize it for maximum potential. I believe that the CMB Program will steer me onto the
right path for achieving my goal of becoming a leading research scientist.

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