I pay very little attention, so it wouldn't matter. Can't speak for what others do.
To me, very little of the statement is important...but others differ.
Talking about specific research you have done is sometimes valuable. If you have a credible reason for signaling that you would accept an offer to join the program, like "my husband will be a second year PhD student in microbiology at your University," that can help.
This is also the place to explain something special that looks like a problem. For example, "You will see that I got B's in linear algebra my sophomore year. I was being treated for cancer. Fortunately, the treatment was successful and you will see that I got an A+ in real analysis as a junior." [Showing you have overcome the problem is important here. Otherwise, leave it alone.]
We read the SOP to get a sense of your general areas of interest (so we know if you are a good fit with our department) and whether you can communicate clearly. No need to name professors.
In many cases, naming professors backfires because three professors work in very different areas, or one is retired, or doesn't work with graduate students, or isn't research-active, etc.
Just think about this: will they reject you if you don't mention at all who you want to work for? I guess the answer is probably no. I do agree that simply name dropping will make you look ignorant since you probably didn't read through carefully the research of the person you mentioned. Additionally, simply name dropping will take up space where you could have said more about your research interest. It would probably save you much more time by not including names of the professors.
And also, I've heard that for top schools, they only care about your SOP once they decide to admit you.
Last edited by mkumar49; 01-03-2019 at 11:29 PM. Reason: minor grammar error
^I don't think applicants should necessarily be dissuaded from asking such questions. After all, they're paying an application fee, and it's somewhat justifiable to ask such a question if there are only 2-3 potential advisors in a department. If an applicant wants to ask a professor personally about his status, and a professor is willing to respond, that's not a problem.
But to the original poster of that question - it's important to recognize that most Econ PhD students start specializing in a field only after their 1st year coursework and qualifications, and build up their dissertation committee in their 2nd or 3rd year. If you reach out to a professor directly before applications, or before admissions decisions are released, your expression of interest will be regarded as very premature by most economics professors. This means you're unlikely to receive responses, and perhaps more importantly, it doesn't give you any advantage in the admissions process.
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