February 03, 2011

Blast from the past: Personal Statement

Since I've made my decision to leave I have been actively seeking employment. In preparation for applications and interviews I have been going through old resumes and documents. I took a moment to read through the personal statement I used when applying to grad schools. I chuckled at my naivety and idealism and cringed a little at the cuteness of my closing paragraph. Here it is for your enjoyment, with a few minor alternations (*) to preserve my anonymity.

Science has captivated me for as long as I can remember, and I fondly recall watching “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in Mrs. Jones'* fourth grade classroom. Nye's joy and wonder jump-started my own passion for math and science. Upon discovering chemistry, I found the complexity of intrigue and challenge that could sate my ever-growing curiosity. The satisfaction felt when I gain a deeper understanding of chemistry matches only my desire to learn more. Not just an intellectual exercise or potential source of income, chemistry is one of my greatest passions.

Last year I participated in the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, IL. It was inspiring to see 14,605 people disclosing new developments in areas like nanotechnology and sustainability. I made a small contribution by presenting a poster on the ACS Student Affiliates Chapter from Little College*. Back in Smallville*, I contribute to the field by organizing and performing chemical demonstrations with the other student affiliates for the local fifth grade class. The kids cheer while we spray methanol-salt solutions into a flame to see their blue, green, yellow, or purple emission spectra, and we explain that the same compounds are found in the fireworks they watch on the Fourth of July. I hope the excitement I provide them during these moments stays with them, just as Bill Nye's stayed with me.

I believe that the true value of science is in the lives it can benefit. My favorite presentation at the ACS National Meeting was by Arup SenGupta, who developed economically feasible, renewable filters to remove arsenic from drinking water in Bangladesh. Norman Borlaug, one of my personal heroes, fed millions through his development of several semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties. SenGupta and Borlaug both reinforce my belief that a scientist should not hide away in the lab; a scientist should take her research where it will be of the most use in the world.

I am interested in conducting any research that has a clear benefit for humanity. Discovering the intricacies of protein structure and activity in relation to Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or cancer is appealing both for the science and its application. Similarly, I am interested in medicinal chemistry; synthesizing analogs of natural products that have potential therapeutic value or attempting to design a new drug from scratch would be an exciting challenge. After earning a PhD in biological or organic chemistry, I hope to join the faculty at a small liberal arts college where I can be an involved mentor for my students and continue health-related research.

Ultimately what you get out of life depends on the effort you put into it. Thomas Edison said it simply, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I know the key to my current success is a strong work ethic and the determination to finish what I start. Graduate school may be the greasiest pair of overalls I have ever seen, but getting a little dirty is a tiny sacrifice in exchange for the ability to improve the world.
Have any of you current graduate students looked back at your personal statement? Do you also see it in a new, skeptical light?

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