I wanted to get a chance to get back to the blog all weekend, but was distracted by mothering and wife-ing. Twitter was a flitter at the end of last week with discussion of what faculty look for in a personal statement. At the beginning of it all seems to be this tweet…
Why does every PhD applicant start their essay with “since I was young, I have been curious”
— Leslie Vosshall (@pollyp1) January 4, 2018
…quickly followed by another lamenting the number of personal statements a senior faculty member reads about dying grandmothers.
Now, I have to confess the dirty little secret that I have had the same feelings of “why” while reading personal statements. That said, my discomfort doesn’t come from a place of contempt for these young people’s experiences. It comes from the uncomfortable repetition that comes from reading these statements and realizing that students feel obligated or expected to convince faculty that they are promising young scientists because of early life experiences. That they have to convince us that their passion comes from the traumatic or formative experiences they’ve had from cradle. This expectation is coming from somewhere and I think we all owe it to our students (PhD and professional school candidates) to communicate that they are not obligated to tell us about these experiences.