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Personal History Statement - my pursuit of higher education in environmental science


Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Nov 29, 2016   #1
As a first generation college student, my pursuit of higher education in environmental science is not as smooth as my interest developed in this area. The sympathy for people suffering in heavily polluted China, the experience in popularization of scientific knowledge, and the enthusiasm for atmospheric research has shaped my path to be an environmentalist and academic researcher.

I was born in XX, a city once reported by TIME Magazine as one of the world's most polluted places. Severe air pollution, mainly due to expanding coal industry, have threatened the residents' health with increasing rate of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. When I was in high school, one of my best friends had to suspend her schooling because of asthma, and the doctor believed it was partly caused by the dirty air. I was truly upset then and decided that I want to do something to mitigate the situation. Therefore, I chose environmental science as my major in college, hoping to help improve the air quality of my hometown one day so that there would be fewer and fewer people suffering from pollution of whatever kind.

My interests in math and chemistry since high school facilitated my study in college. Furthermore, participation in several environmental activities with non-governmental organizations (i.e. NGOs or non-profits) ignited my enthusiasm for environmental issues. These interests continued and were stronger as I graduated from college.

Unfortunately I have gapped three years before I went to graduate school. When I was preparing to advance my education after college, my father had a heart attack. He took a surgery and after one week in the ICU, he came out extremely vulnerable. I was so worried about him that after one night's ponderation, I decided to stay at home taking care of him, instead of going to graduate school. Since my father's not working after surgery, I worked as an accountant in a trading company to help support my family.

I didn't enjoy working with payrolls and taxes, yet there's no environment-related company or institution in a small city like my hometown. But that cannot stop my enthusiasm. I started a public platform on WeChat (a social software like MSN), as a way to popularize environmental knowledge to ordinary people. The platform shared basic knowledge about air and water pollution, recent acts and regulations limiting pollutants' emission, fun facts concerning climate change and biosphere, and practical eco-friendly tips in daily life. I tried my best to make scientific results more easily accepted by nonprofessional people, hoping to promote environmental awareness among the masses.

Originally I assumed the readers would mainly be high school students. However, one day when I visit my grandma, I found my platform was quite popular among housewives in her community. It was that time when I realized, there are more people who are curious about our planet and environmental protection than I thought. What is missing is just a bridge between professional terms and daily language.

Even though the accounting job is well-paid, and I was offered a big promotion by the company, somehow it constantly reminded me that it was not something I enjoyed as a career. I was more fulfilled to receive one comment on my We-chat platform than to accomplish a challenging task at work successfully. Three years later, my father was totally recovered and went back to work. As my family's economic status are much more stable, I immediately quit the job, returned to graduate school to continue my dream of pursuing a career as an environmental scientist.

It was during Master's study that I accomplished the transition from a general environmental enthusiast to a professional researcher. My academic interests in instrumentation and atmospheric science are able to form and blossom through coursework and my own research experience.

I developed an instrument for monitoring ambient pollutants (for details please refer the Statement of Purpose). I still remember the excitement when the first peak appeared on the screen, indicating the device, which I made out of scratch, could successfully detect trace level species. Fascinated by advanced instruments since then, I became familiar with other commercialized equipment for chemical analysis of atmospheric samples, like XX,XX,XX, etc. The more I learned, the more my passion grew, and the accumulating knowledge in turn sparked many new ideas about my own instrumentation process.

More and more often, I find myself working at leisure time, from well-equipped lab to cold, empty containers (while we are on campaigns), testing and improving the instruments. Not because I have to, but because I enjoy the feeling of devoting myself to something I am truly enchanted with. I finally find my career.

Although there are several setbacks along the way, I am proud of the person I have become: a self-motivated female who have worked full time to support her family, and continue, with headlong resolution,to pursue her dream as an environmental scientist. I strongly believe my personality, academic interests and experience will enable me to serve as a contributive part in improving China's environment, through academic achievements and endeavor in popularization of science to ordinary people.

Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Nov 29, 2016   #2
Zhai, your personal statement is all over the place, lacks focus, and does not really introduce yourself to the reviewer in a manner that he can keep track of so that he can get to know you better. Let me help you better present this paper. There are a number of steps that you have to consider for the development of your personal statement. I'll try to break it down for you in a manner that you can easily follow.

First of all, you have to consider what your central theme for the personal statement will be. Will it be about the development of your interest in Environmental Science? Then if that is the case, you have to delete the excessive and non-related information in the paper. What are the excessive and non-related information?

1. The story of your father's heart attack.
2. Your work as an accountant because you were helping to sustain your family
3. The fact that you are a first generation college student.
4. Visiting your grandma and learning your platform was quite popular. Use factual data to present this instead. Say that you visited your information page and saw the unique visitor count or something related to your site's trending discussions instead.

Next, create a personal connection between your chosen college degree and your interest in this major. I notice that you did not mention what you majored in while in college. Please make mention of the degree that you completed and what sparked your interest in the course. I do not advice using the story of your friend because that is too far removed from a personal event or relationship that could trigger such a keen interest in environmental science. If you had said that you developed Asthma due to the polluted air, then that part of the essay would be more relevant to your presentation and offer the reviewer a look at your life in relation to your potential masters degree course.

Now, the rest of your information seems to be better placed in a statement of purpose. So I would like to see how you will revise this version of the essay before we remove certain aspects for potential use in your SOP. At the moment, we can keep the information combined for editing purposes. This is after all, a personal statement and not a statement of purpose. We can better direct the focus of the presentation once you have revised most of the paper.
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Nov 30, 2016   #3
@Holt
Thank you so much for your advice! I am truly grateful for your effort!
I should post the requirement along with my essay, the personal history statement is required by UC-Berkeley,and here's its requirement:
Please describe how your personal background and experiences ...

So I mentioned my responsibility to support my family and the reason for doing so(my father was not able to work), as an evidence of I "overcome some barriers to access higher education".I think that's an important part to include in this essay, I just don't know how I could fit it more smoothly into the whole theme.

Your suggestion about my friend and what intrigued my interest in choosing environmental science as my college major is great, I'll make it more personal. Also, I'll take your advice concerning the platform because it will be more persuasive.

I think the central theme should be linking my past life experience to my future career, so perhaps I should describe more about the transition I experienced from a general environmentalist to a professional atmospheric science researcher, and less about my previous life experience (supporting family, platform)? Yet the requirement seems very interested in this part, so I am actually quite confused about what to include in my essay.

Oh and a Statement of Purpose is also required, I wrote some professional experience and my reasons for applying PhD program. I guess as opposed to it, Personal History Statement should be more centered on how my past experience has shaped my motivation to future study, right?
Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Nov 30, 2016   #4
Zhai, the points you mentioned are correct. You should focus more on your past experience and how it motivated you to study this particular degree. The best way to approach the essay would be in a chronological order. That way, you can use only a single paragraph for each representative topic. Here is my idea as to how you should be discussing the topics, per paragraph in the essay:

Par 1: Open the statement with your graduation from college. Mention the course you took and why you thought this was a relevant career path for yourself. Include any apprehensions you felt regarding a follow through career based on your major. Indicate that you thought of changing your career path via masters studies.

Par. 2: Explain why you feel that, although this masters course is not related to your previous major, you will be able to find career fulfillment and be of more use to those around you by changing paths. This is where you can talk about your previous interest and relevant experiences. Remember, make it personal. Use your point of view instead of an observation during the visit to your grandmother.

Par. 3: Describe how these events led to your plan to attend masters classes, but were held back by your father's condition and subsequent need to help support the family. Don't go into great detail in this aspect. Just present the fact that he has a medical condition and you were forced to put your academic interests on hold until he got better or your finances allowed you to help your family and still go to school at the same time.

Par. 4: This is where you can explain how your experience has helped you understand the difficulties others face in terms of improving their academic pursuits. This will be all about the minority aspect indicated in the prompt.

Par. 5: You can close the essay with evidence of the research that you have done (if any) in this area. If you don't have any research yet, then present a summary overview of the research project that you hope to pursue during your time as a student, mention how the university resources can help you achieve this, then present your closing sentence.

Again, this is just how I would write the essay. Take the parts that you think you can use as part of your revised writing plan. I hope to read your revision soon. Good luck!
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Nov 30, 2016   #5
@Holt
Thank you again! My college major is environmental science, the same with my Master's. I learned accounting after graduation from college, and just do accounting job as a financial method to support my family.So basically I've never though about changing career path, it's always been environmental science researcher. I think my first version of essay is not so clear on that so it misled you somehow. Sorry!

I'll revise my essay following your guidance, it's indeed more clear to the readers.Thank you very much!
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Nov 30, 2016   #6
@Holt Here's my revised PHS. I sort of blended your outline of paragraph 2 and 3 to make it more chronological for me. And I don't have experience to help others advance their higher education so I skipped paragraph 4. I also think my ending is not strong enough. I sincerely look forward to your comment and suggestions.

Born and growing up in XX, China, a city once reported by TIME Magazine as one of the world's most polluted places, I have always been curious about environmental issues. During college, courses like Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Monitoring and Instrumental Analysis soon captured my interests. The Great Smog of 1952 in London depicted in text books is so similar to what we are going through now. I started to find possible solutions for today's problem from London experience. But as I learnt more, I found China's scenario was more complicated. To put forward effective measures, comprehensive understanding of the mechanism of severe pollution is crucial. Therefore, I decided to continue my study in Environmental Science to look for possible answers.

...
Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Nov 30, 2016   #7
Zhai, there is still a lot of work to be done on your essay before it accurately responds to the prompt. I decided to show you how to best write this essay in order to help you with your revisions. Here is how I would guide you towards developing a relevant response:

I was born and raised in XX, China, the most polluted city in the world according to Time Magazine. Often compared to the Great London Smog of 1952, I grew up surrounded by environmental problems that had a direct upon my health and the health of my family. It is the unhealthy air that we breath that I believe led to the poor health of my father which led to his eventual operation. It was this combination of history and events that led me to pursue a degree in Environmental Science.

...


Do you see how clearly the prompt requirements were dealt with in the essay and how I created an experience for you when you said you had none? That is how you better connect your existing information with the requirements. You can feel free to use this paper in your application or you can opt to use it as the basis of your next revision. Either way, I will be here to support you in the finalizing of your application essay.
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Nov 30, 2016   #8
@Holt
Thank you so much for the efforts! I'm so lucky to have your guidance.
It is impressive how you could fit my experience to what the requirement asked. I always thought "higher education" means to study in college or graduate schools, so I got stuck at this concept since I don't have experience on helping people get into universities. Yet through your revision, I learned that higher education is a comparative term, it could be learning from others. Thanks.

I want to ask for your advice on improving my future writings, too. I think I can understand the prompt, it's just that when I'm writing, I have trouble to logically weave and articulate my own materials in the framework of prompt. Through this essay, can you see some problems on me that may cause this? Do I not understand the prompt enough, or I just need more practice?
Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Nov 30, 2016   #9
Thank you for the compliment Zhai. I am glad that I was able to help you understand how best to work the prompt to your benefit. You actually had all of the information required in the essay that you wrote. The problem, is that you did not know how to best present it. Just like the other students responding to application prompts, you tend to over explain yourself in an effort to make yourself more understood. That is one of the problems that I saw with your writing. Then, there is the problem of you not totally understanding some aspects of the prompt as well. Such as the term "higher learning". That was really a difficult one for you to comprehend. So what can I suggest to you so that you can further improve your writing?

You can try to break the prompt down into sections if the instructions come in multiple forms (like this essay). Once you have separated the questions, you can list down what you think the required responses are per question. From this point, analyze your potential responses and delete the weakest information (from your point of view). That should leave you with only the strongest responses to the prompt. After you do this, you can try to write a draft of the essay and then have someone else read your work for you. Make sure that person knows what prompt you are responding to and ask for his comments regarding any potential problems with your response.

If you are not comfortable doing that, you can always come here to EF and post the prompt in the "Essay" section. There are a number of students who come to EF just to post the prompt and request for help as to how they can best respond to it or ask for clarification regarding the information that they should be sure to include in their response. You are welcome to do the same thing and we will be sure to assist you as best as we can. That way, you are sure to draft the essay in the proper manner and hopefully, require lesser revisions to your content and response portions.
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Nov 30, 2016   #10
@Holt
I revised the essay based on yours. I added my master's research experience because I think this is an important part informing my decision to pursue a Ph.D. study. After all the biggest motivation toward a Ph.D. is always the enthusiasm for professional research, right? So I want to include that in PHS, too.

Thanks for your constructive advice on improving my writing.I think they are very useful. I'm very happy to find EF and get your help. Definitely need to visit more.

Here's the revised essay:

I was born and raised in XX, one of the most polluted cities in the world according to Time Magazine. Often compared to the Great London Smog of 1952, I grew up surrounded by similar air pollution problems that had a direct adverse impact upon the health of me and my family. It is the hazy air that we breathe that I believe contributed a large part to the poor health of my father, which led to his eventual operation. It was this combination of history and events that led me to pursue a degree in Environmental Science.

At the time of my father's operation, I had just graduated with an honored degree in Environmental Science and was looking forward to starting my career. However, I was unable to work in this field as I was forced to take an accounting job instead so that I could help support my family and defray my father's mounting medical bills. Even though the job offered a decent salary, I still found myself longing for the career that I was trained for. In an effort to offset this sadness, I started a public platform on WeChat, an instant messenger in China.

Using this platform I was able to connect with other people and sharing knowledge regarding environmental hazards. Somehow my simple platform helped to educate others who would not have had a chance to learn about environmental issues because they either could not afford to go to college or because they did not have the time to do the research required. My platform was accepted and shared among blue collar workers like miners, housewives looking to further their knowledge of important matters, and high school students hoping to expand their knowledge. It was through this platform that I came to realize a need to bridge the gap between the professional terms and daily language in terms of the sustainable development discussion. They had questions and I had responses for them. It was an open discussion that allowed me to see the plight of others and also, help them to overcome their learning obstacles in a constructive way.

Three years later, my family was in a more stable place economically, which meant that I could finally pursue my long delayed master's study. During three years in graduate school, my academic interests in instrumentation and atmospheric chemistry blossomed through my own research. I still remember the excitement when the first peak appeared on the screen, indicating the device, which I made out of scratch, could successfully detect trace level species. Fascinated by advanced instruments since then, I became familiar with other commercialized equipment for chemical analysis of atmospheric samples. Along with the knowledge accumulation, my passion grew, which in turn sparked many new ideas about my own instrumentation process.

I am ready and excited to commit myself to years of hardwork increasing our scientific "visibility" in the atmosphere. Hopefully, I will be able to leave my mark on the world in terms of helping mitigate the severe environmental situation. The world renowned Ph.D. program offered by UC Berkeley would serve as a stepping stone to achieve that. Furthermore, I hope to continue widening the reach of the WeChat circle I have cultivated over the years so I can keep motivating others learn more about environmental issues and how to possibly resolve it.
Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Nov 30, 2016   #11
Zai, we still need to have your essay represent the following, final part of the prompt : "evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups." From the way I read your research work, it definitely does not relate in any way to this portion of the essay discussion. You do serve an example of research that you did. However, it is personal in nature and doesn't really show a progression in your career as a researcher. My suggestion is that you first present the statement that resulted in your thesis paper as an MS student. From there, develop a spin-off question or a new question that still somehow relates to the research that you did as a masters student. The idea being that you will show continuation of the previous research. I am just unsure as to how you will relate that to under served population, inequality, or leadership. However, owing to the story that you shared, I think you should be able to develop a leadership relevant question for your dissertation paper. Do you think there is a way that you can do that? It is important to respond to all of the required elements in the prompt because skipping a question will make it hard for the reviewer to consider your application.
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Dec 1, 2016   #12
@Holt I've tried several ways to connect my research to under served population, but none of them worked. My research is mainly scientific and does not really related to other people. I tried to say my research found that vehicle exhaust has increased pollution concentration in a large portion, I shared this result through the platform and encourage people to choose public transportation instead of their own. But it has nothing to do with the under represented people, nor leadership I might serve among them. So I guess I have to skip this part. I also think maybe this part of the prompt is more suitable for those who study social sciences, maybe they could talk about their research focusing on women, LGBT, etc. What do you think?

Thanks for all your time and effort, I really appreciated your guidance.
Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Dec 1, 2016   #13
Zai, do you have any way of contacting the admissions office of the university? I believe that you should contact them either via phone, email, or social media in order to get clarification regarding that part of the prompt. I agree with you about that portion being more relevant to social sciences. However , no distinction was made in the prompt requirement regarding the applicability of that section. Therefore, we cannot assume that it can be skipped, overlooked, or ignored on your part. Someone from the university should be able to help clarify that point for you. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to do that for you because I am not from the university you are applying to. The worst thing you can do at this point is assume what should be in your essay and what part you can ignore. When you feel lost, it is always best to ask questions. Specially when something as pivotal as your admissions essay to your university of choice is on the line. Please let me know what they tell you. I am interested to learn the answer myself.
OP Shuting 3 / 23 4  
Dec 1, 2016   #14
@Holt I've already sent an email asking about the prompt, I'll let you know once I receive a reply.
What do you think about this revision:
Three years later, my family was in a more stable place economically, which meant that I could finally pursue my long delayed master's study. During the three years in graduate school, my academic interests in instrumentation and atmospheric chemistry blossomed through my own research. I kept sharing on the platform my excitement of being able to pursue my passion with all the freedom and contentment that I could enjoy. According to the feedback, my articles have motivated a lot of readers to seek and find what they really love, and try to pursue their dream despite economical, physical, or cultural setbacks.

Is it too vague without an specific example?
Holt [Contributor] - / 8,561 2482  
Dec 1, 2016   #15
The vagueness works for the leadership part of the prompt. By showing personal initiative to learn about things of interest to you, you were able to inspire and lead the others to pursue their own ambitions and dreams in terms of learning, discovering. To be more specific, this updated paragraph tends to shed light on your participation in the following prompt requirement:

... evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, ...

So you have managed, on your own, to eliminate another of the problems that your essays faced in terms of the prompt requirement. With any luck, you will also be able to find a way, whether intentional or not, to respond to the final part of the essay requirements as well. I'll be waiting excitedly to hear the response from the university. Best wishes !
chanchalsingh199 2 / 6 2  
Dec 1, 2016   #16
Your personal statement doesnt provide much focus. You have got to be very clear and specific of what you have done / what you are doing / what you intend to do / solid reasons for applying / talk about the resources you can bring with yourself. When you are utterly specific about the needs and the wants, it makes your story interesting and craving! It always good to hear details provided in a nice way. Avoid explaining any incident too much. Try explaining in a way so that it appear brief:

For example:
Situation 1:

aim:
responsibilites:
achievements:
results:
lessons learnt:


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