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University of Pennsylvania's Master of Behavioral & Decision Science - Personal Statement

lisarg 1 / -  
Jan 24, 2021   #1

Personal Statement essay

Hi all, I am applying to Master of Behavioral & Decision Science, University of Pennsylvania.

Here is the description of the requirement of Personal Statement stated in the website: Please describe your interest in the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences at Penn and what you hope to gain from the experience. The length of your personal statement should be between 500-1,000 words and no longer than two double-spaced pages.

Indonesia is a nation of disparate islands. Of course, there are landmasses separated by water. Still, the truly significant contrasts are those in society, where the haves and have-nots, the educated and the illiterate, the powerful and the voiceless, live in pockets that are virtually inescapable for many. My mother was one of the luckiest who could escape the disparity. She overcame all the adversities to clawed her way up the socio-economic ladder, earned her family's first-ever bachelor's degree, and gave me a chance at a quality life. I have made it my life's mission to do the same for others by providing bridges to equitable opportunities for all people in Indonesia to exercise their human rights - having an adequate standard of living. I am confident that the University of Pennsylvania's Master of Behavioral and Decision Science will be a significant step toward achieving that goal.

My quest started in university, where I volunteered as a teacher to provide a better quality education for underprivileged students. In later years, I continued by organizing campus events to promote equitable education opportunities so children could explore and pursue their knowledge interests.

After graduating, I found promising employment in the petroleum industry, yet, something was missing. I realized that I was not interested in a merely economics-driven career and needed to effect a meaningful change. My next employer, AAAA, allowed me to do this as a consultant to private and state-owned companies. While advising one of the latter, I was surprised to discover that implementing a single public policy can change an entire industry in Indonesia for the better. One of my clients is a state-owned electricity company that, through a decree, was assigned to complete a mega-project to double the electricity capacity in Indonesia over five years. Not only did I help the company succeed in bringing electricity to previously underserved regions of the country, but the implementation of this project also triggered changes and innovations in other areas, such as infrastructure financing, private sector involvement, and the easing of land acquisitions for further infrastructure projects. The manifest benefits this project brought to local industries and the population's standard of living made me realize that to truly scale my contributions and impact other areas of public service interventions (namely, in education, energy, health, etc.), sound public policies are the most effective tool.

As a researcher for XXX, one of the largest ride-hailing start-ups in Southeast Asia, I worked with the company's payment service provider, YYYY, to understand users' payment behaviors to design better solutions for YYYY's users. The goal of YYYY was to foster financial inclusion for underprivileged citizens, building a bridge for Indonesians who lacked access to financial products due to the financial industry's barrier. Not only did this underpin XXXX's major business success, but it also served to provide financial services to other start-ups, including the one that enabled low-income Indonesians to access funding to buy daily appliances. I was impressed by the company's embrace of a data-driven and customer-centric culture, as well as its application of behavioral science to the product design process. In one project, I worked with the Product Management Team to design gamification features that utilized behavioral sciences concepts to increase new users' engagement to the application. It was all started with in-depth research and followed by several experimentations until we came up with the most effective and efficient gamification design, including the on-point copywriting that will nudge users to engage in the application more. By implementing the understanding of how users behave and react to particular stimuli, we could increase the new users' engagement at a lower cost than the initial intervention. I wondered if this approach could be applied in government officials' policy-making processes. My hypothesis was having a policy-making process that considers the understanding of the citizens' behaviors and decision-making process will result in effective yet cost-efficient policies that will have scalable impacts on society.

To find out, I joined my current employer, BBBB, where I intentionally focus on working with government and public services clients. Unfortunately, I have discovered that government agencies are lagging in adopting behavioral approaches to understand their citizens' needs, pain points, and decision-making processes in responding to government programs, policies, and initiatives. Nevertheless, I have already taken incremental steps to address these issues. In one project, I introduced the Ministry of Agrarian & Spatial Planning to Master Plan (ura.gov.sg) as an example of how a government can involve its citizens in city planning to plan a better and humanized city. I also helped the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology in its quest to have 50 million digitally-literate Indonesians over the next five years by using a human-centered design and design thinking approach, which I instilled the relevant insights of behavioral science.

However, I am aware that I need to upgrade my own understanding of systematic approaches to implementing the behavioral sciences in public policy. I believe an academic foundation in this field and sharing experiences with my peers would greatly aid in this pursuit. The master's program would lead to fundamental knowledge acquisition, including interdisciplinary research into behavioral economics, decision sciences, network analysis, public policy, and broadening my social and cultural perspectives. Studying at the University of Pennsylvania will allow me to work with world-leading experts in the field, conduct advanced research, acquire innovative ideas, new and diverse networks, and the ability to develop my communication skills further. I am also confident that I have much to contribute to public policy discussions, especially those involving financial inclusion, spatial planning, and infrastructure development.

I hope to return to Indonesia and start building those bridges. I understand that people tend to be resistant to change, especially in mindset, yet with the right tools, improving the standard of living for all Indonesians is undoubtedly possible. I aim to take a lead role in that process.

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