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Experiences on living in San Francisco and Panama City - Motivation for Pursuing Graduate School


kulty2 2 / 8 1  
Oct 21, 2015   #1
Hi Everyone, I am applying for a scholarship to graduate school in Biology. This is the first paragraph of my personal statement, and it describes my motivation for choosing to pursue graduate study. I would like to know if 1) the theme of the paragraph is important enough to be the thesis of my first paragraph and 2) how I can make this paragraph stronger and more compelling. Thank you in advance!

Since graduating from college in the spring of 2013, I have met hundreds of people, each of whom was unique and taught me something new about the world. I have learned so much from these diverse encounters that, collectively, they have transformed the way I interact with the people around me. Throughout high school, I learned about human's growing assault on the environment and couldn't grasp another way but to become a self-declared misanthrope. In college, I slowly lost my disenchantment and began to see that, as a writer, I possessed a power to change the status quo. I began to write articles for a fledgling magazine that began widely circulating around campus. This experience taught me the power of the pen, but I would still have to confront my fears of communicating face-to-face.

In August of 2013, I moved to San Francisco for a year, and in March of 2015, I moved to Panama City, Panama. Becoming a stranger in two large cities forced me to seek help from acquaintances to find work, housing, and a sense of belonging. While relying on the the communities of San Francisco and Panama City was, at times, very stressful, finding generosity in every encounter dissipated my fear. These experiences have not only transformed me into a better person, but into a better scientist. Living far from home has taught me how to relay my passion for science and my motivation for research to non-scientists, whether that person be a Panamanian taxi driver or my Guatemalan housemate. On account of the warm people who have welcomed me into their lives, I am able to confront what feels uncomfortable and transform my perspective and the perspective of others, one conversation at a time.
admission2012 - / 481 90  
Oct 21, 2015   #2
Hello,

So let's get this straight. In only two short paragraphs, you have avowed your desires and love for being/becoming an environmentalist, writer, and scientist. I am not saying that these three cannot co-exist. However, what I am saying is that this essay needs to be focused more. At the end of your second paragraph, I still have no clue as to what thoughts/ideas you are trying to convey. This is a big no-no as most readers will normally stop after the first paragraph. Because of this, you need to grab the reader's attention right away. - Admissions Advice Online
OP kulty2 2 / 8 1  
Oct 21, 2015   #3
Thanks for the comments, they make sense. Here is a revision. I'd really appreciate if you would give me some feedback. Thanks in advance, Katie

I tended to be a shy, quiet, and willfully independent student. Though my reticence to volunteer or seek help on assignments never prevented my academic success, what my good grades failed show was a failure to connect with the people around me. Since leaving my home in Michigan for first San Francisco, California, and then Panama City, Panama, I have met hundreds of people, each of whom welcomed me warmly and taught me something new about the world. Seeking help to establish a life in two new cities has humbled my prideful independence, and finding generosity in every encounter has dissipated my fear of rejection. I have learned so much from these diverse encounters that, collectively, they have transformed the way I communicate my passions and ideas as a environmental scientist. While writing had always been my preferred mode of communication, my experience abroad has taught me that effective communication of science is based in human connection, a state I was able to reach by seeking assistance from others. In my future career as a scientist, I will use my voice, in both writing and speaking, to disseminate knowledge in the topics that interest me, like land-use management in the tropics and representation of women and minorities in STEM careers. On account of the warm people who have welcomed me into their lives, I feel comfortable forging the social connections that are absolutely necessary to change the status quo.
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Oct 21, 2015   #4
Hey Kathryn, listen, the second version of your essay still fails to resonate with your desire to attend graduate studies in biology. At this moment, you really need to just focus on presenting your background that relates to your interest in biology. Your personal statement should describe that moment in time when you decided to shift careers from being a writer to being person engaged in the biological sciences. You see, the requirements of a person pursuing a masters degree in biology is different from that of a person with a background in writing.

Concentrate on how you transitioned from being a simple journalist with an interest in science to an environmental scientist. As an environmental scientist, your skill and talent in writing will come in handy. Specially when, as a graduate student, you will be required to write a dissertation prior to graduation. Perhaps that interest was sparked when you did a particular type of article related to biology or the environment that took your career in a whole new direction. If that is what happened to you, then discuss it in this essay.

There should not be a specific writing topic for a personal statement related to a masters degree. So you can discuss any topic that you want as long as you can relate it to your desired masters degree. I hope that by suggesting that you show how you transitioned from one career to another, you will be able to present your personal connection to the issue.

Here's hoping my suggestions work for you :-) Good luck with your revision.
OP kulty2 2 / 8 1  
Oct 22, 2015   #5
Hi @vangiespen, those comments made a lot of sense. Here's a completely new third draft. I would appreciate your feedback.

As I sat through the hour-long bus ride into Panama City every morning, I passed the time reading a book, One River, by the esteemed scientist, Wade Davis. In his book, Davis presents ethnobotanical snapshots fueled by research he had done in Amazonia during the 1970s. Davis' book gave me an amazing glimpse into the past of tropical research, when scientists would set up makeshift ovens loaded with distinct plant samples to be dried, labeled with the latest taxonomical consensus, and shipped to an herbarium. In those days of tropical biology, if you had the zeal to make the perilous expedition into the forest, you would be rewarded with the opportunity to discover new plants previously unknown to science. Intrigued by the productivity of these scientists, I wondered to myself, was this the golden age of tropical biology? Watching a radiantly blue Morpho butterfly pass by my window, I considered how the field of tropical biology had progressed since Davis wrote One River. At present, the field of ecological research is abound with technological developments in genetics, chemistry, informatics, and remote sensing, that give scientists the ability to address unresolved questions and previously-held assumptions. In addition to continuing the tradition of taxonomic discovery, contemporary tropical biologists require the ingenuity to test complex, intractable processes with well-designed experiments and the courage to defend the tropics from the anthropogenic forces that threaten its existence. In the Anthropocene, humanity's responsibility to preserve the diversity of the tropics rivals its responsibility to understand and document it. Equipped with the next-generation of technology and emboldened by the fortitude of the scientists before me, I want to pursue a graduate career in tropical ecology so that I can uncover the effect of anthropogenic forces on the diversity of tropical forests. With the knowledge gained from my research, I wish to inform policy decisions that affect the biodiversity of the tropics and contribute to international allegiances that value the preservation of biodiversity.
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Oct 22, 2015   #6
Hi Kathryn, sorry if I took so long to get back to you. I just finished reading your revised essay and I do believe that you have done a wonderful job with the revision. I see a clear sense of the inspiration for your desire to work in this field and you clearly stated the progression of the interest. However, I have some reservations about certain aspects of the essay.

One of my major concerns is that all of these enlightening moments came only from reading one book during a bus trip. It does not make any sense that a simple bus ride would end up making you rethink your whole future and delve into a totally different occupation from what you know. I would suggest leaving out the bus ride part and just saying that you read the book instead. That way you can morph some parts of the essay to reflect more of the things that you learned which inspired you to change careers.

When you are wondering about the golden age of tropical biology, can you make it seem like you were doing some research for a paper you were writing when you began to think about that question? That way you can present another facet regarding your motivation for graduate study. This could actually prove to provide the purpose for your interest in masters studies even though you do not have the proper scientific background for it.

Again, the essay has improved tremendously. It just needs to better represent certain aspects of your motivation in some ways. I hope my suggestions can help you do that :-)
OP kulty2 2 / 8 1  
Oct 23, 2015   #7
Thank you so much @vangiespen, last night I took to another revision before reading your comments. If you could comment on the newest version, I think it would be for the last time. Thank you so much for all your help, I wish I could return the favor. P.S. Perhaps you got the sense that I was previously a writer from my first essay, however I would not say that I'm changing careers, since I've done multiple science research internships in tropical biology. I definitely need to focus more on expressing my desire to be a scientist, but the writing comes in because I also have a desire to share my research interests via popular science writing as Davis did in his book, One River. The rest of my personal statement outlines my scientific research experience and science outreach, with a small part about scientific writing at the end.

My Motivation for Pursuing Advanced Study
I read the book, One River, during my first internship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in the summer of 2012. Written by Wade Davis, an esteemed ethnobotanist, One River is an exhilarating collection of narrative snapshots taken of the botanical research that Davis conducted in Amazonia in the 1970s. It provides a glimpse into the past of tropical botany: a moment in time when scientists were rapidly sampling new plant species that were previously unknown to science. So rapid was their pace that they needed to construct a makeshift drying oven in the middle of the rainforest, to ensure each plant sample dried properly. It was, I believe, the golden age of tropical botany. Without their perseverance and desire to document the biodiversity of Amazonia, I suspect an entire generation of tropical biologists would either be less interested or less equipped to preserve the biodiversity of the tropics. In my future career as a scientist, I hope to inspire the next generation of tropical biologists to pursue their interests, as the generation before me inspired my interests. In my future research, I am interested in documenting the effect of habitat destruction and deforestation on tropical biodiversity. Like many tropical biologists that came before me, I am enraptured by the culture, history, and biodiversity of the New World tropics. I hope that the knowledge gained from my research and experiences may contribute to international allegiances that value the preservation of biodiversity and sustainable development of tropical nations.
justivy03 - / 2,366 607  
Oct 23, 2015   #8
- narrative snapshots taken offrom the botanical
- tropical botany:, a moment
- In my future research, I am interested in researching and in documenting

As I read through your essay, it felt like an opening of what will soon be a research on a scientific breakthrough, this is no joke, you have nailed and figured what to input in your essay and what matters most in the scientific field. Indeed, the young generation is the future generation, a lot of students keep aspiring for the impossible, writing it, acting upon it and continuously learning about it, fueled with passion and the desire to help for greater welfare.

Aside from the remarks I made above, I believe you should be able to give your essay a go.

Best of luck and we'd love to hear from you.
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Oct 23, 2015   #9
Hey Kathryn, I agree with what Ivy said to a certain extent. The opening statement of your essay should be in its final form once one more edit is applied to the work that you did. The reason that I say this is because I would like to remove the focus of the opening statement from the contents of the book that you read and transfer that to your objectives and purpose for pursuing higher studies. Here is what I would like you to do:

One River is an exhilarating collection of narrative snapshots taken of the botanical research that Davis conducted in Amazonia in the 1970s. It provides a glimpse into the past of tropical botany: a moment in time when scientists were rapidly sampling new plant species that were previously unknown to science. So rapid was their pace that they needed to construct a makeshift drying oven in the middle of the rainforest, to ensure each plant sample dried properly. It was, I believe, the golden age of tropical botany. Without their perseverance and desire to document the biodiversity of Amazonia,

The reason that I am suggesting you delete that line is because the whole paragraph contains too much information about the book, leaving the information about your interest in the field for the very last minute. Your interest, which should be front and center in the opening paragraph, was practically reduced to an afterthought as you focused so much on the contents of the book. You will be submitting this to a reviewer who, for all intents and purposes, will have have either heard about the book or read the book. So you don't need to provide a complete summary of the book information. You need to make the reviewer focus on your information instead.

Now, keep in mind that you are only asking us to review the opening statement of your motivation essay. So if you decide to post the whole essay here in the future, you might need to adjust the opening paragraph along the way. That is if the rest of essay you write becomes irrelevant to the opening statement or if the opening statement lacks the punch required to keep the rest of your essay interesting. What you have written so far is an excellent start / foundation for a solid motivation essay though :-)
OP kulty2 2 / 8 1  
Oct 27, 2015   #10
@vangiespen Thank you for all the comments you have provided! It feels fulfilling to have gotten to this point after many revisions. I couldn't have done it without all of the guidance I have received on this site. I will be back when I write my motivation essays for graduate school, and I hope to work with you again in the future. In the meantime, is there a way to give back to the website? Thanks, Katie

@justivy03 Thank you for your comments and suggestions! I've made the changes and submitted my application yesterday. Now, on to writing motivation essays for my graduate school applications. Thanks again, Katie
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Oct 28, 2015   #11
Hi Kathryn. Thanks for the compliment. You were also a joy to work with and I will not mind working with you again in polishing more of your essays. That's what our community is here for :-) Good luck with this current application of yours. I am confident you can make the most out of the essay that you have :-)

As for your other question, I am not sure what you mean by "giving back to the website". You can always just "like" our posts if you like the advice you are given. That is one way of giving back. Responding to the other posters in this forum is yet another way of positively giving back to our little community. We can always use the extra pair of eyes or advice for other participants in need :-) You can also help spread the word about our little website by referring your other friends who might need help with their essays to us for assistance. Any little form of promotion or advice giving on your part will already be a major way of "giving back" :-)

The mere fact that you are thinking of giving back to the website really warms the heart. That makes all of the time and effort we've spent helping the students here worthwhile :-) Again, thanks for the kind compliment. It was unexpected yet much appreciated on my part :-)


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