A common question I read on GradCafe is, “How do I explain my extenuating circumstances to the admissions committee?” As I wrote in a previous post, if you spend too much time explaining these things, your statement of purpose ends up coming across as whiny–as explaining why people shouldn’t NOT admit you, instead of why they SHOULD admit you.
Here’s the SoP that got me into MyU:
I want to be a professor who does research in environmental remediation. This is neither a fleeting fancy nor a childhood dream, but rather a desire that’s developed over fifteen years of life experiences that have helped me better understand my interests and strengths.
My wish to become a professor was shaped by many experiences: tutoring math and chemistry students, giving presentations at homeschool conferences on teaching science, and presenting classes in church and community settings. Teaching is both something I love to do and something that comes naturally to me, so a career in teaching seems to be an obvious choice.
My interest in research developed later in life. While volunteering as a CERT* instructor, I found myself having discussions with the city HazMat team, which led in turn to a strong interest in environmental remediation. My desire to work with soil—instead of the more popular atmospheric or groundwater remediation—is tied to my years of organic gardening. Specifically, my research interests lie in developing new ways to remove toxic metals from soil, potentially through development of ion-specific chelating agents. I’m hoping that such methods would also lead to measures that would prevent heavy metals from being released into the environment in the first place.
In order to accomplish this goal I will need both a deeper understanding of chemistry as well as knowledge of the structure and chemical makeup of different types of soils. Thus, my plans for graduate school include classes in geochemistry and geology; advanced study of reaction mechanisms and synthesis of inorganic and organometallic chemicals; and familiarity with analytical methods that would be useful to an environmental chemist. Clearly, the geochemistry program at MyU would meet all of these needs.
My experiences since leaving college have not only shaped my career goals and research interests, but also helped me develop strengths that will help me succeed in graduate school. For example, over the years I’ve driven myself to become an independent and self-motivated learner. I’ve found this helpful as I refresh my knowledge of chemistry, and have no doubt that this skill will come in useful as I learn new things.
While I haven’t engaged in any scientific research since leaving school, I have participated in an independent research project that led to publication: a book on science education for homeschoolers. This involved not only reading and summarizing conventional wisdom on science education, but also development and testing of new ideas. This is just one of the big projects I’ve carried through from beginning to end; endeavors involving creativity and hours of sometimes difficult and frustrating work aren’t alien to me.
What sets a good graduate student apart from a good undergraduate student is not the ability to cram material and regurgitate it on an exam, but the ability to think creatively and work independently. Because I’ve had opportunities to develop these skills, I feel far more prepared for graduate school now than I did immediately following college graduation.
*Community Emergency Response Team