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Diversity Statement - University of Washington Ph.D. Application


orchidnora
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Hi everyone! Like many people here, I am applying to the University of Washington (for a Ph.D. in Statistics). A personal statement is strongly recommended, but unlike typical personal statements, this one emphasizes diversity. 

On the one hand, I have encountered certain obstacles that have impacted my life (raised by a single mother and had financial troubles growing up, neither of my parents hold Bachelor's degrees, received essentially no financial support while in college forcing me to take out loans and work while in school, etc.). But none of the obstacles are directly relevant to what I plan to research in statistics (e.g., I'm not planning to research ways to reduce inequity in society ). Despite any disadvantages, I have excelled in college and have a strong application. Also I have quite a bit of teaching experience in statistics, where I have reached students from diverse academic backgrounds; additionally, I volunteered for a semester to tutor and mentor a middle schooler deemed "at-risk". Although I hope to mentor student researchers in the future, my career goals are primarily research-based. 

In light of this information, should I write the diversity statement? If I opt not to write the diversity statement, will it negatively affect my admissions (UW claims it will not, but I am skeptical)? If I do write the diversity statement as someone who already has a strong application, could it somehow harm my chances of admission? What if somebody in the Statistics department is against "diversity culture" and refuses to work with me? 

For reference, I have copied and pasted all the information on the statement provided by UW:

"***A Personal Statement is optional but strongly recommended.  We welcome applicants from culturally diverse backgrounds.  Consistent with our goal of enhancing the intellectual excellence of the department and University of Washington community, we actively welcome students from encourage all applicants to submit a personal statement (maximum 1 page) that details experiences related to your socioeconomically disadvantaged, disability-related, and/or culturally varied background, and/or experiences working with such groups.  The statement should address the ways your experiences have affected the development of your intellectual interests, career plans, future goals, and how you may have overcome various obstacles or aided others in surmounting such challenges.

While admission decisions are made mainly on the basis of academic performance, applications will be reviewed with consideration of the applicant's background and experiences.  We also use the information in such statements to report aggregate data to funding agencies and to apply for funding diverse backgrounds and students who have worked with diverse groups.  We present opportunities for eligible students.

The personal statement is not required, and you may include a simple sentence such as "I have not yet had these kinds of diverse experiences."  Such a statement does not negatively affect your chances for admission."

 

 

 


 

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I would recommend writing exactly what you wrote in the second paragraph of your post, maybe expanded a bit to two short paragraphs (one where you describe your tenacity in excelling at math/stat despite of the odds, and one describing your tutoring work). Writing that shouldn't be a negative at all, as long as it is fairly neutral in tone. It would most likely be seen as a positive, actually. I could see somebody being annoyed if came across as entitled or if you made grandiose statements like, "The adversities that I faced inspired me to want to change the world by getting a PhD in Statistics," but neither seems to be the case here.

Edited by Stat PhD Now Postdoc
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2 hours ago, orchidnora said:

In light of this information, should I write the diversity statement? If I opt not to write the diversity statement, will it negatively affect my admissions (UW claims it will not, but I am skeptical)? If I do write the diversity statement as someone who already has a strong application, could it somehow harm my chances of admission? What if somebody in the Statistics department is against "diversity culture" and refuses to work with me?

I am applying to UW as well, and definitely plan on writing one. If you are afraid that your experiences aren't enough or something of that sort, you are wrongly mistaken. I agree with what @Stat PhD Now Postdoc said above. What you wrote in your second paragraph is good, and this statement allows the admission committee to see another side of you that they wouldn't have gotten to see with the rest of your application. Also, I wouldn't think this statement would hurt you chances of getting in, so I would go ahead and do it anyway even though it is optional. I see where you are coming from with someone refusing to work with you because of your statement, but I personally wouldn't want to work with someone that doesn't like my diversity statement or "diversity culture" (which means they probably don't/won't like who are, in my opinion). I have also included a link to a short conversation I was a part of related to this topic:

I feel like the diversity statement shows the admission committee your commitment to not only helping others that may not normally have the opportunities to even think about getting an education or pursuing a certain career path but also to talk about your personal experiences and struggles (financially, culturally, etc.) helped you become the person you are today, which includes you being a person that wants to purse a PhD. Good luck!

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@Stat PhD Now Postdoc: Thank you for your advice. In that case, I will move forward writing the diversity statement. I will be sure to discuss my experiences in an honest, neutral manner and avoid any entitled or grandiose statements. I am glad to know that my experiences will probably be viewed favorably by admissions committees. 

@Moods: I was mostly worried about being "judged" by researchers on the admissions committees, but you bring up an excellent point that those researchers would be unpleasant to work with anyway. The conversation you linked is very helpful. Thank you for your insightful comments - you're right that the statement will offer another glimpse of me to the admissions committee. Good luck in your application as well! 

@Gauss2017: That is true, I am an American white female. Unfortunately, I was not very active in any clubs at my school, so I did not participate in any women in math or women in STEM groups. I can't say I have experienced any blatant issues from classmates or professors as a woman in math/stats. Of course, I am one of a few females in my theoretical math classes, and there have been subtle comments or incidents with causes I can speculate. 

Edited by orchidnora
Edited for clarification
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I suspect that UW is doing this because of state laws that explicitly bar them from considering sex, race, etc. in university admissions decisions (Google 'washington state initiative 200'). I heard once (though cannot verify) that race information was not even included in the application packets provided to committee members. 

Bottom line, I doubt that the diversity statement will be an important decision factor for non-underrepresented students. By all means, write about your experience, but be straightforward and honest, and don't try to "puff up" what you've done.

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Domestic white females are an underrepresented group in most statistics PhD programs.   Subtle comments in Math programs directed towards women are not uncommon and can be considered as unconscious bias.   If you struggled with any unconscious bias that is a good thing to write about in your statement.   UW seems to try to do a good jib of picking a diverse class

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I think Cyberwulf nailed this. University of Michigan is doing the same thing for Statistics Ph.D. applicants (and I assume for most if not all of their programs). It seems that it is a way for them to skirt the issues that are strictly prohibited, and serves as another factor when considering applicants.

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3 hours ago, BL250604 said:

I think Cyberwulf nailed this. University of Michigan is doing the same thing for Statistics Ph.D. applicants (and I assume for most if not all of their programs). It seems that it is a way for them to skirt the issues that are strictly prohibited, and serves as another factor when considering applicants.

At University of Michigan, this essay is also used for other fellowship consideration, such as the Rackham Merit Fellowship. For several students I've heard an ok essay didn't hurt them much, but a great one was instrumental in getting additional funding.

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3 hours ago, jmillar said:

At University of Michigan, this essay is also used for other fellowship consideration, such as the Rackham Merit Fellowship. For several students I've heard an ok essay didn't hurt them much, but a great one was instrumental in getting additional funding.

Exactly! I was at UMich this past weekend for a fall preview weekend with a small group of students. This is what we heard from Assoc. Dean Vorhoogt. 

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I appreciate everyone's advice here! Qualification for fellowships is definitely an important consideration. All things considered, I think I will write the diversity statement but be very cautious with what I say and how I say it. 

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This topic has made me reconsider my personal statement for UWashington. Would it be incorrect/missing the point of the personal statement to write about my culturally-varied background if I don’t come from a disadvantaged background?

I grew up in a foreign country and did some volunteering abroad. Does this count as a “culturally-varied” background that admissions committees would be interested in? I’m getting a sense from this topic that they only want to hear about a “culturally-varied” background if it has disadvantaged/posed a difficulty for the applicant in some way.

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On 11/15/2018 at 4:52 PM, EgoClaudius said:

This topic has made me reconsider my personal statement for UWashington. Would it be incorrect/missing the point of the personal statement to write about my culturally-varied background if I don’t come from a disadvantaged background?

I grew up in a foreign country and did some volunteering abroad. Does this count as a “culturally-varied” background that admissions committees would be interested in? I’m getting a sense from this topic that they only want to hear about a “culturally-varied” background if it has disadvantaged/posed a difficulty for the applicant in some way.

That could be one thing they are looking for. But another is just having a variety of different lived experiences from their students. And sometimes disadvantage is in the eye of the beholder. I grew up, what I now know, as poor, but I never felt that way growing up. But it meant I was in different social circles and didn't pick up things that I might have from higher income friends. Growing up in a different country is a very different experience than many of us. It could disadvantage you in other ways of having to catch up to social norms, but you don't have to think of it that way.

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On 11/15/2018 at 4:52 PM, EgoClaudius said:

This topic has made me reconsider my personal statement for UWashington. Would it be incorrect/missing the point of the personal statement to write about my culturally-varied background if I don’t come from a disadvantaged background?

I grew up in a foreign country and did some volunteering abroad. Does this count as a “culturally-varied” background that admissions committees would be interested in? I’m getting a sense from this topic that they only want to hear about a “culturally-varied” background if it has disadvantaged/posed a difficulty for the applicant in some way.

The "diversity statement" is not only for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, it's to determine "underrepresented" applicants (who may or may not be economically disadvantaged), i.e. domestic female, URM - underrepresented minority, or first generation student. At other schools, this information (gender, race, ethnicity) is readily evident from the application packets even without the diversity statement, and it does get factored into admissions.

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