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Problem with Personal History Statement

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Hi there,

first of all. I am applying to a couple of UC unis, Duke and Yale for a PhD in marine ecology, species abundance and climate change modeling.

This is from UC Davis and I hope you can give me a hint what I am supposed to do.

I read a couple of times about the diversity question. Is that like an optional part?

With an "essay and discuss", do they really want pros and cons etc. like in the GRE?

In case those are stupid questions, I lived most of my time in Germany :P


Personal History Statement:

In an essay, discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree.

Please limit your response to 4000 characters (including spaces)




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It's required. I need to write one of these as well, and I went with answering the first bit of the question primarily:

"In an essay, discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree."

And then went on to talk a bit about how I might use my education to help others in the future (i.e. contributing to and/or establishing music education programs, etc).

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But how do I keep it apart from the statement of purpose?

Statement of Purpose:

Please describe your motivation, academic preparation and aptitude for graduate study at UC Davis. You should describe your academic plans and research interests, your specialization within your academic field, your research experiences and your career goals.

Please limit your response to 4000 characters (including spaces)

My background etc very much overlaps with my motivation etc. doesn't it?


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  • 2 weeks later...

Personal statement:




It's still not very clear cut after reading these two descriptions. Is it only required in schools located in California??

Anyway, I am trying to figure out the difference as well........seems like personal statement is more of a individual-career type of relationship, whereas SOP is why you want to choose the school and the faculty members. makes sense?

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The SOP is a statement of your professional goals, research interests, and relevant academic background. Name all the nitty-gritty details, be cold and incisive, and leave emotions out of it.

In the personal history statement you can talk more about how you came to be interested in the field and personally what value you will get out of a grad program. You can be more emotional and say "I want to make the world a better place," even though grad schools just want papers.

At least that's how I'm approaching it.

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I took the same approach as davidmigl for UC Berkeley's application.

For the SOP I stuck to my research and academic accomplishments for demonstrating the "motivation, academic preparation and aptitude" and discussed how certain faculty/labs and programs within the department fit my interests (the latter may be specific to the sciences).

Overall I kept it very professional.

For the Personal History Statement I went more into my background and source of my research interests, the "passion" I suppose. I don't offer much in terms of obvious diversity, either in my own background or my work so for, so I delved a bit into my urban upbringing and how I managed to develop my ecological interests, and I ended with what I have done so far / what I hope to do to bring more ecological and environmental science opportunities to urban students.

My PHS was quite a bit more relaxed in style, more "telling a story", than my SOP. I tried to be honest without being overly dramatic. I think that even if you don't have the most unique or heart-wrenching background, it might help if you can just produce a genuine and well-written narrative for the PHS, and that you show you are at least aware of the possible broader impacts of your work.

I agree though that there is room for overlap, and I ended up cross-referencing my two essays (like "blah blah (see Personal History Statement)" within my SOP and vice versa) a few times to emphasize important points without being repetitive.

But this is all just my interpretation of course. =P

Best of luck to those still working!

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