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Personal History Statement from Russian student

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I am a Russian student interested in Computer Science PhD. Two schools I want to apply to require both SOP and Personal History statements. I wrote it, and I think it demonstrates my diversity very well. But I'm somewhat concerned that it might be waaaaaay too personal. Most of things I write there are secrets I'm reluctant to share even with people closest to me. It speaks about politics and religion a lot, and I am afraid that it can be interpreted as though I am very cold, miserable and paranoid person. But i don't think I can accurately describe my personality if I omit these things, not without rendering my PHS trite and insincere. Another thing that bothers me is that I barely mention Computer Science at all, although this is largely because I already described the reasons why I'm interested in it in my SOP.

I'd be grateful if somebody could proofread my PHS because I have no one else I could ask for this. It's not so much because of language but because of its contents, you'll realize that if you read it. So I wonder what should I do? Post it here or PM it to anyone willing to help? And should I send my SOP as well just to give more context?

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I really need feedback, so I guess I'll just post my PHS here. Any thoughts from anybody are appreciated.


My parents descend from villages native to Orenburg and Bashkortostan regions of modern Russia. My mother decided to pursue a higher education to become an electrical engineer, so she left the village to settle in Orenburg – a city which is situated on the border of Europe and Asia. So I belong to the first urban generation in our family.


Our family can be considered middle-class by standards of provincial Russia, even though most of our family income comes from my mother, because my father never settled at one job, and whatever money he makes are usually spent entirely on his regular travels to the countryside and an unprofitable enterprise of beekeeping.


My grandfather insisted that I should go to school where my native language is taught, but that was a mistake, because the school was fairly weak for my talents, and my peers hated me for being not like them. Ironically, the school didn’t even accomplish the initial goal – despite my passion for foreign languages, I never learned nor liked my native language, because it was initially taught as a native language.


Later I decided to transfer to lyceum, and it made a great impact on my personality and future aspirations. When people around you are talented, motivated and are striving to do their best, you can’t help but do the same. Here I seriously considered a possibility of scientific career for the first time. Selecting a math-oriented class, purchasing a computer and discovering programming by making modifications for a videogame also contributed to this decision. It was amazing to discover how much freedom you can have in controlling what the machine does.


However, this was also the time when I developed a cognitive dissonance and was very conflicted as a result of my emerging homosexuality. Thanks to my previous school, I was a pretty religious person. Adding this to hostility people expressed towards homosexuals, it’s no wonder I was in denial. It took me several years to accept myself and realize how irrational I was, but as a result I was cruelly disillusioned and my world shattered. Apostates and homosexuals are not tolerated in Islam (even though Tatar Islam is quite mild compared to Middle East fanatics), and in time I only found more and more reasons to mistrust people.


I soon realized that the country I live in is an authoritarian state halfway towards its self-destruction. Now no less than 90% of Russian citizens are brainwashed by TV into believing that by occupying Crimea we saved it from fascists. Propaganda, xenophobia and hysteria were already high, but after these events they skyrocketed. It is hard to concentrate on work, however interesting it is, when you can’t trust people and must resort to lies and hypocrisy to maintain relationships.


I can’t accept that Russian Federation is the country where the word “federation” is an empty word and the word “democracy” is a curse word, where the absurdity of laws grows with every passing month, where free business and journalism are nearly eliminated, where people are ignorant and easily misled, where homosexuality is depathologized de-jure, but not de-facto, where science and research are largely neglected by the government, where anyone who tries to change something is labeled a national traitor, where there is simply too much hatred. I wish I could do something about that, and can only hope that things may change eventually, and I will be needed then. I want to prove that I can be a valuable member of society, that I have a right to exist. And I believe that becoming a scientist, or at least simply making something new to help people, is the most fitting way for me to achieve that. I have not given up yet.


Edited by fuzzylogician
Edited for privacy at OP's request
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From a PhD applicant, they expect the following:

1. Focus and abilities--- This becomes evident in SOP and Transcripts and other things
2. Fit in the program--- Partly this becomes evident in SOP. If they ask for PHS in addition to SOP, IMO, they are looking for the following: 

(I have worked with lot of students on their SOPs but not too many students on their PHS. So all this is just a suggestion from my side. See if it makes sense to you).

1. Your evolution into a student that makes you a suitable PhD student. PhD requires lot of commitment and focus. Your experiences that helped you develop these qualities will be highly valuable. 

2. PhD also requires lot of self motivation. In your life, have you come across any specific instance because of which you are all the more motivated to pursue PhD in that field?Suppose you are in some situation that you desperately want to come out of, if you can show that higher studies (in your case PhD) will help you overcome that, that would be terrific.

Some suggestions:

1. You have mentioned the names of a few schools that you have been part of and your experiences there. See if you can relate that with how it made you a better person--how that made you a more self motivated and a focused individual.

2. You have mentioned that most of the income of your family came from your mother and such other things. But there is no logical conclusion to that. In what way those experiences made you a better person?

3. Consult others on whether you should mention your homosexuality in the PHS. It is your personal inclination. How is that related with being a good PhD student? 

4. When you mention political angle of Russian Federation, it appears that you somehow are not happy with the way things are going and you are looking for a way out. Correct me if I am wrong. As mentioned in point 2 above, you need to be able to demonstrate that PhD is the right vehicle for you to come out of whatever situation you find yourself in.

As I said earlier, I don't have as much experience with PHS as I have with SOPs so treat all these as my suggestions and nothing more. Implement them only if these points make sense to you. Consult others if you wish to doubly confirm.    

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Yes, I do explain my focus and abilities in my SOP (I actually aced my in-progress GPA: 5.0 out of 5.0, and my test scores are good too), as well as my research interests and reasons why I am fitting to the program. I also go in detail about my meticulousness and commitment there.

My motivation is, once again, mostly explained in SOP, it is essentially about broad career perspectives and genuine interest in self-educating algorithms and extracting new knowledge from large datasets (I briefly describe coursework and projects that spurred my interest in this direction).

1. I will try to get more specific about my development as a student then, and come up with particular examples.

2. I mostly included that paragrath to further justify my requests for application fee waivers (I already got several), but now when I think about it, it seems unneccesary.

3. I am aware that homosexuality is a controvercial topic even in America, so I was reluctant to mention it at first, but the website of California Davis has a whole page ( https://gradstudies.ucdavis.edu/prospective-students/faq/gender-sexuality-questions-graduate-application ) dedicated to their interest in applicants' gender and sexuality :blink:, so I thought they might be interested in details. I'm still not sure though, that's why I asked for advice. I can't consult anybody but total strangers because I'm closeted.

4. Yes, the large part of my motivation is to escape from Russia at least for the time of severe crisis and civil war that is likely to outbreak in one form or the other in the following years. But I guess it's not a good thing that it's too obvious in my PHS, so I shouldn't have gone into details. Of cource I do have a small hope of becoming recognised and influential figure so I could change something in whatever is left of Russia by the time I get a degree, but realistic chances of that are very small. As for the particular connections of my situation with Computer Science, I can't see any. It's not Psychology or Political Science after all.

Edited by UchuuStranger
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I guess I should've just googled it. Obviously I'm not a first person in such situation, I found a post in reddit from a gay applicant who asks whether he should mention this despite the lack of connection to his research (physics): https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAcademia/comments/2s2ug1/applying_to_a_california_school_for_physics/

A lot of people discouraged him from doing that, but the answer from California University professor was particularly helpful, and it says otherwise:

"I'm kind of late to this, but I have relevant information. I'm a professor at a Univ Calif school. You should definitely mention this, especially if you are a generic white male in physics.

We have special funding available for "diversity" students. If you are a typical white male in physics, you won't qualify. If we can make some argument that you satisfy the nebulous diversity requirements (like you are gay), then you will qualify. We are mostly money limited in admitting students, so "diversity" students that qualify for "diversity fellowships" are essentially in a separate pool than regular candidates.

Of course, if your academic record is such that we don't think you will be successful here you won't be admitted. However, we turn away many students with very good academic records who would probably be successful in our program because we don't have funding."

I hope this will help sombody in a similar situation in the future.

Edited by UchuuStranger
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Your personal statement gives good insight into you as a person.  I know you already mentioned that you focus on your motivations in your SOP, but it may be helpful to at least mention a bit more detail about what drew you to the field in this statement.  It looked like you were heading there but then those last two paragraphs got in the way :-)  You might be able to make space for that by shortening and combining the final two paragraphs.  It seems more like a personal rant/criticism than something the committee can use to gain insight into you as a person.  

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