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Hi there,

My name is Marjorie and I'm applying to be a non-degree seeking student at UWM this fall for their MA in Philosophy so that I can explore whether or not I want to pursue this field of study, instead of continuing down the psychology/social work career path. I was hoping to possibly get some feedback on my reason statement, which is based off of the guidelines they provided. Any constructive criticism is welcome; I'm not looking for perfection here, just want to make a good impression. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this and offer feedback. :) 

Having studied psychology during my years as an undergraduate, I initially thought I would pursue graduate study in social work or counseling psychology, with the goal of becoming a counselor. Fast forward a few years since graduation, and I am seriously reconsidering this career path.

I currently work at a hospital which specializes in the treatment of mental illness. This new position has made me question some of the practices of modern-day psychiatry and has emphasized the reality that the helping professions run an exceptionally high risk of burnout and a loss of empathy called compassion fatigue.

I want to be part of a revolution that changes the way we approach mental health care and I think the best way to do this is through the lens of philosophical enquiry, particularly through applied ethics. I also desire to catalyze a resurgence of philosophy by examining it and distilling the knowledge into a practical philosophy that is both accessible and useful for the general public.

I earned a 4.0 during my first two years of college, earning a place on the Provost’s list during that time, and was inducted into Phi Eta Sigma, a freshman honorary society. After that, I was on the Dean’s list nearly every year and graduated after five years of study with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology, Bachelors of Arts in Spanish, a minor in Environmental Studies, and a Mental Health Skills Certificate.

My broad undergraduate experience gave me the confidence and writing skills to succeed in masters level classes and the two philosophy courses I took enhanced my ability to think critically and gave me an idea of what doing philosophy means, and why it is important. Reflecting on my college career, I have realized that philosophy courses were the ones that I was most engaged in, and challenged me the most intellectually. Topics of interest for me range from the study of logic and ethics to philosophy of religion. I am particularly interested in the philosophy of eastern religions and the intersection between psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. My hope is to explore these interests further as a student at UWM, with the intention to eventually pursue a PhD in the subject.

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I am hardly an expert in this, but one person whose path has taken in a bit of what you're talking about is Dr David Brendel, who got an MD/PhD in philosophy.  I think he's got a fair web presence, where you may find additional fodder for your argument.

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@marjorie_emc2 In my application essays (I came into academia from the blue-collar world) I took a 3-point approach to my purpose statements.

  • 1/3 - explain what it is that I want to study and why 
  • 2/3 - tell the tale of how I got to that interest and how those seemingly unrelated experiences prepared me for this field 
  • 3/3 - explain why this department is the best place to engage that interest.

Doing all of this can easily make your statement a page and a half, which is a good length. 750ish words, definitely be <1000.

It's also important to tell it more as a story. In the philosophy world (my home-base before I jumped to theology), the statement of purpose is highly important. If it isn't engaging, interesting, well-written, and free from grammatical errors, the rest of your application will never be considered. I'm serious about that. So as you write a few drafts, think about narrative, and find someone in the humanities who will read it and offer constructive feedback. It sounds excessive, but you really should go through several revisions.

In the link offered above, I think that there is a lot of good advice - but Dr. Schwitzgebel discounts the personal story side of things. I think that it is especially helpful to those coming in from the outside to explain why it is they are interested in philosophy (or whatever) and how their experiences have prepared them for the field. Sure, if you have an undergrad and masters in philosophy, you don't need to explain what got you interested in a phd - but if your undergrad is social work, engineering, or such, it's quite appropriate.  

Either way, best of luck!

Also, since you're in the neighborhood, you might consider Marquette's philosophy program or the religion department for their offerings in healthcare ethics. 

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@Concordia  thank you, I'll check Dr. Brendel out... @janeaude That looks like a very helpful link, at first glance anyway, thank you!

@drivingthoughts your feedback about telling a story was quite useful and I like the idea of making it more personal.

@KevDoh Thank you for the congratulations -- it did seem a bit silly, but I appreciated it nonetheless-- and no one else had congratulated me yet, so that was great sentiment to receive! I also appreciate that you took the time to show me some ways to edit what I wrote and giving me some concrete feedback as to why I should consider doing so. 

I'm now wondering if I should add my resume as an attachment, even though it isn't requested?

(As mentioned, I'll essentially just be auditing classes as a non-degree seeking student this Fall, so the application for that is pretty simple; no GRE required, no writing sample, no letters of recommendation.) I should have shared this earlier, but here are the guidelines they gave: 

      An essential part of your application, the Reason Statement is used to determine the appropriateness of your educational and professional goals and serves as an example of your ability to express yourself in writing. In the statement:

  • Explain your reasons for pursuing graduate study;
  • Describe specific interests and your background in the field;
  • List any relevant skills or training you have acquired;
  • List relevant academic awards or honors you have received.

Thanks again to all of you who took the time to comment -- I will carefully consider it all and use it to improve my Reason Statement. Any additional feedback is welcome!

Warm regards ^_^

Edited by marjorie_emc2
accidental bullet point removed

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@marjorie_emc2 Definitely include your resume, though you might want to format it as a CV; that way you don't have to list lots of "I did x, y, and z" so that you have room to talk about other stuff in your statement of purpose. I.e. you can just say "while working in the healthcare industry..." instead of listing where and in what capacities. Another thing that you might consider - find one of the professors whose class you want to take, and meet with them. If you hit it off, having their word behind you will help your chances of being allowed in. When I was first considering entering graduate school, I talked to my local university, registered as a non-matriculated student, got permission of the professors, and took a few doctoral seminars. 

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@drivingthoughts If I understood your comment correctly, I will see if I can convert my resume into a CV format...and then in my reason statement, I have already took your suggestion to just say "while working in the healthcare industry...", if that was indeed your suggestion. Your other ideas are great ones, and I thank you for them as well!

With a bit of hesitation, I'm going to share my new draft below, so here it is, after having taken in all of your comments, @KevDoh's in particular.

 

A few years ago, I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology, Bachelors of Arts in Spanish, a minor in Environmental Studies, and a Mental Health Skills Certificate. During my years as an undergraduate, I planned to pursue graduate study in social work or counseling psychology, with the goal of becoming a counselor. Since graduating, certain experiences have led me to reconsider not only my scholarly interests, but also my career path.

While working in the healthcare industry, I started to more seriously question some of the practices of modern-day psychiatry. As psychiatrist Daniel Amen points out in his TED Talk, “Psychiatrists are the only medical specialists that virtually never look at the organ they treat” (TED, 2013). In addition to these concerns about the treatment of mental illness, I have also come to the realization that all of the helping professions run an exceptionally high risk of burnout, loss of empathy, and compassion fatigue.

Reflecting on my college career, philosophy courses were the ones that I was most engaged in, and challenged me the most intellectually. For Philosophy 101 I had Professor Joseph Pearson and I remember being engrossed by the introductory book we read, Philosophy by Steven Law. I was struck by the enthusiasm of that professor and by the questions that were brought up that I had never given much thought to, such as the nature of reality and how do we know things exist. I also took a course called Contemporary Moral Problems with Professor Christopher Hudspeth. On Education, by Harry Brighouse was one of the assigned readings for this course that further piqued my interest in philosophy because the author argued that our institutions of learning are geared towards filling needs in certain industries important to the economy, instead of towards human flourishing. I also remember enjoying the discussions in this class, which were different from those I had experienced in other classes, as I felt there was more of a debate between perspectives, rather than just answering questions of the professor. At the time I didn’t know, it but these experiences would influence my decision to now pursue the study of philosophy instead of social work.

Topics of interest for me range from the study of logic and ethics to philosophy of religion. I am particularly interested in the philosophy of eastern religions and the intersection between psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. For instance, one point in which these topics converge is where scientific findings on the benefit of mindfulness meditation on the brain and behavior meet philosophical enquiry into the question of how to best treat mental illness. My hope is to explore these and related interests further as a student at UWM, with the intention to eventually pursue a PhD in the subject.

Reference:

TEDxOrangeCoast. (2013, Oct 16). The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans: Daniel Amen [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/esPRsT-lmw8

 

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