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I have a past...


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I have been in the news in the past, and my history is a little controversial.  Should I assume that admissions officials will google me?  Should I embrace the news stories in my SOP as part of the narrative of how I got to where I am now?  Or should I apply under the name I used before I got married an pretend it never happened?  I worry that past publicity will keep me from being admitted.  (Note:  I have not committed a crime or been convicted of anything!  My past activity is more... political.)

Edited by Daenerys
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I would not mention you past in your SOP unless it's relevant to your proposed research. The SOP is a professional document about what you want to study and why Awesome U is a a good fit for your interests. You might consider mentioning this in an addendum or personal statement (or in the "is there anything else you'd like to tell us" field that you often find in applications), if you think it'll come up and you want to explain it yourself. If you do apply under your old name, will your current name appear in transcripts or anywhere else the adcom might have access to? I do think it's a fair assumption that someone might google you, so if you worry that if it's found out it'll hurt you, it might be best to just get in front of it early. 

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I agree with fuzzylogician. Keep the SOP to your professional side and avoid the news unless it's relevant to your research. In addition to their advice, there's another thing you could do to "get in front of it". Do you have a web presence like a website or a blog? Many researchers in my field have a research website with one page of "personal" that is normally just a short biography. Since your name is already in the news and if you think you need to be able to present your version of events / your story, then your own website could be a place to write a short paragraph describing what happened. 

That said, depending on what shows up on the Google search, it might not actually link what they found online to you. You shouldn't say the details here, but if it's just a name, then it doesn't definitively tie your presence in the news to the application in their hands. Of course, if the news story included that you were a student studying X at University Y, then it would be more clear.

I think if there's no sure way to link your application to what they can find on Google, and if you don't want to tell the story then you should go ahead and pretend it never happened. My opinion (although others may disagree) is that you can trust an admissions committee to not assume that you are the same person as the one they google unless there is a sure way to link the two. 

There is another part of your post though that is also worth addressing. Whether or not you want to hide your past at the application stage, now is a good time to think about what name you want to use in academia. If you want to go your entire academic career (whether it's just grad school or something more permanent) without being linked to this news story, you might want to think about using your unmarried name from now on in professional circles. Your colleagues, students, etc. will be likely also google-search you in the future and if you really want to distance yourself from your past, then grad school is a good place to start solely using your unmarried name. And although fuzzylogician correctly points out that the admissions committee might know your married name if it appears in your transcripts, if you choose it to be so, this would be (one of) the last times people in your professional life know your married name. Beyond grad school, you can simply work under your unmarried name and limit how many people can find out about your past from a google search. I know many people who use their married name for all "social" aspects of their lives but publish and work under their unmarried name for all professional aspects. As far as I know, they have nothing to hide, so this is fairly common practice that it's not weird at all.

Caveat: I know that laws on what names you're allowed to use vary from place to place so maybe the above advice doesn't apply to where you are / where you are going. Most of my friends who use different names professionally and personally/socially are from Canada, where the general rule is that your legal name is your birth name (unless you do a legal name change) but you're also allowed to use your married name if you like. Generally, agencies would prefer that you use consistent names but there is no actual legal requirement to do so. Therefore, you can register at a school with only your unmarried name (using your birth certificate as ID). 

So just keep in mind that you might want to think about what name you want to use not just for grad applications but for academia in general, and how you might go about getting the right names listed in the right places!

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I'm with @fuzzylogician on this. Grad school statements are not the same as undergrad statements. The best advice I've received with regards to statements is the following:

Use the statement of purpose to explain what you have done and what you will do research-wise, and how your skills and interests have evolved as you were doing that work. Think of it as a cover letter or elaborated CV of sorts. Pure anecdotes do not belong here, nor do personal stories that spiked your interest. Unless your political drama is part of your past or future research, then it does not belong in the SOP.

The personal statement (sometimes called personal history statement) is not the same as the SOP. Not all schools require one, but if you do need one, the most helpful advice I've gotten is to treat it as a mini intellectual autobiography. Here you can include some personal details, but the focus is still on how you got to where you are academically. Here you can explain anything that you may expect to cause doubt and show the concrete steps you've taken to improve upon any weakness. It's hard to say what you should do without knowing the specifics of your situation, though. Note that political involvement, even controversial stuff, is not a bad thing. Unless your actions border on intolerance or hate crime, I really don't see why you need to mention it at all if it's not relevant to your application -- even if they do Google you.

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Thank you to everyone who replied.  I really appreciate your taking the time to help me!  I will look into what is legal regarding my name-- undergrad transcripts are in my unmarried name, grad transcripts (MA) are in my married name so I will have to figure out how to handle that (and hopefully not offend my husband).

 

Edited by Daenerys
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