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Re. grad school dilemma

SLF notmyaddress at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 17 03:51:55 EST 2002

PG wrote:

> I'm leaning towards the route of just being honest and taking the
> risks associated with it but I wanted to get some feedback from a
> forum like this before I went ahead with this idea.
> Any advice is welcomed. Particularly from anyone who has read the
> grad school essay of someone confessing similar issues as mine. I
> expect I'm not the only person who's been through a situation like
> this.

This is a tough one and I have not seen a case like this before.  My opinion ,
(which is worth all of what you paid for it ;-)  is that you
should admit to having had a very difficult personal situation that negatively
impacted you enormously.  I don't think you should  say what
it was, because I don't think you need that baggage.  If you put it in the
essay, it will be seen by a lot of people and word will get out.  Perhaps I'm
cynical (moi?)  but I've never seen
an academic environment that didn't live on gossip.  The last thing
you need is a reputation as an former addict, because as you realize some people
will never get beyond that to see you as a scientist.

I think you should focus on the positive, rather than dwell on the past negatives.
Yes, you have a rough personal time that affected you badly, and led to your previous
grad school failure.  You should
certainly admit to that, without going into gory detail. But, you
moved on, gained enormous maturity, started to make a contribution scientifically,
and are  returning to grad school with a new appreciation for what's involved.
That's what your essay should focus on.

Some unforgiving people will still be put off.  Some salacious people will want to
know more.  But it really isn't important what
your collapse was due to;  you can tell them that "suffice it to say, I reached a
personal nadir but have learned so much and grown so much that I'd rather focus
on my subsequent successes".

You may find that you want to tell someone, but choose them carefully,
do it personally, and don't put it in writing.  That way you have some control
over who gets the information.

Of course, you must answer any direct questions on application forms truthfully,
but I don't think most places ask about abuse.
 They may ask  if you have ever been convicted of a crime,  and obviously you
need to be honest if that is the case.  But I don't think you need to volunteer
personal information that is not explicitly required.

Science is a funny profession.  We pretend to be very close to each other (first names
the rule), but really aren't friends.  Because of all the potential for ad hominem
disagreements, many people find it safest to keep their personal lives really personal.
We've all heard of  students who fear to tell their advisor they're getting married.
There are relatively few "out" gays and lesbians, although by statistics, there
should be  quite a few.  If people are so unsure that they feel their career is safer
keeping benign facts like their marital status or sexuality secret,
you can see why you might feel better keeping potentially negative facts
like a past abuse problem quiet--at least until you
are confident that people know you, and see you, rather than see a problem that
you once had.

 And as Shakespeare said, "What's past is prologue".

By the way--I am impressed at your courage to get clean and rejoin the profession.
That's a heck of a testament to your character.  :-)  Good luck!  You will find a place
and you will do great.


DON'T REPLY to the email address in header.
Use the one below, replacing AT with @
S L Forsburg, PhD  Associate Professor
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA
"These are my opinions.  I don't have
time to speak for anyone else."


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