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Why Graduate School? Essay
My freshman year at Harvard, I was sitting in
a Postcolonial African Literature class when Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o (the
influential Kenyan author) succeeded in attracting me to the study of African
literature through nothing more than a single sentence. He argued that, when
a civilization adopts reading and writing as the chief form of social communication,
it frees itself to forget its own values, because those values no longer have
to be part of a lived reality in order to have significance. I was immediately
fascinated by the idea that the written word can alter individual lives, affect
one's identity, and perhaps even shape national identity.
proposal forced me to think in a radically new way: I was finally confronted
with the notion of literature
not as an agent of vital change, but as a potential instrument of stasis and
social stagnancy. I began to question the basic assumptions with which I had,
until then, approached the field. How does "literature" function away from
the written page, in the lives of individuals and societies? What is the significance
of the written word in a society where the construction of history is not necessarily
recorded or even linear?
I soon discovered that the general scope of comparative
literature fell short of my expectations because it didn't allow students to
question the inherent integrity or subjectivity of their discourse. We were
being told to approach Asian, African, European, and American texts with the
same analytical tools, ignoring the fact that, within each culture, literature
may function in a different capacity, and with a completely different sense
of urgency. Seeking out ways in which literature tangibly impacted societies,
I began to explore other fields, including history, philosophy, anthropology,
language, and performance studies.
nature of my work is best illustrated by my senior thesis ("Time Out of Joint: Issues of Temporality
in the Songs of Okot p'Bitek"). In addition to my literary interpretations,
the thesis drew heavily on both the Ugandan author's own cultural treatises
and other anthropological, psychological, and philosophical texts. By using
tools from other disciplines, I was able to interpret the literary works while
developing insight into the Ugandan society and popular psychology that gave
birth to the horrific Idi Amin regime. In addition, I was able to further understand
how people interacted with the works and incorporated (or failed to incorporate)
them into their individual, social, and political realities.
On a more practical level, writing the thesis
also confirmed my suspicion that I would like to pursue an academic career.
When I finished my undergraduate career, I felt that a couple of years of professional
work would give me a better perspective of graduate school. I decided to secure
a position which would grant me experiences far removed from the academic world,
yet which would also permit me to continue developing the research and writing
skills I needed to tackle the challenges of graduate school. I have fulfilled
this goal by working as a content developer at a Silicon Alley web start-up
for two years. The experience has been both enjoyable and invaluable -- to
the point where colleagues glance at me with a puzzled look when I tell them
I am leaving the job to return to school. In fact, my willingness to leave
such a dynamic, high-paying job to pursue my passion for literature only reflects
my keen determination to continue along the academic path.
Through a Masters
program, I plan to further explore the issues I confronted during my undergraduate
years by integrating the study
of social, cultural, and linguistic anthropology into the realm of literature.
I believe that, by adopting tools used in such disciplines, methods of inquiry
can be formulated that allow for the interpretation of works that are both
technically sound and sociologically insightful. Thus far, my studies have
concentrated largely on African and Caribbean literatures, and I am particularly
interested in studying these geographic areas in more specific historical and
cultural contexts. I also seek to increase my knowledge of African languages,
which will allow me to study the lingering cultural impact of colonialism in
modern-day African literature. Eventually, I would like to secure an academic
post in a Comparative Literature department, devoting myself to both research
and teaching at the college level.
I believe the Modern Thought and Literature program
at NAME is uniquely equipped to guide me toward these objectives. While searching
for a graduate school that would accommodate my interdisciplinary approach,
I was thrilled to find a program that approaches world literature with a cross-disciplinary
focus, recognizing that the written word has the potential to be an entry point
for social and cultural inquiry.
The level of scholarly
research produced by the department also attracts me. Akhil Gupta's "Culture, Power, Place",
for instance, was one of my first and most influential experiences with the
field of cultural
anthropology. Professor Gupta's analysis of the local, national, and foreign
realms, achieved through a discussion of post-colonial displacement and mixed
identifications, has led me to believe that -- given the complexity of modern
societies -- comparative literature's focus on borders (national and linguistic)
has been excessively arbitrary. Even more significant is the accurate rendering
of individually-lived realities that may then be synthesized with other experiences.
I believe that I could greatly benefit from Professor Gupta's teaching and
guidance in applying these ideas to the literary arena, and I believe that
his work is representative of the rigorous yet creative approach I would pursue
upon joining the department.
Why Qualified? Essay One
Ever since my
first psychology lecture, I have been fascinated by the nature of human memory.
Indeed, human memory is one
of the most tenacious and enigmatic problems ever faced by philosophers and
psychologists. The discussion of memory dates back to the early Greeks when
Plato and Aristotle originally likened it to a "wax tablet." In 1890, pioneer
William James adopted the metaphorical framework and equated memory to a "house" to
which thirty years later Sigmund Freud chimed that memory was closer to "rooms
in a house." In 1968, Atkinson and Shrifren retained the metaphorical framework
but referred to memory as "stores". The fact that the controversy surrounding
human memory has been marked more by analogy than definition suggests, however,
that memory is a far more complex phenomenon than has been uncovered thus far.
I intend to spend the rest of my professional life researching the nature of
human memory and solving the riddle posed yet cunningly dodged by generations
of philosophers and psychologists.
When I first came
to psychology, however, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. Only upon enrolling
in Dr. Helga Noice's Cognitive
Psychology course, did I discover the excitement of doing research. The course
required us to test our own autobiographical memory by conducting an experiment
similar to the one run in 1986 by W. Wagenaar. Over the course of the term,
I recorded events from my personal life on event cards and set them aside without
reviewing them. After studying the effect serial position on the recollection
of autobiographical memories, I hypothesized that events that, when I sat down
at the end of therm to recall those same events I had described on the event
cards, that events that had occurred later in the term would be recalled with
greater frequency than events that had occurred earlier. Although the experiment
was of simple design and predictable results, I found the processes incredibly
exciting. Autobiographical memory in particular fascinated me because I realized
how crucial, yet fragile, memory is. Why was my memory of even ten weeks so
imperfect? What factors contributed to that imperfection? Could such factors
I had ignited
my passion for experimental psychology. Suddenly, I had many pressing questions
about memory that I wanted to research.
Under the guidance of Dr. Noice, I continued to study human memory. I worked
closely with Dr. Noice on several research experiments involving expert memory,
specifically the memory of professional actors. Dr. Noice would select a scene
from a play and then a professional actor would score it for beats, that is,
go through the scene grouping sections of dialogue together according to the
intent of the character. Some actors use this method to learn dialogue rather
than rote memorization. After they were finished, I would type up the scene
and the cued recall test. Next, I would moderate the experimental sessions
by scoring the actor's cued recall for accuracy and then helping with the statistical
analysis. My work culminated with my paper, "Teaching Students to Remember
Complex Material Through the Use of Professional Actors' Learning Strategies." My
paper accompanied a poster presentation at the Third Annual Tri-State Undergraduate
Psychology Conference. In addition, I presented a related paper entitled "Type
of Learning Strategy and Verbatim Retention of Complex Material" at the ILLOWA
(Illinois-Iowa) Conference the following year. Again, I was involved in all
aspects of the experiment, from typing the protocol and administering it to
the subjects to analyzing the data and finally presenting my results.
to perform this research was invaluable, particularly as I began taking independent
research seminars in my senior year.
For the seminars, I was required to write an extensive review of the literature
and then design a research proposal on any topic of my choice. Although I had
participated in all aspects of research previously, this was my first opportunity
to select my own topic. I was immediately certain that I wanted to explore
at human memory. But I spent a long time considering what aspect of memory
I found most intriguing and possible to tackle within the confines of the research
seminar. I had always been interested in the legal implications of memory,
so I to investigate eyewitness memory.
my choice was also informed by my recollection about an experiment I had read
about several years earlier.
In the experiment, subjects read about Helen Keller. Later they were given
a recall test. Still later they were given an additional test to determine
the source of their knowledge about Helen Keller. The authors discovered that
subjects could not determine the source of their knowledge, that is, they could
not distinguish whether specific details of their knowledge about Helen Keller
came from the information provided by the experimenters or if the details came
from another source at an earlier time. Once their new knowledge about Helen
Keller had been assimilated into their previous knowledge about Helen Keller,
there was no way to separate the information according to the source it came
I wondered what
the implications of that conclusion would be for eyewitnesses. I wondered if
an eyewitness account could be corrupted
by misleading post-event information. My research proposal was entitled "The
Rate of Memory Trace Decay and its Effect on Eyewitness Accuracy." While I
was not able to complete the experiment in its entirety, I was excited by the
fact that I created a possible research protocol. Immediately, I knew I wanted
to pursue the field of experimental psychology. My success in course work and
my passion for research demonstrated to me that I had both the interest and
ability to enter this challenging and rewording field.
I have dedicated
my undergraduate years to preparing myself for graduate work in experimental
psychology. Once receive my doctorate,
I intend to pursue research on human memory while teaching psychology to undergraduates
at a small, liberal arts college, similar to the one I attended. It was, after
all, my undergraduate research experience that gave me the opportunity to come
to psychology with an interest in counseling people, but to leave with a passion
for investigating the nature of human thinking. Undergraduates at smaller liberal
arts colleges are often left out of research, which makes my desire to provide
such experiences that much stronger. In the years ahead, I look forward to
teaching as well as continuing my research. In the company of such greats as
Aristotle, James, and Freud, I endeavor to leave behind my own contribution
on the nature of human memory.
Why Qualified? Essay Two
"To be nobody but yourself--in
a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means
to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop
fighting." When I first read this passage by E.E. Cummings, I realized I have
been fighting the same battle my whole life. When choosing the direction for
my future, I have often accepted jobs based on a compromise between my own
dreams and what others thought my dreams should be. This, of course, has led
to an unfulfilling career.
back, I always knew that I wanted to work in public service; but I also knew
my staunchly conservative
father would not be pleased. To him, the government is too big, too intrusive
and too wasteful. I see things differently. And yet, his approval means a lot
to me and his opinion has certainly influenced my the direction of my career.
But I have finally come to understand that I must pursue my own path. After
careful deliberation, I am confident that public service is, without a doubt,
the right career for me.
since my childhood I have detected in myself a certain compassion and innate
desire to help others. I
was the kid that dragged in every stray cat or dog I came across--and I still
do. When I was eight years old, I rescued a rat from my sister's psychology
lab and brought her home. I even coaxed my father into taking Alice--I called
her Alice--to the vet when she became ill. But aside from my humanitarian kindness
to animals, as a child I learned first-hand about America's need to reform
and improve medical care. I spent years of my childhood on crutches and in
hospitals because of a tumor that hindered the growth of my leg. Without adequate
health insurance and proper care, I might still be on crutches, but I was fortunate.
Today, as a public servant, I still desire to help others who are not so fortunate.
Providing health care to 44 million uninsured Americans, while keeping insurance
affordable, is one of the most difficult challenges facing policymakers. I
want to work in state or local government to resolve this health care crisis
and ensure that the disadvantaged get the care they need and deserve.
order to succeed in my endeavors toward public service, I now realize that
a master's degree in public policy
is essential. But when I graduated from college in 1990, I didn't know how
to continue my education, only that I should. For a while, I considered such
options as law school or international relations, but I always returned to
my desire to impact public life. My career in public policy began as a legislative
assistant at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a non-profit
educational organization that couples voices from the state legislature and
the private sector to work on salient policy issues. My enthusiasm for ALEC's
mission was evident, as I quickly moved up from legislative assistant to the
director of two task forces. As manager of ALEC's task force on federalism
and its tax and fiscal policy task force, I explored these issues thoroughly,
never quite satiating my appetite for more information and knowledge. I found
my integral role in the legislative process to be the most valuable and worthwhile
experience I've had in my career to date.
ALEC, I took a position as a junior lobbyist for the Automotive Parts and Accessories
As a lobbyist, I voiced the APAA's concern over regulatory and environmental
issues affecting the automotive aftermarket. Although I was able to help small
automotive parts manufacturers battle the "Big Three" automakers, I quickly
realized that being an advocate for the automotive aftermarket was not my calling
in life. I wanted to promote policies which had the potential to improve life
for the greater public, for I could not see myself spending a lifetime working
within an isolated industry.
that frame of mind, I accepted employment as a policy analyst in the National
Federation of Independent Business
(NFIB) research department in Washington, D.C. Helping small business owners
is a cause close to my heart. For nearly 30 years, my family has owned a barbecue
restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area. I've worked in the business at several
different times, since the age of 14. Because of my involvement in my family's
business, I understand the unique problems facing small business owners. At
the NFIB, I valued my contributions because I know small businesses have a
huge economic impact on our country and they are unquestionably an important
constituency. Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortable working for a special interest
group--even for one I deeply cared about.
my experiences at the APAA and the NFIB, I have learned how I want to shape
my future. My goals are now
clear: I want to develop and advocate policy decisions that will benefit society
as a whole, not just a few influential special interest groups. I want to uncover
the objective truth of issues and tackle them in the best interests of the
nation, not distort the facts for the benefit of a small group. I know I am
able to look beyond partisan politics to solve problems for this country. Because
of these unbending desires to reveal truth and to remain committed to fair
and equal advancement for all citizens, I think of myself as an ideal candidate
for public service.
I consider my active interest in politics to aid my pursuit of a career in
I've always found my interest in politics exceptional, ever since my college
roommates used to tease me for faithfully watching C-SPAN. However, my faith
in the political process began to wane as I witnessed sensible public policy
proposals torn apart by partisan conflict. I saw advocacy groups distort facts,
and provide extreme, over-blown examples, jeopardizing prudent policy decisions.
I observed how powerful elected officials, ensnared in their own partisan rancor,
would block fair and balanced legislation which offered the most practical
solution for their constituents. But I also encountered many thoughtful and
wise people who devote their lives to public service. These devoted individuals
inspired me. Like them, I want to be actively involved in the design and delivery
of essential government services that improve the lives of the citizens in
our society today. I am positive that by avoiding partisanship and urging the
private industry, the public sector and non-profit groups to collaborate, many
difficult problems can be resolved.
order to be an effective public servant, I recognize the indispensability of
an advanced degree. I've
gained a lot of "real world" experience, but I need more training in the fundamentals
of economics and statistics, as well as direction in sharpening my analytical
and quantitative skills. I also want to devote time to studying the ethical
dimensions of policy decisions. In graduate school, I'll have the opportunity
to truly understand and appreciate the competing interests surrounding so many
complex issues like health care reform, environmental protection and economic
chosen Duke's public policy program for several reasons. Duke's program stands
out because there is an
emphasis on quantitative and analytical skills, which are so critical to policy
analysis. As I mentioned, I feel that if I can strengthen my ability to approach
problems logically and systematically, I will have succeeded in sharpening
skills I consider necessary to succeed in the public realm. And possibly even
more importantly, Duke's program bridges the gap between abstract principles
and reality. This interdisciplinary approach is essential for responding to
today's policy problems. I am excited by the possibility of combining the MPP
program with the Health Policy Certificate Program. I am particularly interested
in studying the problem of reforming state health to reduce the number of uninsured,
and I believe Duke's curriculum will offer me a chance to do just that. From
my own research into Duke, I feel confident in my knowledge of the public policy
program and its potential to teach me. And after meeting with Helen Ladd, the
Director of Graduate Studies, I'm even more convinced that Duke's program is
right for me.
the road "to be nobody but" myself,
I've encountered twists and turns, and some detours--it is unquestionably the
hardest battle I could fight. However, in the process, I've accumulated a tremendous
amount of valuable experience and knowledge. My diversity of experience is
my biggest asset. Because I can relate a Duke education to concrete examples
from my own past, it is the perfect time for me to join the public policy program.
I know that my past can be used to prepare myself for the promises of the future.
At Duke, I hope to synthesize the two and truly learn what it means to become
Unique? Essay One
Perhaps the most important influence that has
shaped the person I am today is my upbringing in a traditional family-oriented
Persian and Zoroastrian culture. My family has been an important source of
support in all of the decisions I have made, and Zoroastrianism's three basic
tenets-good words, good deeds, and good thoughts-have been my guiding principles
in life. Not only do I try to do things for others, but I always push myself
to be the best that I can be in all aspects of my life. I saw early the doors
and opportunities that a good education can open up; thus, I particularly tried
hard to do well in school.
Another important experience that has had a large
influence on me the past few years has been college. Going from high school
to college was a significant change. College required a major overhaul of my
time-management techniques as the number of things to do mushroomed. In high
school, I was in the honors program, with the same cohort of students in all
my classes. Thus, I was exposed little to people very different from myself.
College, on the other hand, is full of diversity. I have people of all backgrounds
and abilities in my classes, and I have been fortunate enough to meet quite
a few of them. This experience has made me more tolerant of differences. Furthermore,
a variety of classes such as the Humanities Core Course, in which we specifically
studied differences in race, gender, and belief systems, have liberalized my
My undergraduate research has occupied a large
portion of my time in college. Along with this experience have come knowledge
and skills that could never be gained in the classroom. I have gained a better
appreciation for the medical discoverers and discoveries of the past and the
years of frustration endured and satisfaction enjoyed by scientists. I have
also learned to deal better with the disappointments and frustrations that
result when things do not always go as one expects them to. My research experience
was also important to me in that it broadened my view of the medical field.
Research permitted me to meet a few medical doctors who have clinical practices
and yet are able to conduct research at the university. This has made me seriously
consider combining research with a clinical practice in my own career.
From my earliest memories, I can always remember
being interested in meteorology. I believe that this interest sparked my love
for the outdoors, while my interest in medicine molded my desire for healthy
living. As a result of these two influences, I try to follow an active exercise
routine taking place mostly in the outdoors. I enjoy running and mountain biking
in the local hills and mountains, along with hiking and backpacking. All of
these activities have made me concerned about the environment and my place
Why Unique? Essay Two
My longtime fascination with politics and international
affairs is reflected in my participation, starting in high school, in activities
such as student council, school board meetings, Vietnam war protests, the McCarthy
campaign, and the grape boycott. As each new cause came along, I was always
ready to go to Washington or the state capital to wave a sign or chant slogans.
Although I look back on these activities today with some chagrin, I realize
they did help me to develop, at an early age, a sense of concern for social
and political issues and a genuine desire to play a role.
As an undergraduate, I was more interested in
social than academic development. During my last two years, I became involved
with drugs and alcohol and devoted little time to my studies, doing only as
much as was necessary to maintain a B average. After graduation my drug use
became progressively worse; without the motivation or ability to look for a
career job, I worked for a time in a factory and then, for three years, as
a cab driver in New York City.
In 1980 I finally ''hit bottom'' and became willing
to accept help. I joined both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous,
and for the next several years the primary business of my life was recovery.
Although I had several ''slips'' in the beginning, I have now enjoyed nearly
seven years of complete freedom from drug and alcohol use. I mention my bout
with addiction because I think it is important in answering two issues that
presumably will be of concern to the admissions committee: my lackluster undergraduate
record and the fact that I have waited until the age of 34 to begin preparing
academically for a career in public policy. It would be an oversimplification
to call addiction the cause for either of these things; rather I would say
it was the most obvious manifestation of an underlying immaturity that characterized
my post adolescent years. More importantly, the discipline of recovery has
had a significant impact on my overall emotional growth.
During the last years of my addiction I was completely
oblivious to the world around me. Until 1983 I didn't even realize that there
had been a revolution in Nicaragua or that one was going on in El Salvador.
Then I rejoined the Quaker Meeting, in which I had been raised as a child,
and quickly gravitated to its Peace and Social Order Committee. They were just
then initiating a project to help refugees from Central America, and I joined
enthusiastically in the work. I began reading about Central America and, later,
teaching myself Spanish. I got to know refugees who were victims of poverty
and oppression, became more grateful for my own economic and educational advantages,
and developed a strong desire to give something back by working to provide
opportunities to those who have not been so lucky.
In 1986 I went to Nicaragua to pick coffee for
two weeks. This trip changed my whole outlook on both the United States and
the underdeveloped world. The combination of living for two weeks amid poverty
and engaging in long political discussions with my fellow coffee pickers, including
several well-educated professionals who held views significantly to the left
of mine, profoundly shook my world view. I came back humbled, aware of how
little I knew about the world and eager to learn more. I began raiding the
public library for everything I could find on the Third World and started subscribing
to a wide variety of periodicals, from scholarly journals such as Foreign Affairs
and Asian Survey to obscure newsletters such as Through Our Eyes (published
by U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua).
Over the intervening two years, my interest has
gradually focused on economics. I have come to realize that economic development
(including equitable distribution of wealth) is the key to peace and social
justice, both at home and in the Third World. I didn't study economics in college
and have found it difficult to understand the economic issues that are at the
heart of many policy decisions. At the same time, though, I am fascinated by
the subject. Given my belief that basic economic needs are among the most fundamental
of human rights, how can society best go about providing for them? Although
I call myself an idealist, I'm convinced that true idealism must be pragmatic.
I am not impressed, for example, by simplistic formulations that require people
to be better than they are. As a Quaker I believe that the means are inseparable
from the end; as an American I believe that democracy and freedom of expression
are essential elements of a just society, though I'm not wedded to the idea
that our version of democracy is the only legitimate one.
Although I have carved out a comfortable niche
in my present job, with a responsible position and a good salary, I have become
increasingly dissatisfied with the prospect of a career in business applications
programming. More and more of my time and energy is now being absorbed by community
activities. After getting my master's in public administration, I would like
to work in the area of economic development in the Third World, particularly
Latin America. The setting might be a private (possibly church-based) development
agency, the UN, the OAS, one of the multilateral development banks, or a government
agency. What I need from graduate school is the academic foundation for such
a career. What I offer in return is a perspective that comes from significant
involvement in policy issues at the grass roots level, where they originate
and ultimately must be resolved.
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