2 November 2008


Posted by Jessica Ball

In the process of applying for extra funding for my graduate studies, I’m finding myself again stuck writing a “personal statement” essay, and I can’t say that I’m fond of it. Oh, I have plenty of motivation to write the thing – what grad student doesn’t want to, say, earn an NSF fellowship and not have to worry about their funding for the next three years? But I’m never comfortable writing an essay that basically demands that I trumpet how wonderful I am. (Dave Barry calls it “strumpeting”, which he usually uses to describe what he does in a book tour, but it’s basically the same thing.)

I don’t mind writing about what I’ve done in terms of research, or my education, or my nonprofit work last year – that’s basically just stating facts. But when it comes time to say, “I’m a wonderful scientist, and I can do better than everyone else I’m competing with, and my project will change the world”…well, I don’t really like that. I’m not saying I won’t do it – how else would I have gotten a job last year? – but it makes me really uncomfortable. It feels like hubris.

It’s possible that this feeling stems from a need for more self-confidence. I’m constantly second-guessing myself on things, even when I’m reasonably sure that I’m right, and being able to write about myself in a confident way doesn’t always come easily. I had a hard time with my grad school applications when it came to this, although judging by the responses I got, I must have been doing something right. I honestly don’t know where this whole thing comes from, though. I never experienced any discouragement from my family or teachers when I let them know that I wanted to be a scientist – just the opposite, in fact. And when I got to college, I didn’t come up against a single instance of anyone trying to discourage me because of my habits or gender or otherwise.

So I’m left wondering where I developed this minor phobia. I love to write, and I obviously love to write about what I do, or I wouldn’t be blogging. But I don’t like singing my own praises – maybe I feel that my work should be able to do that better than I can. At any rate, I’ll sit here and write the damn essay, and it will be great, and hopefully it’ll help earn me the fellowship. It’s necessary, and it does get results, and as much as I complain about it, I’ll still get the thing done. But I won’t enjoy it.

(Then again, this could just be a “this is the weekend and I don’t wanna work” sort of thing. But seeing as I’ve been putting off this part of the application for a while now, I’m betting it’s more than that. Eh.)