Otherwise known as the application process. Yes, it’s that wonderful time of year (again), where I am working on applications to PhD programs. I understand the purpose of most of the applications, really I do. Statements of Purpose? Those make perfect sense, they’ve gotta know what I want to do there. Have I ever committed a felony? Well, wanting to know that seems obvious. Transcripts? Resumé? Letters of Rec? Very reasonable requests. However, a number of schools require an answer to what is termed a “personal history” question, where they demand: “discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree.” What.The.Heck. Seriously, admissions committees are presumably made up of intelligent individuals, and one might think that intelligent individuals realize that everyone (or nearly everyone, but I can’t think of an exception right now) has some kind of unique, varied, interesting or diverse life experience that would contribute to the their decision to “pursue graduate education” and would enhance the department. Really, ya’d think. Anyway, in a fit of frustration over these questions yesterday, I wrote this. It’s mainly a joke, but part of me is *this close* to uploading the thing…
I will contribute to the diversity of your department by sharing my talents as a baker. Throughout my education, I have come to learn that cupcakes, cookies, etc, are very important tools not only to enhance learning, but also to build a sense of community and forge social ties. You see, I am an exceptional baker. I have the requisite patience, attention to detail and determination to tackle any recipe and obtain good results. Baking has taught me that, no matter how daunting an idea may seem at first (Italian meringue anyone?) if you put your mind to it, are willing at accept constructive criticism and take the time to try again, it is possible to make anything. The most important reason why my skills in baking will be beneficial to your program however, does not lie in my own determination, but in how baking impacts others.
You see, a tray of cupcakes, plate of cookies, or beautiful presentation of some other goodies serves to brighten any occasion. I have noticed that everyone wants to know who brought the cupcakes, and that because of this, bringing a baked good into a new social environment is a most excellent way to make friends and other social contacts. Here, I would like to clarify something, and that something is that my experience being the girl with the tray of cupcakes is much more multi-national, multi-cultural and generally diverse than that of the average American girl. During my formative years, my parents moved me no less than six times, the most character forming of those moves being the “big one” to England. It was in England that I learned to bake, thanks to the mandatory “Food Technology” classes presented to me at my British school. In that class, I learned that I was much more skilled at baking than most of my classmates. Nothing burned, unleavened or unappetizing ever came out of my play-kitchen sized oven. I took my newfound skill and pursued it outside of the classroom at home and in other situations. I like to think my profiteroles were the main reason that the recruiting parties for my dad’s office went so well, and led to so many new hires, the summer after my seventh grade year. When I had to move again, cookies were a great way to say goodbye to the girls at that British boarding school who had accepted me as one of their own in spite of my strange accent and unusual height. Sugar made goodbye less painful. Baked goods made the subsequent “hellos” less awkward as well. At two different high schools, in two different countries, trays of sweet treats smoothed my integration into new environments and social contexts. Although I was only there for two short years, teachers from my second high school still comment on my baking-related Facebook posts saying how much they wish I could have stayed there and continued to provide the snacks. If nothing else, baking let me make quick friends and a good impression wherever I had to go.
I carried my whisk to college, where I made another set of new friends feel special with cupcakes on their birthdays, favorite snacks when they were homesick, and treats to distract from the impending doom of a test. It was in college I realized what baking allowed me to do. I had never been allowed to live in any one place long enough to put down roots, to have people I knew I could count on no matter what, or to have a sense of place, but being in the kitchen gave me that grounding. I could bake. I could do that anywhere. That meant I was home. Moreover, baking had the positive side effect of practically giving me friends. Cupcakes create acceptance. That is the most important lesson. That lesson continued beyond the limits of my Southern Californian campus. When I studied abroad, the first time my host mother did not stare at me in confusion and wonder over dinner, instead, she said “oh! c’est SI bon!” in response to my baklava. That was definitely preferable to the silent judgment I could feel as she listened to me explain how the United States never actually ratified the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in my mostly-fluent, though not entirely perfect, French. From that Sunday onward, I was in charge of dessert. When I moved on to graduate school, I forced baked goods on my new colleagues during the breaks of three-hour seminars in order to make them talk to me and each other. I needed to not feel so alone in those classrooms, and providing the snacks let me find my sense of place again. I carried bags of cookies to the dog park, for the people and the humans, in order to turn what were friendly acquaintances into some of the best friends I have ever had. All-in-all, baking has allowed a naturally-shy me to open up, make friends, fill the holes that my upbringing created with people, not just excess calories, and remind my self of my own competency and ability on an on-going basis, especially when studying seems too hard or a presentation seems too daunting. I cannot promise that I am a picture of conventional “diversity,” but I can promise that I will bring the cupcakes.
Admissions committees, if you are reading this, pick me? please?