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Sample Personal Statement in Biology (Admitted to JHU)

phd personal statement biology

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In personal statement samples by field.

Here is the personal statement of a student who made it to John Hopkins University with a 100% scholarship in the field of cancer biology.

I want to emphasise that you must be honest in writing your personal statements. If you borrow content from other places, refer to them in your personal statement. Admissions officers in the US read many essays each year and can easily detect plagiarism.

Sample Personal Statement in Biology

“Raise your hand if your first memory was at age five,” prompted the professor on the first day of my classes. By the time he reached age two, most hands had lowered, but mine remained high. When I was two, I vividly remember when my aunt hugged her daughter tightly and exclaimed to her, “Someone is really brave and is soon going to become even braver!” 

I must have looked bewildered because then my aunt started to sob uncontrollably. How could I have known then what she meant? A couple of days later, my cousin was on an operating table, screaming and crying, with bright lights and nurses poking at her – she never came out of that operation theatre. 

However, it was not until I was in grade 8 that I learned that she had breast cancer, but I have long considered it a defining characteristic. Now years later, I wonder about the rareness of this disorder, the steadfast will of her parents throughout the hardship, and the failure of medicine to save her. From this experience as an onlooker, my passion for medicine emerged.

During my primary education, I expressly recall interacting with several people in the late stages of cancer. I knew my actions would not cure them at that point, yet I endured and persevered with patience. The immovable barriers of affliction I encountered during my academic years were far too menacing to be left unaddressed; during this time, I learned about the staggering number of deaths due to breast cancer alone. After realizing the cost of inaction, I decided to search for a career involving action against affliction.

Since R&D provides a vehicle for such action, I delved into several research efforts at the Molecular Biology (Human Genetics) Lab under the supervision of Dr Brown. Although I wanted to work in the area of breast cancer since I had taken several courses in cancer biology, due to a lack of research in the area of my interest, I decided to get involved in a similar domain called “hereditary hypotrichosis” or research on hair related diseases; also a genetic disease with research techniques similar to that of cancer biology. These experiences have drawn me to research as I have seen its potential to engage disease. 

But could I pursue research for the rest of my life? This question resonated in my head countless times and is still faintly heard. I am attracted to research by its potential for action but am detracted by its distance from the afflicted and its consequent neglect of presence. Unsatisfied, I looked for a vocation involving both presence and action.

Being born and raised in a remote rural village 130km away from the nearest city, I used to walk 6km every day to a shelter home school when I was in grade 5. Later, at the age of 12, I left my home permanently to study at another rural school 30km away – but these efforts and hardships paid off; as I stood ranked 1st in my enrollment. With the help of the Education Scholarship, I could continue my education. 

During these years, I also focused on teaching and ensuring that my rural village benefited from my expertise. However, what drew me to teaching was the capacity to love with both presence and action. This became evident over the years as I have spent countless hours counselling and mentoring those afflicted with educational concerns, both in my home city and places I have been to for work. 

Beyond teaching at various schools, where I taught about biological disorders, genetics, biochemistry, and nutrition to teachers from an arts background, I have also extended my efforts to community work by disseminating scholarship information to our community. Being associated with a village-based development organization as a community mobilizer, I have won rewards for my role in completely eradicating drug addiction in my area. I have also extended my philosophy to social, economic, and emotional affliction by wholeheartedly working on schemes such as “Water Supply”, “Don’t Let Our Environment Get Contaminated”, “Stitching and Handicraft”, and “Try to Boast Economy” – projects that engage in a struggle against poverty, mortality, and social injustice. As my conception of affliction broadened, I began to see many exciting career paths in various fields. However, thought, prayer, and counsel have revealed that my efforts would be best spent focusing on one form of affliction.

This circuitous path has thus brought me back to medicine. In considering teaching, volunteering, and social work as potential vocations, I have confirmed my desire to become a researcher in the field of breast cancer and to focus on physical affliction. Nonetheless, my experiences in these fields have helped me to forge a new conception of medicine that I can uphold as a future researcher. 

From my study and interactions with cancer patients, I have learned about the capacity to love when facing a terminal illness. In addition, my research pursuits have revealed the importance of action in combination with presence. Finally, my experiences with teaching and social service have stretched my conception of affliction.

A further degree will amalgamate my existing knowledge and experiences with a command of the causes and effects of illness, yielding an acute insight into the field of breast cancer. A multidisciplinary approach that involves collaboration across the fields of basic science, medicine, and public health can tackle the roots of problems with a high rate of breast cancer. I believe I can make a significant difference in the health of our society, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to do so actively.

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Biological Engineering Communication Lab

Graduate School Statement of Purpose Tips

Not sure what the statement of purpose in the BE PhD application is supposed to look like? You’ve come to the right place. Let’s break it down.

The two most important questions to answer in your personal statement are:

  • What have I done during my time as an undergraduate and afterward to prepare myself for being a Biological Engineering PhD Student?
  • How do I show I am a good fit for the BE program specifically at MIT?

Let’s start with some tips on addressing the first point – your past experiences and preparation for a PhD program:

  • Your personal statement should describe your most important previous research experience(s) in depth. For those who have worked in several labs, discuss only those experiences which were the most relevant to your scientific journey. For those who have only worked in one lab, do not panic, that is completely okay! Either way, just make sure to describe both what you accomplished during your research and what you learned in the process. What you learned in the process should emphasize either transferable technical skills you picked up, such as writing well-organized code, or research “soft skills” that you gained, such as working independently or collaboratively. Frequent approaches to talking about previous research with a compelling narrative include discussing a challenge you overcame and what you took away from it, discussing a moment of failure and how you moved forward, or discussing a moment that brought you joy to be doing research. You can spend multiple paragraphs addressing previous research. Also, feel free to mention if any patents or publications came out of your work (and it’s completely fine if not).
  • If your transcript does not include both fundamental biology and quantitative coursework, discuss how you have demonstrated competency in the missing area. It is usually best to leave your coursework to your transcript unless there are one or two advanced courses you feel had a large impact on your research interests. However, if you haven’t had any fundamental biology courses (like biochemistry or cellular biology), describe ways (e.g. online courses, reading, or research) that you have gained an understanding of how biological systems operate. Similarly, if your transcript does not include courses with significant quantitative components (such as ODEs, introductory programming, probability and statistics, or thermodynamics), discuss how you’ve supplemented your coursework with quantitative material.

Okay now for the trickier part. How do you show you are a good fit for Biological Engineering specifically at MIT? Here are some tips:

  • Your personal statement should show that your goals align with the MIT BE mission to further knowledge at the interface of biology and engineering. The MIT Biological Engineering graduate admissions committee wishes to know how you plan to fuse an understanding of how biological systems work (especially at the molecular and cellular levels) with engineering approaches (such as mathematical modeling, computation, and/or hands-on design) in order to measure, model, manipulate, make, or quantitatively analyze biological systems in novel ways for societal benefit.
  • Your personal statement should describe your research interests moving forward, and should discuss how they tie into the research people in the department currently do. It is recommended you specifically mention at least two (preferably three) professors with whom you would be interested in working. Rather than saying you are “generally interested in biological engineering,” discuss specific examples of subdisciplines (or even sub-subdisciplines) you would like to work in, such as “mammalian synthetic biology,” “cancer immunotherapy,” or “neurological drug delivery.” Make sure to describe why you are interested in these subdisciplines. It is often helpful to give examples of specific scientific questions you would like to answer or engineering challenges you would like to work on. Tying these ideas to work currently being done in the department/program will make them much more impactful. These interests may easily change while you are in the program, but it is still important to show you have identified and reflected upon the research directions you most likely want to pursue. Additionally, not all the faculty members you mention must be doing exactly what you are interested in so long as you can explain how your research interests fit with theirs.

Finally, here are a few miscellaneous tips to polish it off:

  • Your personal statement should emphasize how your previous experiences will help you achieve the scientific goals you’ve described. Basically, when you read back over your statement, it should be clear how what you’ve done in the past makes you qualified to do what you want in the future. It’s okay if you still have many skills you need to pick up on the way! That’s expected. It’s also okay if you don’t want to do the same thing in grad school as you did in/after undergrad (that’s extremely common). Just make sure to at some point explain how what you previously worked on makes you a good candidate for researching the kind of things you want in the future. This could include technical skills (e.g. you now want to apply machine learning to immunology rather than neuroscience) or soft skills (e.g. your comfort with independently designing experimental protocols will be helpful for making new methods for performing cellular measurements). Sentences addressing this point can be peppered throughout the narrative, or you can section off a paragraph for it, but make sure it goes in a logical place.
  • At the end, your personal statement should very briefly discuss long-term career goals and research visions. There is no right answer, and there are no expectations that you would know now, but best guesses are helpful. This can just be one to two sentences. And you don’t have to say that you want to be a professor unless that is something you think you might want to do!
  • Your personal statement should be no more than 2 pages (single-spaced).   Them’s the rules.

Additional Resources:

  • Get more tips on personal statements from the BE Comm Lab here .
  • Tips for CVs/Resumes and templates .
  • Don’t forget to prep for interviews .

Blog post written by BE graduate students Dylan Hirsch, Molly Parsons, and the Graduate Student DEI recruitment working group. 

Posted Sept 2021.

Biomedical Graduate Education

Writing an Effective Personal Statement for PhD Graduate Programs

Personal statements should be a reflection of your academic skills, success, and goals.

By Kaela Singleton Doctoral Candidate in Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience

A personal statement is one of the most important components of any doctoral graduate school application. This post will guide you with some general steps to get you started with generating a personal statement that is concise, reflects your academic success, and emphasizes your goals for graduate school. The individual graduate programs will provide writing prompts that detail exactly what you should address in your statement, so be sure you touch on everything that they want you to cover!

Before you start writing

  • Update your CV:  Having a complete list of your accomplishments will make it easier to include and exclude information from your personal statement. Your CV can be used as a timeline of your achievements, and therefore an outline to how your past experiences have prepared you for graduate school. For guidance on CV writing, see  7 Tips for Writing a Successful CV.
  • Research Graduate Schools of Interest:  Gain insight into the coursework, faculty, and student life for each program you are considering. Using the program website, generate a list of qualities that appeal to you about each school you’re applying to. Emphasize how and why these qualities contribute to your decision to apply to this program. This list should include research and faculty members that interest you as well as any other pros (i.e. location, cohort size, post-graduate jobs etc.)
  • Create a team of editors:  Your personal statement will be read by faculty members and graduate students studying different topics within the program. Therefore, your personal statement should be compelling to a broad audience. Ask peers, mentors and advisors from various disciplines well in advance to edit and provide feedback on your statement.

Now start writing

Introduction.

The goal is to engage your reader with a quick synopsis of who you are, what you want out of graduate school, and your qualifications to join this specific program.

  • Introduce yourself and identify your academic interests:  Provide a brief introduction of yourself and your academic interests. If you have a personal anecdote that explains how you became interested in science and research, start there. These “narrative hook” anecdotes engage the reader and set up a great platform to describe the motivation behind your experiences. Then go into your academic interests, which can be a couple of sentences broadly stating your research interests.  
  • Emphasize your skills and overall goals:  Use both your research on the program and CV to highlight how your skill set will complement and grow from participation in this program. Speak in broad terms, showcasing how your goals align with the overall mission of the program.

THE BODY PARAGRAPHS

The goal is to expand on the points you mentioned within the introduction. Provide concrete examples of how past and present experiences led you to writing this application.

  • Explain how you became interested in your particular scientific field:  Highlight key moments that encouraged you to apply to graduate school. This can be the very start of your interests in the field or from skills and knowledge that you gained from internships, research experiences, or coursework and class discussions.
  • Describe your prior research experiences and importantly what you learned from each experience:  Provide a past experience where you used and developed a new skill that is pertinent to your ability to conduct research. Be sure to explain how this skill will be useful for your future in graduate school. It is critical to discuss what you learned from experience and to be as specific and concise as possible.  For example: I worked with Dr. A at institution B. My work focused on C. The project entailed D, E and F techniques. From this experience, I learned G. This taught me F about my decision to attend graduate school. 

In the conclusion paragraph, you should discuss what you learned about the graduate school program that you are applying for. Highlight specific faculty members or courses listed that excite you, and re-emphasize your goals.

  • Summarize your qualifications and experiences:  Bring everything together here. Emphasize the skills you currently have and how joining this program will aide in continuing your success. 
  • Personalize:  In this final paragraph, include specific faculty and program qualities that appeal to you as an applicant. Show that you have researched specific faculty or courses that will aide in your future training. Also be sure to discuss your career goals. 
  • Edit:  Proofread and edit. Send your statement out to friends, faculty advisors, and people outside of your discipline. 

Personal statements should tell your story and be compelling across fields. Remember that a PhD program trains you to build and utilize scientific skills to advance research. You won’t want to try to convince the reader that you’ll cure cancer or discover the flu vaccine. Instead, focus on persuading readers that graduate training is right for you, and that the accompanying enrichment of your research skillset will help you reach your academic and professional goals.

phd personal statement biology

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  • CAREER FEATURE
  • 23 April 2021

Sell yourself and your science in a compelling personal statement

Andy Tay is a science writer in Singapore.

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Personal statements — essays highlighting personal circumstances, qualities and achievements — are used extensively in science to evaluate candidates for jobs, awards and promotions. Five researchers offer tips for making yours stand out in a crowded and competitive market.

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How to Write a Personal Statement for a PhD Program Application

Personal statement guidelines, general guidelines to keep in mind:.

  • One size does not fit all : Tailor your personal statement to each program and department you are applying to. Do your research to learn what is unique about each of your choices and highlight how this particular program stands out.
  • Yes, it’s personal : Showcase your unique strengths and accomplishments. Explain what influenced your personal decisions to pursue the program. Ask yourself, could this be applied to your friend or neighbor? If so, you need to be more specific and provide examples. Saying that you are a “good scientist” isn’t enough. Provide examples of your previous research experience, projects you’ve completed, and what technical skills you learned. Explain how you overcame any challenges along the way.
  • Set aside enough time :  Although personal statements are generally short in length (approx. 700 words; 1-2 pages), give yourself ample time to write a strong, well-written statement. It takes more time than you think to develop a final draft for submission.
  • Focus on your spelling, grammar, and vocabulary :  It’s important to present a well-written statement with good grammar and vocabulary. Write concrete, succinct sentences that flow well. Avoid flowery language. Visit the  Writing Center  for additional review and feedback.
  • Proofread one more time:  Check your grammar and spelling again before submitting your final draft. Ask a friend, professor, or advisor to proofread your final draft one more time before sending it in. 

YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT SHOULD ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:

  • Why do you want to complete further research in this field?  Write down a list of reasons as to why you are interested in pursuing further study in the field. When did you become interested in the field and what knowledge have you gained so far? Describe how your previous work provided the foundation and for further study.
  • Why  have you  chosen to apply to this particular university ? Does the institution have a particular curriculum, special research facilities/equipment, or interesting research that appeal to you?
  • What are your strengths ? Demonstrate how you stand out from other candidates. Highlight relevant projects, dissertations thesis or essays that demonstrate your academic skills and creativity. Include IT skills, research techniques, awards, or relevant traveling/ study abroad experience.
  • What are your transferable skills?  Be sure to emphasize transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, and time management skills. Give examples of how you have demonstrated each of these with specific examples.
  • How does this program align with your career goals?  It’s okay if you don’t know the exact career path you plan to take after completing your PhD. Provide an idea of the direction you would like to take. This demonstrates commitment and dedication to the program.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For examples of successful personal statements, visit the  Online Writing Lab (OWL) .

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POMONA COLLEGE

  • Application Process
  • Common Questions
  • Useful Resources

Graduate Application Process

Writing a strong personal statement.

  • You should begin a draft of your personal statement the summer before you are applying to graduate school.
  • Finalize your draft in September and have your faculty advisor and other close faculty read your essay.
  • Spend the rest of September and some of October revising your essay and writing different versions tailored to each school.
  • Make your essay sincere but unique by mentioning how you found your own research opportunity, or published a paper when you were an undergraduate, or used a really awesome new technology that inspired you to continue doing research.
  • Your most important research projects in brief.  Explain the question(s) you addressed and what you accomplished.  Don’t be afraid to mention that your project didn’t work.  Graduate schools understand the trials and tribulations of research and above all respect honesty.
  • Your goals in graduate school and after you receive your doctorate.
  • Why you became interested in science and why you want to follow a research career in the immediate future.
  • Any professors that you are interested in working with, why you find their research interesting, and possibly a future project based on their current works.
  • Explain any discrepancies in your GRE scores, transcript, or disciplinary record.  If you have anything that really stands out, give a simple explanation for what happened.

^Back to Top

  • Avoid excessive detail on your personal background or research as well as flowery and verbose writing.  You have limited space; complicated vocabulary or sentence structure will detract from the important points of your statement and won’t impress anyone.
  • If you are interested in getting a job in industry after you get your Ph.D., it is not wise to blatantly state that in your essay.  Graduate programs want a significant number of their students to become faculty, so it is safer to mention that you are interested in continuing research post graduate school.
  • Don’t write anything that indicates you aren’t sure about graduate school.  If a school knows that you are highly qualified, but feels that you are just applying to have options after college, not because you truly want to attend their program, they will be disinclined to offer you admission. 
  • The length of your statement depends on what is specified in each application.  Thus you cannot get away with writing one personal statement and use it for every application.  Typically schools ask you to write a personal statement that is 1000-2000 characters long.
  • Make sure to carefully proof read your personal statement.  Typos or grammar mistakes make your essay seem sloppy and easily turn off your reader.  Have friends, faculty, or parents proof read your essay for typos. 
  • Look online for sample essays to view examples of strong personal statements.
  • Taylor your essay to each program.  You can include the core of your original essay for each school, but add an additional paragraph or two detailing why you want to attend that specific school, why you would thrive there, what professors you are interested in, etc. 
  • Most applications have one or two supplemental essays.  For instance, some schools ask you to explain your research in more detail, while others ask you to explain how you think you will fit into their program with respect to the students, faculty, and school community.

In this section:

When should I start writing?

What should I include?

What not to include?

How long should it be?

Supplemental essays

Application Process Links:

Choosing Programs

Application Content

Sample Checklist/Deadline Spreadsheets

Personal Statement

Recommendations

[email protected]

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Stanford University

Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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How to Write a Biology Personal Statement Worthy of Oxbridge!

By U2 Tutor, Holly (Cambridge Biological Natural Sciences graduate and current Graduate Medic at St George’s Hospital Medical School)

Writing a personal statement can be overwhelming - there’s so much pressure to ‘sell yourself’ to the universities in just 4000 characters. In this blog we’ll discuss how to structure your personal statement, as well as tips to simplify the writing process and make your personal statement stand out.

How to Structure your Biology Personal Statement

Paragraph 1: This should be motivation focused i.e. why you want to do Biology above any other course.

Paragraph 2: This should demonstrate your aptitude for the course - explore what you have done so far and the skills you’ve gained from it, in order to show that you’re suited to university learning.

Paragraph 3: This should be a continuation of paragraph 2, ideally discussing some other areas of biology or other skills.

Paragraph 4: Brief discussion of extra-curriculars, but only if they also demonstrate skills which suit you to the course.

Tips For a Biology Personal Statement

Writing the Perfect Biology Personal Statement Introduction

If you take anything from this guide, it’s to avoid clichés! The most important thing you can do is convey your genuine interest in the subject, and saying you’ve wanted to do biology since you were a child isn’t the way to do this (even if it is the case). Equally, try not to exaggerate with your wording, as this can also come across as less authentic. Just try and explain your motivations clearly and honestly, and focus on showing this motivation through your experiences and beyond syllabus knowledge.

Writing the opening sentence can be the hardest part, so is often best left until the end . There’s a misconception that you have to write a captivating, attention-grabbing opening sentence - this isn’t the case, especially not for the sciences! It’s completely fine to start simply, such as with ‘I was first drawn to Biology when I studied x…’ and go from there. Remember you have a character limit, so it’s best to just go straight in!

Forming a First Draft of Your Personal Statement

Don’t put pressure on yourself to write a full draft on your first attempt. There will be lots of redrafting and restructuring and that’s okay! Give yourself plenty of time to allow for this.

The best way to start is to write down everything you want to include in your personal statement - include everything you can think of from an academic and extra-curricular perspective. Try not to include anything beyond the last few years, as this is unlikely to be relevant . For each point, determine what skills you gained from these experiences and what you learnt from them .

Then compare this to the skills/ qualities most sought after for the courses you’re applying to (this is likely to be very similar between universities). Whilst it can seem overwhelming at first, it’s a quick way of narrowing down what is worth including in your personal statement. From there you can work out how to elaborate on these experiences. Try to group them together in themes if possible, so that you can organise your paragraphs accordingly.

Ideas to Show Your Interest

You might be thinking that your list of things to include in your personal statement is going to be rather short - you hopefully have plenty of time to rectify that! If you’ve not yet had a chance, it’s important to explore Biology in more depth - this is to distinguish you from your classmates doing the same subjects. Remember the universities will also see your grades through UCAS, so you’re wasting some of the precious word count by mentioning these. Instead, you need to discuss co-curriculars - evidence that you’ve explored the subject and have a genuine interest. Try and find 2-3 broad areas of Biology that you’re interested in and ideally match with some of the modules offered as part of the courses you’re applying to . There are plenty of ways you can do this…

Books - these have been divided into some broad topics within some of the popular Biology courses:

Biomedical:

Do No Harm - Henry Marsh

Fragile Lives - Stephen Westaby

The Body: A Guide for Occupants - Bill Bryson

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins,

The Epigenetics Revolution - Nessa Carey

Genome - Matt Ridley

Psychology:

Any of Oliver Sacks books, particularly The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat or Awakenings

The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson

On the Origin of Species - Charles Darwin

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

Epigenetics: The Wisdom of Whores - Elizabeth Pisani

Cognitive sciences: Daniel Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow

Successful Biology Personal Statement Book Recommendations

Essay competitions

There are yearly competitions hosted by Minds Underground to allow you to explore topics you might not have encountered before.

Many Oxbridge colleges also run their own essay competitions , as well as biological societies e.g. Royal Society of Biology and British Society for Cell Biology . Essay competitions are particularly relevant to Oxbridge applications as supervisions often require you to write similar essays.

Biology Work Experience

It can be useful to get work experience, such as in a lab, but don’t feel like this is an essential - universities understand it can be very difficult to find, especially in the post-covid era. If you do have experience, be careful not to just list what you did during work experience. Focus on the skills you gained, and how you could use these at university e.g. familiarity with different lab-based techniques.

Research Projects (Minds Underground)

Similar to Extended Projects offered by some schools, you could write your own research project exploring a topic of your choice. It can be difficult to decide on a title - it might be easier to use your A-level content as a springboard, and design a project to investigate something you’ve learnt about. For example, you could design a literature review to analyse existing research on a topic, in order to identify gaps in current research and inform future research opportunities. You could also design your own experiment (although there obviously limits to this!) such as investigating conditions needed by different plants.

Minds Underground can guide you through this with a Biology expert… https://www.mindsunderground.com/work-research-experience

Biology Summer School (Minds Underground)

Summer schools can be an exciting way to get a taster of a variety of different university level biology subjects, from genetic engineering and cancer therapies to ecology and behaviour. Minds Underground hosts an amazing Biology summer school run by Oxbridge graduates, allowing you to broaden your knowledge of Biology whilst gaining useful personal statement and interview material.

Talks and podcasts

Online lectures can also give you a taste of university courses - these are widely available from universities and sites such as Ted Talks . Podcasts are increasingly popular, and are an easy way to keep up to date with current development in Biology. We recommend The Infinite Monkey Cage (less Biology specific, but very interesting!) and Radiolab .

Biological Sciences Personal Statement Podcasts

Extra-curriculars

In the past there’s been a focus on the ‘all rounder’: someone who is academic, musical and sporty. This is not really the case any more, and so extracurriculars shouldn’t take up a significant proportion of your personal statement. The purpose of mentioning these should be to show what skills you’ve gained, and how you could apply these to your course or university life. For example, your weekly football match could have helped develop your team working skills and communication skills, something which is essential in a lab environment. Equally, it could allow you to switch off for a few hours and maintain your high work ethic - this is just as important, as universities (particularly high achieving ones) increasingly want to see that you can maintain a work-life balance.

Applying to Oxford for Biology? Here’s What You Should Also Do

To craft a standout personal statement for Oxford Biological Sciences specifically, it can be helpful to gear your personal statement to specific qualities and details that the university values. Here are some tips to enhance your Biology personal statement with an application for Oxford in mind:

1. Demonstrate Academic Rigour:

Highlight your passion for biology through academic achievements, relevant coursework, and independent research.

Discuss specific topics or scientific concepts that have captivated your interest and showcase your understanding of advanced material. You could have a look through the 1st year Oxford Biology modules and see if anything you have explored links to material you may cover at the university.

2. Emphasise Independent Thinking:

Discuss instances where you've independently pursued scientific inquiry or engaged in co-curricular activities related to biology.

Oxford values students who can think critically and contribute to discussions, so emphasise your ability to approach problems independently.

3. Reflect on Your Reading:

As detailed above, mention books, articles, or research papers that have influenced your understanding of biology. However, don’t just list them - make sure you give your independent analysis and opinion on everything you have included in your personal statement.

Oxford is known for its tutorial system, and demonstrating that you've engaged with challenging material beyond the standard curriculum can set you apart.

4. Discuss Your Practical Skills:

Describe any laboratory work, experiments, or field studies you've been involved in.

Showcasing hands-on experience is crucial, as it aligns with Oxford's emphasis on practical learning.

5. Showcase Interdisciplinary Interests:

Oxford appreciates interdisciplinary approaches. If your interest in biology connects with other disciplines, explain how and why.

Mention any relevant projects or coursework that spans multiple scientific domains.

6. Make It Personal and Reflective:

Share personal anecdotes or experiences that sparked your interest in biology.

Reflect on how your unique background or experiences contribute to your perspective as a future biologist.

7. Highlight Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving:

Illustrate instances where you've had to think critically, solve problems, or overcome challenges.

Oxford seeks students who can navigate complex issues and contribute meaningfully to academic discussions.

8. Address Your Motivation for Oxford:

Clearly articulate why you want to study biology at Oxford specifically, without mentioning the university explicitly as the personal statement also needs to be relevant to your other university choices.

Discuss the aspects of the Oxford programme (again, without mentioning the university explicitly) that appeal to you and how it aligns with your long-term goals.

9. Prepare for Interview Discussion:

Anticipate questions that might arise from your personal statement and be ready to discuss your ideas in-depth.

Consider how your experiences and perspectives can contribute to academic discussions at Oxford.

A standout personal statement for Oxford is not just a list of achievements but a narrative that demonstrates intellectual curiosity, a passion for biology, and the potential to thrive in Oxford's academic environment. View the personal statement as a springboard for engaging discussions during interviews!

Biological Science Personal Statement Example

Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Gene: An Intimate History" ignited a profound curiosity in the intricate tapestry of genetic inheritance and molecular mechanisms. Mukherjee's narrative skilfully brought to life the historical context and societal impact of genetics, serving as a catalyst that fuelled my exploration into the foundational works of molecular biology. Inspired by Mukherjee's narrative, I expanded my exploration of genetics through literature, delving into Carl Zimmer's "She Has Her Mother's Laugh." This broadened my perspective on the broader implications of genetic inheritance, touching on topics from heredity and evolution to the societal impact of genetic discoveries. Zimmer's adept blend of scientific rigour and accessible storytelling not only deepened my understanding of genetics but also prompted me to critically analyse the ethical implications of manipulating genetic information, shaping my conviction to approach the rapidly advancing field of genetics with a thoughtful consideration of its societal ramifications. In delving into Watson and Crick's seminal paper on the structure of DNA, I also found myself captivated by the meticulous unravelling of the double helix. This exploration propelled me beyond textbook learning into an understanding of the molecular foundations that govern life. This foundational knowledge took on practical significance as I engaged in a genetic engineering project that utilised CRISPR-Cas9 technology to manipulate bacterial DNA. . This hands-on experience not only solidified my laboratory skills but also deepened my appreciation for the practical implications of gene editing, fueling my commitment to ethical scientific practices. I learn about the delicate balance between scientific innovation and responsible ethical practices, shaping my perspective on the potential impacts of cutting-edge technologies in the biological sciences. This awareness was further honed during a summer school class dedicated to the revolutionary CRISPR technology. Here, I explored the nuances of gene editing's potential applications, ethical implications, and the ongoing discourse in the scientific community. This exploration sparked a particular interest in the potential application of CRISPR technology for targeted gene therapy, a revolutionary avenue with transformative implications for treating genetic disorders at the molecular level. This newfound fascination with gene therapy, particularly in the context of CRISPR technology, has propelled my desire to contribute to the evolving landscape of biomedical research and therapeutic interventions, further solidifying my commitment to exploring the intersection of cutting-edge science and ethical considerations. My interest in biology extended beyond the microscopic realm into the intricate interplay of species within ecological systems. I recently watched an online lecture on ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity, which delved into the relationships that shape ecosystems. This exploration found resonance in a podcast episode titled "Ecology in Action," where real-world ecological projects illuminated the practical applications of ecological principles I had studied. I am particularly interested in the study of symbiotic relationships in ecosystems, exploring how mutualistic interactions between species contribute to the resilience and sustainability of ecological communities—a concept that I find particularly fascinating for its broader implications in conservation biology and ecosystem management. Each aspect of my exploration into the world of biology has added a layer to my understanding, creating a solid foundation for further academic pursuits and a future dedicated to advancing the frontiers of biological knowledge.

Looking for a Personal Statement Tutor or Support For Your Wider Biology or Biological Natural Sciences Application?

Biology personal statement support.

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U2’s Oxbridge-educated mentors have a close insight into what admissions tutors like to see in a Biology personal statement, and can help students to convey their skills, motivations, and long term goals, in order to stand out from other applicants. The statement should be the candidates own work, but our mentors will provide direction and guide you through the process of content building and writing. We offer offline drafting as well as tuition sessions.

Oxbridge Biology Tuition

We offer Oxbridge Mentoring for students looking for support throughout the application process (book a free consultation to discuss options). We have a large team of Oxford Biology and Cambridge Biological Natural Sciences tutors including 1st Class, Master’s and PhD level graduates.

The Process:

1) We suggest an Oxbridge-educated Biology tutor and send their full CV for review. Our mentors are deeply familiar with the admissions process to study Biology at Oxford and Cambridge Biological Natural Sciences, and are well-placed to guide you through Biology personal statement curation and the interview process. We may suggest a range of application tutors to choose from with slightly differing rates depending on qualifications and level of experience.

2) We typically suggest beginning with a 1.5 hour diagnostic session , where the tutor will informally assess the student’s current performance level for application. Following this, we issue a report with feedback, and structure a plan to best prepare.

3) U2’s approach for regular Biology application sessions: The main focus of tutorial sessions will be to explore material that can be discussed in the personal statement and at interview - this may sometimes stretch from A-Level standard to First Year Undergraduate. Mentors ensure each student refines their interests within Biology, and is exposed to a range of key concepts and topics.

Frequency of sessions can be decided between student and tutor. Students can take either ad hoc sessions, or we structure a full programme for preparation, which may include further co-curricular opportunities such as our research projects , Biology Summer School and Oxbridge mock interview days . Honing the skills necessary to succeed for Oxbridge ideally requires long-term preparation and mentoring presents a wonderful opportunity to learn from some of the very best Oxbridge has produced.

Sessions from £75/h + VAT.

Your Ultimate Guide to the Oxbridge Admissions Process

How to write a biomedical science personal statement.

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PERSONAL STATEMENT EXAMPLES Biology personal statements

Discover personal statement examples written by students accepted onto biology and related courses. Read through the examples to help shape your own personal statement.

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Make the most of your interest in Biology with biomedical sciences at Swansea.

Tailor your studies towards a career in research, innovation or healthcare with Swansea University's range of biomedical sciences degrees. Foundation Year, BSc and MSci available - there's a place for you at Swansea!

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Cell and molecular biology Ph.D personal statement

  • Reading time: 3 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: 11th October 2021
  • Word count: 755 words
  • File format: Text

Biology has always been a fascination and more of a miracle to me from my childhood. It is the science of life because it concerns about the microscopic structures of the living organism and how they interact with each other to give raise its properties.  At the school level, I exposed to major concepts of biology such as cell, genes, deoxyribonucleic acid, and protein. I used to read about their important roles in an organism and I never understood how these smallest components affect the most significant components in our body. Moreover, I questioned myself as well how these molecules could control our health & illness and how they could help us in curing numerous diseases. In addition to that, being in the biology lab preparing the tools and the substances for an experiment was the most enjoyable activities during my high school.  All these thoughts and feelings lead me to decide that I should pursue my education in clinical laboratory science.

I successfully got admission into King Saud University where I graduated from the college of applied medical science, clinical laboratory science with first class honor; overall grade 4.98 out of 5. In college, I have been exposed to many fields of study that expounded to me the myths and mysteries of life such as biochemistry, microbiology, environmental microbiology, genetics, immunology, and enzymology. However, these courses introduced me to new questions that made me more curious about the inner life of cells. My insatiable thirst for delving deep into these subjects has inspired me to pursue a graduate career in cell and molecular biology because it will give me the opportunity to study the basic processes that run life’s playbook.

My graduation project was a literature review about “The Correlation between Human Papillomaviruses Infection and Infertility in Male”; manly discusses the significant role of human papillomaviruses in male fertility since it alters the sperms parameters. During this project; I learned the international standards of writing a literature review and referencing. In addition to that, I learned how to work on Endnote program and discussing my thesis in front of my Professors. As a result of perfect academic record, I won the dean’s list award which I considered it as a sign that means I am on the right path. After my graduation, I started my Internship at King Khalid University Hospital where I spent one year in routine and special laboratories. This program gave me a great opportunity to develop my technical and mechanical skills. Simultaneously, I volunteer with CLS club to give sessions through their snapchat account. Subsequently, I participated with a team to write a booklet about medical laboratory tests which is known as “Way to Medical Lab Test World”. This booklet will be published in cooperation with Saudi Ministry of Health.

Apart from my curriculum, I have good leadership skill and good teamwork abilities. I also have the enthusiasm to learn about life and its ambiguities. Life taught me to be a hardworking person to reach my goals and achieve my dreams.

After receiving my Bachelor’s degree, I know I want to be in a research center to help humanity in solving many lethal issues, especially the genetic problems. I also want to publish lots of landmark research in different scientific journals. Also, I would like to work in the academic field after completing my degree because the joy of teaching other is indescribable. My long-term goals are to work for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

My search for the best match of objective, passions, and dreams has ended at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) with the best of fundamental research in all avenues of bioscience.  When I visited the university website, I was fascinated with the research works that are carried out by KAUST which match my interest in the same line. Moreover, having a prestigious university like KAUST in the Middle East that allows us to conduct researches that suitable to our area made more excited to apply. KAUST gives me hope and makes me more confident in realizing my goal which trains myself thoroughly through the M.S program and proceeds further to a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology. I am sure that the M.S/ Ph.D. in KAUST will definitely widen the horizons of my knowledge and help me obtain a milestone in my career.

In conclusion, I request you to consider my application favorably and provide me an opportunity to pursue my higher studies at your esteemed university.

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(molecular) biology personal statement example.

“Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.” -Ralph Emerson For centuries, mankind has pushed the boundaries of scientific knowledge, uncovering the secrets of our very existence; never before has a species known so much about its biological makeup. The complex relationship between cells and other biological structures has intrigued me for years, and drives me to expand my knowledge of the molecules that create the world around me. Studying Biology has confirmed and boosted my desire to understand biological topics in greater depth, while also increasing my laboratory, analytical and evaluative skills, while Chemistry has given me a foundation in understanding atoms and bonds, necessary to understand Biology in greater depth. Studying Psychology has allowed me to develop my essay writing, and Maths has improved my numerical and statistical analysis skills, both of which are crucial for progressing in Biology. I was accepted for a week at Oxford University’s ‘UNIQ’ summer programme for Biology, which allowed me to develop a higher understanding of a range of topics. While all of the themes captivated me, the area that most interested me was genetics. I learnt how to separate out a single gene and prepare the sample for gel electrophoresis; being able to recover, separate and analyse my DNA was truly amazing, and opened my eyes to the many applications of modern biology. Furthermore, in the parasitology lab session, I discovered that nemotodes are able to detect the presence of a slug from the slime trail; I am fascinated in the biochemical aspect of evolutionary advantages such as this. Another event that further enhanced my aspiration to learn was a ‘Biochemistry & Genetics Masterclass’ at Cambridge University. The lecture entitled ‘Biochemistry of Mitochondria’ focused on the molecular structure of mitochondria and the process by which it creates ATP, which triggered my interest in molecular biology. Since then, I threw myself into activities that quenched my thirst for knowledge surrounding the subject. I commit to wider reading on a range of biological topics, from internet journals such as New Scientist and The Journal of Cell Biology. One article that particularly interested me focused on the acute-phase proteins, chemicals and cells associated with acute HIV-1 infection, and how research into their interactions could be used to develop an effective vaccine. It explored the possibility that CD8+T cells curb viremia; lowering the viremia at the set point leads to slower HIV progression and a lower transmission risk. I believe that research such as this will lead to enhanced knowledge of the interactions between immune response and pathogen cells, which may lead to possible vaccine development. Outside school, one of my hobbies is dance, in which I have taken classes since the age of 5. It has given me a focus separate from my academic work, and enabled me to be part of shows, where I have assisted on and off stage. For my bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, I worked in a charity shop and in an infant school for my Year 10 work experience; both enhanced my confidence and my interpersonal and organisation skills. I am currently completing my silver Duke of Edinburgh, which has given me new opportunities to push myself both mentally and physically. Completing the expedition, I learnt much about myself, how to work as part of team and skills such as compass and map-reading. Within school, I am an active member of the sixth form. I am a ‘Helpliner’ for the lower years, meaning I give support and guidance for students struggling with school or personal issues. I am also part of the academic committee, and I support less able students with GCSE science coursework, as well as volunteering to help in both AS level and key stage 3 science lessons. I am a hard-working, conscientious student, and look forward to the many new opportunities university life offers.

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This personal statement was written by emmaarr for application in 2012.

emmaarr's Comments

Universities applied to: University of Warwick (Biological Sciences)- Offer University of Bath (Molecular and Cellular Biology)- Offer University of St Andrews (Molecular Biology)- Offer Accepted (FIRM) University of Durham (Biological Sciences)- Offer Royal Holloway, University of London (Molecular Biology)- Offer (Insurance)

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