As some of you know, I am applying for admission to the Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As part of the application, I have been asked to submit a “brief summary of your academic interests, career goals, and relevant background experience.” Here is the first draft of my response. Please review and provide your valuable insight, comments, and suggestions. I hope to submit the application by mid-December, so please wish me luck and send me your feedback – via public comment, facebook, or email – at your earliest. Thank you very much for your help in this endeavor! Here is the essay:
“I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” – Emo Philips
In my mind, the two-fold purpose of acquiring knowledge is to better understand the fabric of existence and to serve others. Period. This aspect of my philosophical genome amplifies my interest in neuroscience – the window into the seat of human knowledge, the behavior resulting from that knowledge, and the subsequent loopback into that body of knowledge.
During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to conduct extensive research in computer science, materials science, and economics; at the time, C++ was in its infancy, much about the fundamental properties of borosilicate glasses was yet undiscovered, and the Eurozone was little more than a treaty signed in Maastricht. My research advisors and fellow team members helped me rigorously explore, fully internalize, and, subsequently, distill and share the resulting knowledge. Two of these research projects culminated in honors theses earning me a magna cum laude and the designation of a double Richter scholar. Fortunately, these enriching encounters with the edges of human knowledge did not end with graduation. Over the last twenty years, my career path has meandered through many exciting sojourns of collaborations with brilliant minds to develop innovative business models and exciting computational solutions – including artificial intelligence engines to solve NP-hard problems. Intertwined with this, like the second strand of a double helix, my volunteer service engagements add a global context, highlight the role of knowledge deficits in creating socio-economic imbalances and the economics of poverty, and offer a platform for deploying time and knowledge in advancing humanity.
As I look to the future in my current professional and volunteer capacities, three emergent trends – both here in the United States and globally – provide the impetus for my engagement in the field of neuroscience. First, longevity is increasing. While this is desirable, enhancing the quality of life in tandem with the increasing quantity of life is a better outcome which can be achieved through a deeper understanding of brain plasticity, for instance, and its implications on lifelong learning and in mitigating debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Second, the information revolution is rapidly transforming ours into a knowledge society where knowledge and access to knowledge continue to exponentiate. However, even with this, there is little abatement in the costs of secondary and tertiary education, highlighting the cost-value advantage of programs designed to strengthen cognitive, emotional and social foundations during critical periods, such as the rapid synaptogenesis, of early brain development as the undergird for efficient knowledge acquisition in later years. In many countries, such a shift in focus to early childhood development could help dramatically impact its socio-economic development over the course of the next three to four decades. And finally, the sustained population growth; projected to take us into the nine billion plus range over the next three decades. Contrary to the pessimistic models put forth by Thomas Malthus and later Paul Ehrlich, I believe our planet and humankind will accommodate this growth. Having said that, anticipating, planning for, and mobilizing resources ahead of this growth can significantly improve outcomes. New computational models and neural networks developed based on the functioning of the brain would be needed to alleviate the inherent complexity in simulating these growth patterns to derive efficient resource management plans including food, water, and energy production, logistics, and consumption vis-à-vis environmental impact, quality of life, and continued sustainability over larger population sizes.
By bridging my current background with an immersive study of neuroscience, I hope to be at the optimal intersection of disciplines and experiences to serve humanity in effectively addressing these challenges. And, it is to build this bridge that I respectfully seek admission to the Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate Theme at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Now, in speaking with Patricia about the program, I learnt that the neuroscience theme at UAB is very intense and that applicants with a full time employment may trigger time management concerns during the application review. As a CEO, a father of twin toddlers, and a citizen with substantial community service commitments, there may be some concern about my ability to juggle these responsibilities and still contribute successfully to the neuroscience program. In order to put those concerns in perspective, I would ask the admissions committee to please consider that while my workload as a CEO is considerable, it is balanced by an equally considerable flexibility in schedule. Based on past experience, I see no difficulty in structuring my work commitments around the demands placed by the Ph.D. program. Here, I would also like to humbly offer a quote made by my research advisor during my undergraduate thesis defense: “Karim, you often undertake an impossible load but somehow manage to make everything work – easily.” Further, I would like to ask the admissions committee to consider the positive aspects of my having established a successful career as a founder and CEO of an innovation-based enterprise and recently an international trade ambassador for the State of Alabama; upon graduation I would be looking to create new – rather than look for – opportunities for furthering neuroscience research and development in Alabama and beyond.
I recognize that the program is very competitive, however, I hope that my letters of recommendation, GRE score, and this application package, make a strong case for my acceptance into the program. Thank you and I look forward to working really long hours with you in our quest to unlock the secrets of the brain.