And, here is the final version – ready for submission on the 13th! Thanks for all your insightful feedback!
PS: The Topic for the essay again is: “brief summary of your academic interests, career goals, and relevant background experience.”
“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
The two-fold purpose of acquiring knowledge is to better understand the fabric of existence and to serve others. Period. This strand from my ethical genome is the basis for my interest in, and application to, the Neuroscience theme at the UAB GBS. And, I believe, my interdisciplinary educational background, with its strong emphasis on research and innovation, coupled with two decades of professional experience and global service engagements form a strong foundation for successfully completing the program. In addition to highlighting supporting biographical elements, I will also share some of my observations on the history of our future related to neuroscience and the contribution I hope to make in shaping that future.
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. And yet, two of these research projects culminated in honors theses earning me a magna cum laude and the designation of a double Richter scholar. Much of this success was due to the deliberate inculcation of research fundamentals by my faculty advisors. While the journal publications and theses are now two decades old, the inculcated principles of perseverance, objectivity, and curiosity remain fresh. And 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 from this lens, I see three emergent trends – here in the United States and globally – which 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. However, any viable pathway toward better quality of life in this aging population will invariably be built upon fundamental neuroscience research. For instance, our understanding of brain plasticity could help mitigate or even reverse aging induced impedance to cognition, memory formation, and possibly motor control. Similarly, understanding neuronal cellular and molecular dynamics could help control neurodegenerative disorders 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. This condition is of particular concern in the developing world where in some instances access to tertiary education is virtually non-existent. Ironically, it is this part of the world that most needs access to quality education to lift itself out of the generational cycle of poverty. The economics here clearly favor early childhood development programs. Programs designed to undergird cognitive, emotional and social foundations, during critical periods of early brain development such as rapid synaptogenesis, for efficient knowledge acquisition in later years. This could have a profound impact on the socio-economic development in much of the developing world over the next three to four decades.
And third, 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. The challenge lies in the inherent complexity of simulating these growth patterns and the corresponding impact on demand and logistics of resources such as food, water, and energy vis-à-vis environmental impact, quality of life, and continued sustainability over larger population sizes. With deeper insights into the functioning of the brain – specifically its parallel processing ability – new computational models and neural networks could be designed to significantly alleviate this complexity.
At first glance, opportunities embedded in this history of the future may seem overwhelming; requiring the intersection of skills and experiences from diverse disciplines such as computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, economics, international and inter-agency relations, quality of life and aging, and of course, neuroscience. By bridging my current background with an immersive study of neuroscience, I hope to be at that optimal intersection of disciplines and experiences to serve humanity in effectively harnessing these opportunities. 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, on the matter of the Student-CEO equilibrium, I would like to emphasize 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. In addition, I have already initiated the process of relocating my company office closer to the University to reduce the commute between responsibilities. But, despite my willingness and ability to restructure time and reconfigure space, events will occur along the continuum where this equilibrium might be strained. Here, I would 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.” Finally, having already established a successful career as a founder and having served as 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.
Thank you for your consideration of my application and I hope that my letters of recommendation, GRE score, and this application package, make a strong case for my acceptance into the program. I look forward to working with you in our quest to unlock the secrets of the brain.