Honest SOP by Subhadra Jayaraman

When I was ready to study an undergrad in biotechnology in the mid-2000s, my enrollment hit roadblocks on multiple levels. Firstly, IT and computer science were gathering speed like a bat out of hell and biotech was deemed for losers who couldn’t cope with the ‘real’ technology. Secondly, my admission to colleges was based solely on my performance in standardized, institutionalized tests – high school and entrance examinations – no opportunities given to truly express my deep interest to learn something. And finally, my family legacy comprised of coders or doctors, leaving my aunts and uncles gaping, cringing, or boiling with rage at the mention of something as insignificant as ‘biotech’. My 83-year-old grandfather was the only visionary who encouraged me through this fog of binary codes.

So, when I followed my nieces and younger friends starting their undergrads in the US, I longed for the one thing I never got to do, explain honestly in writing to my colleges and my family, why I chose what I chose and why I should get to study what I was passionate about. This ‘Statement of Purpose’ is not the one I would write to Ivy Leagues describing short-lived extra-curriculars or exaggerated ambitions – it is one I would have written for the ones who believed in me and the ones who dumped on my dreams when I dared to. Although I could just say “I told you so” now, I would like to stick to a retro SOP to hopefully convey how I felt then as a teenager.

“I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even put a stopper on death.”

If you knew me, you wouldn’t at all be surprised that I start this essay with a quote from a book. When people around me count their years by events happening in their lives, I count by the books I read. I learned to imagine things far beyond my knowledge, and learned to travel, explore, and live in worlds only the crisp pages could bring to life. My books shaped my thoughts and actions far more than any human could.

My father often told me that a well-read mind is a goldmine of ideas and joys unknown to the rest of the world. He made me read the dictionary sometimes and showed me the power of vocabulary. He introduced me to the hypnotizing effect words have on you. The one thing he never did was force me into a box – he only equipped me to choose my own path. Until high school, I trudged through studies because it was mandatory. When the time came to choose a path, I chose biology, not computer science.

To help you understand why, I want to tell you why I selected this particular quote from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – this quote made my eyes widen and brain widen even more. It was not just waving wands and murmuring incantations like the rest of the lessons at Hogwarts. It was mixing and brewing and creating a different kind of magic. A unique kind. The kind I want to do – only in a lab instead of the Potions classroom in the dungeons.

Because I read The Origin of Species, I know that I can adapt to any environment. If put in front of a computer screen and asked to code, I would do it eventually. But I would do it due to my evolutionary instincts and nothing else. The spark, the enthusiasm inside me to explore the life sciences would never adapt.

I want to learn how living beings work, I want to see cells under a microscope, I want to grow bacteria in a small dish and marvel at it. I want to explore the things Mendel and Darwin laid out. I aced my biology exams and wasn’t particularly good at any of the entrance tests. But I have a mind brimming with questions that no Robin Cook medical thriller can answer. I have a curiosity that even McGonagall can’t transfigure and give shape to. That’s why I want to go to college, that’s why I want to learn biology. I want to (albeit metaphorically) bottle fame, brew glory, and put a stopper to death.

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