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Personal Statement


Please describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please share your perspectives and experiences on being independent, persistent and resilient in overcoming challenges. Additionally, provide insight on your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect where scholars representing diverse backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and innovate productively and positively together.

Structure, Format, Style


Use a common font such as Times New Roman size 12 and follow the application instructions regarding spacing and length. The Entomology department asks for a personal statement that does not exceed 1,000 words.

Include your full name and proposed program of study at the top of each page – if faculty are not reading an electronic version of your essay, pages can become separated.


  1. Conceptually
    1. This structure is more free-form than the narrative structure and revolves around a key idea you want to convey (e.g., “persistence and curiosity motivate my science”). 
  2. Narrative 
    1. A narrative statement typically flows in chronological order. You might start with an experience from early in your career or childhood that got you hooked, then outline relevant experiences from then to now. This is a popular structure because it is intuitive.


Write with confidence and in an active voice – doing this makes your sentences clear and less wordy/complicated.

Language should be positive and focused. Since faculty are the ones reviewing your application, it is fine to use discipline-specific terminology, tone and style in your ASOP.

Purpose of the Personal Statement

This statement is less research-focused and more about you as an individual. The admissions committee uses this to get to know what motivates you as a scientist, what experiences or character traits you have that will help you succeed in graduate school, why you want to go to graduate school (and why specifically at Cornell), your academic background and how you will prioritize an inclusive environment within the department. This statement is an opportunity to show both hard and soft skills that make you stand out from other applicants. Applicants typically draw on a range of life experiences in this statement. 

In both your Personal Statement and Academic Statement of Purpose, try to convey who you are and what you want. Think of a few characteristics that represent you and that will help you succeed (i.e., resilient, communicative, creative, goal-oriented, persistent, curious, hard-working, problem solving, detail-oriented, organized, enthusiastic, practical). Try to frame your statements around those characteristics. 

Information to Include

Experiences/background that motivate decision to attend graduate school

Here you can talk about motivations as well as resources that Cornell/your potential advisor has to help you succeed in graduate school. A graduate degree is a huge commitment -- the committee wants to know that you have strong motivations. This is a good opportunity to speak to a couple of those characteristics you have (resilient, creative, goal-oriented, persistent, curious, hard-working, etc.) that will help you go the distance. With all of these it is important to be specific. Some motivations that people have written about include the following:

  1. Personal Experiences: 
    1. Employment/internships/volunteering (e.g., “I worked/volunteered at a conservation organization. Once I have graduate training I’d like to return to that field to do insect conservation. Dr. X has extensive experience working with land managers to achieve insect conservation goals. Additionally I will take advantage of the department’s exciting Education and Outreach Assistantship to gain experience educating the public about conservation”);
    2. Childhood  (“I didn’t learn about the fascinating world of insects until I was an adult. When I graduate I want to curate and coordinate outreach for a museum collection so that younger generations learn to appreciate insects from a young age in a way that I did not. With its impressive collections and Dr. X’s expertise on systematics Cornell’s Entomology program is uniquely able to help me reach this goal.”);
  2. Future Goals: 
    1. Job outcomes (e.g. “I love to teach and want to be a professor”)
    2. Skills you’d like to gain in graduate school or the kind of research you’d like to do
  3. Academic Experiences
    1. What academic, lab or research experiences (coursework, journal articles, jobs, presentations, etc) piqued your interest in your chosen field. If you choose to write about research or job experiences, specify your role and what you learned.

Share your perspectives and experiences on being independent, persistent and resilient in overcoming challenges. 

This can include almost anything. You may write about how managing multiple responsibilities (school, work, family) during your undergraduate years helped you develop time management skills. Alternatively you might draw on life, employment or academic experiences that forced you to problem-solve independently; or discuss how you have dealt with failure. Reference any aspects of the program that might support you in overcoming challenges (e.g., if you have struggled with statistics, discuss how you might benefit from the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit).

Provide insight on your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion

Do this by discussing either past times you have helped develop an inclusive environment, or how you will do so in the department. You can reference leadership roles you have had or experiences working with diverse groups of people.

What to Avoid

Many people write about childhood experiences as motivation for pursuing a graduate degree, likely because these experiences can be influential. However, it is best to be specific but brief when referencing them -- use them as a jumping off point to talk about who you are/what motivates you now.

It is always useful to have at least one other person read your statement. It can be helpful to get feedback at multiple stages as you write more drafts. For this reason try to give yourself as much time as possible to write the statement.