draft graduate admission essay

Saturday, November 1, 2003

This was my first attempt at an admission essay for graduate school. It was written with feeling and honesty (if that's worth anything). Of course, I didn't submit this one. Here's the one I submitted.


I used to live by a minimalist philosophy. I was not a minimalist in the ascetic (proof that the GRE studying was good at least for something) sense; I enjoyed material possessions and gorged myself on life’s pleasures. Instead, I lived by a minimalist work ethic: I did the minimal amount of work that translated into the greatest reward.

I went through life choosing paths that provided little resistance, foregoing risks for easy opportunities. Regrettably, this haphazard approach has served me rather well for the past decade. I now work in a comfortable job making a comfortable living with comfortable future opportunities. While continuing along this well-trodden path would probably lead me to—how should I say this— a comfortable life, I find myself asking questions about what I’m doing; questions that I can’t answer comfortably.

I’ve come to realize that the only way for me to find satisfaction is to pursue challenges that I am passionate about. Passion has never been a criterion in my life’s choices. I am where I am today because life had laid out a rather easy to follow path that was littered with success and money. Following that path has not, as I thought it would, brought me satisfaction.

This is not to say that I regret any of my choices. I have had wonderful opportunities to study and learn about law, intellectual property, general business, management, supercomputers, seismic data processing, distributed computing, and oil field technologies; to travel abroad to strange and exotic places and interact with different cultures; and to meet and work with incredibly knowledgeable and gifted people. It is because of all of this that I am who I am today.

A little about me: I am your average self-taught computer programmer from the 1980s. My parents bought me my first computer, a 16k Color Computer II, from Radio Shack. While the rest of my family ignored the contraption attached to our television screen, I became enamored. I spent the better part of my youth programming computers, first in BASIC, and then Pascal.

I continued to pursue computer science in college, learning C++, how to structure my computer programs, and the theory behind the hardware and software that executed the programs. While attending to my humanities requirements, I found that I also had a talent and fondness for philosophy. Philosophy was similar to computer science in the logical structure in which the arguments were evaluated. While computer science allowed me to study the underpinnings of a manifestation of a logical world, philosophy allowed me to study the metaphysics of that logic. Both inputs and outputs attracted me: the programs and theory in computer science and the writings in philosophy.

It was after I graduated that I felt the pull of the well-trodden path. I decided to fulfill my mother’s dreams and applied to law school. I swore by the idiom, “When in doubt, go to law school.” (And at the time, I had terrible doubts about everything.) It was clear from my first course that I was well suited for law. The unnatural combination of the communication skills of philosophy and the organization and logic skills of computer science fit naturally into the law school curriculum. I graduated first in my law school class. But the entire time I was looking around me at the people who studied harder, who cared more, and I couldn’t erase the doubts that had brought me to law school in the first place.

While at law school, I had the opportunity to pursue a dual degree. Syracuse offered a wonderful program that allowed certain credits necessary for the law degree to be taken outside of the law school. I once again decided to pursue computer science, applying for, and eventually receiving, a master’s degree in computer engineering during my three-years at law school. The computer science classes I took became an escape for me. I found solace in the challenges they presented and in the opportunities to continue programming and to learn about new technologies and theories.

I worked at law firm in New York City practicing patent law after I graduated and quickly became bored. After a year and a half, I left the law firm and joined Schlumberger as an Intellectual Property Counsel, working in Houston, Texas for WesternGeco, a seismic company partly owned by Schlumberger. I have since been promoted to Intellectual Property Counsel for the entire WesternGeco organization, a company with revenue of $1.5 billion. This type of promotion at my age and experience level is unheard of in the Schlumberger organization (and in most of the corporate world).

But it should be clear now that while I’m appreciative of the opportunities I’ve received as a lawyer, for my personal growth, I need more. I need challenges that only my passion for technology can create. This is why I have come before you today: I wanted you to understand where my desire to study comes from.

Choosing my focus area has been much easier than coming to the decision to return to the academic world. I have long been fascinated by artificial intelligence. My first exposure to it was in high school, when I worked on a senior project to teach a computer how to play the game of dots using programmed conditional-learning techniques. In college, my final project was to design and implement a basic neural network that distinguished alphanumeric digits. Ever since then, I’ve watched in anticipation (and a bit of disappointment) the development of this field.

Over the last year, I have been reintroducing myself to these technologies. What excites me now is the opportunity to use these artificial intelligence techniques for better human-knowledge management. I will use law as an example: the field of law has been using an extensive knowledge management system for many years. The system started as a basic search engine and has since evolved into a labor-intensive categorization tool, which organizes case law, statutes, and scholarly articles. While these databases are powerful tools, it is still at an early stage of development. This is similar to the web page searches of today. These tools are becoming more powerful as heuristic and AI-techniques are applied. ***MORE SHIT***

Ever since I started college, I have wanted to research and teach in a university. My application for a PhD is the first step in that quest. ***BLAH BLAH BLAH***