A Playful Tone

Like a lot of my fellow early-stage grad students, I just submitted an application for a grant from the National Science Foundation. It’s a curious grant; more like a college application than your typical description of a research project in search of funding. Applicants aren’t bound to actually perform the research that they propose, and where ordinarily you might be prompted to include a list of publications, presentations, and accolades, instead this application includes a personal statement.

Here’s what a lab mate wrote on the personal statement I asked him to review: “There is a playful tone to your writing.” Coming as it did on the heels of a critique of the preceding paragraph, and a rejoinder to pay at least a little attention to the prompt, I don’t think he meant it in a good way.

It’s true. I admit it. There is a playful tone to my writing. I wrote the essay in the spirit of a college application, in hopes of being liked. I aimed for a voice, a confident and fun-loving one, instead of just a list of achievements and accomplishments. I told a story about my mentor in college, and another story about the Science Question Box in a classroom I volunteered in, and I was only narrowly dissuaded from telling a third story about a girl I met at a dance performance. The question is, was the playfulness out of place?

I hope not. I hope there’s room for a light-hearted, fun-loving approach to science in the highly competitive world of research, because that’s how I seem to be wired, and that’s where I would like to work. I guess, this time, the funding committee will decide.

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