My Life has…Purpose?

So a few of the research opportunities to which I’m applying call for Statements of Purpose as part of their applications. When I learned that I started freaking out, like I’m 20 years old (for a few more hours), I’m just a student who wants to keep being a student–you want my life to fit together into some sort of a cohesive narrative about why grad school is right for me and I don’t think that’s going to happen yet (ever?). I was scared I was going to have to bullshit the whole thing and I wasn’t going to get in because this was going to be a piece of crap, and I was scared of how I was going to un-piece-of-crap-ify it by the time legit applications roll around. 

And then I started writing, and shocked myself. It…works. I didn’t have to BS any of it, because once I got going, I realized there were signs and there are reasons why I want to do what I want to do and as much as I wouldn’t have believed it a few days ago, there is a purpose to all of this. I’ve never thought about my life as something purposeful before. It’s…interesting, to say the least. I won’t call it fate, I might call it destiny, because I think it’s more than coincidence….It’s weird how we’re writing stories that have follow-able plots without even being aware that we’re holding pens. I always say that I want to be a professor because really, what else would I do? Nothing hopefully seems a lot more obvious after you read this:

Then entirely confident in my future as an English major, I enrolled in my first Sociology course on a whim, but quickly became enamored with the discipline and the change in perspective developing a “sociological imagination” entailed. A particularly interesting reading in that first class inspired me to take Families later, and in retrospect, I think I knew that introduction to the field had changed my life plan even before I enrolled in Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender instead of the last prerequisite to declare English. That course, in addition to introducing me to the truly interdisciplinary nature of Sociology, presented me with my first experience with original sociological research, in the form of a group project surrounding social stratification found in the most common fields Princetonians enter after graduation. From the earliest stages of that project, it became clear that I devoted myself more entirely to the research than my fellow group members, printing piles of articles and enjoying the process of enveloping myself in the structural faults of the nonprofit sector—my English-heavy close-reading background translated into research suiting me well. Recognizing this love for research prompted me to realize that my friend’s half-joke that she could see me as a professor held some weight; a tutor throughout middle- and high schools, and the friend who is ever-ready to enlighten others with some nugget of knowledge, teaching comes naturally to me, and despite having always been an avid writer, I had very recently realized that writing scholarly works might come just as naturally. These combined realizations led me to apply for, and thankfully be awarded, recognition as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, a feat which I hope, like this research opportunity, will enhance my chances of acceptance into a prestigious PhD program in Sociology.
Though my group didn’t have full freedom to choose a research topic for that assignment in Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender, the choices presented to us demonstrated something integral to my love of sociological research—the ease with which a topic of general interest to me could become an academic project.  From that point on, whenever I read an article or had a discussion with a friend about some social issue, I began to wonder how I could study it and come to some sort of informed conclusion; my junior independent work this year grew out of the same process. Almost since enrolling in college, my friends at other institutions and I had often debated the benefits of going to our respective schools over others, and after reading an article in the New York Times about college’s effect on students, I realized that I could turn this debate into a substantive research endeavor. Under the guidance of a graduate student, Alex Davis, and my advisor Professor Rebekah Massengill, I developed an interesting research question and constructed a thorough questionnaire and extensive list of variables on which to compare institutions; this pair has proven instrumental to my research as I can further develop ideas through conversations with them, as well as approach them with questions about survey design, data collection, or even use of STATA for data analysis. At different stages in my research process, each of these mentors jokingly informed me that I was working too hard for a junior project, reflecting again the fact that I take naturally to research and truly enjoy it more than most.
Befriending and having intellectual discussions with persons from a wide range of racial, economic, cultural, religious, national, and regional origins throughout my time at Princeton has engaged me academically with the often-overlooked intricacies of identity politics. Additionally, my current research topic has shown me that, at this stage of life at least, higher education and the changes to individual identity it prompts fascinate me—I hope to study another aspect of this topic in my Senior Thesis next year. The Sociology courses I have taken so far, in conjunction with my overall college experiences and the people I have come to know during my time here, have inspired me to seek to understand the gray areas of social life and society, most clearly in the areas of individual identity, both in terms of culturally significant identities that are not traditionally studied (such as identifying as an adult), and the complications that can arise from various conflicts and convergences amongst traditional identity markers. In my current research project, in which I ask whether one type of institution better facilitates its students’ transitions to adulthood than does another, I hope to broaden the expanse of knowledge regarding the effects of higher education on young Americans by drawing attention to and filling an overlooked gap in the literature, effectively demonstrating that “higher education” as a topic of study contains its own gray areas and points of heterogeneity that warrant further study. I plan to continue to conduct research in this manner in the future, by delving deep enough into areas of interest to me that I find yet-unexplored layers to be probed and analyzed. As truly strange as my friends and classmates may find this, I find exhilaration in being surrounded by books and articles, reading and highlighting, trying to find my way to a research question—in the simplest of terms, I love research, and would relish the chance to make a career of it. A winding road comprised of specific courses, professors, and graduate students led me to pursue a degree—and hopefully, a career—in Sociology; without these individuals and their work, I may have gone on to criticize contemporary novels and lived blissfully unaware of the ways in which I could add to the knowledge of the world, and I cannot bypass the opportunity to affect others in the same way by continuing on to graduate school and, eventually, professorship. A multi-tasker by nature, I aspire towards a dual career in professorship and administration, so that I may ensure the incorporation of diverse ideas and teachings into curricula and academic atmospheres.
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About alaiyo0685

I'm a kind of quirky, pretty stubborn, way too opinionated, twenty-something, intellectual, introspective, queer, Black, female, in a polyamorous relationship, and this is where I try to figure out my life.

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