What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice
If I were to write a book about my life up to this point, I would entitle it Stories of an Ivory Tower Refugee. I often think of myself as a refugee, escaping a future in biological research not meant for me.
During the first three years of graduate school, I planned to finish my dissertation, go on to a postdoctoral fellowship in biological research, and then apply for a faculty position at a university. This progression of events is instilled in graduate students as being the most noble and distinguished path and deviation from this path is often viewed by the academic community as compromising one’s scientific integrity. This notion that there was a prescribed course graduate students were expected to follow after obtaining their degrees was always very frustrating to me. I decided to pursue an advanced degree to open doors for my career, but rather, I felt that I was being encouraged to follow a predetermined course. Stubbornly, I went along with this plan even in the face of signs that it was not the right choice for me. It was not until midway through my fourth year of graduate school that I began to seriously consider an alternative career.
Since the fourth year of dissertation work is generally regarded as the most angst-ridden, I thought that perhaps my wavering career aspirations were merely a result of my frustration with lab research. However, as time went out, my desire to find a career path that I would enjoy won out over my stubbornness, and I finally accepted the conclusion I had been trying so hard to avoid—my future did not lie in scientific research.
Although deciding to change career paths meant acknowledging that I had been wrong about my career aspirations for the past eight years, once I made my decision I felt a tremendous sense of peace. I began to really look forward to my future, knowing that I had made the right decision.
It is my desire to pursue a career in patent law, which greatly informs my decision to attend law school. A career in patent law will allow me to apply my scientific knowledge in a new field while not altogether abandoning science. I became interested in patent law after discussing career possibilities with an acquaintance currently working at a small patent firm. Like me, she had pursued and obtained her doctorate in science. After becoming dissatisfied with her work as a postdoctoral fellow, she became a successful patent attorney. I had the opportunity to consult with her on a few projects and became more familiar with some of the duties of a patent attorney, such as patent application drafting and communicating with biotechnology company management. While I am eager to acquire a wealth of practical knowledge of many areas of law, I am particularly excited that a career as a patent attorney will allow me to utilize both my background in scientific research and science degree.
Throughout college, I hoped to eventually spend my days walking around in a lab coat and goggles. Today, that is precisely what I’m doing as a biochemistry graduate student. But plans can change, and being open to changing one’s plan is crucial to recognizing one’s full potential. Many people have asked me why, after six years of graduate school, I would want to undergo another three years of education when I could get a job with the degree I have now. My answer is always the same—Yes, I could get a job, maybe even one I’d like. But by changing my plan, I’ll have the opportunity to discover a career in which I can fully recognize my own potential and not only like my job, but love it.
Why would a Harvard Law School applicant call herself an “Ivory Tower Refugee”? by doing so, Michele Gauger strategically transforms a common problem for law school applicants—an unconventional past—into a strength.
In her statement, Gauger solves a tricky resume riddle: eight years devoted to a career in biological research and not law. She wisely frames her path from lab to law school as a narrative. She wisely frames her path from lab to law school as a narrative. Stories are compelling, and in the process of detailing her own, Gauger anticipates and addresses many questions an admissions officer would have. For example, she explains her single-minded focus on science (and presumably, but law) by describing the rigid expectations of scientific graduate school. Gauger demonstrates her humility by revealing personal weaknesses, such as stubbornness, that kept her imprisoned in the ivory tower.
Next, Gauger includes a key component of all good stories, and personal statements: a turning point. She shows that by changing career paths, she has overcome her weaknesses and become more flexible, ready to pursue her true passion—law. (However, Gauger might do well to explain a bit more thoroughly why biological research was the wrong path for her.)
But Gauger does well to home in on a specific branch of law, patent, that interests her and that would draw upon her scientific background. The end of the essay reinforces the overall pitch to admissions officers: that Gauger’s decision to abandon a scientific career is not a foolhardy whim, but her greatest asset as a law school candidate.
-Julia F.P. Ostmann