Salmana

Biological Sciences at Oxford

UCAS Personal Statement

The study of the sciences, and Biology in particular, appeals to me as it aims to understand the mechanisms of life through experiments and systematic observation. During a recent visit to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, I was mesmerised by the preserved specimens from across the world from the Indian Ocean to humid Amazonian rainforests, which displayed the delicate complexity and allure of the natural world. The structure of brain coral piqued my curiosity, inspiring me to read more about its vital role in species interdependence in the marine biome.

 

Completing a University of Edinburgh MOOC on Astrobiology led me to explore the prospect of extra-terrestrial life existing on exoplanets. I had previously assumed that the evolution of life could only be supported on exoplanets whose conditions - molecular composition and positioning within a solar system - are similar to those on Earth. However this MOOC highlighted the possibility that we could one day discover life forms capable of existing in vastly different conditions, potentially revolutionising how we understand evolution. Intrigued to learn more about the biological and physical mechanisms that cause life to develop, I read Lewis Wolpert's 'How We Live and Why We Die', and discovered more about the different stages of development through which fully functioning organisms evolve from a single undifferentiated cell. I found his chapter on the Hans Driesch experiment fascinating, as Driesch showed how the separation of larvae at the two-cell stage leads to the formation of separate smaller sea urchins, a seminal development in the field of experimental embryology. I aspire to contribute to scientific research, finding answers to these perplexing questions.

 

My interest in genetics was confirmed when I attended a lecture at Imperial on Zinc Finger Proteins, through which I learnt about the benefits of these gene editing tools in comparison with CRISPR-Cas9. I found out more about the technical aspects of the gene editing process, such as the use of the Cas-9 enzyme to target and edit a gene locus to prevent the onset of diseases. Inspired by this, I read Hwang's 2013 paper 'Efficient In Vivo Genome Editing Using RNA-Guided Nucleases', to understand how zinc finger nucleases utilise protein protrusions that target DNA with greater precision than CRISPR-Cas9. Reading about the recent controversial case of the world's first gene-edited babies made me realise the far-reaching implications of this field on wider society.

 

Participating in the UCL Summer Challenge for Natural Sciences broadened my mathematical knowledge. When exploring chaos theory, I became aware of its vast theoretical applications, such as in weather prediction models. Moreover, I worked in a group to present a scientific poster on the relevance of chaos across neuronal networks. Using Matlab to code differential equations, I displayed the Hodgkin-Huxley model using the Fitzhugh-Nagumo system. This mimicked action potentials within squid giant axons, displaying how electrochemical impulses are initiated and propagated in neurons. Using mathematical and biochemical principles to understand changes occurring of a molecular scale, which have an extensive impact on whole organisms, is another aspect which draws me to this course.

 

Competing in the Debating Club has allowed me to construct arguments, develop and explain points of views, and improve my critical thinking skills. Debating has also given me experience of constructing evidence-based judgements and navigating through the dichotomies that science often presents. I look forward to utilising these skills throughout my time at university, and hope to immerse myself in the vast biological research that seeks to understand the natural environment.

Behind the Statement

How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?

I started by looking at the notes I made at lectures, summer schools and articles that I read, explaining them briefly but in a connected way.

How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?

Compared all of them, see which one was the most relevant to my degree but also somewhat unconventional to distinguish myself from other candidates.

How did you get these experiences in the first place?

access opportunities sent by my school in an "access roundup"

How did you structure your personal statement? 

personal interest - MOOC - book - lecture - article - summer school - extra-curricular activities (80% super-curricular, 20% extra-curricular)

How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?

based on what interested me in biology rather than other sciences - explaining my passion

How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?

I just spoke briefly about my extra-curricular activities as this had not been mentioned in the previous paragraphs.

What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?

It is quite academic and it displays my passion for biology in an intellectual sense. It is also focused on the aspects I enjoy about biology but I also kept it broad to appeal to different university courses.

Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice? 

the best way to it structure - I think this occurs naturally once you continue drafting and re-drafting it