Statement of Purpose, revisited

Last week my mom sent me an email including scans from the folder my dad kept of various memorabilia from my life. Among them was the statement of purpose I wrote when applying to grad school back in 2001.

I’ve often thought about that document but, even though I’m an assiduous information pack-rat, this piece of writing apparently slipped through the digital cracks. And so I was so happy to find that when I sent it to him for feedback so many years ago, my father had kept a hardcopy.

I clearly remember how hard it was to write this. What document could be more all-encompassing, more defining than a statement of purpose. Who are you? Why are you here? What do you hope to achieve? I struggled with the document for weeks leading up to my application deadline. I wrote several completely different attempts but never seemed to rise above the trite or cloying.

The night before the application was due, I took scissors to every attempt I’d made, literally, cutting out each paragraph, laying them all out on the floor of my apartment, discarding most, keeping a handful I was proud of, and reshuffling them into something to reveal the hidden narrative trying to get out. After that moment of clarity it was about a half-hour’s work to put it down in prose.

It may not hit you the same way it hit me, but this encapsulated my hopes and aspirations when looking forward beyond my undergraduate degree, and it’s even more satisfying to read from the far side of a decade beyond the graduate program I was yearning for.

I hope you enjoy it. Happy Throwback Thursday.

Statement of Purpose - Kevin Fox

I want to change the world. Perhaps not in a big way, maybe not in a way people would even attribute to me, but deep in the design patterns people will come to accept as simply ‘the way things work,’ I hope to leave my mark.

It’s a simple truth that computers, or at least the methods by which we interact with them, are in their infancy. A person who learned to drive a car or use a telephone fifty years ago could still use the modern instantiations because their design patterns have become relatively fixed. In contrast, the computer user of today would have little hope of understanding the computer of half a century hence, in the terms by which he currently defines a computer.

The design patterns for the ways people and computers interact are still quickly evolving, and the ubiquitous computing movement will only accelerate that evolution. My objective in pursuing a Master of HCI degree is to play a part in this evolution, specifically in a research and development or advanced technology group at a company interested in new directions, but also motivated to move ideas quickly from the lab to the real world. More specifically, my interests lie in two areas: computer-mediated personal communications, and pre-attentive interfaces.

I would like to attend the HCII Masters Program because I feel that the professors, research, and curricula closely match my interests and objectives, and that this is the best place for me to realize my potential. Professor Robert Kraut’s research in social computing and the HomeNet initiative aligns closely with my interests, and Professor Brad Meyers’s work, blurring the line between the user and the programmer, is particularly interesting to me.

I’ve devoted several years of my life to HCI and, now that I’m continuing my formal education in the field, there is no place that I feel is more appropriate to do so than the CMU HCII.


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