I am applying for a PhD program in US. The university has asked to address the following in personal history statement:

How your perspectives or activities contribute to social or cultural diversity and/or make you sensitive to the experiences of underrepresented groups

Honestly, the statement does not make sense. What is social or cultural diversity? Why it is important? Who are exactly underrepresented groups? What is experiences of underrepresented groups? I would be grateful if someone help me to understand this statement and give some examples about it. Many thanks.

  • What field is this?
    – Buffy
    Jan 7, 2020 at 0:38
  • What country are you from?
    – Elin
    Jan 7, 2020 at 1:37
  • 1
    The discussion about whether diversity statements are a good idea has been moved to chat; future comments on this topic will be deleted without warning.
    – cag51
    Jan 7, 2020 at 4:56

3 Answers 3


"How your perspectives or activities contribute to social or cultural diversity and/or make you sensitive to the experiences of underrepresented groups"

I think a useful way to approach this question is to not think about it in terms of race, but instead consider what it means to be socially diverse. As an example, consider this brief response to the question:

"Growing up in a small farming community in Canada has given me an opportunity to see how many of those in my community - many of which have never stepped foot on a university campus - can benefit from feeling represented in institutions that they might not naturally feel apart of. Growing up in a rural community gives me the advantage of being able to personally relate to people who might not have college degrees, or even high school degrees, and develop a level of trust when communicating scientific information that might be the topic of the day in the news. When I come to U of X, I hope to be able to share and encourage this level of empathy among my peers to help unify communities that might otherwise feel divided."

So, what's happening here? In this paragraph I mention that I am an international student - as I assume you are - and I am reflecting on how my own experience in my country might be able to bring about some type of positive change to the United States and the immediate community I am hoping to be in. In the example that I listed above, the 'underrepresented community' happens to be just the local people I grew up with. What I believe you should do is examine your own lifestyle in your home country and think about what you have experienced that might bring about positivity in your studies. Your response does not have to include gender or race because there are TONS of communities that might be relatively disadvantaged to you - these could even be immigrants from your own country that are not in touch with the institution you want to attend.

The question you ask is a challenging one, because it's actually a somewhat divisive question: Do you talk about racial disparities? Do you talk about gender disparities? What you want to really try to reflect on is how your own story can bring about some type of positive change when you go to the institution that you want to attend. It's a tough question to answer, but hopefully this response gives you some type of idea about what you want to say.


I think you are missing some key text from the prompt. I searched the exact text you did include, and found a prompt posted elsewhere that seems to match. It might not be the exact full prompt you were given, but please read yours carefully.

Here's the text I found posted by another applicant here... Bold is added by me.

Applicants for our graduate programs are selected using a holistic evaluation system. This essay will assist both the admissions committee and fellowship review committees to evaluate your background and motivation for graduate study. In your personal history statement, please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. A sample of topics that you might address in your statement is below. However, please structure your statement in any way that you feel best represents your personal history. Please do note that there is a 1200 word maximum for the statement.

  • Any educational, familial, cultural, economic or social experiences or opportunities relevant to your academic journey

  • Challenges and/or obligations you have had to address in order to achieve your educational goals and how you addressed them

  • Employment while an undergraduate

  • How your perspectives or activities contribute to social or cultural diversity and/or make you sensitive to the experiences of underrepresented groups

You are not meant to address all four bullet points, but rather address a suitable topic that is relevant to your own life experiences. Different people are going to have different types of answers to a broad question like this - that's kind of the point.

I dug up one of my own statements from applying to grad schools over a decade ago, and although I don't have the exact prompt I was responding to, it looks like what I wrote would have fallen best under the first and third bullet points here.

I wrote about a job I had as an undergrad in which a big part of my role was in bringing biology to engineers, wrote about the challenges and benefits in working with experts having different knowledge and skill sets, and how I benefited from (and enjoyed) being in the middle.

I also wrote about a subject that I minored in as an undergraduate (the history of science and technology), that I thought would be uncommon among other applicants, and how I thought those perspectives were important to the practice of modern science.

I think for these statements the answers should show that you are thoughtful and have some ability to measure your own perspective; they aren't meant to check some magic "diversity box" that only certain people are qualified for.


This question suggests you are not prepared for doctoral study at the University of California. Sign yourself up for a diversity training program.

In my opinion, the prompt is code for "Tell us how you will work effectively with people who are different from you." Answer that appropriately for the context of your discipline, and you will be okay.

  • 15
    the OP is possibly not from the US and is not familiar with how diversity is considered important and often discussed in the US. This is because OP comes from a different background. Telling them outright that this makes them unsuitable for study in the US is the opposite of promoting diversity. Promoting diversity would be acknowledging this difference and answering their question to let them know what is expected of them. I do not think taking a diversity training course is expected of every international PhD student in the University of California.
    – wimi
    Jan 6, 2020 at 11:48
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    The downvotes here are crappy (I upvoted), but your first paragraph is glib. If the OP is in fact not from the US, there's no reasonable way they can be familiar with the nuances of who is underrepresented in the US and why. I'm sure the admissions committee knows this. Your second paragraph is 100% correct, but it's not just code: the rest of the prompt (linked by Buffy) actually says that they want to know how you yourself contribute to diversity and how you would serve underrepresented groups. Jan 7, 2020 at 1:28
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    @wimi "I do not think taking a diversity training course is expected of every international PhD student in the University of California". Perhaps not yet, but it is (quite regrettably, IMHO) moving in this direction. What is expected nowadays is, unfortunately, not treating people of all origins and orientations with respect, but swearing unconditional loyalty to the latest liberal ideas. I guess you have heard of the latest outcry around an article by Abigail Thompson (if not, look it up). Needless to say, all this stuff just moves people like myself to the other side of the barricades.
    – fedja
    Jan 7, 2020 at 1:28
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    @fedja You made that up and your comment is just a rant. Jan 7, 2020 at 1:29
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    @ElizabethHenning I will be extremely happy to learn that you are right and even have a secret hope that the future events will demonstrate it beyond doubt. As for today, I'll just let everyone judge for themselves :-)
    – fedja
    Jan 7, 2020 at 2:01

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