I am applying for PhD in physics, and realized that a lot of schools have the option to provide "diversity statements" or "personal statements". As a foreigner, I can't seem to grasp what I should write about...

Can I write about my ADHD and how it influenced my study, along with how it made it hard for me to make friends because of a cultural thing called "nunchi" (reading the atmosphere of the room)? Or will mentioning something like ADHD at all put me in a negative light? I know that in Korea, if I mention this, it wouldn't go well... But I heard that diversity is kind of taken very seriously in America so was wondering if it would help me or not... or is ADHD even considered "diversity"?

  • In your personal statement, unless a separate "statement of purpose" is also asked for, you should describe things like: your background, why you want to do a PhD in physics, what part of physics you most enjoy, your research experience (if any), your advanced coursework experience (especially if no research experience), what you hope to accomplish during the PhD program, your career goals afterwards.
    – academic
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 16:27

4 Answers 4


A couple of things:

have the option to provide "diversity statements" or "personal statements"

Usually, a personal statement is required along with a "research statement." Often, a diversity statement can be supplied if you want room to talk about your unique experiences. Increasingly, it is required. You don't have to provide one, if you don't want.

As a foreigner, I can't seem to grasp what I should write about...

I'm not sure if this is sarcasm, but the point of a diversity statement is to explain how your experiences are different from the majority of people in the field. For physics in the US, this is white men, equally distributed between US nationals and visa holders (warning: PDFs). Often, these statements contextualize your experience to people who lived a different life from you. But they can also explain how you'll bring a different perspective to your field of study. I don't know exactly what that might look like in physics, but different perspectives are needed in fields like psychology, or image processing.

But diversity doesn't need to be race or gender. Parents of people with PhDs are way more educated (PDF) than the average American. So one could write about how growing up with a less educated family affected your approach to education.

To your specific question, writing about your ADHD (especially in Korean culture) would be totally appropriate. It doesn't have to be woe-is-me, but it serves to contextualize to your experience. Presented with two equally qualified candidates, one having worked through ADHD might be a stronger candidate for graduate school (data).

Also consider the university environment. If classes, the program, etc, have all been designed around people without attention deficits, having more people with ADHD join the program/university will force them to improve their practices. (You don't have to be the guinea pig for this, either.)

Tl;dr: You don't have to write about your ADHD (or anything), but if you think you can answer the prompt appropriately with it (you didn't share the prompt, so I can't say), then it would be a good choice IMO. But I also agree that it's unlikely to make or break your application.

  • oh i see! So I guess I wont have to worry too much about being stigmatized for having the disease during the application process!
    – Danny Han
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 10:16

Just like the rest of your PhD application, the diversity statement is not about you. It is about why you will be a good PhD student.

You certainly could write about your ADHD, or any other disability, or membership in any other represented group. When doing so, you need to explain why you will be a good PhD student. For example "My experience with (identity) will help me (collaborate with/teach) people who (have some need)."

  • 1
    Thank you for the response! But to be honest, I can't think of any benefit my ADHD could bring to the table, especially in terms of being a good PhD student (i.e. doing research). Wouldn't ADHD be just a hinderance to research? Or should I say something along the lines of "I worked really hard to overcome..."
    – Danny Han
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 8:37

Look around, but I think @Anonymous Physicist is right that this isn't about you but about how you will handle diversity in your interactions with the university community you are likely to encounter if you are hired as a PhD student at this school (and maybe as a Teaching Assistant (TA)). See, for example, Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching's definition of what their Diversity Statement expectations are.

In that case, I would say that you should weigh your own personal experiences as a person with ADHD against others who are different races or from other countries or ... against what you have experienced before bringing it up. It's unlikely to be considered relevant, in my opinion.


I think you should bring a positive spin and explain how it would help you to become a better student and how you will be beneficial to the university.

Something like "Due to my ADHD, I had to work extra hours and develop new teaching aids. Further, I have worked with other students with similar disabilities and it has helped me collaborate with a wide variety of researchers. ..."

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