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Cognitive Neuroscience Personal Statement

Why do people commit acts which are contrary to the law? Why do some individuals turn out to be aggressive and violent while others are not? Is it really true that some individuals are neurologically more susceptible or predisposed to be violent, aggressive and engage in risky behaviors than others or are they just the by-products of their environment? These were the questions that have been plaguing me for a very long time because of the distressing circumstances I had as a child.

I was born into a middle class family with five siblings. We lived a happy life until the day my father was shot dead in a gold heist by a group of robbers in 1988. We soon lost everything and we were forced to move into a neighboring slum and my mother had to start working as a cleaner to make ends meet. I was continuously abused sexually for 4 years by my neighbor’s adolescent sons. Despite the circumstances, I grew up to be a fine gentlemen excelling both in my studies and other co-curricular activities at school. I was not perturbed by the fact that I had been through some traumatic events in life, by definition. It was only in mid 2003, when I saw some of the perpetrators at my elder brother’s funeral that it actually dawned to me that, I had suppressed some of my feelings of pain, anger and resentment. The only way I had coped as a child was by diverting my attention to matters such as studies and other related activities. Seeing them again at the funeral brought back some repressed memories from my traumatic past.

The re-emergence of these feelings and the need for answers to my questions, along with the passion to understand human behaviors, thoughts and desires has led me into a quest to seek empirical answers or evidences to some of the fundamental questions in psychology and its related sciences including cognition, neuropsychology and forensics.

One of my early research was my undergraduate thesis (2003) on the psychological factors that contribute towards organizational criminology (white collar crime). This research in particular paved an opportunity for me to do a paper presentation at the World Criminology Congress held at the University of Pennsylvania in 2005. Although the paper was commended for its originality and as a pioneering study in Malaysia, I also received some criticism on the basic research fundamentals. While attending the conference, I also had the opportunity to attend a professional workshop on collecting qualitative data in criminology. This experience and exposure that I had in the United States, only strengthened my zeal to produce research works of better academic rigor, standing and quality.

Early 2007, I embarked on my Masters dissertation on the aspects of emotional intelligence, criminal personality typologies and sexual dysfunctions among sex offenders (both adult and adolescent). A total of 21 samples were recruited for the purpose of this research from a prison and a juvenile detention center where they were incarcerated. Various research methods and instruments were employed including self- rated questionnaires, oral history recount/in depth - interview, clinical psychiatric tests, and also the use of penile plethysmograph (physiological assessment). The findings of the research were both in support and contrary to some of the pioneering studies conducted elsewhere including the works of Prentky and Knight(1993), Moriarty, Stough, Tidmarh, Eger and Dennison (2005), Righthand and Welch (2001).

Upon the completion of my dissertation, I was further encouraged to seek well assayed arguments or studies on neuropsychological origin to human behavior, emotions and decision making in general and sexual offending specifically. Some of my readings into the works of Stein & Kennedy (2001), Cumming and Mendez (1984 & 2000), Absher et al (2000) and Sasanova et al (2002) lends basis to scientifically study the damages or anomalies of frontal, temporal, cingulated and subcortical structures and its relationship with the disinhibition of human behavior including sexual deviance. In order to further understand these complex arcane interrelationships, the amalgamation of a multimodal approach such as that of Professor XXXXX and Professor XXXXXX are essential as they incorporate various behavioral, neuroimaging, neurogenetic, and neurobiological strategies.

Besides the above mentioned areas of interest, I am also fascinated by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer and Huntington’s disease. Personally, I would like to further understand the diminishing neuropsychological capabilities of the said sufferers and its effects on cognitive, affective and motor functions. Genetic memory is also another area of genomic psychology that I am excited about. What is the real possibility of elucidating the complex genetic predisposition and how they affect the cognitive processes especially in the area of learning memory and aberrant behavioral traits?

With the aforementioned questions in mind and the burning desire to obtain answers, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Resource Development (Honors) and a Master of Education in Educational Psychology degree in 2003 and 2008 respectively. I was certified as a Professional Trainer by the Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM) and Human Resource Development Fund (PSMB) in 2010. In 2011, I became an Associate Member of the American Psychological Association and a peer reviewer for the Asian Journal of Criminology based in Hong Kong. Besides that, I have also been volunteering as a counselor at the Pink Triangle Foundation, Malaysia conducting HIV screening, testing and counseling where my clientele are consists of members of the public including professionals, young adults, sex workers, drug users, people living with HIV, and other marginalized communities. Last year, I headed a research team of 5 contributing members and a group of 12 student volunteers who assisted to carry out a study on risky sexual behaviors among the 950 respondents at the Red Carnival 2010 held at Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur.

Professionally, I have a total of 8 years of working experience in the area of teaching including 3 years of conducting group and individual counseling and therapies; both locally and abroad. I have travelled and lived in a few countries like Vietnam, Turkey, United States, Japan, etc, in the course of research endeavors and also work assignments. My background of teaching students from various cultures, age groups, and nationalities has actually sharpened my interpersonal and communication skills. Whereas, in the counseling sessions, working with many groups of young adults in youth transformation programs, I have acquired empathetic problem solving skills. It has also given me a better understanding on the diverse human behaviors, emotions and thought processes.

Though the grades in my first degree and GRE may not be that impressive and I may lack exposure to broader scientific lab experiments and testing, I believe that my inquisitive mind, quick learning ability; self motivation and determination will enable me to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully complete this PhD program. Besides, I am also very much independent, analytical, result-oriented and a pragmatic person. I have therefore made arrangements to take up courses in neuroanatomy and genetics in order to better equip myself for the program. I have also volunteered myself to assist in lab works in order to acquire the skills necessary.

Apart from engaging in academic undertakings, my life revolves around social work, jiving to music (trained in both classical and contemporary dance) and travelling, exploring different parts of the world.

Last but not least, should I be offered an admission, it would be a chance of a lifetime for me to be considered to work under the auspice of Professor XXXXX or Professor XXXXXX as my research interests corresponds closely to those of theirs. However, I am also open to suggestion.

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This personal statement was written by vicbrett for application in 2012.

vicbrett's Comments

I wrote this personal statement for my PhD in Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience (Duke University, North Carolina)application for Fall 2012. Its my earnest prayer and wish that I'd get through successfully.

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