“Researching Cancer” by Anonymous - Career

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays - Tanabe Gen, Tanabe Kelly 2009

“Researching Cancer” by Anonymous

Harvard University

I Trod ThE mUd IN ThE misty spring rain. It was Qing Ming, the holiday in China when we honored our deceased ancestors. On the ground of the cemetery, drenched flowers lay in my grandfather’s re-membrance. That morning—a month before my sixth birthday—I clung tightly to my mother’s sleeves and finally learned why he passed away.

My grandfather had been a victim of cancer. Because the diagnosis came too late, all treatment was futile. As my mother whispered this to me with grief in her eyes, I stomped angrily in the mud. I blamed the doctors who couldn’t find the tumor in time to save him. That rainy morning launched my dream to help cure cancer—a common wish, but one that fueled a life-changing pursuit. Knowing that the best protection against cancer was to detect it as early as possible, I examined the widely used methods of detection. I read about mammography and was astounded to learn that it failed to detect a large percentage of cases. As I wondered how to make detection more accurate, I heard about a research internship program at Cancer Center. I jumped at the opportunity.

There, my mentors encouraged me to investigate cancer’s genetic causes. I became intrigued by a gene suspected to play a role in the onset of breast cancer. We examined a process of gene-silencing—known as methylation—that changed DnA structure while keeping the sequence itself intact. Through a series of assays, we pinpointed the methylated sites in the gene sequence that distinguished cancerous breast cells from healthy cells. These were markers of disease!

The thrill came from knowing the vast clinical applications of the discovery. Finding such markers is a step toward the individualization of cancer treatment. genomics-based diagnostics would detect cancer earlier than traditional procedures. Also, since methylation does not change the DnA sequence, it is reversible. Therapeutics could target these sites and minimize harm to healthy tissue.

Personalized cancer diagnostics promise a new dawn, but they are not yet reality. Many more genes need to be studied before we can fully comprehend the roots of the disease. Awed by the complexity of cancer, I realized that my dream was much more intricate than I imagined.

However, my youthful passion in medicine did not dwindle. Instead, it strengthened and matured into a strategy. As my vague goals shaped into specific inquiries, my curiosity became insatiable. The joy of un-covering the unknown affirmed my love for science. My generation will keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge, and nothing would give me more fulfillment than continuing to fight in the war on cancer.

I recall that rainy Qing Ming morning when I gazed at my grandfather’s gravesite. I wish I could tell him about the adventure he inspired.

This war will be arduous, but every little “eureka!” along the way is a portent of victory.


The author of this essay might have taken the boring approach of just describing where she worked and what she did while researching, but she found a way to tie her research to a personal experience. By explaining in detail why the research was intellectually challenging to her, the author gave readers clues to her character. From her childhood experience, we understand her motivation for wanting to help find a cure for cancer. Learning about her grandfather’s death sheds light on why she sought out an internship at the cancer center and why she now has an interest in pursuing a career in the field. It always adds meaning to a student’s career goals when we understand the roots of his or her interest. Many students make the mistake of sharing lofty dreams such as finding the cure to cancer but don’t back them up with actual actions that show that they are working toward making a difference. This student not only presents the global problem but demonstrates how she has and will continue to play a role in addressing it.

As the author describes her internship, she clearly explains what she did to research cancer. Most importantly, she outlines it in a way that is understandable to a layperson. As readers, we can easily conceive the subject’s intellectual hold on her. This student’s writing provides enough detail that we understand the complexity of her research but not so much that we are bogged down with too much information.

It’s not enough to just state what you did; it’s more compelling to explain why.

In the fifth paragraph, the student ties her past experiences to her future plans. She explains that she intends to pursue a career in the sciences and to continue cancer research. Admissions officers like to understand the direction that students are taking so that they can visualize how they will contribute to society while undergraduates and after graduation as well. They want to know why you are pursuing a career field and what you hope to achieve as a part of it.

In the last paragraph, the student refers back to her personal experience. She wraps up the essay in a highly relatable way by connecting her grandfather’s death to the intellectual excitement of cancer research as it applies to her career plans. She packs a lot into a short amount of space but does so in a way that flows smoothly and keeps our interest.