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From Drug Addict To Grad School: This Is Why I Blog

Last July we wrote about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and spoke of Buzz Aldrin’s autobiography about his battle with alcoholism in the years following. The post drew a comment from a reader who I’ve renamed “Anon.” It read:

Thank you so much for this post.

I am a recovering drug addict and am in the process of applying to graduate programs. I have a stellar GPA, have assisted as an undergraduate TA, and have been engaged in research for over a year. I also have a felony and was homeless for 3 years.

I don’t hide my recovery from people once I know them, but I sometimes, especially at school, am privy to what people think of addicts when they don’t know one is sitting next to them. It scares me to think of how to discuss my past if asked at an admissions interview. Or whether it will keep me from someday working at a university.

I’ve seen a fair amount of posts on ScienceBlogs concerning mental health issues and academia, but this is the first I’ve seen concerning humanizing addiction and reminding us that addiction strikes a certain amount of the population regardless of status, family background or intelligence.

I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

While I’m not a substance abuse researcher, many drugs of abuse come from my research area (natural products) — think cocaine, morphine and other opiates. I also have special compassion for folks with the biochemical predisposition to substance dependence, as I come from a long line of alcoholics, including my beloved father who I lost way too early. 

With that said, I’m sure you understand how Anon’s comment hit me and how grateful I was for her appreciation. So moving, in fact, that I raised her comment to its own post. Since many of you are in academia and serve on graduate admissions committees, I figured you’d have some good advice for her. Well, you did. 

Here’s the comment thread as a reminder.

And guess what? I got this e-mail from her a couple of days ago:

Hi! Remember me from last fall? You graciously posted a letter I wrote you in response to an article about alcoholism, and I got advice from people about how to go about applying to grad school given my criminal record.

Well, I wanted to drop you a note and let you know how it all turned out. It went smashingly well. I was accepted at every school I applied to, and I will be attending [Ivy League U] in the fall! I did great, even received a [major fellowship award].

About half of the schools I applied to specifically asked about a criminal record. After reading the comments on your blog around how some schools separate the criminal questions from the remainder of the application, I called each school that asked and inquired about how their process worked. They all separated that section, and it was reviewed by the Deans usually. While I had to provide additional explanation of exactly how I ended up in the position to commit my crimes (homeless and addicted is the easy answer) at one institution, each institution that asked about my record accepted me in the end. So, exciting days for me!

Just thought I’d let you know how it wrapped up — or is just beginning, depending on how it’s looked at! By the way, I also recently celebrated 5 years clean. Now, I’m atheist, so my H.P. [Higher Power] doesn’t REALLY work like this, but check it out. I received my acceptance letter and offers of full financial support from [Ivy League U] and [another Ivy League U] at the beginning of March. They were both dated March 2. Which is my clean date. Hot damn, ain’t life something?!?

Thank you for your help last year. I appreciated it a lot! Take care! [Anon]

“Hot damn” indeed! As you might guess, I am beside myself with joy for my dear commenter. I am most encouraged that the system worked in a way that a former addict has been rewarded for busting her [butt] and getting her life back together.

And even after four years of doing this bloggy thing, I am amazed at the wonderful people we draw here. Yes, the Internet is often an ugly place. But this community — I’m talking to you, Dear Reader — put up over 60 comments of advice for Anon at this post on how she might approach the grad school application process and interviews, particularly in having to explain a 3-year gap in her work and education history on top of the concern in addressing her criminal record. You gave someone who needed it some very unique insights that I doubt would have been possible before this medium existed.

Wow. Just wow.

So to those of you who dial us up every day, take pride in the assistance you’ve offered this outstanding and dedicated woman and helped her achieve her dream.

Congratulations, Anon – and thank you, readers.

*This blog post was originally published at Terra Sigillata*

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