How to Write the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy Essays

If you’re applying to the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy, it is likely that you have maxed out your credits in AP STEM courses, completed STEM-related internships, and have your sights set on a career in medicine or STEM. Securing a spot in this prestigious research program is competitive, with over 500 applicants for about 80 available spots (16% acceptance rate) in 2023 for an eight-week intensive research experience. 

The Hillman Academy, previously known as UPCI, was established in 2009 as a joint program between University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the Hillman Cancer Center (HCC). UPitt is a nationally recognized research institution ranked 5th in NIH funding as a comprehensive cancer center.

Because of all this, it is important to craft application essays that set you apart. This is no easy task—writing a set of coherent and compelling narratives in 400-600 words is challenging. 

Before getting started, we recommend that you get to know the program and its goals. You should check out the UPMC Hillman Academy website, in particular, the history of the program. An important element to note is that the program’s aims are to diversify STEM fields—this means that details about your identity and background will help you stand out. Finally, check out the offered research sites so that you can clearly articulate your interests and with whom you’d like to work. It is important to note that you may need to go beyond the UPMC Hillman Academy website to understand more about each research site. By demonstrating your knowledge of the program, you highlight that your interest is more than mere surface level.

Finally, we highly encourage you to watch the official webinar video. The webinar details the application and how to fill out the individual fields followed by a Q&A session. Note the following takeaways: 

    1. Treat this experience as a full time job: Do not plan any OTHER summer experience during your time with Hillman. Commit 100% on the program, do not plan to leave early, and plan to attend every day FULL-TIME Monday through Friday. 
    2. You will have two mentors working on a professor or PhD student’s research topic: You will be working with one full-time Professor mentor and one near-peer PhD mentor in either a wet-lab OR dry-lab (computation) on Hillman’s research (not your research topic).
    3. There are 8 different research areas of focus: These are Cancer Biology, Tech Drive, Immunotherapy and Cancer Immunology, Women’s Cancer Research, Vision, *CompSci & Biology, *Computational Biology, *Surgical Oncology with 5-15 students in each site placed individually. Note that * denotes purely computational dry-labs that are ONLY open for students younger than 16 years of age
    4. Be completely honest about your skillsets in coding: Hillman will place you according to your skillset, so it’s important you share whether you are a novice, or an expert in coding. Whatever your level is, Hillman will train you to be competent in the coding required for research.  
    5. You will be immersed in academic enrichment: You’ll have the opportunity to attend lectures, career speakers, network, engage in research discussions with peers, fun student events, and a final presentation as an expert in your field by the end of the summer. In fact, you’ll create a poster showcasing your newfound expertise to over 200 people in a presentation format. (And for a few students even published authorship as a possibility!)
    6. Go to (a top) college: This is an incredible opportunity to build your resume for college applications. Many student alumni from Hillman attend top universities in the country. Your mentors may also provide you with a letter of recommendation when you apply to colleges. 
    7. It’s FREE: Not only is there no charge for the program, but Hillman will also provide you with bus passes. Note that there are no housing options anymore. Further, if you are a minority or low-income family member, you’ll qualify for up to $2400 compensation and a $300 meal stipend with loaner laptops and lifetime access to the incredible faculty and staff at Hillman.  

Let’s take a look at the prompts to understand how to effectively tackle the short essays for admission. The sample essays that follow are actual essays by previously admitted students who have worked with us at Pittsburgh Prep. In fact, no other organization in the Pittsburgh area has helped more students gain admission into Hillman Summer Academy so let us know how we can help! 

What are UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy’s prompts?

Please respond to essay prompt “a” and one other topic of your choice from list “b” below (2 Essays total).

  1. Why are you applying to the Hillman Academy and what is your rationale for picking your top (1-2) sites? Why are you particularly interested in the research focus and other aspects of your top site? Please elaborate on what you hope to gain from the Academy and how this experience will shape your future studies/career. (600 Words)
  2. Pick one topic. (400 Words)


  1. Describe a perfect day for you in 2032. What you would be doing? Be imaginative!
  2. Who is one of your favorite scientists and why?
  3. Please tell us about an inspirational person, group, or experience that has deeply impacted you and explain why.
  4. How do you see computers, Big Data, and/or the computational sciences having an impact on science and medicine? (Computational sites only)

How to write each supplemental essay for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy

How to write UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy’s essay “a” + examples

  1. Why are you applying to the Hillman Academy and what is your rationale for picking your top (1-2) sites? Why are you particularly interested in the research focus and other aspects of your top site? Please elaborate on what you hope to gain from the Academy and how this experience will shape your future studies/career. (600 Words)

This essay is perhaps the most important in the application because it is required of all applicants. In this essay, you will want to demonstrate how you and the program are pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together. To do this, you must show that you understand UPMC Hillman Academy’s program goals and have intimate knowledge about the research sites in which you’re interested. This is the place to show how what you have done in preparation for the program (such as internships, courses, etc.) is just the beginning for you — Hillman Academy is going to set the course for your career. Note that this essay increased its word limit by 200 more words from last year (2023), so Hillman wants to know a great deal more about you than ever before.

Let’s look at some examples to understand why they are successful. 

Example 1

            My interest in Biology started in the summer of second grade. I attended STEM camps at Carnegie Mellon University that involved dissections, data collection, and analysis. Growing up, I listened to my parents as they shared riveting developments in their work with Dr. Simone U. and the clinical trials of Methotrexate, an immunosuppressant drug that was eventually approved for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Medical research continues to inspire me every day, as I hope to be a part of pioneering efforts that could help develop treatments for cancer. This is my primary reason for applying to the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy.

            In my current AP biology class, we have covered interesting concepts of cell cycle regulation, such as G checkpoints and oncogenes, while also discussing how gene therapies are being developed in the hopes of treating life-threatening cancer. I hope to gain greater hands-on in-depth knowledge and experience in the field of cancer studies at Hillman.

            I am especially excited by the opportunity to work beside and learn from professors who are experts in their field of study. My first site choice is Immunology and Tumor Immunotherapy (ICI). Dr. Delgoffe and Dr. Bruno’s research involving T and B cell effects on improving therapies and combating cancer employs treatments to enhance the body’s own immune defenses rather than administering cytotoxic agents. From experimental design to data analysis, I hope to immerse myself fully in this pioneering field of study.

            My second site choice is Cancer Biology (CB), where Dr. Galson continues her research in gene regulation and vector use in dysfunctional cells in the pursuit of bone disease therapies. This field is of deep interest to me because my family has a history of bone cancer, and I have personally witnessed its devastating effects erode the human condition over time. To this day, I remember my grandfather seemingly healthy one day but gone the next. Under Dr. Galson’s guidance, I am greatly excited to learn all that this site has to offer in tumor suppressors, oncogenes, growth factors and cell signaling and their influence on cancer cells. Finally, the opportunity to apply my fundamental biology knowledge to real-life situations and groundbreaking research is one that I will take away as I continue my journey as a medical professional.

            The Hillman Academy is a perfect fit for me because I am deeply interested in a career in oncology. The medical field requires continual learning. Research leads to new developments in treatment, which drives medical professionals to treat patients in the best way possible.  Participating in this program would be a unique chance to both participate in specialized research and learn key skills, and I hope to enthusiastically contribute to the academic community of UPMC.

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Demonstrate the lead-up to your application. This student clearly demonstrates that they have a long-standing and active interest in their fields of study. Not only does the subject interest them, but they have already pursued research through other programs, learned about the subjects beyond the classroom, and understand what they’d like to do next. When discussing the lead up, the student can articulate clearly exactly what the research entailed and its outcomes; this makes the story more believable.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the program’s resources. This student does not just name the programs in which they’d like to participate; they highlight their knowledge of the sites’ ongoing research. Further, it’s clear that they have researched the mentors—they cite specific work that the mentors have done. Finally, they articulate why that research connects with their past personal family and academic experience and their career goals.
  3. Articulate what comes next. This student shows that UPMC Hillman Academy is an important step in their career path. The student wants to pursue a medical career specializing in oncology; the two sites and mentors that they have selected very clearly prepare them with medical research experience in the field. Further, by participating in the program, the student will be able to more clearly define what area of specialization they hope to pursue in the future.

Example 2

            Two years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to author an article for the Johns Hopkins Pre-Collegiate Health Review about the causes of healthcare disparities in rural America. I found that a mere 9% of physicians reside in rural regions of the United States, preventing many living in these regions from receiving quality, timely medical care. Inspired to continue my medical experience, I job-shadowed Dr. Marcus Beltrand last summer, a family friend and hand surgeon, as he performed an ulnar nerve repair using a cautery, operating the tool with careful precision, yet with a sense of ease that he clearly acquired from decades of experience.

            Growing up, I fondly remember my aunt telling me stories about her experience as a cardiac intensive-care nurse as we excitedly flipped through the anatomy and physiology flashcards she had gifted me for my thirteenth birthday. She stopped working as a medical professional fifteen years ago, choosing to dedicate her time to raising her two children; however, she has continually inspired me to become a physician and medical researcher. I would be thrilled to further pursue in-person, hands-on research at Hillman Academy this summer, continuing to learn to make meaningful change in people’s lives.

            In school, I have taken every opportunity possible to gain further medical experience and knowledge. As the co-president of the HOSA Club at North Allegheny Senior High, I hosted medical professionals like Ms. Jackson and Ms. Martinez, who shared with our cohort their early experiences as nurses attending rounds and their changing responsibilities as nursing professors. Additionally, I have taken courses in AP Biology, World Health, and World Hunger, conducting polymerase chain reaction and gel electrophoresis labs where I replicated and analyzed the blaNMD-1 gene, responsible for carbapenem resistance in E coli bacteria.

            I would love to have the invaluable opportunity of working with Dr. Liza Villaruz, who is currently investigating possible treatments for advanced non-small cell lung cancer, aligned with my first choice in Cancer Biology. Her investigations into intravenously administered immune checkpoint inhibitors such as pembrolizumab in the treatment of lung cancer are exactly the kind of pioneering research that I would be thrilled to engage in.

            I chose Immunology and Immunotherapy as my second site because I aspire to expand my knowledge about the body’s responses to inform future treatments. As a child, I distinctly remember seeing my grandfather presenting to the hospital with a malignant tumor on his kidney that his surgeons successfully removed, deeming him cancer-free. But I know that only 71% survive kidney cancer in the US. Without the enormous strides that have been made over the past few decades in the realm of cancer immunology research and discovery, such effective and efficient treatment of his cancer could never have been possible. Working under professors like Dr. Robert Ferris, who has conducted innovative research surrounding T-cells and cervical cancer, I would gain insight into the experimentation and research processes involved in this field of study essential to my future research goals. Dr. Ferris’s use of advanced technologies, such as transoral robotic and laser surgeries in the treatment of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer, perfectly encapsulates the novel, cutting-edge research I dream to be a part of.

            It has been my ultimate goal to pursue research since entering high school. Without medical research, novel drugs and treatments wouldn’t be developed, and it would greatly impede proper patient care. Gaining specialized research experience at Hillman Academy this summer and working with consummate medical professionals and researchers would allow me to contribute to the strong community at UPMC.

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Create a narrative that shows ongoing passion. Notice that in this essay, over half of the writing is personal narrative. This student demonstrates their passion by sharing personal stories about discovering the crucial nature of medical research. Importantly, this student gives specific details, such as research-derived data, that highlight they have read and discussed medical research independently and beyond the classroom. An important note here is that the entire essay is not a narrative; the narratives are used as demonstrations, and the student returns to how those experiences have prepared them for UPMC Hillman Academy.
  2. Demonstrate the lead-up to your application. This student has clearly pursued a diverse set of activities that reinforce their interest in medical research. They have authored articles, completed job shadowing, and taken on leadership roles in their school’s Healthcare Careers Club. By showing these preparations, the student convinces the reader that UPMC Hillman Academy is the logical next step in their career path.
  3. Highlight a specific goal. Notice that the student’s prior experience covers a range of STEM fields: they have studied inequality in medical care, shadowed with a surgeon, studied anatomy, and worked with biological specimens in a lab setting. While the range of fields here does not show that the student knows their specialization yet, it does demonstrate that they are fascinated by medical research in any capacity. Continuing to explore will allow the student to further clarify their interests.

How to write UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy’s essay “b” + examples

For this supplemental essay, you can select one of four topics below and must answer within the 400 word limit. Each prompt is designed to share your personal identity, so that the admissions committee can get to know you as a person. So be honest, creative, and most of all, show meaning in your lived experiences. 

Here are the four optional prompts and example essays from previously accepted students from Pittsburgh Prep.  

Option 1:

Describe a perfect day for you in 2032. What would you be doing? Be imaginative!

In this essay, the readers want to know that you have thought forward beyond their program. The main idea here is that the application should demonstrate a clear vision of your future as well as an idea of how UPMC Hillman Academy fits into those plans. Focus your answer on your professional, rather than personal, life, and be specific. What do you see yourself doing? Where are you located? With whom do you work? What specializations do you have? In each case, your answers should reflect both your envisioned future and the past experiences that prepared you for them.

Sample Essay

            Ah, the perfect day – that elusive creature we all chase after like a cat after a laser pointer. But, let me take you on a whimsical journey into my ideal day, a day that’s so perfect, it’s practically sprinkled with fairy dust.

            Picture this: the sun wakes up with a yawn, and I’m already awake, not because of some annoying alarm, but because the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls fills the air. My mom, the superhero who raised me single-handedly, is in the kitchen, flour on her nose, dancing to some nostalgic 80s tunes (Stevie Nicks, anyone?). We share a laugh, realizing that the dough has taken on a life of its own and is attempting a yeasty escape from the bowl.

            After the baking escapade, I head to my job at Subway. You might wonder, “Subway, really?” But trust me, it’s the hub of local gossip, and assembling sandwiches is truly an art form. I, the veritable sandwich Picasso and proud employee of the month last April (ahem), craft masterpieces of deli meat and veggies, sprinkled with the secret ingredient of community chatter. My boss gives me a high-five, acknowledging my exceptional sandwich crafting skills.

            Lunchtime turns into a science fiction interlude. I escape into the pages of R.A. Salvatore’s D&D Drizzt Series, floating through wormholes and battling fantastic golems during my break. The smell of fresh ink and the rustle of pages transport me to the times of kings and queens.

            School is next on the agenda, and unsurprisingly AP Chemistry becomes the highlight. Today, we’re doing ReDox Titrations, and as I delicately wield the scalpel, I can’t help but marvel at the intricacies of life. Mr. Davis notices my enthusiasm and gives me a nod of approval – the golden stamp of honor.

            As the school day ends, I head home, armed with my crochet needles. A rainbow of yarn awaits me, and with each stitch, I weave stories into my colorful scarves. It’s my way of creating warmth, both literally and figuratively, for my friends and family who have all received my creation.

            The day wraps up with a community baking event. I bring my mom’s legendary cinnamon rolls, and neighbors gather to exchange stories over warm pastries. Laughter echoes, creating a tapestry of shared joy. In this moment, I realize that a perfect day isn’t about grand gestures; it’s about the simple acts of connection and kindness that knit us all together.

            So, there you have it – my perfect day, filled with baking mishaps, sci-fi escapades, biology breakthroughs, and the comforting click-clack of crochet needles spent within my community that I have grown to love. It’s a humble concoction of the ordinary and the extraordinary, proving that perfection lies in the magical mishmash of life’s little wonders.

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Engaging Introduction: The essay begins with a catchy and relatable introduction, comparing the pursuit of a perfect day to a cat chasing a laser pointer. This analogy immediately captures the reader’s attention and sets a whimsical tone.
  2. Vivid Imagery: The use of vivid imagery throughout the essay, such as the sun waking up with a yawn or the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, creates a sensory experience for the reader. This makes the narrative more engaging and helps the reader visualize the scenes described.
  3. Relatable Personal Touch: The inclusion of personal details, such as the protagonist’s mom being a single parent and their job at Subway, adds authenticity and relatability to the narrative. This personal touch makes the essay more genuine and allows readers to connect with the narrator on a deeper level.
  4. Humor and Nostalgia: The essay incorporates humor, mentioning the attempt of the dough to escape the bowl and the proud “sandwich Picasso” moment. Additionally, the reference to nostalgic 80s tunes and a subtle Stevie Nicks mention adds a layer of nostalgia, contributing to the essay’s charm.
  5. Diverse Interests: The inclusion of diverse interests, ranging from science fiction novels to AP Chemistry, showcases the multifaceted nature of the student. This diversity adds depth to the character and prevents the essay from becoming one-dimensional. Note that your essay does NOT need to be diverse! Focusing on 1 or 2 meaningful activities is better than 15 lackluster ones. Be true to yourself. 
  6. Meaningful Reflection: The essay concludes with a meaningful reflection on the essence of a perfect day, emphasizing the importance of simple acts of connection and kindness. This reflection adds depth to the narrative, leaving the reader with a thought-provoking takeaway.
  7. Unity and Coherence: The essay maintains unity and coherence by connecting each activity to the overarching theme of a perfect day. Whether it’s baking, working at Subway, studying AP Chemistry, or crocheting, each activity contributes to the overall narrative, creating a cohesive and well-rounded piece.

Option 2:

Who is one of your favorite scientists and why?

While this seems like an easy question, it has layers. You cannot simply answer with the name of the scientist and their specialization—you must make sure your answer connects back to you and your career interests. For instance, if you are interested in pursuing genome therapeutics, you might cite Rosalind Franklin, who was pivotal to understanding DNA’s double helix structure. However, you must go beyond this simple connection by expanding on what captured your attention about Franklin and what makes her a good role model for you. Elements you could expand on about Franklin are her misrepresentation in the history of DNA research, the variety of work she engaged in during her career (chemistry, X-ray crystallography, or virus research), or her connection to science from her father.

Finally, you need to connect the scientist back to your goals at the UPMC Hillman Academy: how does your scientist connect to the work you’d like to contribute to during your time at the institute? Does their work connect to one of the research sites or mentors directly? Do you see yourself extending their work through your research at UPMC Hillman Academy?

Sample Essay

            I am a self-certified nerd, so in my free time, I often stay abreast of Professor and scientist Vesa M. Kaartinen and her laboratory, whose goal to discover the underlying molecular formations that lead to the formation of cleft-craniofacial defects in newborn babies is at the forefront of research. This is a deeply personal interest for me as someone born with this condition, and I became fascinated by the use of mouse ES cells to target specific genes and the lab’s study of the mechanisms that take place in Tgf-signaling during the fusion of palates. 

            The innovative work in Dr. Kaartinen’s lab inspires me to apply for the Surgical Oncology research site under Dr. Steven Evans. I am excited to expand my prior internship in dental surgery and job-shadowing experience in cranio-facial surgery with the opportunities provided by UPMC, through which I can continue to explore my interest in medically necessary facial reconstruction surgery. However, I am also interested in the opportunity to expand my skillset and understand other specializations, such as Surgical Oncology, Pediatric Surgery, or Metabolic Surgery. I look forward to understanding more about the intricacies of surgical procedure so that I can help improve lives through cutting-edge research. I am eager to match Hillman Academy’s dedication to medical research, reflected in the diversity and longevity of its many projects.

            Every year, I eagerly visit my 78-year-old grandparents in Hyderabad, India. My curiosity towards medical research took root while spending time there with my grandfather in the hospital. During one visit, his doctors were eager to explain the collaborative research underway to address Alzheimer’s patients like him: my understanding of doctors radically changed; not only do they treat patients, but they also perform life-saving research. I am ready to embrace the UPMC Hillman Academy’s mission as my own through the curriculum’s flexibility to support innovative research and first-hand experience.

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Highlight personal connections. In this sample, the student highlights both what sparked their interest in medical research (their time speaking with her grandfather’s medical team) and their personal stake in surgery (they benefited from surgery as a child). Both stories highlight that the student hopes to follow in Dr. Kaaritinen’s footsteps as a medical researcher and surgeon, and the experience at UPMC Hillman Academy will expand her skillset.
  2. Demonstrated understanding of the program. While the student has a very specific and defined interest area, they can speak to other areas offered by the Department of Surgery at UPMC. Additionally, the student highlights that these alternative specializations offer an opportunity to grow as a young researcher and future medical professional.
  3. Demonstrated knowledge of scientific researcher. The student has read and interacted with the research completed by their chosen scholar. They clearly articulate the lab’s ongoing work and highlight its personal connection to them. Note that your favorite scientist may be famous, local, dead or currently practicing. There are many to choose from so don’t constrain your options to just the ones you read about in your textbooks. 
  4. Recommendation for diversity. This is an opportunity to show that you are aware of diverse scholars in your field of choice. You can use this to emphasize your own identity and background characteristics, demonstrating why you are a good fit for Hillman’s diversity goals. For example, this student highlights that her family is from Hyderabad, India, and she also expresses interest in working with people who have a medical deformation. Her interest in working with those with disabilities or birth defects also highlights her own personal experience of the conditions.

Option 3:

Please tell us about an inspirational person, group, or experience that has deeply impacted you and explain why. 

In this essay, the readers are trying to understand how you have come to and cultivated your interests in STEM. They want you to show that you have an active, ongoing interest that has shaped what kind of experiences you have, people you surround yourself with, or organizations to which you contribute time and effort.  It is helpful to include a short narrative (around one paragraph) that hooks the reader and highlights why your answer stands out.

 Sample Essay A

            My biggest source of inspiration is my father. As a pediatric surgeon, his schedule is arduous as he performs surgeries and attends to his administrative responsibilities. Our family movie nights are frequently interrupted by the pings of my father’s phone, calling him to approve a patient transfer or to begin emergency surgery. His dedication to his work may leave his spot at the dinner table empty at times, yet his absences are a testament to the level of care that he has for his patients. 

            I fondly recall a day this past summer, when my family attended a local food festival on the campus of Carlow University, where we ran into some of the parents of my father’s patients. They engaged in thoughtful conversations about post-surgery experiences and my father’s help. While my father humbly acknowledged these compliments, these moments always stuck with me. It is these small moments of gratitude that my father’s positive impact on others can be felt and has motivated me to pursue a meaningful career in medicine.

            I can safely say that I have adopted his inquisitive nature and dedication to continual learning. Just as my dad had developed novel spinal instrumentation in his ceaseless pursuit of knowledge, I hope to contribute to medicine to improve the lives of others. Still, I know that his days are full of challenges. He has spent sleepless nights during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have witnessed him collaborating with others, unafraid to lean on his team of medical professionals. His dedication to his patients is his way of serving others, which has motivated me to give back. 

            I have been active through organizations in and out of my school at Shady Side Academy, such as Pre-Med Club and Envision Blind Sports, where I help impaired children play tennis, but I yearn for more. I, too, hope to be a source of inspiration for others, as I pursue a career in medicine, where I can make a positive difference in someone’s life.

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Emphasis on a larger goal. This student is very clear about their goal: to impact the lives of others through a career in medicine. In each paragraph, this theme comes through, whether we’re focused on the narrative about the student’s father or the student’s work with charitable medical organizations. This primary motivator is a driver for the student to apply to UPMC Hillman Academy.
  2. Use of narrative. The first two paragraphs of this essay are narrative based, but it is not a story for story’s sake. Rather, it is a way to demonstrate that the student clearly understands the rigorous and sometimes grueling dedication required to pursuing a medical career. The student highlights their awareness in service of the larger goal: they see that dedication as purposeful because it improves and saves lives.
  3. Demonstrate active work. This student cites two instances where they have nurtured their desire to give back: Pre-Med Club and Envision Blind Sports. While they have contributed to these organizations, the student is quick to point out that this is not enough, and they want to continue STEM and medical training to make a greater impact. The unspoken argument is that UPMC Hillman Academy is the logical next step in their pursuit.

 Sample Essay B

            Recently, I’ve taken part in a project that involves training a NAO robot to recognize patterns in eye movement and gestures to teach math more efficiently to middle school students with visual impairments. Specifically, I was assigned to getting NAO to recognize when a human makes a gesture and help facilitate that gesture through predictive algorithms. I worked with a PhD student mentor and corresponded with Prof. Marlerke, who headed the project at Tulane University. I was confronted with the complexity of the problem; how do you get a robot to recognize and predict when a gesture is made, when even humans must learn to recognize the arbitrary gestures decided by culture?

            It is the difficulty of questions like these that draw me to them. Initially, I was working on rote data labeling involving the NAO robot mimicking a gesture using a photo camera and a depth camera; we labeled the locations of different joints manually, which were then mapped to a depth camera image to create a 3d model. However, I talked with the PhD student who was head of our part of the project, and I eventually ended up working on data analysis. I applied my experience using Python data analysis and visualization libraries to efficiently determine weaknesses in our data and account for them. I had never dealt with serious gaps in datasets before, so it was an eye-opening experience for me to have to deal with numerous holes. We eventually found that certain combinations of joint parameter ranges (elbow pitch, shoulder yaw) would obstruct the view of the depth camera, which was why we were inherently missing certain ranges. Without data analysis, the entire project would have been stuck at this bottleneck. 

            The most important lesson I gained from being a part of this research project was confidence; I can say now that I have done work in the “real world,” and I am confident that I can adapt to changing work environments in an intensive setting. I now feel more ready than ever to take on my own pursuits in AI, and, more importantly, take further action to be involved in cutting-edge research. I am pursuing it with even greater intensity through Hillman because the research helped me manifest my dream and decide that the intersection of A.I. and medicine is my future career.

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Demonstrated grit. This student gives in-depth information about the NAO robotics project on which they collaborated. The detail given drives them to reveal a larger problem that they had to personally solve and the novel solution they discovered. What this reveals about the student is ideal character traits for a researcher: someone motivated by discovery, propelled forward by challenges, and unafraid to learn more in the service of a larger goal.
  2. Highlighting collaboration. This student also highlights through their narrative that they successfully worked in a team setting. The narrative includes conversations with the PI and lab mates that lead to a novel data-driven methodology. This shows that the student can communicate effectively, consider alternative perspectives, and has no trouble depending on their team when difficulties arise.
  3. Connection to the program. This student is clearly interested in A.I. and medicine, both aspects of the UPMC Hillman Academy. While they don’t specifically name the programs, such as the Computational Biology site or the Computer Science, Biology, and Bioinformatics site, the skills that the student mentions have clearly prepared them to succeed in such settings. Mentioning specific experience, such as data analysis, robotics programming, or using Python to code, are clear indicators to the reader that this student has actively cultivated and mastered crucial skills.

Option 4:

How do you see computers, Big Data, and/or the computational sciences having an impact on science and medicine? (Computational sites only)

In this essay, share a personal experience or anecdote that vividly illustrates your interaction with computers, Big Data, or computational sciences in a scientific, academic, club or medical setting, emphasizing the impact on research and highlighting your enthusiasm and aspirations for contributing to this dynamic intersection. For those of you who (1) have extensive experience in computation, (2) are looking to be involved in the medical industry, (3) but not as a medical doctor or professional working in a clinical setting, then this is the essay that you should choose to write. 

Sample Essay

            Heading into the world of science, I see computers, Big Data, and computational sciences as game-changers. As a high school student with a passion for research, I am eager to contribute to the transformative power that Big Data can offer.

            Last summer, I was an intern at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Research Institute under the care of Dr. Joseph Rossano. It was eye-opening. I got to see the way computers and data can impact data-driven approaches on pathophysiology of heart failure in pediatric research. In a project aimed at unraveling the underpinnings of ventricular diseases, I marveled at the way the medical team seamlessly transitioned between computers and biological samples.

            Our team used vast datasets, tracing each anomaly until we hit the jackpot. My minor role as intern was to input massive data – over 1.5 terabytes each day – between wet-lab experimentation and computational analyses but every member of the medical team made me feel important and integral to the journey. Plus, my coding deficiencies weren’t a hindrance as the PhD mentor took time out of her day to help me understand the coding skills necessary to complete my tasks. 

            This past academic fall, I had the opportunity to lead a science club at Taylor Allderdice High, where my passion for research could be shared with peers who share my curiosity. In our discussions, I found that the topic of democratizing access to scientific exploration was a primary issue. In fact, computers, Big Data, and computational sciences, as I have experienced firsthand, possess the capability to transcend geographical constraints and empower aspiring researchers. Leveraging my coding skills acquired from the CHOP, I introduced my fellow club members to the world of data-driven projects, where everyone felt included and valued. Seeing their sparks of curiosity as they worked through example datasets that I had shared with them really validated my belief in the democratizing potential of technology in scientific research. I believe this is the true goal of Big Data, to inspire others to find accessibility and inclusivity in the realm of research.

            I remain driven, motivated further to delve deeper into data-driven research. I imagine a future where computational prowess will be a necessary component to decode complex medical puzzles. I also hope to instill in others that same level of care and kindness that was afforded me in my own future practice as a data-oriented medical researcher.   

Pittsburgh Prep's Expert Analysis

  1. Passionate Introduction: The essay begins with first a general answer to the prompt expressing the student’s enthusiasm for the transformative power of computers, Big Data, and computational sciences in the field of science then ends the essay with a clear, specific belief on the role it plays in medical research. This sets the tone for the narrative and establishes the writer’s interest in contributing to this transformative power.
  2. Concrete Example from Internship: The inclusion of a specific, personal anecdote about the writer’s internship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute adds authenticity and depth to the essay. Describing the impact of computers and data in the pathophysiology of heart failure research demonstrates a hands-on understanding of the subject matter. Remember: you do not need medical research to back up your thoughts, but you do need to be specific about where your beliefs stem from. 
  3. Collaborative Teamwork and Personal Growth: The essay effectively communicates the writer’s role in the research team, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the work. By detailing the team’s use of vast datasets and the writer’s daily contribution of handling over 1.5 terabytes of data, it showcases the writer’s hands-on involvement. The acknowledgment of personal deficiencies and the support received from the PhD mentor adds a human touch, highlighting the writer’s humility and willingness to learn.
  4. Inspiration and Future Aspirations: The essay closes with a reflection on how the internship experience has inspired the writer and fueled a desire to delve deeper into data-driven research. The writer envisions a future where computational prowess is essential for decoding complex medical puzzles. Additionally, the expressed hope to instill care and kindness in future research practices adds a personal touch, connecting the writer’s aspirations to broader themes of mentorship and positive impact.

Overall, the essay effectively combines passion, personal experience, and future aspirations to convey a compelling narrative about the writer’s engagement with the transformative potential of computers and Big Data in medical research.

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