1. Helping chemists find jobs in a tough market. 2. Towards a quantitative understanding of the quality of the chemistry job market.
I've been on my department's admissions committee for several years, and most of the ones that I've seen are completely inane.What was your research experience as an undergrad and what do you want to do in grad school? For whom in the department do you want to work?For international students, it's also an opportunity to see whether or not they paid someone else to take the TOEFL test for them.
At a lower level, in the UK the personal statement is billed as being the most crucial part of getting into university (UG-level), and without a perfect personal statement you're going nowhere. Having spoken to the head of admissions at my uni (Russell Group), he said that in reality, they only just receive enough applicants who look like getting the grades, that pretty much all of them get offers. If your statement can avoid giving the impression you've just escaped from an asylum, that's probably all it matters for, and giving academics a starting point for an interview.Clearly, that won't be the case for every university, the likes of Oxbridge, Imperial, and maybe a couple of others, (in the UK at least) have the luxury of having enough applications to be selective, so then the personal statement comes into it's own. I suppose it's just a matter of demand for places.
Yeah, I doubt the personal statement is that important. I remember I tried to make mine funny, and put in a joke about how I was almost crushed to death in a factory by a drunk co-worker driving a forklift during overtime, so that's why I decided to become a chemist instead of working in factories all my life. While technically the story is true, it probably made me sound a bit 'escaped from asylumy' like DHChemist mentions. They later told me that they were short on grad student numbers after some miscalculations, my grades were good enough, and that's why I got in a few days after I applied (which was a week before the deadline).
It is really hard to write a good statement with some of those details. When I applied I had not visited and hadn't met any of the professors. It makes it really hard to talk about who you want to work with. Websites for research groups can help but might not be updated regularly. Its tricky to figure this stuff out as an undergrad.