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Personal Statements and CVs


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I designed this powerpoint for the Graduate Writing Center's campus-wide workshop on Personal Statements and CVs.

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Personal Statements and CVs

  1. 1. The Graduate Writing Center (GWC) Presents: Writing CVs and Personal Statements An Interactive Workshop with Jo Hsu (, Alexandria Lockett (, and Sara Dimaggio (
  2. 2. About the Graduate Writing Center ▪ Offers 50 minute one-on-one consultations with professional tutors ▪ Services any graduate student writer represented all classifications, fields, and nationalities ▪ Availability posted on Fridays by 4 p.m. ▪ Fall 2013 Workshops: – Overcoming Writer’s Block (October 14) – Principles of Academic Writing (November 4) – Digital Research Tools/New Media in Research (November 20) To access this presentation, schedule an appointment, or learn more about our services, visit:
  3. 3. Workshop Goals: Writing the CV and Personal Statement ▪ To review the features of effective CVs and personal statements ▪ To develop awareness of audiences’ expectations ▪ To practice describing your strengths and qualifications with both variety and consistency ▪ To discuss and reflect upon your professional journey ▪ To identify and narrate unique characteristics that define you as an ideal candidate
  4. 4. CVs: Purposes and Uses CVs Compared to Resumes •• More Details about Educational History •• No page limit •• Fewer bullets •• Less job description, more accomplishments •• Showcases qualifications in teaching, research, and service Who Writes CVs •• Academics and Educators •• Advanced Professionals •• Medical Practitioners •• Artists/Designers •• Programmers and Developers
  5. 5. CV Content Contact Information – Name, Email, Phone Number – Website and Social Networking Profile (e.g. LinkedIn or Education (Reverse Chronology) – Institution, Degree and Major, Year Obtained – Title of Thesis/Dissertation, Advisors, Brief Abstract (150 Words) – Post-doctoral work Research – Publications and/or Conferences – Notable Grants, Fellowships, Awards – Relevant Coursework (especially Pedagogy training or Practicums) – Research Assistantships
  6. 6. CV Content (Cont.) ▪ Pedagogy/Teaching (Top-level Hierarchy) – Courses Taught (e.g. teaching assistantships) – Pedagogy Training ▪ Service (Top-level Hierarchy) – Leadership in Student Organizations and Committees – Volunteer Work for non-profit organizations – Outreach (e.g. study abroad, immersions, Fulbright experiences)
  7. 7. Additional Headings ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Professional Development Pedagogy Training Certifications Civic Engagement Clinical Experience Leadership Software Expertise ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Technology Skills Language Skills Cross-Cultural Experience Course Design Interests Installations Collaborations Fundraising
  8. 8. Organization ▪ Variable format, what kind of organization are you applying to? ▪ Placement of headings should adapt to their value of: – – – – – Research Teaching Design Clinical Experience Laboratory Experience ▪ Contact Information and Education belong to the first two sections ▪ Provide specific details illustrating values ▪ ▪ See institution mission statement Look for performance goals ▪ Activity in sections should be dated and listed in reverse chronological order
  9. 9. Strategies for Improving Organization Analyze Application Requirements Describe examples of qualifications ▪ Heading placement reveals your ▪ Action verbs priorities and strengths ▪ Do any words show up many times in the ad? – Values and Beliefs ▪ Do the instructions use any jargon? How much? – Disciplinary or Networked ▪ Are instructions specific or vague? – Degree of formality and decorum – Do what? ▪ Deliverables – Created what? ▪ Measurable Impact – Improved what? ▪ Specific Amounts – Reduced cost/increased budget – Increased membership
  10. 10. Layout Choices: Balance and Consistency ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Font: 11 or 12 point, Serif or Sans Serif? Color: Black or Dark Grey, High contrast web design Shapes: 1 bold line or many? Stylization: Bold, Italics, Font Size for Headings and Sections Bulleting: Organizes information in sections. How much? Print: High quality white or off-white paper URLs: Consider making a web portfolio for examples of online work.
  11. 11. Principles of Composition for CVs Strive for Consistency and Balance: ▪ Make sure heading and content alignment, spacing, and stylization are identical! ▪ White space, font readability, and symmetry reduces audience labor ▪ The formatting and content details will be used by committees to evaluate your character – Consistency=Considerate, well-organized, trustworthy – Action verbs and specific examples=Genuine, reliable, exceptional
  12. 12. Examples of Traditional CVs
  13. 13. Creative CVs
  14. 14. Creative CV Examples ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Design Set 1 Design Set 2 Design Set 3 Design Set 4 Advice for Creating Innovative CVs
  15. 15. Relationship between CVs and Personal Statements ▪ CVs tell a story of facts ▪ Personal Statements tell a story about the significance of the contexts that led to these facts ▪ Narratives show readers how you think and what motivates your purpose – Insight about a person’s motivation, desire, sense of conflict, and how they draw connections between events
  16. 16. Personal Statements Serve Many Purposes ▪ Account for gaps in education, poor grades or test scores ▪ Practice Self-reflection and discovery ▪ Practice assessing organizations – Learn more about the self, by paying attention to what convinces you to want to be part of a program ▪ Experience with Scholarship and Fellowship applications ▪ Interview preparation
  17. 17. Purpose of Personal Statements What makes this candidate distinctive among other competitive candidates? – A glimpse of your identity, personality, style – Shows, rather than tells, your interest in the program – Establishes a connection with the committee Also known as: statement of purpose, letter of intent, career goal statement, biographical essay
  18. 18. Personal Statements Narrow Down Candidates Why is this such a persuasive document? – Can they trust your potential commitment to the program? (ethos) – Do they feel inspired to admit you and help you become a member of their professional community? (pathos) – Do your past accomplishments and academic/career goals demonstrate that you are capable of becoming a productive, inventive member of the field? (logos) – Does your narrative prove that its the right 'time' for you to be in their program? (kairos)
  19. 19. Some Organizing Principles Part 1: Where have you been? ▪ What events led you to become interested/involved in the field (a person, experience, some aspect of your history)? Part 2: Where are you now? ▪ What activities/projects/research/service do you do that can illustrate your interest in the field? Part 3: Where are you going? ▪ What do you visualize yourself doing once you've been admitted to the program? (e.g. faculty you want to work with, research you want to do?) ▪ What are your career objectives, more broadly? What will you do after you've received the degree? (e.g. go on to get a PhD there or elsewhere? Get a job?)
  20. 20. Audience Expectations for ‘Good’ Personal Statements Quotes from selection committee directors about purpose: –“I don’t really want the story of a student’s life (although there are exceptions) but rather plans for and a vision of the future.” –“What we’re looking for at that stage is some insight into how the student thinks, what sort of clarity of purpose she has into one or more research areas.”
  21. 21. Audience Expectations for ‘Good’ Personal Statements Quotes from selection committee directors about character: “I want to get a sense of what the applicant is all about. First, they should tell me where they’re coming from— what it is in their background that leads them to apply to a program like ours. Second, they should tell me what it is they want to get out of our program. Third, I want to know where they hope our program will eventually take them in their career.”
  22. 22. Audience Expectations for ‘Good’ Personal Statements Quotes from selection committee directors about competence: “I think the main thing is to see whether the student is aware of and has thought about the field to which he or she is applying. Does he or she know anything at all about it, has this person identified some of the key issues that are active in research, and does he or she have some familiarity with issues in the field?” – –“The other mistake people make is talking about something they know nothing about. They’ll say, ‘I want to do something in international relations,’ without indicating that they have any idea of what that means. Or, ‘I want to go and cure the problems in the Middle East’ or, ‘I want to go and work for the United Nations’—these kinds of grandiose statements indicate to me that the person really doesn’t know the realities of career opportunities in this field.
  23. 23. Step 1: Research and Analyze Institutional Strengths What are the top three things that stand out to you about a specific program, or in general? (Responds to the question: Why does this program/job seem to be a good ‘fit’ for your story?) In what ways will/should the program contribute to both your professional and personal growth – Facilities – Diversity – Faculty – Organizations – Programming – Collaborations – Professional Development Initiatives – Graduate Student/Alumni Network – Reputation – Support Services (e.g. writing centers, multicultural affairs, international student services)
  24. 24. Step 2: Acknowledge (and Discuss) Challenges ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Failure to be personal Verbose (conciseness) Vague (clarity) Rambling Self-evaluation/Genuineness Time-consuming No set model/messy process Avoiding clichés Fine line between unique and exceptional vs. controversial. When is controversy appropriate?
  25. 25. Step 3: Practice Writing Content The next few slides encourage you to begin thinking about how you discuss your experiences with others. ▪ Activity 1: Using the questions on the next slide, work with a person near you, interview-style to produce and document ideas. (10 min) ▪ Application: Use what you discover through this exercise to write your introduction. Your answers should help you to ‘root’ yourself in your own unique tale about your commitment to becoming a professional/specialist.
  26. 26. Step 4: Reflecting on Professional Identity and Commitment Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? Do you just want to be in the field because of prestige? What convinced you to want to become part of the field? Were you going to take another path? In what ways do you think this field adds to the evolution of human thought? ▪ Why do you feel capable of being a productive member of the field? ▪ How do you want to contribute to the field? ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪
  27. 27. Step 5: Collaborate with a Partner ▪ What is special or unique about your personal history? ▪ Which special hardships or obstacles helped you get to where you are today? ▪ What has retained your interest in the field? ▪ What are your career objectives? ▪ What notable skills, abilities, or character traits do you possess? ▪ Are there any problems you need to address in regards to poor grades, test scores, or gaps in your education? Tip: Use your CV as a heuristic!
  28. 28. Can you remember key "aha moments“ that led you down this path? ▪ Choose at least two and write down who was involved (books, films, people), where you were, what you were doing, and when you recognized that you needed to go down this path. Why are you interested in the field? ▪ Write down any texts, projects, activities, hobbies, or hardships/challenges that led you to this place.
  29. 29. Describing How Hardship Affects GPA “My family was evicted from its apartment, with the landlord temporarily refusing (illegally) to let us back in to retrieve our possessions. For two weeks I slept in the library at my school, while my parents slept on the floor of a building that was being remodeled. (Both of my sisters were away at college.) The eviction preceded my finals by two weeks and, not surprisingly, had a devastating impact on my performance.” Sample Personal Statement for Law School
  30. 30. How to Narrate “My family was evicted from its apartment, with the landlord temporarily refusing (illegally) to let us back in to retrieve our possessions.” OR The landlord illegally evicted us from his apartment, refusing to allow us to retrieve our possessions. Tip: When you eliminate ‘to be,” [was, is, would, could] the writing moves faster.
  31. 31. Juxtapose Perception and Reality “I grew up in circumstances that provide a classic example of the frequent disparity between appearance and reality. To any outsider, my family might have seemed to be enjoying the ideal upper-middleclass existence: peaceful, pretty, and privileged. In actuality, however, alcohol and domestic violence were creating an environment within our house that, for me, was both difficult and frightening.” A Student applying to Medical School
  32. 32. Reduce prepositions and repetition for less clutter In actuality, however, alcohol and domestic violence were creating an environment within our house that, for me, was both difficult and frightening.” In actuality, alcohol and domestic violence created a frightening environment that challenged my academic success and personal growth.
  33. 33. Contact with Underserved Populations “For the past seven years I have spent my summers at a camp in California, first as a camper, then as a counselor and, finally, a division head. The camp is quite remarkable in that each summer it takes in, along with its other campers, approximately 20 children with various learning disabilities and mental disorder.” Student applying to a Medical Program
  34. 34. Use transitions purposefully! First, Second, Third, Finally makes for a boring personal statement! Try varying up your transitions with more precise markers of time and scope: ● ● ● ● ● For the past several years After conducting my research, I discovered… Although I enjoyed studying X, Y engaged a,b,c skills Several factors influenced my shifting career goals. First, Next, etc. Many fascinating books describe cellular regeneration, but X inspired me to major in biology
  35. 35. Discuss learning OBJECTIVES! “I am particularly interested in finance as a cornerstone in the foundation for my career in business. I want to know much more about such things as computer sciences as applied to finance (in terms of projecting financial models) and organizational behavior as it relates to working in groups.” Student applying for an MBA
  36. 36. Strategies for Content Development ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Use specific examples to demonstrate your character, abilities, interests Be selective! Choose the most MEMORABLE experiences Watch your tone! Avoid over and under confidence Too much emphasis on your knowledge about the program and faculty accomplishments distracts readers from who you are
  37. 37. Final Considerations We know its all about you, but tact, respect, thoughtfulness, and friendliness can be detected in: ➢ Use of correct grammar and the active voice ➢ Careful selection of appropriate details ➢ Well-organized events sequenced as a story ➢ Balance between what you can do for the program and what the program can do for you
  38. 38. Workshopping CVs and Personal Statements For the rest of this workshop, we want to give you the opportunity to work on your writing! Use this time for: ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Brainstorming Consulting with tutors Peer Review Re-formatting Developing content
  39. 39. Accessing Workshop Materials and Survey Please access our handout at: Additional Examples are available at: We would greatly appreciate it if you could fill out our short survey!
  40. 40. The GWC would like to acknowledge: ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ YOU! Thanks for attending!! Former GWC tutor Sarah Summers Google Search Engine and the WWW Resume Magic (Whitcomb) Graduate Admissions Essays (Asher) How to Write a Winning Personal Statement (Stelzer) Perfect Personal Statements (Stewart) We hope you will continue to use GWC services, please visit our website for access to these materials and to make an appointment!