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Personal statement feb 2014


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Personal statement feb 2014

  1. 1. How to Write a Personal Statement February 21, 2014 Elena González Rivera, Ed. D.
  2. 2. Overview and Objectives of the Workshop  Define what a personal statement is  Discuss things to avoid  Identify the appropriate details to include  Select stylistic tools  Practice writing
  3. 3. Definition of Personal Statement  How would you define it?
  4. 4. Definition of Personal Statement A personal statement is:  “A picture. Provide a snapshot of who you are as a person.  An invitation. Your job is to ‘bridge the assumed distance of strangers.’ Invite your reader to get to know you.  An indication of your priorities and judgment. Your selection of material reveals your priorities and ability to discern effectively.  A story, or more precisely, your story. The personal statement allows you room for creative, meaningful self- reflection.”  The Penn University website entitled, “Writing Personal Statements on Line” created by Joe Schall includes this summary of a longer definition from the Fellowships Office at Bryn Mawr posted in the article "Advice from Fellowship Foundations").
  5. 5. Definition of a Personal Statement A personal statement is not:  “An academic paper with you as the subject. The objective distance of academic writing disengages the reader from you in a personal statement.  A resume in narrative form. Other parts of your application, which might include a resume, already tell readers about your accomplishments. A personal statement must reveal and interpret well beyond a resume.  A journal entry. A common mistake is allowing your personal statement to read like a diary. Share only relevant material selectively, in a voice that remains both individual and professional.  A plea or justification. Don’t beg and don’t defend the (incorrect) assertion that you are more worthy than other candidates—it only backfires”. https://www.e-
  6. 6. Characteristics of a Personal Statement  What are some of its characteristics?
  7. 7. Characteristics of a Good Personal Statement  Is reflective and honest  Strives for depth not breath  Answers the prompt question  Has a catchy introduction – engages the reader  Transforms shortcomings into positives  Shows knowledge of the institution  Shows a “quite confidence”  Tells a story  Is specific  Finds an “angle” or a hook Jo Doran, Allen Brizee  Is distinctive, unique  Has a focus
  8. 8. Characteristics of a Good Personal Statement  “Shows a quite confidence revealed through your description of a. lifelong interests, b. sustained commitment, c. and/or perseverance in the face of adversity”.
  9. 9. Characteristics of a Good Personal Statement Thoughtful and honest  “A strong personal statement is reflective; that is, it demonstrates that you have thought about and gained a clear perspective on your experiences and what you want in your future. It gives the reader a vivid and compelling picture of you-  your achievements,  your obstacles,  your goals,  your values”.  /gettingstarted.htm
  10. 10. Characteristics of a Good Personal Statement Is distinctive, unique  “One way to do this is to include at least one detailed example or anecdote that is specific to your own experience— perhaps a description of an important family member or personal moment that influenced your decision to pursue a particular career or degree. This strategy makes your statement distinctive and memorable”.
  11. 11. Things to Avoid Ten Commandments  Set realistic goals not unrealistic goals like curing cancer/ winning a Nobel Prize.  Praise yourself or your school, but never idolize inappropriately.  Consider the advice of others. Don’t take advise lightly.  Remember deadlines. Don’t stretch deadlines.  Be yourself. If you are not genuine in tone, examples, and motivations, it will work against you. https://www.e- Joe Schall
  12. 12. Things to Avoid Ten Commandments  Make sure you really want to go to graduate school. Don’t take somebody else’s chance away if you are no sure.  Learn to discern well. Answer the prompt question with relevant information. Don’t use irrelevant information.  Tell your own story. Don’t plagiarize someone else’s ideas.  Express the truth. Don’t lie or inflate.  Don’t envy the academic success of others. Half of those who start graduate school don’t finish. Joe Schall
  13. 13. Things to Avoid  be competitive but not cocky  informed but not formulaic  https://www.e-  avoid clichés “A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements”.  Don't include some subjects “There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues)”.  Jo Doran, Allen Brizee  Avoid unnecessary duplication.  Maintain your statement within the limits stated. Don’t make it longer or shorter than specified.
  14. 14. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme  Brainstorming - ◦ list ideas ◦ connect those ideas (concept map) ◦ complete a brainstorm worksheet https://www.e-
  15. 15. Brainstorming (handout #1)  “Begin by creating a brainstorm sheet. Be totally honest! Ask yourself the following questions, and write out your answers.  What are my strengths? What is special about me?  What kind of person am I? What do I care about?” ngstarted.htm  “What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?  What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?  When did you become interested in the field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained? Jo Doran,
  16. 16. Brainstorming  Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships?  What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession?  How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?  If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership, managerial, or research skills), and how has that work contributed to your growth?  What are your career goals?  What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?  Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school— and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?” Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
  17. 17. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme Introductory Paragraph: Articulate a Personal or Professional Inspiration “Some writers start with: ◦ an inspiring quote ◦ a narrative ◦ others make a comment about their academic discipline What matters is that readers have clear context through your opening, and that we understand immediately that you are talking about something of motivational meaning to you. For example: Briefly sketch out a positive influence: a memorable self-defining experience, a high school or college project that ignited deeper interest, an inspiring teacher or role model, a relative who followed a career path that you emulate—even a core theme that will carry through the rest of your essay. Always remember the typical fundamental goal of the opening: to provide a quick, meaningful snapshot of who you are as a person.” `
  18. 18. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme Second and Third Paragraphs: Discuss your Academic Background or Research as a Set of Learned Skills  “Readers will be most interested in ◦ specific, skills-oriented detail ◦ lab techniques acquired ◦ analytical tools used ◦ participation in team decision-making ◦ journal research and publication experience ◦ oral presentation skills ◦ Think in relation to those skills most valued in your discipline, and describe your background in a way that highlights those attributes.”  “Wed the present and the future—project ahead to graduate research within your field...” What research would you like to do? https://www.e-
  19. 19. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme Fourth Paragraph: Establish Some Long-Term Objectives  Professional Goals ◦ “ articulating a plan to continue work in a particular research area ◦ a desire to earn a PhD or teach at the university level ◦ future plans to work as an independent or corporate consultant”  Personal Goals ◦ “to serve the public through grass-roots activism ◦ to be the first member of a large family to earn a graduate degree ◦ to write and publish.”  Keep in mind the needs of your audience here: “They simply wish to confirm that you have a seriousness of purpose, and that you have the ability to envision some concrete plans (else why would you be applying for graduate study?)”  “Your long-term objectives can usually be rendered briefly rather than expansively, perhaps woven into the beginning or end of your final paragraph.”
  20. 20. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme Concluding Paragraph: Close with Specifics About the Target Program or Scholarship  “Learning all you can about the target program or scholarship, which usually begins with a visit to the school or award website, will give you concrete closing material for your essay. ◦ Some students go a step further, e-mailing professors at their target program or past winners of their target scholarship, ◦ reading publications of the target program’s faculty, ◦ or making it a point to meet grad students and faculty connected with the target program at a conference. Such material, of course, could be integrated to give natural closure to your personal essay, thus affiliating you with the program of choice. ◦ Your goal is to create a personal and professional link between yourself and the graduate school. Go beyond simply inserting the school name into the final paragraph; prove that you have done your homework.”
  21. 21. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme Explicitly addresses the question (Handout #2)  “For example, if you are asked to describe your greatest accomplishment or any unusual circumstances or challenges you have faced, then your reader will expect you to use vivid language that will enable the reader to visualize your accomplishment and share your sense of success.” 
  22. 22. Gathering Information & Developing a Theme Explicitly address the question (Handout #3)  “Question Summary: Describe your experiences in the following or describe how you would address the following in your professional career: integrating research and education, advancing diversity in science, enhancing scientific and technical understanding, and otherwise benefiting society”. Joe Schall Sample Essay NSF.docx
  23. 23. Stylistic Tools Choose a FOCUS (thesis)  “What is it? Focus refers to the main point of your statement. Sometimes it is called a theme or thesis statement. Most of what you say in your statement will contribute to supporting your focus. In the very broadest sense, the focus of all medical school personal statements is "Why I Should Be Accepted to Medical School,". However, you need to choose something a little more subtle and personal to make a positive impression. Your focus should entail a value or an observation that has shaped you as a person.  Example, most of the time a focus is an abstract quality: ◦ the desire to help others, ◦ the importance of individual contribution, ◦ the drive to unite science and compassion” Carnegie Mellon Health Professions Program
  24. 24. Stylistic Tools Select Tone  Avoiding formalities and generic phrases “It is with great pride and deep respect that I hereby do apply for the honor of the Rhodes Scholarship.”  Assume a respectful individual tone “I look forward to the challenges that this project presents as well as the opportunities for further maturation as a practicing scientist.”  Use an informal tone ◦ “to facilitate clear narrative; ◦ to involve yourself as a character in the action…” https://www.e- Joe Schall
  25. 25. Stylistic Tools Use jargon Jargon – the specialized language of a discipline  Use of jargon shows the “insider,” you are comfortable with the vocabulary and discourse of your field of study  Caution- Manage jargon and informalities sparingly. https://www.e- Joe Schall
  26. 26. Stylistic Tool Use narrative or anecdotes “When I received my first microscope set at the age of eight, I couldn’t wait to swab the inside of my cheek and smear my cells on a slide.”  “Note how this example does more than just narrate—it also underscores the writer’s passion for a field of study or a commitment to a cause”. Joe Schall
  27. 27. Stylistic Tools  Avoid cuteness and gimmicks ◦ Referring to yourself in the third person and then revealing at the end that the protagonist is actually you ◦ Starting your essay with, “In the matter before the court of UCLA, regarding the admission of . . .” Joe Schall
  28. 28. Practice Writing  Introductory paragraph ◦ Read the prompt for your personal statement ◦ From your brainstorm identify your focus ◦ Write the introductory paragraph