Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Applying for Awards, Grad School, really anything

When you are filling out an application that asks for a personal statement, please, please, please do not do the following:

(see also SOP Fun, Continued) by FemaleScienceProfessor

1. Start your essay with a quote
2. Start your essay with a personal anecdote involving your childhood
3. Start by talking about how much you want to go to graduate school and how it will enrich your life.

Regarding the quotes, most of them are pretty cheesy, and honestly this is about your statement not someone else's so I would rather here your own words than those of Einstein, Feynman, Shakespeare, whatever.

Regarding the personal anecdote, I think almost everyone here can attest that that first chemistry kit, or radio kit, or model bridge, or robot, really got them interested in science, or in the case of biomedical engineering, the dying relative that has inspired you to pursue a cure for XX. If you are going to use an anecdote, it should really set you apart, and I have yet to read one that is truly compelling.

Regarding the I really want to go to graduate school because it will enrich my life and make me a better person...well I should hope so, that is what we strive to do.

What I really want to find out from a personal statement is:

  • Do you have a goal? (e.g., academic position, career in industry) (otherwise known as why do you want a PhD?)
Example: I have been working in industry for 2 years and firmly decided that I would like to be a professor. I worked in research before as an UG; this is my passion, and I want to teach to inspire new generations of scientists. I need a PhD to obtain my goals.
  • Do you understand what is required to obtain a PhD. in X?
Example: Through my previous research experience @ company Y and as an undergraduate I have developed skills in lots of important technical areas. Or, I look forward to spending the next X years developing important scientific discoveries in field X!
  • Have you thoroughly considered the area of research that you would like to pursue?
I really want to pursue a PhD in X, because I find the field of X to combine my skills in math, science, and whatever else, plus my interest in hobby Y. This is the field for me.
  • Do you have any qualifications in this area, or if not, can you demonstrate that you are willing, eager, and capable to learn a new field?
Although I don't know much about field Y, I am eager to learn. I have already begun reading basic textbook for the course and am taking summer classes in Y to learn more.
  • Are you mature enough to complete the program? (PhD's are riddled with periods of failure, do you have the mettle to make it through)
I am responsible and confident that I have the skills to survive your rigorous program. I worked my way through college with three different jobs, all while caring for my ailing parent, etc.
  • What will you, personally, bring the our program in X?
I have already shown that I am an excellent researcher. As an UG, I won awards in X, I presented my research at Y, published at Z, got patents while working for company A. etc.

Obviously, some of this text is a little canned (please don't say making new important discoveries) but the general idea is for you to replace with something specific to your field of interest.

I spent most of this week reading personal statements and it amazes me how little students seem to understand them.


At 1:30 PM , Blogger Ambivalent Academic said...

Personal statements for grad school (from UGs at least) tend to be modeled after personal statements for med school (which I think often contain personal anecdotes, etc.).

I believe that this is bc in most bio-science there is a lot of guidance available for UGs wanting to go to med school. UGs that want to go to grad school are often left to fend for themselves and use whatever guidance scraps are left over from the pre-meds. As such, many UGs applying to grad school are given the (wrong) impression that whatever is expected on a med school app is sufficient to get into grad school. At least this was my experience.

UG programs really should have formal guidance programs for grad school bound students too. They are no less deserving than the pre-meds.

At 8:54 AM , Blogger Janus Professor said...

Thank you! I am reading applications now and they allllll look the same. All of them start out with "When I was a child...." Surprise me with something else!


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