Let's Talk About Personal Statements
It's that time of year again! Time to submit your application to grad school, fellowships, etc. So I thought it would be a good time to discuss personal statements.
Dr. Mom's Top 10 Things to NOT Put in your Personal Statement
- Quotes from famous people. Although this seems like it could be a good idea, it almost always signals a poor personal statement. I don't care what famous guy said, I want to know what YOU think.
- Any sentence starting...Ever since I was a little kid I have always wanted to...I don't want your life story, I just want to get a general idea of why you are interested in this field/problem.
- The phrase...getting this admission/fellowship would help me so much because... You think? But wouldn't it help anyone who is applying?
- Anything kitsch-y. Do not write poems or puzzles about yourself.
- Anything inappropriate. The story about how you took that cross-country roadtrip with all your buddies and then ran out of beer money...not helping your admission chances even if you do think it shows your leadership skills.
- Description of why you want to be a XXX. I know it seems like that is what should go in a personal statment, but really what I want to know is why I should admit/give money to you. I certainly hope you want to be an XXX or you are applying to the wrong program.
- Comments that indicate you have no knowledge of my program. Telling a school with no animal labs that you can't wait to operate on pigs. You should make sure that the school you are applying to actually has a program in XXX. Also, it is helpful to throw in the names of a few faculty working in XXX, at that school as possible mentors. It shows you actually read the website.
- Sob stories. I would have had a higher GPA if I hadn't gotten so strung out jr year that I wrecked my car and then had no way to get to school for two weeks...Some stories are legit (i.e., I had a battle with breast cancer), but you better be able to back it up and it needs to be pretty significant to justify special consideration. Hint: unless there was abuse involved, breaking up with your boyfriend probably doesn't count.
- Sucking up. I can't wait to get to school XXX so I can work with the world famous and honorable professor so and so. It's pretty obvious when you do this and we don't appreciate it. On the otherhand, saying I am looking forward to opportunities in the field X, which prof Z works in, is fine. Just don't go overboard.
- No description of prior research or skills. The real key to a personal statement is to convince me that you have skills that I want. Tell me about your prior research even if it was washing dishes, at least I know you've been in a lab before. All the better if you can say, I really want to work in field X and already know how to Y and Z from my undergradaute research experience.