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, November 13, 2009

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The phrase...getting this admission/fellowship would help me so much because... You think? But wouldn't it help anyone who is applying?
  4. Anything kitsch-y. Do not write poems or puzzles about yourself.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
I can't wait to read your scintillating personal statements. Go forth and prosper!


At 11:34 AM , Anonymous Nicole said...

Thanks for this advice! I'm just starting to write my personal statement for admissions into a physiology Ph.D. program. I'd love if you could read it when I'm finished. I really need some good feedback, and you seem to know what you're talking about. Can I e-mail you a copy?

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