Archive for November 15th, 2008


Some cities have all the good ruins.

Some cities have all the good ruins.

Over the past few weeks, especially since the end of the Physics GRE, my spare time has been spent working on my personal statement. I feel that the personal statement is one of the hardest parts of the application process, not because of innate difficulty, but because it is the only part that can be tangibly changed while applying. Other parts such as the GRE, letters of recommendation, research experience and transcripts are all cumulative events that are difficult to wildly influence towards the end. But the personal statement can be changed dramatically until it is submitted.

Getting started was the hardest part. I found some resources online about personal statements in general. I went to a career services class on writing personal statements and I tried to gleam some information from the prompts themselves. To be honest these things sort of helped or will help when I am finalizing but none really sparked me into writing. Then again this is not something that can be dived into without any sort of preliminary work.

The best way that I brainstorm is with web diagrams, writing something down in a circle then branching off of that with more words until a web of ideas form. At least it helps when I have no idea what I am doing. Luckily I found a neat free application to help with this called FreeMind. It is open source and runs on all operating systems and has really helped me organize what I want to write about.

To start I created branches listing what I am interested in studying, what skills I have, my experiences and then structural features of my personal statement. Once I wrote this stuff I collapsed those branches and never really looked at them again (well once just now). I sections filled with questions from various personal statement resources from Career Services at my school or the internet. Just the questions, no answers to any of them.

I also asked one of my professors for his advice on personal statements as he was on the graduate admissions committee. He did say that personal statement do not matter that much, but other sites online (like physicsgre.com) have professors giving the opposite advice. But talking to a professor really did help. Essentially he said to show in the statement several things: I am ready to do research, I enjoy lab work, I know what I want to study and how this department fits with what I want to research. The things is to show that the writer is on top of things and not just randomly applying in order to put off real life.

Once I organized all of the advice and tips I started writing. Not the personal statement though. I mentioned that I some advice sites list questions to help getting started (I forgot where I found mine otherwise I would link to it), I answered all of those. Or at least all of them. Some I did answer but it was more of a venting thing then a real answer. Answering these questions help in that they let you start to find your voice for the personal statement. Since I already write a bit (this blog and journals) I already know what my voice reads like so it was not much of a problem. But if you are unused to writing, especially about yourself, then answering these short snippets will help.

Finally I wrote my first draft. To get started I did the whole thing as a free write where I kept on writing. In between solid paragraphs I wrote comments or just superfluous statements about the process. The key to a free write is that it is much easier to correct and edit then it is to create.

I have not gotten past the first draft, I need to give it at least twelve hours to brew. The next step is too start correcting, filling in gaps, transitioning and structural work. Once a readable draft is ready I will send it to a lot of people to look over, critique and edit. Since every school requires something different I will then edit, alter and adapt my one good statement for the schools.

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Looking up Eiffel.

Looking up Eiffel.

As an alternative to graduate school I have been entertaining the idea of applying for Teach for America instead of or prior to graduate school. I know that at least one of the graduate school I am applying to (University of Washington) allows acceptance to be deferred for two years specifically for Teach for America. 

Since I have been unsure about whether I want to apply or not I signed up for more information from one of the many recruiters going from class to class asking if anyone is interested. Next week I am doing what I think is best for someone unsure about it, I am meeting with a recruiter. He is not actually called a recruiter but in essence that is what he is.

My major concern blocking me from applying is I do not know if I would actually be able to be an effective teacher. I am fairly decent at public speaking, I really do like teaching and I enjoy helping people with their physics and math homework. It is just that the people I am helping want to be in school and want to learn this (for the most part), I really don’t know if I could keep the interest or attention of a high school class.

Hopefully I have a good meeting that lets me decide if I want to apply or not. I mean another application cannot really kill me, right?

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