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Posts Tagged ‘applications’

The doors of the Santa Barbara Mission.

The doors of the Santa Barbara Mission.

Always envious of the new laptops and computers being produced I recently started to feel a bit stale with my relatively old computer; I decided to try out a small bit of customization to freshen my OS X install up a bit.

After a bit of searching I found really only two applications to help my computer feel a bit newer. The first was easy enough, a simple dock coloring program. One feature of 10.5 that I really liked was the translucent menu bar, since I rotate my desktop background through my photos once a week or so it is nice to have a subtle color change at the top. With Dock Color I am able to now match my dock as well.

When looking up custom desktop setups one that grabbed me had system information embedded in the background, that is above the desktop wallpaper layer but below everything else (including icons). I found a way to do this through the application GeekTool. With it I my current system processes that use more then 0.1% of my processor listed, current system uptime, a basic calender and my current iTunes playlist.

This resulted in my current desktop which looks like:

My current desktop setup.

My current desktop setup.

On top of the basic OS X applications I found these programs to be essential to a smoothly operating system:

  • Quicksilver – A very fast application launcher, much better then spotlight on my system.
  • Dropbox – Online file backup and shared folders.
  • Caffeine – One-click to prevent display sleep, excellant with the power options being lost in the 10.5.5 update.
  • Synergy – Floating overlay that displays the new iTunes song, also adds global iTunes control hotkeys.

The first three are free and there are free alternatives to Synergy out there, in fact a replacement would be global hotkeys and an info display from GeekTools.

With several of these programs (Quicksilver and Geektools come to mind) I only scratching the surface of the potential, but I am perfectly happy sitting on the surface.

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Nothing like being back in Santa Barbara

Nothing like being back in Santa Barbara

Today was my first full day back in Santa Barbara after the winter break. I have feeling that it will be a long quarter with three labs.

In a break of surprising productivity I managed to finish and submit the initial application for Teach for America today before my first class. Most of the application was fairly easy as they were standard questions, the only difficulty was in the personal statement part.

The first statement was a letter of intent asking why we wanted to join the corps. I had to think back to why I was applying, fortunately I remembered and finished that part up relatively easily (only 350 out of 500 words). The second statement was an essay about a project I worked on and obstacles during that project. This was more challenging to write.

The challenge came from both my lack of working on definite projects and also never really encountering insurmountable or interesting obstacles. I have had plenty of mundane obstacles yet nothing that was unique or applicable to Teach for America. So I wrote about my current project in my lab and problems faced so far.

To be honest it is probably not the best statement, it may be unique, though not the best. I will be surprised if I make it to the next stage however I did apply since I do not want to regret to do otherwise.

I just so tired of applications right now.

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Sometimes you have to ask a few times.

Sometimes you have to ask a few times.

One of the more difficult tasks of applying to graduate school, any any application really, is finding the right letters of recommendation. It is daunting task asking professors or graduate students to write you a letter of recommendation. Oftentimes it is because we do not know the professor that well or we only interacted with them a few times during a class. But as I was told early on, letters of recommendation are part and parcel of being in academia. 

The best way to ask for a letter is in person as it is both harder to turn down someone standing right there and that way they know who you are. Even if a professor knows your name in class it is because they recognize you as a person, an e-mail lacks the face so they cannot be sure who it is. I believe that e-mailing a photo of yourself with the request might not make the best impression.

When asking in any medium (I have asked over Facebook before) phrase the question so that they have an opportunities to say no. Try a sentence like “Would you be comfortable writing me a good letter of recommendation for [program]”. They may be comfortable writing a mediocre or even bad letter of rec so saying good is important. Also by phrasing the question with “would you be comfortable” lets them say no with a valid reason such as they are too busy or they do not know you well enough.

Good people to ask are those that you have had interactions of some sort with. For my graduate school letters I asked my sophomore lab professor (to show that I excel academically), my research professor (to show I can do research) and a professor I am currently taking a class from since he has lunch discussions every week (to show that I am good a communicating and sharing ideas). Graduate students are also good to ask but it is probably best to have at least one professor sending a letter. It is also best to have the professors writing the letter be in the same field of study that you are applying too, though this may be harder to accomplish.

I found three responses to when I asked for letters:

  • A request for a packet of information such as transcripts, research interests and personal statement like questions.
  • I was asked to write one myself from the perspective of the professor since I would remember what we have talked about better then he has. That was an interesting exercise, it was actually hard to do. Hard to do while trying to sound like a professor.
  • And lastly I have a professor that I need to remind roughly every other day in order for him to write it. Likely he will write it the day before or day it is due. It helps that I expect that

A technique to getting the letters on time is too make up the deadlines. If it is due the twentieth say it is due the fifteenth so when it is a day or two late it is actually on time. This is risky as if the instructions give the due date. Alternatively you could just say that you would prefer to have it by a given date. This depends on the professor.

Before asking I would recommend writing a short summary of what research you are interested in. Follow this by a list of the schools you are applying to with departments, for each school write up the instructions for each one with addresses to send the letter. Even if you can include it in a packet some professors prefer to mail them directly. I am guessing this is so we cannot bug them until they give it to us.

Of course try to give professors at least three weeks between asking and the first deadline. Because it will take at least a week to organize the material with them and then a week or two for them to get around to writing it. 

Letters of recommendation are probably one of the most important aspects of an application. If you are going to be applying in a year or more try to develop relationships with professors so they really know who you are when they write the letters. If it is your senior year and have only a quarter don’t worry too much, I have only known two of my recommenders since September.

Remember that the gap between undergraduate and professor is not as big as it seems to be, in the end they are people like the rest of us.

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Fireworks are needed for every holiday.

Fireworks are needed for every holiday.

Today I met with a Teach for America recruiter to talk about the program. After half an hour he convinced me to apply to the program. He argued that if it turns out that it will not work out for me then I will find out in the interview parts of the application so I should then fill out the initial application.

This worked for me but he sealed the deal when he said that there are no letters of recommendation required.

I know that at least one of the Universities I am applying to allow deferment of acceptance for Teach for America, it also happens to be the university I want to get into the most. So my ideal situation now is to get into both this university and Teach for America. 

I loved participating in the Chemistry Outreach program at UCSB as it had a direct effect in inspiring fifth graders to pursue science. I can imagine doing the same thing on a more in depth level, I personally never had an inspirational physics teacher prior to college. I mean I had a good teacher who taught us and made it fun, but if that was my only exposure to physics I would never have thought of majoring in physics.

Now I get another application to fill out between now and the end of the year, but no letters of recommendations for this one.

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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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