Posts Tagged ‘process’


Applying to graduate school is a long journey.

Applying to graduate school is a long journey.

I was shocked this week to find that the University of Washington has sent out their decision on graduate applications. Maybe not the whole school but the Earth and Space Science Department did, on Friday I heard from them.

And I have been accepted into the University of Washington’s Earth and Space Science department as a Research Assistant in the Experimental Space Science group. Neat.

Now that I have actually been accepted to one place I feel that I can start a series of posts describing my process of applying to graduate school from the start to now. I did not want to start this until I actually got in so I would have some legitimate claim to know what I am talking about, though this has not stopped me before.

I will also add a page describing all of my info along with school I have applied too and their responses if any so far. I hope this will help give someone with a similar situation an idea of where they can get in. I would like to note that I took the template and the idea from the Physics GRE Discussion forum and their thread on applications.

A general outline of what I hope to cover:

  • How to find a graduate school.
  • Contacting schools and professors.
  • The Physics GRE
  • Organizing and tackling online applications.
  • Writing a personal statement.
  • What to do once the online application is complete.
  • Alternatives to graduate school.

Since I have not started I will probably change or elaborate as more things come to my mind. 

I am just excited that the first school I heard back from was an acceptance, the same happened when I applied to college except the rest were rejections (luckily UCSB was my first choice). I hope the rest of my graduate applications are not rejections but if they are the University of Washington is one of my top choices (I had not distinct number one).

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I wish the shadows were not on so much of the door.

I wish the shadows were not on so much of the door.

Looks like I made it past the first round of the Teach for America application. I also qualified enough or was picked to not have a phone interview. In a week or so I get to sign up for the day long interview which better be in Santa Barbara or I might drop the application and move on. I don’t think I would be able to travel to L.A. or elsewhere for the day just for an interview. It is not that I am not dedicated but I don’t think I would physically be able to do so.

However if it is anywhere in Santa Barbara I will be able to make it and go for the next stage. Before then I need to find two recommenders and a reference for the application. I am no stranger with asking for letters of recommendation but unlike graduate school applications these can be from academic, professional or extracurricular positions. 

I thought about asking my professors for the letters but I feel that they have not known me in a situation to evaluate me for a teaching type position. Instead I will ask people I have either worked for in a stable job or as a computer consultant. I am asking them since as a computer consultant I often need to teach or instruct my clients on how to use certain features, avoid particular problems or just familiarize them with a new OS. These are the qualities that I feel can best be expressed in a letter of recommendation.

Besides they are easier to bribe then professors.

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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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