Author: Darline Garibay | 4/11/2018
The personal statement is something a lot of students struggle with, and I remember having a hard time with it myself, and wondering what to write. The best advice I can give you is to tell a story. Being on the inside, I know professors that are on the admissions committee have a lot going on. They read through many applications, and doing so can be quite monotonous; therefore, you need a good story or hook that highlights the skills you bring to the program, and why chose that school/program.
Writing a hook
The ‘hook’ is going to vary greatly. It can be about an outside interest, hobby, work or research related, about your family, or something you find interesting. Whatever it is, make sure to use language that paints a picture. Mine was as follows, “After sitting, and watching six hundred hours of video from eight different camera angles, and recording every push, mount, and displacement; we had a data set. We would soon find out if various growth promotants affected the aggressive behavior of feedlot steers. Many hours of analysis later we found we had statistically significant results, and could now share our data to help improve animal welfare and handler safety.” If I did my job right, you pictured me sitting and watching cows on video from different camera angles, and you also got a sense that I know how painstaking research can be. Picking your hook will take some work. You should try various stories, and survey friends, or family to see which one they prefer. Also, do not be afraid to continue with the rest of the personal statement. If you get stuck, and cannot find a good hook, keep writing, and the hook will develop with your ideas.
Writing about research experiences
The ‘stories that highlight the skills you bring to the program’ will comprise the bulk of the statement of purpose. Here you do not want to say, “I did a senior research project with cows.” You want to tell a story about the project/experience, and utilize examples to highlight existing skills. For example, “My undergraduate studies gave me a strong foundation in food/animal production. During my senior project, I performed a study on the effects of local delivery of estradiol, and progesterone via intramammary infusion on milk yield of Holstein cows with induced lactation. As a team leader, I organized interns to create daily animal care, hormone administration, and sample collection schedules. One of our Holstein cows, Barbie, was diagnosed with foot rot during the experiment. Since she was aggressive, I personally undertook her daily treatments including administering antibiotics and milking her throughout the experiment. Through experiences such as these, my undergraduate career gave me insight into animal care, research, and leadership.” Here I gave some background on the experience, examples of things I did that highlighted my leadership and gave a very specific example that paints a picture. You do not have to restrict yourself to research experiences you can also utilize work, or school projects as examples.
Research the program
The ‘why that school/that program’ paragraph is probably the easiest to write since you have already done your research. What program are you pursuing, what do they offer, who are some of the researchers in that program whose research you find exciting? This paragraph will demonstrate that you have really looked into the program, and believe there are people there whom would fit your research interests. For example: “Cornell’s flexible curriculum, outstanding facilities, faculty, and sense of community attract me to the campus. I am interested in expanding my breadth of knowledge and utilizing my experience with rodent models to work with Dr. Libert on studies of aging and metabolic disease.” If you do not apply directly to one lab for that graduate program, be sure to give the names of multiple faculty members in this section.
Shining beyond the CV/resume
Lastly, the personal statement can seem daunting but remember it is an opportunity for the committee to learn more about you, beyond what is on your CV/resume. Be sure to share what is important, as your personal statement is where you want to address any hiccups in academic achievement, and the reasons for those. This is your chance to sell yourself to the committee, and have them realize how dedicated, passionate, and hard you have worked, and that they would be lucky to have you!
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