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Violet Snow

Violet Snow

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Violet Snow Scientist, Educator, Leader and Entrepreneur The Latest News Concerning Education

An inward look for College Students,

Graduate School A Wee Test
Graduate School Personal Statement Secrets The best way to approach your personal statement for graduate school is to imagine that you have five minutes with someone from the admissions committee. How would you go about making the best case for yourself while holding the listener’s interest? What would you include and omit in your story? Figuring out the answer to these questions is critical to successfully preparing an effective statement. To arrive at these answers, you should begin by asking yourself two specific questions:
  • Why have I chosen to attend graduate school this specific field, and why did I choose to apply to this particular school’s program?
  • What are my qualifications for admission?
The answers will not necessarily come easily to you, but this exercise will have great practical benefit in readying you to write an outstanding personal statement. By answering each question thoroughly, you will have given much thought to yourself, your experiences, and your goals, thereby laying the groundwork for formulating an interesting and persuasive presentation of your own personal story. I have seen firsthand the difference a well-written application essay can make. Through its free online admissions essay help course and 300 Harvard-educated editors, EssayEdge.com helps tens of thousands of student each year improve their essays and gain admission to graduate schools ranging from Harvard to State U. If you remember nothing else about this article, remember this: Be Interesting. Be Concise.
Why Graduate School? Graduate school is a serious commitment, and it may have been your goal for a long time. Describing your early exposure to a field can offer effective insight into your core objectives. Watch out, however, that you do not your point in such a cliched, prepackaged way as to make your reader cringe. For example, you should not start your essay, “I have always wanted to” or “I have always known that _ was my calling.” Instead, you should discuss specific events that led to your interest in the field. Graduate school is, of course, a means to an end, and admissions committees prefer students who know where they’re going and to what use they’ll put their education (though the occasional soul-searcher, who may exhibit exceptional raw potential, is welcomed). For many people, the long-term goal is to work in academia, and to differentiate yourself in such cases, you can stress more specific objectives such as your research interests. Note: Read the instructions carefully. Sometimes schools will ask for a statement of purpose describing your specific research interests in lieu of, or in addition to, a personal statement that emphasizes your character and qualities. For these types of essays, you can assume that a faculty member will be reading your statement, but it should still be accessible enough for a non-specialist to understand. Remember that such essays should also still aim to engage the reader in a way that conveys your own enthusiasm for the subject matter. Avoid mistakes like discussing the school’s rank or prestige, or simply offering generic praise. Instead, mention faculty members by name and indicate some knowledge of their work. Consider contacting faculty members first and discussing their current research projects and your interest in studying under them. Then refer to these contacts in your essay.
Why Am I Qualified for Graduate School? The way to prove your qualification is not to list attributes you believe you possess but to discuss concrete experiences that show your abilities and qualities. As always, details are paramount. The rest of your application has already summarized your accomplishments and your activities. Show the reader what you did in concrete terms, and again, highlight your active roles. The experiences that demonstrate your qualification are not necessarily distinct from those that explain your motivation. You shouldn’t plan on dividing the essay into two separate sections for each, but rather organize the structure by topic and extrapolate insights as they develop. It’s important that you think of the essay as an integrated whole, not as a checklist of questions you must answer. Focus on research experience, since research will be your main job for the duration of your studies. Be specific about what you did. If you worked for a year under a professor, you might consider emphasizing one particular project and exploring that in depth. The experience does not have to have been a major undertaking: Any practical experience can be used as long as you demonstrate your enthusiasm and aptitude for the field of study. Remember to keep the discussion personal. Do not get bogged down in minute details and jargon. Ultimately, the focus of the story should remain on you and your growth or success.
TOP 10 GRADUATE SCHOOL ESSAY WRITING TIPS 1. Don’t Write a Term Paper. As a prospective graduate student, you may be tempted to try to impress your reader with an already tight grasp of academic style. Resist this temptation! You will have plenty of time to produce labyrinthine sentences and sophisticated vocabulary. Your reader will have seen too many essays to appreciate bewilderingly advanced prose. Write clearly and personably. 2. Don’t Bore the Reader. Do Be Interesting. Admissions officers have to read hundreds of essays, and they must often skim. Abstract rumination has no place in an application essay. Admissions officers aren’t looking for a new way to view the world; they’re looking for a new way to view you the applicant. The best way to grip your reader is to begin the essay with a captivating snapshot. Notice how the slightly jarring scene depicted in the “after” creates intrigue and keeps the reader’s interest. Before: I am a compilation of many years of experiences gained from overcoming the relentless struggles of life. After: I was six years old, the eldest of six children in the Bronx, when my father was murdered. 3. Do Use Personal Detail. Show, Don’t Tell! Good essays are concrete and grounded in personal detail. They do not merely assert “I learned my lesson” or that “these lessons are useful both on and off the field.” They show it through personal detail. “Show don’t tell,” means if you want to relate a personal quality, do so through your experiences and do not merely assert it. Before: If it were not for a strong support system which instilled into me strong family values and morals, I would not be where I am today. After: Although my grandmother and I didn’t have a car or running water, we still lived far more comfortably than did the other families I knew. I learned an important lesson: My grandmother made the most of what little she had, and she was known and respected for her generosity. Even at that age, I recognized the value she placed on maximizing her resources and helping those around her. The first example is vague and could have been written by anybody. But the second sentence evokes a vivid image of something that actually happened, placing the reader in the experience of the applicant. 4. Do Be Concise. Don’t Be Wordy. Wordiness not only takes up valuable space, but also confuses the important ideas you’re trying to convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point. Certain phrases, such as “the fact that,” are usually unnecessary. Notice how the revised version focuses on active verbs rather than forms of “to be” and adverbs and adjectives. Before: My recognition of the fact that the book was finally finished was a deeply satisfying moment that will forever linger in my memory. After: Completing the book at last gave me an enduring sense of fulfillment. 5. Do Address Your Weaknesses. Don’t Dwell on Them. The personal statement may be your only opportunity to explain deficiencies in your application, and you should take advantage of it. Be sure to explain them adequately: “I partied too much to do well on tests” will not help your application. The best tactic is to spin the negatives into positives by stressing your attempts to improve; for example, mention your poor first-quarter grades briefly, then describe what you did to bring them up. 6. Do Vary Your Sentences and Use Transitions. The best essays contain a variety of sentence lengths mixed within any given paragraph. Also, remember that transition is not limited to words like nevertheless, furthermore or consequently. Good transition flows from the natural thought progression of your argument. Before: I started playing piano when I was eight years old. I worked hard to learn difficult pieces. I began to love music. After: I started playing the piano at the age of eight. As I learned to play more difficult pieces, my appreciation for music deepened. 7. Do Use Active Voice Verbs Passive-voice expressions are verb phrases in which the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Passive voice employs a form of the word to be, such as was or were. Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting. Before: The lessons that have prepared me for my graduate studies were taught to me by my mother. After: My mother taught me lessons that will prove invaluable as I pursue my research interests. 8. Do Seek Multiple Opinions. Ask your friends and family to keep these questions in mind:

  • Does my essay have one central theme?
  • Does my introduction engage the reader? Does my conclusion provide closure?
  • Do my introduction and conclusion avoid summary?
  • Do I use concrete experiences as supporting details?
  • Have I used active-voice verbs wherever possible?
  • Is my sentence structure varied, or do I use all long or short sentences?
  • Are there any cliches such as “cutting edge” or “learned my lesson?”
  • Do I use transitions appropriately?
  • What about the essay is memorable?
  • What’s the worst part of the essay?
  • What parts of the essay need elaboration or are unclear?
  • What parts of the essay do not support my main argument?
  • Is every single sentence crucial to the essay? This must be the case.
  • What does the essay reveal about my personality?
9. Don’t Wander. Do Stay Focused.
  • Many applicants try to turn the personal statement into a complete autobiography. Not surprisingly, they find it difficult to pack so much information into such a short essay, and their essays end up sounding more like a list of experiences than a coherent, well-organized thought. Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to support one central theme.
10. Do Revise, Revise, Revise.
  • The first step in an improving any essay is to cut, cut, and cut some more.

HERE IS A SAMPLE ESSAY I have been planning a career in geological sciences for several years, but as an undergraduate I concentrated on getting a solid background in math and science. After graduation, I took a job to allow myself time to thoroughly think through my plans and to expose myself to a variety of work situations. This strategy has been very valuable to me in rounding out my career plans. During the past 18 months I have had firsthand experience with computers in a wide array of business applications. This has stimulated me to think about ways in which computers could be used for scientific research. One idea that particularly fascinates me is mathematical modeling of natural systems, and I think those kinds of techniques could be put to good use in geological science. I have always enjoyed and been strong in areas that require logical, analytical thought, and I am anxious to combine my interest in earth science with my knowledge of, and aptitude for, computer-related work. There are several specific areas that I have already studied that I think would lend themselves to research based on computing techniques, including mineral phase relations in igneous petrology and several topics in structural geology. I have had both lecture/lab and field courses in structural geology, as well as a short module dealing with plate tectonics, and I am very interested in the whole area. I would like to explore structural geology and tectonics further at the graduate level. I am also interested in learning more about geophysics. I plan to focus on all these areas in graduate school while at the same time continuing to build up my overall knowledge of geology. My ultimate academic goal is to earn a Ph.D., but enrolling first in a master’s program will enable me to explore my various interests and make a more informed decision about which specific discipline I will want to study in depth. As far as long-term plans, I hope to get a position at a university or other institution where I can indulge my primary impulse, which is to be involved in scientific research, and also try my hand at teaching. My decision to focus on math and science as an undergraduate and to explore the computer industry after college has equipped me with a unique set of strengths to offer this program. The depth of my interest in geology has only grown in my time away from academia, and although I have identified several possible areas of specialization through prior studies, I look forward to contributing my fresh perspective on all subjects.


The International Society for Computational Biology asked me to present my thoughts on getting published in the field of computational biology at the Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology conference held in Detroit. Close to 200 bright young souls (and a few not so young) crammed into a small room for what proved to be a wonderful interchange among a group of whom approximately one-half had yet to publish their first paper. The advice I gave that day I have modified and present as ten rules for getting published.
Rule 1: Read many papers, and learn from both the good and the bad work of others. It is never too early to become a critic. Journal clubs, where you critique a paper as a group, are excellent for having this kind of dialogue. Reading at least two papers a day in detail (not just in your area of research) and thinking about their quality will also help. Being well read has another potential major benefit—it facilitates a more objective view of one’s own work. It is too easy after many late nights spent in front of a computer screen and/or laboratory bench to convince yourself that your work is the best invention since sliced bread. More than likely it is not, and your mentor is prone to falling into the same trap, hence rule 2.
Rule 2: The more objective you can be about your work, the better that work will ultimately become. Alas, some scientists will never be objective about their own work, and will never make the best scientists—learn objectivity early, the editors and reviewers have.
Rule 3: Good editors and reviewers will be objective about your work. The quality of the editorial board is an early indicator of the review process. Look at the masthead of the journal in which you plan to publish. Outstanding editors demand and get outstanding reviews. Put your energy into improving the quality of the manuscript before submission. Ideally, the reviews will improve your paper. But they will not get to imparting that advice if there are fundamental flaws.
Rule 4: If you do not write well in the English language, take lessons early; it will be invaluable later. This is not just about grammar, but more importantly comprehension. The best papers are those in which complex ideas are expressed in a way that those who are less than immersed in the field can understand. Have you noticed that the most renowned scientists often give the most logical and simply stated yet stimulating lectures? This extends to their written work as well. Note that writing clearly is valuable, even if your ultimate career does not hinge on producing good scientific papers in English language journals. Submitted papers that are not clearly written in good English, unless the science is truly outstanding, are often rejected or at best slow to publish since they require extensive copyediting.
Rule 5: Learn to live with rejection. A failure to be objective can make rejection harder to take, and you will be rejected. Scientific careers are full of rejection, even for the best scientists. The correct response to a paper being rejected or requiring major revision is to listen to the reviewers and respond in an objective, not subjective, manner. Reviews reflect how your paper is being judged—learn to live with it. If reviewers are unanimous about the poor quality of the paper, move on—in virtually all cases, they are right. If they request a major revision, do it and address every point they raise both in your cover letter and through obvious revisions to the text. Multiple rounds of revision are painful for all those concerned and slow the publishing process.
Rule 6: The ingredients of good science are obvious—novelty of research topic, comprehensive coverage of the relevant literature, good data, good analysis including strong statistical support, and a thought-provoking discussion. The ingredients of good science reporting are obvious—good organization, the appropriate use of tables and figures, the right length, writing to the intended audience—do not ignore the obvious. Be objective about these ingredients when you review the first draft, and do not rely on your mentor. Get a candid opinion by having the paper read by colleagues without a vested interest in the work, including those not directly involved in the topic area.
Rule 7: Start writing the paper the day you have the idea of what questions to pursue. Some would argue that this places too much emphasis on publishing, but it could also be argued that it helps define scope and facilitates hypothesis-driven science. The temptation of novice authors is to try to include everything they know in a paper. Your thesis is/was your kitchen sink. Your papers should be concise, and impart as much information as possible in the least number of words. Be familiar with the guide to authors and follow it, the editors and reviewers do. Maintain a good bibliographic database as you go, and read the papers in it.
Rule 8: Become a reviewer early in your career. Reviewing other papers will help you write better papers. To start, work with your mentors; have them give you papers they are reviewing and do the first cut at the review (most mentors will be happy to do this). Then, go through the final review that gets sent in by your mentor, and where allowed, as is true of this journal, look at the reviews others have written. This will provide an important perspective on the quality of your reviews and, hopefully, allow you to see your own work in a more objective way. You will also come to understand the review process and the quality of reviews, which is an important ingredient in deciding where to send your paper.
Rule 9: Decide early on where to try to publish your paper. This will define the form and level of detail and assumed novelty of the work you are doing. Many journals have a presubmission enquiry system available—use it. Even before the paper is written, get a sense of the novelty of the work, and whether a specific journal will be interested.
Rule 10: Quality is everything. It is better to publish one paper in a quality journal than multiple papers in lesser journals. Increasingly, it is harder to hide the impact of your papers; tools like Google Scholar and the ISI Web of Science are being used by tenure committees and employers to define metrics for the quality of your work. It used to be that just the journal name was used as a metric. In the digital world, everyone knows if a paper has little impact. Try to publish in journals that have high impact factors; chances are your paper will have high impact, too, if accepted. When you are long gone, your scientific legacy is, in large part, the literature you left behind and the impact it represents. I hope these ten simple rules can help you leave behind something future generations of scientists will admire.

2008 International Conference of Computational Biology

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