Day: March 11, 2014

Personal Statement — How to Get That First Draft – 6 Simple Rules

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*I used the first rule right now*

Recently, after I responded with comments for a reader’s Personal Statement, I received a follow up email with the question of “Just how do you get started on a draft in the first place?”. Good question, so that’s the topic of this entry.

After graduating college I was looking for a job, I saw a position as content writer for: nutrition, health, and technology. Since I had never written for cash before, had no editorial experience, I naively submitted one of my writing samples from my lab days after several glasses of wine at 4 AM. About a month later, I received a call an editor, a phone interview was held, and I was hired on as a content writer. What I didn’t know is that typically people pull off an internship or two before asking for cash, so I had to pull out all of my procrastination lessons learned in college to write my almost 100 contributed articles.

Rule 1 — Write the conclusion first: it’s often pretty hard to start writing, but once you start things do seem to roll down hill from there. Never the less, the activation energy required for the first draft is through the roof (if that reference went over your head you’d best make sense of it before the MCAT). A common question you’ll receive if you receive a primary or secondary application is where do you see yourself in 10 years? That answer to that question is an excellent conclusion. Move past just “getting in”, project to what you’ll do with your credentials. Don’t oversell your future (don’t say I’ll win 34 peace prizes), but do let them know why admitting you would help the community. Since you know where you’re going building the rest of the plot/premises shouldn’t be that difficult.

Rule 2 — Identify about 3 premises that explain your argument, qualify premises don’t pontificate your point.

The best way to get a rational person to ignore your rational premises is to argue them in an irrational way. You could rebut, but wouldn’t it be irrational to ignore someone’s rational premise based on the pretty package it came in — well, tell bad, if you can’t communicate effectively then you’re ship sinks before it sails. Stick to a few points, don’t make a laundry list, it’ll make you sound like your either over compensating or didn’t have that much depth of involvement. If you can’t pick 3 premises, that’s fine, just make a huge draft with all of them, then go back with critical friends and identify the best ones that lead congruently to the ending in your conclusion. Though, the premises you do choose should improve/fill gaps in your application, since the process of acceptance is rather holistic.

Rule 3 — Beat your reader to the punch when it comes to weaknesses in your argument.   

Currently my job is in ethics and risk assessments for research involving animals and research. As such, I spend all day reading people’s research protocols with them trying to obscure their weaknesses in their applications (not always true). People want to graduate, and often they feel I am the golem blocking their path, so some feel maybe if they had their weakness then maybe I won’t notice. This is wrong, I still notice, but now I also think you have something to hide. The same went for when I wrote articles, or wrote lab write ups. You’re a lot more convincing when you’re critical. Critical doesn’t mean you abuse yourself, it means you see both sides of the coin. So, it’s okay to bring up bad grades/scores, just leave it to one or two sentences. Above all else, own up to it, but it is okay to explain how it happened. But, it wouldn’t matter if Godzilla came and gobbled up your organic professor and your “deserved grade”, even if you don’t know where Godzilla came from it’s best to just say “damn, but won’t happen again, learned my lesson” than “woe is me”. With that in mind, remember to not over compensate for those weaknesses (everyone has a boo-boo on their application).

Rule 4 — Never write without an outline made from the premises brainstormed in Rule 2. Maintain a separate simplified outline, and feel free to move the outline premises around as you please. Keep outline short, it’ll make sure things keep fluid — the longer your outline becomes the more useless it becomes IMHO. 

Being aware of your premises, and having a structure will help prevent wasteful passages,sentences, and structures. It will also help get rid of redundancies. Let’s face it, things are almost always clearer from afar than up close, i.e. outline versus the actual draft.

Example outline (note that while the conclusion is at the end, the premises can be slide around or removed completely):

– Conclusion: accepted into medical school, training interns as resident, fellowship, community center for public health education for BP/diabetes etc. (note, I wrote this first, I actually had no idea what to write, and the rest just came)

– Premise 1: establish why I want to go no matter what – qualify with life long learning examples in X, show with examples of hospital where I helped X and learned X.

– Premise 2: establish I got the brain fire power, and I can stand after failure – qualify with slight mention of awards, after and only after first telling about my initial hardships to make sure I establish an upward trend in the narrative. Maybe mention some research here, let the research speak for itself. Help establish why I have the muster for how hard medschool will surely be.

– Premise 3: establish that I understand what service is, make my essay service oriented. — mention hosptial volunteering exp (related to premise 1), and correctional facility volunteering for non med community, make sure I explain the lessons learned to become a better physician/medstudent.

Rule 5 — Write the introduction last.

Golden Rule: Always know where your PS is going, knowing your conclusion will set you up for this. And, with a solid outline, and a draft with elements to qualify your response writing the conclusion typically isn’t that bad. Writing the first sentence may be difficult, but after you’ve seen your whole draft its a lot easier to “capture” the spirit in the introduction.

Rule 6 — Never procrastinate. 

Never rush a piece of art. Rushing at the end will only end in your despair. If you outline early, work with premises early, then the PS just sort of falls together over time. But, it falls together in a beautiful way. If you rush it, it’ll show in the editing/structure/premises/arguments/style, why rush the most important PS you’ve ever written? If you pace out your work writing a PS is actually quite systematic, albeit meticulous, process. A bad PS is a great way to get rejected.

Good luck!