personal statement

Agenda & Updates — P.S. Do Your PS!

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Hi,

Here are some updates:

– I invited a recently accepted medical student who starts next year to a Q&A to answer some premed questions. If you have any questions you’d like to see answered then write me at doctororbust@gmail.com. I read and critiqued her personal statement, and I’ve been rooting for her the whole time, so I’m happy to see her get in!

– I will be editing/critiquing a limited number of essays this year, during winter break. I’ll talk more about this later.

– I’ve just finished my first semester of medical school, in the autumn I took:

  • Medical Gross Anatomy
  • Essentials of Public Health
  • Biochemistry & Cell Biology
  • Medical Histology *will return in the spring.
  • Integrated Problems 1
  • Introduction to Clinical Medicine
  • Human Behavior in Medicine

The classes sort of dribbled off with time, that is as time went on within a semester we’d have less classes. What I learned very quickly was that this also meant you just simply squeeze in a years worth of normal material into an even shorter interval. I couldn’t say what everyone found to be the hardest courses, but overall people found Biochemistry and Anatomy to be both incredibly interesting and yet incredibly difficult. However, others felt Human Behavior in Medicine to be difficult — not because of the content of the course, but instead because our school gives us exams that are meant to imitate the board exams, i.e. read a vignette then pick the best answer (being right just isn’t good enough anymore). I survived for the most part, but not without a bruised ego and an arm off.

“I’ve paid my dues,
Time after time,
I’ve done my sentence,
But committed no crime,
And bad mistakes,
I’ve made a few,
I’ve had my share of sand,
Kicked in my face,
But I’ve come through” — Queen*

So, now my winter Turkey Day holiday vacation is over, and I have the following courses:

  • Introduction to Clinical Medicine II
  • Neuroscience

In Introduction to Clinical Medicine I we focused on obtaining a history. To practice obtaining histories we either rounded at hospitals with outpatients or at clinics with inpatients. If you were doing inpatient then it was typically just a didactic exercise, if you were with inpatients then your history obtained likely became part of the medical record (if you obtained a good history). This course was the highlight of the week for us, it was a stiff reminder of why we’re doing all of this, why we lose sleep and eventually cry (internally or externally) ourselves to sleep at night: the patients. Overall, it’s a good course, and it’s a good time to measure how much you feel like seeing patients. My program focuses on being a safety net for those who are denied by other hospitals, so we field quite a variety of the sick and the poor — this was one of the big reasons I chose this school. In the second part of the course, now, we’ll also focus on doing physicals and auscultation and then practice them with patients during our shifts starting in January.

I’ve learned a few things about how to better study, and about efficiency, I’ll write it up at some point so and you can judge what you feel is useful for you (if useful at all).

About Critiquing Personal Statements

A lesson that I learned after applying to medical school was a basic one: do everything you care about early and do it right when it’s time to do it right. So, if you’re a premed reading my blog right now (first, thanks for reading!) please be sure to make every effort to put in your application early. Turning in your application early takes a lot of work, one of the most onerous parts is writing your personal statement. Sure, you may know person who astonishingly did everything late and still got into medical school but as its commonly said, “Even a broken clock is wrong twice a day”. So, as a friendly reminder I’m trying to tell you it’s probably time to get working on your personal statement even though it’s just December. Having a rough draft this early in the game gives you a lot of time to polish your apple before application opens.

Anyways, to facilitate this process of getting you to write I’ll be reading a limited number of personal statements over my Christmas break. Last time I read over 40 people’s statements, it was entertaining but rather labor intensive, so I won’t be doing that volume again. Instead, I’ll take personal statements in batches, at a first come first serve balanced by your need (and while it’s unfortunate, you being late isn’t a need). It’ll be the same rules as last year, you submit a final draft and you’ll get three re-writes critiques with me. When editing I’ll focus on your narrative, style, and structure but I will not re-write your personal statement as that’s fradulent. The grammar is your beast to conquer, I won’t fix anything unless it’s a mistake I don’t expect to be caught by your other editors — I’m not trying to be curmudgeon, rather it’s to encourage you to use your three re-writes with me wisely. This year, I will be accepting donations via Venmo, you can pay as much or as little as you’d like. However, if you can’t afford it (once, I was in your boat) just let me know and I’ll do it pro bono (you don’t need to write me a financial assistance essay, just give me a heads up).

This winter break over, I will be limiting the number of people I accept to five (potentially minus one, to make four spots; I’ll keep you updated as the spots run down). For now, if you submit to me or not, here is some links of previous work I wrote up about personal statements:

https://doctororbust.wordpress.com/category/medical-school-applicant-life/ps-personal-statement/

Good luck!

Editorial note:  originally, I wrote a line about my experience. And then I realized it sort of sounded like a Queen song, so the result was the quote before above — I love Queen.

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Personal Statement Style and Composition Tips

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This article is probably more useful for people who’ve finished several drafts, and are trying to work towards finalizing. Keep in mind, trying to finalize before you’re ready to put “closure” into your personal statement shouldn’t be done. When I speak of a finalized draft, I mean: you’ve drafted (7-10 drafts), worked out your narrative/premises, had plenty of people read it, and tackled the typical grammar issues were already addressed. Then, and only then do I personally find it useful to address style and deeper thoughts of composition; trying to perform these tasks earlier is difficult because you’re trying to hit a moving target — or at least, I’ve found it to play out that way while writing. Adding style, and improving composition is very similar to baking a cake, i.e. it is the heat process that congeals everything together into one unit; remember that if you bake your cake without including some ingredients you’re likely in for a world of hurt once it comes to having a finished product. That was a very long winded way of me trying to impress upon you that you should wait until the end to use these next seven tips:

  1. Make the paragraph the unit of composition, one paragraph to each topic: when I review personal statements it’s common that I find people will, for a lack of better wording, ramble on. It’s a bad habit to just start writing, because you’re just ramble-writing. Conceptually, a sentence, a paragraph, and a essay are not that different in structure: there’s a topic, and you talk about the topic. While it’s perfectly fine to have a nuanced theme throughout, remember that each paragraph you write should have a function — and really some paragraphs have no function.
  2. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning: my mentor loved to say “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them”. This seems to work well when you remember this mantra for each paragraph (loosely). The opening sentence of a paragraph introduces the topic, the middle supports it, and the last sentence sums up some type of conclusion while making space for the next paragraph is there is one. Across the whole personal statement, for example mine, you’ll notice I used this structure: the introduction presented a way for me to lay out my premises (tell you what I’m going to tell you). The back story just allowed for that, while allowing me to lay out my premises (tell you), and trying to get you to follow me in the consequences. Then in the conclusion, I just summed up my experiences. I was specific about the pathology of my grandmother and the importance of research, and although it might of felt like new information it didn’t really move away from what I’ve already told you
  3. Use the active voice when appropriate (it usually is): instead of using phrases like, “All of the experiences in the hospital will always be impressed upon me”, it’d be better to say, “I will forever be influenced by my experiences in the hospital”. Sometimes, a passive form is either necessary or better. For example, “[on bad grades] When I first started college, my newly found independence got the best of me”, sometimes the tone is passive on purpose for ‘writerly’ purposes. Though, after that, it would be important to follow up with an “active voice” to use a voice that indicates that I’m taking ownership of those “bad grades”. In general, right in the active voice as possible, then go back and replace things with passive ones selectively. (This ratio of active >> passive isn’t always true, but it’s a good rule of thumb.)
  4. Put statements in positive form: replace stuff like,”While tutoring adolescent coal minors in Mongolia who were not very skilled at reading…”, with, “While tutoring illiterate adolescents in Mongolia…” Notice the first sentence using several words just to say what one word could/would/does do better, i.e. the word “illiterate”. Also, see rule six. 
  5. Use definite, specific, concrete language: please do not say things like, “With great pomp and circumstance, I was elated to be bequeathed the task of drawing blood…”, instead use concrete language, “Drawing blood was the highlight of my day…” Remember, the point of communication is to communicate. Don’t fall into the sophomoric college habit of using 100 dollar words for a 1 dollar idea.   
  6. Omit needless words: often you omit useless words. Use control+f to find: of, have, to, for. There’s probably a lot of those pesky little words you don’t need. For example, “For myself, one of the easiest ways I get rid of all of the extras are to go ahead and have a critical eye review your work”, was full of speed bumps, “For myself, one of the easiest ways I get rid of all of the ‘extras’ are to go ahead and have a critical eye review your work”. So, a quick fix would be to see how many times I can jettison “of” and still maintain the same meaning, typically it’ll even sound better, “For myself, I rid the “extras” with the help of a critical eye”. Sleek.   
  7. Avoid a succession of pointless sentences: what this means is don’t just throw together five sentences taped together to make a paragraph. For example, often I find that when people are explaining their shadowing experience their writing style switches to a crude play by play. If you’re not sure if you’re doing this, just look back at your paragraph and ask yourself was this sentence even necessary? If it’s not necessary, then take it out. Whenever I can make three sentences into one, and it still makes sense I do it. This can be pretty tricky, be it does a lot. 

If you want to know more about this subject, there’s actually a whole book just about rules of grammar and usage. It’s written when American English was still quite civilized: Elements of Styles of Style by William Strunk Jr. Even if you have a friend checking your style and composition, try your best to give them a decent product to start critiquing by doing your best; it’ll make for a more finished product. After doing the finishing touches, run it by your friends again, it should read better — if not, address it.

twitter @doctororbust

 

5/21 Agenda

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Hello Everyone!

Thanks for keeping up, if it’s your first visit then welcome as well!

Medical School Personal Statement Critique Window Closed (*for now*):

As many of you already know I was a contributing writer for a while, and currently I also am an Institutional Review Board and Animal Care and Use Committee member and compliance associate (or officer, but I don’t like being called that). If you were wondering what I was doing during my time off before medical school starts, well, now you know. So, I have a fair amount of experience in both writing and critiquing. So, I’ve been offering content reviews for personal statements.

I had a great time reading peoples’ personal statement, lots of compelling back stories. The last day to submit a personal statement (first draft) was by May 20th, so if you made that deadline then we’ll still work together on your 2nd and 3rd draft whenever you submit it. I received a lot more then I anticipated, but I was able to stay on schedule with returning them (for a few weeks I received 1-2 per day) I’ve already wrote up a synopsis on general tips, these were a reflection from common “issues” I found while critiquing statements.

There will be another window for submissions, I’ll post the dates when it’s decided. This weekend I’m going wine tasting, so you don’t really want me reading your statements right now anyways =).

M2 Interview from Johns Hopkins

My good friend, former alumni and research scholar cohort, has just finished her USLME Step 1 (this is also known as the boards colloquially among medical students) last week. We finally had a chance to have a sit down over boba (or bubble tea for your weirdos) and discuss her: matriculation, M1, M2 experience, her foreign country research experience through Hopkins, and how it feels to be 33.33% a doctor post USLME. She’s flying back to school (now), and we’ll have that interview transcript hammered out this week — if I don’t get it up by next week, then she probably won’t have time to really do anything like this until next year in July. A few people on Twitter have taken advantage of her taking open questions, and have posed a few good ones. If you have any questions, just leave a comment and I’ll ask her about it.

It’s hard to explain how comforting it is to have a friend in medical school as well, we can swap war stories and lick each others’ wounds. I’m also thinking about adding a new section entirely to my blog just devoted to interviews with others who were accepted, waitlisted, medical students etc. I hope to demystify some of the medical school propaganda, and help others make informed decisions about applying to medical school.

Blog Maintenance Next Week

It won’t effect your usage, I just need to do a better job about organizing things.

Monies for Medschool!

I had a slight short fall in founding per year, about 70K spread out over four years, a drop in the proverbial bucket. This gap in funding has now dropped down to a manageable 24K gap. Boston University School of Medicine (BUSOM) has been really great with helping me on this issue. The drafted my financial aid offer, my tuition is covered (half grant/half loan), and the rest may be covered (living expenses) may be covered under a direct BUSOM loan — that’s still uncertain as I haven’t signed the financial promissory note yet, though I’m ready to sign at the drop of a hat. Either way, I’ll walk out with about 180K in debt (not counting interest) — meh. I’ve always wanted to say I have a quarter million dollar education, I’m sure with interest I’ll be able to pull that off.

Growing up, I didn’t even think I’d live this long (I had such bad asthma growing you’ve probably read my “anonymous” results in a case study by now haha), so I have no real qualms about investing more money into my dreams now. Not to be hyperbolic, but from my personal experiences as one and volunteering with them, I find child patients to be the most stoic and apathetic about their future. It’s hard to talk about your future when you’re not sure if you’ll have one. I used to hate when peopled used to ask me about it — now for the first time I’m actually okay, because I think I have one.

Though, I’ll be the first to admit, now that I actually have a strong will to live I’m afraid for the first time because I don’t want it taken away. I’m halfway convinced that a grand piano will fall on me during the White Coat Ceremony, it’d be quite a ceremonious for the universe to remind me who’s boss. Things are starting to go well, so I’m also wondering if I made some type of nefarious bargain I don’t remember why pleading to live in the hospital =x.

Medschool Personal Statement Critiques – Lessons Learned

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Hello All,

It’s not a big secret that I’ve critiquing [link] premeds’ personal statements lately. It would appear that my deadline is closing tomorrow, per my previous own post. I’ll take a breather for myself, then maybe open up reading again for the slower drafters. If you’ve already submitted your personal statement before the due date, then I’ll continue to work with you as you’re already on my agenda — so don’t worry about me cutting you off or anything if we’re already working with each other. But really, the point of this post is to discuss how I’ve been critiquing them. With any luck, if you know how I do/would read them, then it may improve how personal statements come to me in the first place. This is a win-win for all parties involved.

My Personal Statement

As a reference, I’ve also posted my own personal statement. It’s probably not the crown jewel of personal statements; but, it was received well by medical schools. I received eight interview invites from it, all schools I was honored to interview at also gave me positive feedback on my personal statement (and my AMCAS application as a whole). I created the personal statement the and applied to medical school the exact way I’ve laid out: I structured my first draft, found my own narrative, and then formed and utilized a self selected critique panel to help temper the form. As the draft matured, I went back and trimmed as much “fat” as possible. I redacted redundant phrases, mating congruent ideas in a logical place. I tossed out as many cliche words as I could manage to lose, instead I chose to qualify them and let the reader evoke the cliche word themselves as their logical conclusion. If I was stuck with a cliche word, I’d try to attribute it to others, but this was mostly to be economical about my characters and the readers time. Most importantly, I’d always go back to my ending and asking myself, “Is my narrative congruent enough to make my ending [getting into medschool and beyond] probable to my reader?”. I want to note that this doesn’t equate to making up details, instead, as a writer of your personal statement this instead translates to channeling the true reason why you’ve decided to travel down the arduous path of becoming a physician: premises.

How I Critique Other’s Personal Statement

First, you should all know that I never actually compare anyone’s personal statement to mine. It wouldn’t make sense to contrast my statement directly, as everyone has a different story; i.e. it’s easy to normalize for scores but difficult for personal experiences. After all, just because a story isn’t told well doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a potential to be a great story — you can’t fault the joke for a bad comedian. A personal statement can come in a lot of forms, the only book I used for admissions had equitable though disparate examples. But, in general when I read someone’s personal statement I pretty much do the following.

1. I print out your personal statement (I’m old fashioned, I think the best editing happens on printed paper). I then read it, and try not to take any notes yet, so I don’t get too carried away with editing. I just read your story, and try to imagine what’s happening. If anything, my first time through I try to make sense of the timeline and what your strengths may be.

Tip: after using your word processor to scan for grammar mistakes, print a copy out and read it aloud. I’ve found a lot of pretty awkward mistake in peoples’ personal statements. Growing up, I missed most of elementary school, so grammar doesn’t come naturally to me. If you need grammar help then consider taking your personal statement to your university “writing center” first, that is if you don’t have a grammar gifted pal. Just beware, a lot of writing conventions are okay with your friends, maybe even on some of your college papers. For the personal statement, stick to the traditional writing conventions.

2. I ignore everything you said in the introduction, and I look for the premises you’ve introduced. If they are introduced, I then circle them. If they are not introduced I frown, because I know I need to go fishing for your premises to why you want to get into medical school. This usually also translates to the introduction bleeding into the next 2-3 paragraphs. I

Tip: try listing your premises at the top of your page so you keep things in context throughout the personal statement. Then simply ask yourself, are you really qualifying these premises, or just parroting stuff you think they (admissions) would like to hear.

3. I then simply look through the body paragraphs, and I make a quick note about what each body paragraph was trying to tell me. For example, I might note something like, “The body paragraph 2 is trying to demonstrate their ability to X”. I then ask myself, was this brought up during the introduction at all, or was it an M. Night Shamalyan plot twist?

tip: tossing in a premise without introducing it, or having it unified in some way is a writing misstep. Sometimes, you need to go back and re-write things to make sure your premises make sense, were introduced at a logical time. Don’t toss in a trillion premises, and hope that one of them will stick to the reader.

4. I then look at the beginning and end of each paragraph, or cap and tail of the paragraph. Each paragraph, like processed RNA has a head a tail. Like RNA, if the head or the tail is coded wrong there’s likely going to be problems. Each paragraph is a “dependent” miniature essay, of facet of a whole composition. Imagine the MCAT VR, they rip a passage from a longer piece of work — but the passage you read can be analyzed on it’s own despite being dependent on a longer piece of writing. Each paragraph has a point, a beginning and end.

tip: above all us, remember that each paragraph you write must give you the RIGHT to compose the next paragraph. The paragraphs containing the premises should be united, don’t just jot down beautiful paragraphs that are divorced from each other.

5. I then go to the ending, testing if your “grand” ending is sensible given the personal statement alone (i.e. your plea to be accepted). Then, it’s just a matter of identifying when you qualified the premises in the conclusion; and, well, how convincing those arguments were — that’s obviously rather subjective.

tip: look at your introduction and your list of premises, then ask yourself have you made a case for yourself — or did you just narrate your AMCAS application aloud? Then ask yourself, if they could of just gleaned the same information from your AMCAS application, why would they be enthusiastic about reading another personal statement?

6. The last thing I do is finalize my comments (I then upload them into Word using track changes). I found that grouping tasks together was the best way to ensure I didn’t forget to mention something. So, although I openly say I won’t help your grammar, when I decide to I’ll do them all at once. I’ll search for cliche words all at once. I’d search for premises all at once etc. More or less, I’ve constructed my own check list, and I simply run down it.

tip: construct your own check list, try to group similar tasks so you’re consistent. It will help you remember where you left off, and what you have left to do. Its easy to lose track of your progress on your drafts mostly because they’ll take so time to write that you’ll be sick of seeing it (case in point, until I posted my personal statement on my blog I haven’t actually read it since last year). Tick off grammar issues at the same time, and don’t worry about them much until then. Make your own list as you feel comfortable: style, premises, concurrency, whatever you wish. I again just suggest that you make a process for dealing with things all at once.

That’s all for now. When I see more tips worth pointing out I’ll go ahead and do so!

follow me on twitter @doctorORbust

 

My Personal Statement…is down for now

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Hello!

Sorry, I temporarily took my personal statement down because I’m borrowing elements from it for my residency personal statement. It’ll be back up once my residency applications are done, I wouldn’t want to look like I’m plagiarizing myself. Thanks for understanding!

Here are my medical school personal statement tips:

6 Simple Rules to Help the First Draft of Your Personal Statement

You can find me on twitter at @doctorORbust

 

 

 

Personal Statement — Other Tips

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Medical school invites come in ornate scrolls, typically delivered by a flaming arrow shot through your window — after you’ve been invited once it dissolves into dust.

As you might already know, I’ve been critiquing premed personal statements for medical school for several weeks (hence my blog slow down, after all I do work, and well I’m only one man =D). I decided to take some time from my editing hole to write some general thoughts that can be used  to overall your personal statement overall. Bare in mind that most of this tips are probably more useful to you once you’ve already strung together a draft, so if you already have a draft this post is good for you. If you haven’t made a draft yet, then you might want to read this article about writing a personal statement in general first, then come back. Though, it may help to know both — it’s up to you. So, many a personal statement later here are my thoughts:

1. Avoid using clichè words to explain big ideas. This is especially true when you are the direct object or not of words like: compassion, passion, passionate, love, enjoyed, intrigue(d), empathy, self-motivated, hard-working, determined etc. [In fact, to improve your personal statement by a large margin go back and use Control +F to search and destroy these words. Don’t just replace them with their respective thesaurus compliment, qualify them each where you can afford to.]

Why: Admittedly, clichès gain their status by having some shred of truth to them. However, if you decide to use a clichè word then you’re making the reader take your “word for it”. And really, why should we take your word for it that you have integrity — the first thing a snake oil sales man says’ is “trust” me. When writing your personal statement, remember that the point give a vivid enough picture of you that schools want to invite you for an interview. Instead of saying you’re compassionate, show how you are. Let the reader figure it out. The only time clichè words are to be used is when they’re pretty much unavoidable, like some introductions and conclusions where the premises are being laid out. Another time where it’s okay to use those ‘dirty’ words is when you’re referring to other people, because they are not the topic of the PS anyways. In situations like that it’s okay to use brevity to your advantage. For example, if you looked up to your mentor, then it’s probably okay to just say, “…my mentor believed all success starts with integrity”, and get away with it. If it’s about you then qualify it. Don’t worry about going too deep into any one story as you’ll have a lot of fun rehashing your story in 80 different ways during the secondary period of the application.

2. Remember that it’s a personal statement, so that probably means that it’s about you. It’s okay to acknowledge others, in fact it’s encouraged. But, don’t let other’s visions and ambitions shroud your own on the personal statement.

Why: again, let’s remember that the personal statement is your bid for why you should be summoned to an interview. It’s expected that you’ll bring up some of your experiences that shaped your decision(s) to apply to medical school. And, though Dr. Jacobson might be an awesome cardiologist, frothing over her dexterous surgical fingers for three paragraphs probably isn’t a judicious usage of your character limits. Try to avoid going into parent/family motivation, unless without telling their story the “cog” of your personal statement machine would fall apart. You want to be able to discriminate your ambitions from others living vicariously through you. If you’re rushing to explain your own story, then it’s really time to find a way to still give credit to others while not giving them much screen time. (Sorry, I’m from LA)

3. It’s a personal statement, make it personal. The caveat there is that you want to “appear” stable. 

Why: I’ve read a of personal statements in the last few weeks (one a day in the last week). I know you guys aren’t stupid, I know you all know all the rumors out there flying around about how cruddy the physician/medical school life can be — and yet here you are, thinking about applying. So, there’s probably a pretty solid reason for you wanting to go to medical school besides “having a love for science and positive health outcomes”. If you think about it, there’s a lot of things you could do and still help people. The medical schools know this, it comes up during the interview (or at least it did for mine). So, really put yourself out there — tell the truth. Ask yourself, why are you really doing this? It may seem like a silly question, but I can tell you the number of times I’ve read a “dry” personal statement only to reach the end and have my socks blown off. I then think, “What the…I had to wait all this time to learn this?”, then the personal statement is abruptly over. Remember, they do have the rest of your application to refer to, so as long as everything is congruent throughout your application leave the humdrum listings to the CV part of your AMCAS.

It may help you to fill out some of your AMCAS first or concurrently, so that you can see how repetitive you are.

4. Remember you’re writing a composition (congruent premises, unified by a theme), not a hodgepodge of seemingly connected premises. 

Why: because people don’t consider this, I often see a personal statement will have great elements, however they are not necessarily strung together well to tell the best story. And while it’s okay to use chronological order, to avoid anachronism, but remember that each part of your story (paragraph) should play off the next. And all of the premises should ring in harmony. Just slamming your fingers on the piano and hitting the “right notes” doesn’t guarantee a symphony will be played. So, don’t try to just say enough stuff and hope some of it sticks to the reader, be more strategic about what/why/when you decide to bring things up.

5. If you don’t usually use that “fancy word” during conversation, then ought not use it on your personal statement.

Why: when writing, always remember that you’re trying to communicate, attempting to “convey” your feelings through space-time into someone else’s noggin. So, why muddy the waters with words that may either confuse or distract your reader.

For example, no one say’s things like: I read my books with great felicity.

This is both distracting, and looks pretty silly in this context, even worse it fails to really describe you. Let’s look at a piece totally unrelated by writer and poet Oscar Wilde:

  • I.  “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
  • II.  From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now….

Notice that the first sentence  (I) doesn’t use one fancy word, and yet it’s still able to convey something quite graphic and detailed.  In the second paragraph, that is II, the only word that may even show up on a nice word radar is really innumerable.  In this case, this word is able to say a lot about the cigarettes in the story, it would take perhaps several clauses to try to voice the same imagery. But, at the same time note that the clause before that word was “as was his custom”, i.e. the guy he’s talking about made his own cigarettes and had a lot of them. Everything surrounding innumerable strengthens our understanding of why he mentioned the word “innumerable”. Then Wilder did something smart, he used nouns you probably wouldn’t know,  “laburnum”, and then used elementary language help you understand that that “laburnum” thing probably is a huge tree with possibly orange and red leaves (perhaps during autumn). It’s a random noun, so you weren’t expected to really know it; well, unless you work at an arboretum.  Similarly, in paragraph II,  no one expects you to know what a “divan” was without decent context provided at some point in the story. Simple words can do a lot, and often are just as effect if not more than an oddly placed “fancy word”.

Well, that’s all for me. I’m a little tired from work and reading personal statements. So, I’ll have more next time!

You can add yourself to the personal statement queue by sending it to doctororbust@gmail.com Feel free to find me on Twitter, or perhaps tell me the secret of life etc @doctororbust

Framing Your Narrative

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Be compelling with your narrative.
Be compelling with your narrative.

We live in the age of propaganda. Oh, few words have had their image tarnished like the word propaganda. In the 19th century, propaganda became affiliated misinformation, even to the extent of libel and slander, often to influence others into nefarious activities they wouldn’t of engaged in otherwise if the “whole truth” was known to them. However, the word actually stems from Latin, and it neutrally means “to spread“. We probably would recognize the word better as “to propagate” (e.g. the action potential propagates via..). It suddenly takes on a hint of positivism, well, all depending on what you’re propagating. And, premeds are charged with writing one of the best propaganda campaigns in their career, their personal statement. I assume, that you are possibly like me, okay with science but a little on the weak side when it comes to the touchy-feely part of life.  The AMCAS requires these icky things called “feelings”. There was probably never a time in a premed’s career (except breadth courses perhaps) that how they felt, or expressing how they felt, ever mattered or was considered a valid answer. In fact, we are taught to be objective in our manner, steadfast in seeking absolutes, while discarding the subjective as meaningless — after all, if something is a different color just depending on the angle viewed, what’s the point of arguing about what color that object is? It’s all relative. Though, a qualification of my whole argument there is you’re just as inept as I am at expressing myself. But, sharing my thought process and I strung my personal statement (narrative) together, maybe this post will help you.

As you may already know, I sometimes offer to read applicants personal statements and make critiques. Most personal statements have great content, or have the potential to be great.  Some are written better than others, as it’s reasonable to expect.  So, when I read premed’s personal statements, their “argument” for being accepted into medical school, the personal statement, often usually a series of stacked explicit cliche premises: compassion, passion, lifelong learning, diligence. A superposition of valid premises neither the less — though, it often comes off as a check-list of accomplishments. Often I feel, the problem is not that they don’t have a good story, it’s rather that they haven’t considered their narrative. A lot of applicants have exceptional stories, but poor narratives.

Nar·ra·tive
ˈnarətiv/
noun
  1. Narrative
    a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
    “the hero of his modest narrative”
    synonyms: accountchroniclehistorydescriptionrecordreportstory More

Sto·ry1
ˈstôrē/
noun
       2. Story
  1. an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
    “an adventure story”
    synonyms: talenarrativeaccountanecdoteMore

Framing the story with the Narrative – Being a Puppet Master

One thing all premeds need to realize is that, on paper all applicants are pretty have identical premises for admission: good scores, medical & non-medical volunteering, interested in helping people, appreciate the ability to learn, and possibly have conducted research and/or various types of leadership positions. Therefore, simply rehashing your statistics and achievements isn’t really a maximal use of the personal statement in my opinion. Now, don’t let me mislead you — there is an importance in using the typical premises albeit in a nuanced manner. The only problem arises when applicants think retelling their story for the personal statement constitutes a “personal” statement. Instead, applicants would do better to structure a narrative, and string together their story to support “their narrative”. There is a time and a place to leave things up to interpretation, a story’s significance is often left to interpretation, whereas the narrative is typically more concrete.  Now, if the reader agrees with the narrative or not is another issue, this will depend on if the story (anecdotes) presented cogent arguments to sway the reader in favor of the author’s position. Of course, you could decide to get artsy and leave the narrative ambiguous, also known in theater/screenplay circles as the Rashomon Effect, but in this type of writing I’d advise against it. A good narrative doesn’t strong-arm, nor coerce the reader into conformity; instead, a good narrative will help to orientate the reader around the premises. And with any luck, the reader and the author end up with the same conclusion.

Building the Bridge from Dreams and Goals — Let’s start with how it ends.

What exactly is your goal — is it just to get into medical school? It may seem like a rhetorical question, I mean, why would you apply if you didn’t want to get in? But, consider it for a second. On your goals, do the curtains drop once you’ve posed selfies on white coat day? Not very likely. You probably want to do well in medical school, clerkship, residency, into attending. Yes, let’s just assume you’re 10-15 years in the future, and practicing medicine and helping new residents. Now, look at your personal statement, and ask yourself do your premises for your acceptance congruent with your picturesque ending? If you think about it, this is likely how far medical schools are also projecting into the future, as they not only care about you getting in, they also want you to be a stellar doctor to represent their program after graduation. I found, this retrograde synthesize method of writing to really help whenever I’m in a writing rut. So, instead of just rehashing your anecdotes, work on your narrative as well.

Each paragraph gives you the right to compose the following paragraph – transitions should be logical to frame the narrative, you’re not trying to make a Memento type personal statement.  If your personal statement doesn’t make transitions well, then it’ll appear that there are logical leaps between premises. Transitions don’t have to hammer the reader on the head, but it should allow a ready to easily conclude why each paragraph or sentence supports the rest of the composition.

If you haven’t developed a narrative, try this:  take your rough ideas, outline etc, to see if your narrative fits that. Try different narratives, people love narratives. If you’re not sure if your personal statement captures your narrative, have a few friends read over your personal statement and ask them to write a 140 character, a succinct (tweet) summary about what they think your narrative is. The key is to keep their translations short and sweet, if they have to fumble for paragraphs to define your narrative then you’re probably missing something.

Remember, if you don’t chose your narrative your reader will. 

Examples: Reefer Madness – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reefer_Madness

Narrative: marijuana use in all forms is destructive to society

Story (anecdotes) premise 1: innocent youth gets entangled with under world due to marijuana cigarettes(aka reefer, Mary Jane, whacky-tobacky, the Devil’s Lettuce).

Story premise 2: usage of marijuana causes: increased sexual activity, suicidal thoughts, and possibly psychotic murderous episodes.

Story premise 3: if only Johnny didn’t use drugs, he’d not be going to jail, and several people would still be alive.

Validating the narrative is simply a matter of validating the story’s premises, or anecdotes. If anything, we should learn that a composition will back fire, if the premises/story and the narrative are not well aligned. This is evident by how ineffective this propaganda movie was towards curbing marijuana use in the United States.

So, again, if you don’t make your narrative others will make it for you. On the other hand, if you make a narrative and the premises aren’t supported, then that’s possibly worse. And, as you should learn on the MCAT, you don’t have to agree with the premises in order to validate the premises. You can totally disagree with the philosophy of the writer, but if their conclusions are valid they are valid.  Though, valid  priori don’t always mean that the conclusion is supported. Write with the conclusion always in mind, and stack your priori in a logical way to argue why you should be accepted. Use the same (or better) critical thinking tools you used to break down the support and structure of the MCAT verbal passages on your personal statement–at least you can feel better about not wasting your time on that section. 

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