writing

AMCAS II Question Ex.1: Why This Area? — My Example

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If you’re currently applying to medical school, you’ll likely soon start to receive secondary applications, congratulations on making it this far. Please pay particularly close attention to your first couple of secondary applications, you’ll be able to use the husk but not the heart of essays you’ve already written from other institutions. Also, during the beginning of this period, it’s easy to rush things out the door and wish you hadn’t afterwards. So, before we start I’ll remind you to proof read for typos and word transpositions (this will happen if your word processor auto corrects). Also, most importantly, make sure to never make the mistake of confusing one school’s content for another on an essay. To help avoid these mistakes use your friend Control + F to find your mistakes quicker, then print out the real secondary. Take a high lighter and lots of coffee, and make sure you don’t misidentify a school and caught most grammar and typos issues. On your computer I suggest that you make a folder called AMCAS Secondary Entries, make sub folders for each school and place their secondary essays there. Inside the main folder, AMCAS Secondary Entries, keep an Excel sheet to keep track of what types of essays you’ve written already and the character length — this will help you to make a strategy later when you’re exhausted and can’t imagine writing yet another secondary.

How to handle the “Why this area?” question

There is probably a plethora of reasons you want to go there, most of them are hopefully genuine. From your genuine reasons, pluck from them the reasons that best align with the mission and strengths of the program and their surrounding area. Also, you can tailor this entry by doing background information on the school and who they intend to serve — if you’re admitted, these are the people you will be serving. When you see similarities between those you will serve it’s a good thing. Note, this cuts across class, race and gender. What you’re trying to do in this entry is convince them that if you’re admitted you’ll be happy about your choice, and you gave it some thought. While it’s true that from the applicants’ perspective any medical school is good as long as they are accepted, The reciprocal: all accepted are good for the medical school, that is not necessarily true. In other words, a school will not invite you for an interview if they feel you haven’t really given it thought of why you want to be there — and that’ll either be obvious in this entry or during the interview if invited. Here’s one of mine:

A mentor once taught me that insensitivity makes arrogance ugly; and empathy is what makes humility beautiful. If accepted, my new mentors will forever craft my philosophy as a future humble physician. For this reason, I chose Meow-Mix Medicine School (MMMS) because the school’s core values of excellence, collegiality, and integrity. I believe becoming a medical scholar, in a new community, will prepare me for a successful career as a physician and advocate for the underserved.

MMMS integrates science theory and medical practice early; this is reflective in the school choosing to concurrently teach the basic sciences and the principles of medicine. MMMS hones medical student’s clinical problem solving skills by integrating the basic sciences patient care through small groups. My own experience in electrophysiology lab, and leading small lab discussions on preeminent research and physiology, taught me that often the best way to learn was to correlate theory with application via experience and in-depth discussion with mentors and peers. MMMS learning style encourages collaborations between training physicians; I believe this learning environment will foster excellence in the student body, as delivering stellar health care is a team effort.

MMMS keeps its medical scholars connected with the local community by providing comprehensive healthcare to vulnerable subjects by providing free health screenings to the local Kitten community at the Meow-Mix Area Health Education Center. A family shouldn’t have to choose between food and proper medical treatment. Additionally, I find it encouraging that MMMS has strong patient advocacy for underserved populations through organizations such as the Meow-Mix Meow for Health Program.I believe MMMS has a strong emphasis on patient beneficence without discrimination. MMMS commitment to the community, research, and education will prepare me for a life of service as a physician.

This the longer version (recall that you’ll different schools have different character count requirements), and experience with writing a bunch of these will allow for your to better tailor your entries. I found all of the information by data-mining (stalking) the medical school: checking their Tweets, blogs, Facebook entries, Youtube. Even if a school is huge, the department medical school PR “concept team” is usually rather small and intimate, so sometimes being the only person who watched that “wonky” video with 200 views puts you ahead of the pack. Of course I looked at their website and MSAR, but that’s sort of a basic requirement nowadays. By the time I wrote the “Why Here” essay I knew so much information about each school and area that it actually made the decision of where to matriculate to an arduous one because I taught myself to love each program I interviewed. 

Note: there’s a good chance that I changed the name of the university for mutual privacy, or the proper nouns I used really exist — equally likely =D

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!

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