Writing Your Grad School Personal Statement: 3 Quick Tips

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Tis’ the season of love and jingly things… and also when grad school applications are due!

If you are applying to a research program and are still finalizing your application, I have three tips here that might be of use:

1. Align your research interests with the faculty members’ in the program

It is often made obvious in graduate program applications that the applicant should mention which faculty member they would like to work with as part of their graduate education. Before writing your personal statement, do a thorough search on the program’s people page, such as this page that’s housed in our Writing Studies department. Include the faculty member’s specialty areas as keywords in your letter as a rhetorical move to show that you have done your homework. As part of the UMN RSTC program, applicants are asked to select a professor to be his/her desired academic advisor. It would be smart for the applicant to get in touch with one or two current grad students in the program to get a sense of the “advisee-load” that the desired advisor has already had to avoid choosing someone who are already occupied and so are not able to undertake anymore new students.

2. Showcase your research trajectory, past and future

Include a trajectory of your scholarly works as well as future directions (where you came from and where you want to go), including past or present seminar research topics and classroom/teaching workshops. This will help the admission committee to see your scholarly agenda and give them confidence that you are self-motivated because you have clear goals in mind. Remember, the grad school application is also similar to a job application; while admitting new students, the program or department is looking for individuals who are competent in conducting research (in and out of lab, classroom, etc.) as well as teaching (some are even looking for applicants with certain specialization to teach specific classes).  

3. Define your scholarly identity

This last advice should be taken with a grain of salt. While it is good to exhibit excitement and flexibility as a graduate applicant, I think it is equally important to define one’s scholarly identity. Especially for PhD applicants, the individual should have already had a sense of what it means to be a part of an academic discipline or community, and what it means to contribute to the development of that community. By defining one’s scholarly identity, one is performing a(nother) rhetorical move that situates him /herself in an ongoing conversation–thus increasing the credibility of the application. For a program with multiple tracks (such as RSTC and programs like Arizona’s RCTE and Iowa State’s RPC), I think it would be helpful to define yourself as a rhetorician, compositionist (basic writing, first-year writing, advanced composition, etc), or technical  or professional communication scholar (scientific writing, tech or business comm, technology and culture, etc), or somewhere in between these (but you have articulate how you fit in such a niche). 

There are certainly many other factors that concern the admission committee and these are just my two cents. If you are reading this and are interested in applying to the RSTC program at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), feel free to leave me a message and I’d be glad to help!

5 Must-Know Networking Tips for Graduate Students

Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event - NYC

What I have discovered over the years as a graduate student is that networking is more than just socializing with others (more than just sharing a drink and laughing over some PhD comics emailed from a friend to another). It is an essential part of creating strong relationships with those who can help me to do well in my crafts, and if done effectively, it can be my springboard to a successful career.

Here are some tips to effective networking I wish I’ve learned earlier:

1. Start with your home campus.

The university campus is a unique common ground where students, faculty members, admins, and alumni are likely to overlap in terms of their expertise and interests. Treat your own campus as a serious playground where you can try to meet people from your own department, other departments, as well as the university administration. Learn to share your research interests and pedagogical methods with others, especially your fellow grad students or cohort, and listen to what they have to say in exchange.

2. Maintain an identity, both online and off.

Earning a graduate degree is a professionalizing process. By the time you’re completing your master’s degree, you should have a good sense of what your professional interests are. Be very thoughtful about your career aspiration; be consistent about your professional image; be vocal about your goals.

Use various social networking outlets (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Academia.edu, etc.) to create an online presence. Many graduate students maintain a personal website or blog to publish their thoughts and philosophies. Share your thoughts out there and let your audience help you with your next big idea. When meeting people in person, do have some name cards ready to be handed out.

3. Know your responses to, “So, tell me about your work/research.”

Practice and know your extended elevator pitch. Rehearse out-loud how you would introduce yourself to just about anyone: someone in your field, someone who may or may not know your work, and someone who is not an academic. Be aware that your audience may not be well-versed in the specific theories you read and/or use. Being able to communicate about your craft across the general public is key to effective networking.

4. Be active in your field; attend conferences.

As a graduate student, you are expected to keep yourself up to date about recent advancements and new technologies in your field. One way to keep up with such development is to attend academic conferences and professional conventions to learn from other scholars and practitioners. You may also share your work with others through presentations, panels, roundtables, or workshops. These avenues are best for getting your work critiqued and receiving constructive suggestions from those who may be doing similar research like yours.

Going to conferences also helps put your name and face out there. Remember, it’s not about who you know, but who knows you.

5. Paying it forward pays off.

Networking is a multiple-way interaction. It’s not enough to just give away your name card and wait for a job interview call. Bonnie Marcus writes in Business Insider Malaysia, “The more you invest in your network, the more valuable your network is.” Whenever you are able to help someone by taking calls, responding to emails, or making recommendations, do it. Be active in email listservs. Contribute to blogs. Be a part of the bigger academic community. The more you are able to offer help, the stronger your bond with others might be.

Networking involves strategy and attention. When done effectively, it can be the catalyst to your career advancement.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn Long-Form Post, June 25, 2014. Image from Wikipedia.