October 22, 2012

Having a hard time beginning to write your personal statement?

By Danielle Miranda

Writer’s block happens to everyone, especially when writing something with a major impact for your future within deadlines, starting with your personal statement. Three most common contributors to writer’s block are anxiety, self-consciousness, and feeling overwhelmed. In this blog post, I will address these three factors and provide you with tips on how to begin writing.

So, you have to study for your GRE, maintain your grades, work on your lab experiments, and solicit recommendation letters from numerous faculties while juggling the demand of your non-academic life (work, family, relationship, etc.). Add writing your personal statement to this list. No wonder you are feeling anxious.

Anxiety often comes when you feel that you don’t have control. Once you realize this, the best solution to manage anxiety is to be organized because this gives you the feeling of exerting control. Know what you need to do and when, then make a plan to get it done. In the case of your personal statements, know the requirement and the deadline for each program that you apply for, and then break it down further into mini deadlines. Then start writing because procrastinating will only add to your anxiety. The tips to start can be found at the end of this blog.

You sit in front of your computer to write your personal statement when you start thinking how the admission committee will find it subpar, consider you a fraud and definitely not graduate school material. This feeling of self-consciousness, also known as imposter syndrome, is very common among students and can be difficult to overcome.

So, what can you do to fight this imposter syndrome? Remind yourself of how far you have come. Make a list of your successes and accomplishments. Make a list of your skills, both academic and non-academic. Coincidently, not only will these lists remind you of what an awesome student you are, they will also serve as a fodder for your personal statement.

Feeling overwhelmed
So, you are organized and have a plan. You have battled your self-consciousness and come up with a long list of your accomplishments. You know that your personal statement will be great when you finish writing it, but you are still staring at a blank screen (or paper) and don’t know where to start. How to begin this essay that has the potential to make or break your scientific career? You start to feel overwhelmed and feel even more challenged to start.

This feeling is very common among students, especially students in the sciences. We were taught to be logical and sequential. However, this does not necessarily work for writing your personal statement. The key to break free from feeling overwhelmed is - first and foremost - to divorce yourself from the finished product. Consider writing your personal statement as a journey and see where it takes you at the end. But even more important, there is no rule that says that you have to start at the beginning. Start anywhere, as long as you start writing. Once you begin writing, all the pieces will come together.
So, to help you get started, here are five starter questions for you to think about:

1. What is the one thing that makes you different from all the other applicants?
2. What makes you interested in the field that you want to get into?
3. What life experience inspired you and molded you into who you are?
4. Pick an activity or cause that is important to you and talk about them. Why do you do this activity and what motivates you to continue?
5. Why do you want to go to graduate school? What will you gain in graduate school that will contribute to your future?

Again, the key is to just start writing. Pick one question to answer and just do some free writing. Tomorrow, pick another question to prompt your writing. Before you know it, you will have conquered the inertia and created the personal statement that will earn you the admission to graduate school.

Good luck!
Stella Hartono

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