Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo knows that not many things serve to trip up graduate program applicants as much as the open-ended essay questions. For that, he's broken two common queries down into what the department really wants to know. He has also framed formulaic approaches to satisfying these questions with thorough, to-the-point answers. Often, he says, graduate departments ask applications to "describe your professional goals you hope to achieve by pursuing a graduate degree," which, in its simplest form boils down to: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" An appropriate answer, Faulkes says, might begin with: "I want to work to be a [professor/technician/researcher/patent lawyer] in a [teaching university/research university/community college/state government /federal government/start-up company/pharmaceutical company], because... " In response to a department's request to "describe why you are interested in your chosen field of study," an applicant need only demonstrate knowledge of current research, and not necessarily that they've outright chosen a particular field for themselves. Still, he says, the "more specific you can be ... the better." Finally, in general, an applicant ought to attempt to relate their personal research goals with those of the department to which they're applying. In the end, "a personal statement is more art than science," Faulkes adds.
In Plain English, Please
Dec 21, 2010