Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Forum Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Once again I turn to Hatrack for help - Writing personal statement for grad school

   
Author Topic: Once again I turn to Hatrack for help - Writing personal statement for grad school
Lyrhawn
Member
Member # 7039

 - posted      Profile for Lyrhawn   Email Lyrhawn         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Hello all. I know many of you have had to do this at some point in your own academic careers, and I'm having a devil of a time organizing my thoughts on this. All of the personal statements I have to write for my various applications have slightly different questions to answer, so this is really more of a template that will need to be modified to each specific school, but I wanted to create a pretty solid template that I could pick from when I need to slot things into place.

If anyone could give me some general feedback, I'd really appreciate it. I've heard general advice from a million different people, and school websites all emphasize the importance of the personal statement, but it's just driving me crazier. I need actual people to read my actual statement and tell me what they think. Some of the general advice that I'm working with includes: Craft a personal narrative that gives specific examples to help the admissions committee remember who you are, and so you stand out in the crowd. Don't just re-list your accomplishments, this is the place to put those accomplishments into perspective.

So, here is what I'm working with thus far. It needs to be trimmed down somewhat, though, some schools ask for two statements, a biographic and an intellectual, so I'll just pull out the right bits for those.

In my academic career at Oakland University, I have demonstrated through high grades, awards and research that I am able to excel in intellectually rigorous and demanding coursework. My unusually long path to graduation made me mature, determined and eager to push myself to succeed at ever increasingly difficult challenges.

My transcript is a testament to the personal and intellectual growth I went through at Oakland. The sporadic classes I took during my early education were not a reflection of difficulty with the coursework, but of a lack of direction. From 2002-2007, I did not know what I wanted from my college education. To compound this problem, a close friend of mine, Robert, died suddenly of a lung infection in June 2006. It took me some time to make sense out of why Robert, someone with such promise and so many goals in life, should die at such a young age. It was a defining moment in my life. In 2008, after not attending classes for almost three years, I re-entered Oakland with renewed determination and a tall order. My haphazard approach to my education left me with nine zeroes to replace, from courses I signed up for but stopped attending. One of them, RUS 114 could not be retaken because the university no longer offered it, but I was determined to retake the rest. I set high goals for myself. Getting into a graduate program in history my mission from that point onward, but I also set a number of smaller goals to achieve along the way. My GPA at that point was a 1.89. I resolved to raise my GPA to at least a 3.6 and graduate cum laude, to go to graduate school, to get involved in Phi Alpha Theta, the history honors society, and in general, to never look back on a class and think, “I could have done better.” With these goals in mind, I attacked my undergraduate studies with fervor, and the results speak to my maturity and dedication to both my studies, and the completion of my goals.

I wrote the paper I am submitting with this application, “The Scarlet Letter and the Cross: The Red Scare Smear Campaign Against Reverend Charles A. Hill,” during my senior capstone course in American history. It aligns closely with the work I plan to pursue in graduate school. I researched and wrote this paper over the course of a single semester with little direct guidance from an advisor, which required significant individual motivation on my part. My historical interests revolve around labor and African-American history. Specifically, I am interested in the research being done on the American Civil Rights Movement in the northern United States in the mid-20th century. I am particularly interested in the earlier movement, before the more heavily researched 1960s. I want to study how anticommunist Red Scare claims were used against the civil rights community to damage their civil rights work. I am also interested in how civil rights leaders at the local level saw themselves in relation to the larger international east-west Cold War divide. My interest in labor history centers on the voice of the laborer in his union. I have explored this issue in my undergraduate studies by looking at how labor law reform in 1959 attempted to give the individual more of a voice, but failed.

In many ways, my professional interests spring from my own personal history. While not African-American, my family went through many of the economic hardships suffered by both African-Americans and working-class laborers in general. My parents raised my brother and me while working three and four jobs between them to get by. They divorced when I was young, and tough times led us at one point to getting by on food stamps and a paper route that we did as a family. My parents promoted hard-work, frugality, and the necessity of education. My brother, not satisfied with college, joined the Marine Corps as a way of charting his own course in life. His decision and perseverance in the face of adversity have always been an inspiration to me. My family continues to play a supporting role in my life. Because of my family, I am a goal-oriented, hard-working, highly motivated individual who pushes himself to succeed. And because of my history, the history of those in similar places of powerlessness is especially important to me.

Like many history buffs, history was always more a passion and hobby than a devotion and career, until I reached the more rigorous levels of undergraduate study. Working with primary sources is what first made me want to get a PhD. In my first research intensive seminar, I spent hours hunched over dusty copies of the Congressional Record to produce a research paper on labor law reform that went on to win several awards. I think I won those awards because of my careful attention to detail in primary source material. I will never forget my first experience working with primary sources in an actual archive. I was looking through the Hill Collection, the family papers of the person I was researching, when I found what can only be described as hate mail. The letter, addressed to the wife of my subject, explained in detail why the writer hated her husband, and that her husband, a minister, was going to hell. It was one of several hate letters I found, but this one was written on Christmas stationary, with cherubs and Jesus on the back of the letter. I found several important pieces of information in that Collection, but that letter, to me, is a perfect example of why history is so exciting; you never know what you might find.

History, however, is not the only intellectual tool I have at my disposal. I have always favored an interdisciplinary approach to education, and because of this, I have also done extensive coursework in English, Political Science, and American Studies. In my final semester, my American Studies courses will explore both the Harlem Renaissance and the intersections between the literary, legal and historical aspects of early twentieth-century Labor. Between high school and college, I have also taken five years worth of classes in French, and with a small amount of further study in graduate school, I could be proficient in translating French texts. The skills I have learned from these classes have further honed my research, close reading, analytical, and writing abilities, which serve to make me a better historian and student of history.

[Paragraph on why specific school is right for me, including resources and specific faculty members I would like to work with.]
.
.
.

I have come a long way since my college career began, and I am nearing the completion of most my academic goals. From the 1.89 GPA of two years ago, I now have a 3.58, having earned a 3.84 average in the five semesters since returning to Oakland. I am on pace to graduate cum laude, and I hope to earn departmental honors on account of my academic performance. My outstanding academic performance and awards demonstrate that I would not only succeed in graduate school, but excel in an intellectually rigorous environment. In fact, my best grades have come from the most challenging and difficult courses. I would be an asset to any graduate school looking for a student with the intellectual ability and drive to persevere through the long and rigorous road to a PhD.

Posts: 21420 | Registered: Nov 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
talsmitde
Member
Member # 9780

 - posted      Profile for talsmitde   Email talsmitde         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Long time lurker--currently in my final year in a PhD program in history. I enjoyed your personal statement, as I got a good feel for what you wanted to do in grad school and professionally. Here are some edits to sharpen it:

First sentence, change to "research, awards, and high grades"--your ability to get the first two is what will matter once you're in.

Change "my unusually long" to "my long."

Eliminate "The sporadic . . . lack of direction." Also "and a tall order."

No need to explain what PAT is. I'd also omit the first phrase of the second sentence in your concluding paragraph--no need to remind the reader of that 1.89.

I really like the section about using primary sources and about finding the letter. I'm of two minds about the paragraph about your family--it gives more background, but it might be too much "personal" material for a personal statement. See the recent PhD comics (phdcomics.com) for a good analysis of the curmudgeon approach to discussion of personal life in academia--it can be a lot like Battle School, at least where professors are involved.

Are you getting into the 1940s at all in your research? Major issues around civil rights, race, and labor during the labor mobilization during WW2 and the immediate aftermath. Could a transnational approach with France or Africa or the Caribbean help sharpen your research? 20th Century U.S. is . . . tough. And with five years of French, you're probably ready to do research in it now. Buy a good, thick dictionary and start practicing reading. Lots of OSC available in French . . . [Smile]

I think it looks good--I have a good sense of what you want to do in grad school and your possession of the necessary skill and grit to succeed. I don't envy you--it's tough time to be applying, but if I was on the admissions committee I'd argue for you.

Posts: 99 | Registered: Oct 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Dr Strangelove
Member
Member # 8331

 - posted      Profile for Dr Strangelove   Email Dr Strangelove         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Lyr, I'm so sorry I haven't gotten back to you yet. I've been swamped with work and laid up with what may or may not be the flu this past week.

I like it. Ditto on all of what talsmitde said. It definitely gives me a sense of who you are and what you want to do. I like the bit on your personal motivations, but then I'm of the school that I want to know that there is something deeper motivating your work other than just a desire to get published or get a Ph.D. I think that the best work comes from deeper motivations, while the copious amounts of mediocre work comes from people who just pick up whatever is cool at the time. But, there definitely are those who disagree with me on that and want to maintain the crumbling edifice of history as as a value-free, objective enterprise that shouldn't be influenced by personal context.

In the second paragraph, you write: "Getting into a graduate program in history my mission from that point onward, but I also set a number of smaller goals to achieve along the way." Could be my fever, but I think you're missing a "has been."

One suggestion I would have, and talsmitde you can weigh in on this too if you want, is to mention some specifics of historical work you are hoping to be in conversation with, or have been inspired by. Give the reader a little historiographical context for your work. Just a thought.


By the by, on a random note inspired by what I've been reading the past couple weeks, have you ever looked at anything with Subaltern Studies? It's a school developed by Indian historians (Ranajit Guha primarily) that looks at modes of peasant resistance. It's big into finding a voice for the voiceless, etc. I don't know that it would really work for you, but who knows? I was talking to a professor the other day who used it a lot in his work on 1960's Mexico, so it can be used in contexts other than India. But again, I mainly mention it because I've been dealing with it a lot lately.


Talsmitde, what/where are you studying? I'm gearing up for comps and research trips myself. Always good to see a comrade in arms.

Posts: 2826 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
talsmitde
Member
Member # 9780

 - posted      Profile for talsmitde   Email talsmitde         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Yes, more on the historiography is good--at least a book or two that meant a lot to you in undergrad can help the committee better understand you as a scholar and potential colleague. And you should definitely read some subaltern studies stuff: there are those who consider it the be all, end all of historical approach; there are those who consider the whole movement overblown. I wouldn't shoehorn it into the personal statement beyond something along the lines of looking forward to learning more in grad school.

Yes, disclosure of personal info is, sigh, a perpetual balancing act. I have an advisor who's very old school in that way, though he has other great qualities. And I agree with Dr Strangelove that at least some personal background about why you're interested in that area of research is definitely important.

Being on the job market right now, I'm hesitant about being too precise, but I'm at a state school in the Southeast, where I do Caribbean/Latin American history.

Posts: 99 | Registered: Oct 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Dr Strangelove
Member
Member # 8331

 - posted      Profile for Dr Strangelove   Email Dr Strangelove         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Yeah, I wasn't necessarily referencing subaltern studies to put it into the statement... just as something to look into at some point.

And yeah, I understand about not wanting to be too precise. I might shoot you an email though, because I'm in the southeast myself. Who knows, maybe at some point we would cross paths at a conference.

Posts: 2826 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Lyrhawn
Member
Member # 7039

 - posted      Profile for Lyrhawn   Email Lyrhawn         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks you two, I took a lot of your advice and punched it up, then I used that template to write statements for my first few schools that I'll be submitting applications for later today.

I might have gone a teensy bit over on the personal background aspects, but while editing I tried to weave it all pretty clearly into my development as a student of history and how my history has contributed to what I want to study in grad school.

I didn't realize that Hatrack had such nice little community of history grad students. Thanks for taking the time to respond to me. And no worries on not getting back to me yet Strangelove, maybe when the semester is over and you have a bit more time. I barely have the brain power to read let alone write right now, so I can only imagine how busy you must be.

Posts: 21420 | Registered: Nov 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2