Adapted from the Institute for Broadening Participation
Personal statements are an important component of the research application process, especially for off-campus programs. They provide you with the opportunity to explain why you are interested in this research opportunity, how you will be able to contribute to this project, and how the project connects to your goals. The personal statement also enables the selection committee to get a better idea of who you are as a person and whether you are the best fit for this research opportunity. But given how important a personal statement can be, how does one go about writing a strong one?
Your personal statement should include:
- Why you are interested in a field of study
- How that interest started and how it grew over time
- How the research opportunity is the next logical step in the path toward your specific goals
To help write about above topics, try answering the following questions:
- Why are you interested in this program? Does it fulfil your interests in a particular area or field of study?
- How did you become interested in this specific research area/academic field? Maybe it’s because you took a class that sparked your interest, or you read a book that intrigued you and pushed you to learn more about this specific field of study.
- What are your aspirations, goals or future plans? How does this summer research project act as a stepping stone in pursuit of your academic and career goals?
- What kind of activities or experiences have you done that contributed towards your interest in or preparation for this field or research area? Explain how your skillset aligns with what they need for this research program to grab the reviewers’ attention.
Personal statements also give you the opportunity to explain certain gaps or weaknesses in your application. For example, if you got low grades in your spring term of sophomore year because a family member passed away or you had low grades during your first term due to challenges with difficulties adjusting to college, you could say:
- “Unfortunately, a family member passed away during my spring term of sophomore year which is why I my performance was sub-tier. However, I learned how to get connected with counseling resources and was able to get back on my feet the following year” for the first example.
- “Although a lack of academic preparedness caused my grades to suffer during my first year, my transcript from more recent semesters shows a significant improvement in my grades, proving that I’m committed to my academic growth and demonstrate that I’m ready for this research opportunity” for the second example.
However, while explaining weaknesses or apparent gaps, don’t list excuses. Focus on what you learned from that situation and how you dealt with this challenge to get back stronger. You can make a strong case for yourself by turning your own weaknesses into strengths and while the application committee understands that most things in our life are out of our control, they are most interested in hearing how you work through challenges.
Other tips to keep in mind when planning your personal statement:
- Saying “I am…” instead of “I have always been…”
- Make positive statements and how you are qualified for this summer research position: “My experience in… makes me well suited for this opportunity because…”
- Your opening statement (why the committee should accept you for this research) should be supported in the body and should also be consistent with your closing.
- Organize the statement so it flows from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph.
- Proofread for grammar, spelling, paragraph breaks, and correct punctuation.
A strong personal statement could be the deciding factor in whether you are accepted for a research opportunity, which is why it is important to create drafts and plan ahead. If you need more advice on writing a personal statement or any other part of the research program application process, feel free to make an appointment with our PHN advisor, Jacklyn Fischer.