Saturday, October 16, 2010

The African Kids

Signore e Signori,

I received the score for the Studies on War and Peace test I mentioned in my last post, the one where the last essay question asked to describe a war-free world, and instead of discussing the concepts about warfare we learned in class, I explained that war is all men's fault.  For some reason, the prof gave me full credit for that question, so combined with the few multiple choice questions I missed, my final score was a 94.  Weird, huh?  Maybe it was late at night and the professor was just tired of grading papers...?

As for that wretched personal statement...The day after I met with Goo Goo, she emailed all of us 11 McNair scholars with both a CV template and an application letter template.  The CV, if you, dear reader, are unfamiliar, means "curriculum vitae" and is like a resume, but only includes the stuff you did in college: important classes that you took, articles that you published, organizations that you belonged to, conferences that you attended, and so forth.  As for the application letter, here is the template that Goo Goo sent us:

Application letter (2 pages maximum, double spaced)
Dear Dr. _____________,

I would like to be considered for your doctoral program in ___________. I will be graduating from ______ with a B.S. or B.A. in ______, Spring 2011.

In Fall 2010, I was accepted into the McNair Research Program, which is designed for undergraduate, first-generation, low income students (or underrepresented minorities if applicable to you) to prepare themselves for graduate level research. Dr. _________ was my mentor and my research focused on _____________. NOW TELL THEM SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH, adding how it supports other research by Dr. ___________ and Dr. _______________, thus expanding what we currently know on the topic. IF YOU ARE SUBMITTING THE RESEARCH FOR PUBLICATION, MENTION IT HERE.

New paragraph:

Something else regarding research, trips abroad, grants, awards, etc. SELL YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO IS ABLE TO DO SO.

New paragraph:

I am interested in researching______________, and am fascinated by the work being done at (the institution you are applying to)_______________ by Dr. _______________ and Dr. _____________ in the areas of READ SOME OF THEIR PUBLICATIONS AND REFER TO THEM HERE.

New paragraph:

Thank you for considering me for your program at ________________. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely (and PLEASE turn on your spell-check),

Susan Smith

Okay, but I am scratching out the part about the McNair Research Program being "designed for undergraduate, first-generation, low income students."  Why the fuck would anyone put that on their grad school application?  It's just too blatantly playing the pity card, in my opinion.  It's saying, "Accept me because I grew up on food stamps" and not "Accept me based on my merits." 

Then, immediately after the template, Goo Goo wrote:

Many of the on-line applications ask for a personal statement, but what they need is the ‘application letter’ previously outlined.  If you have submitted the application letter, and you feel the school is asking for a more personal letter, then you may add it to your packet.  However, this statement should enhance and support what your first letter stated.  You need to carefully consider what you are putting in this letter, write it in a letter format as if to a friend, but again ask for advice when deciding what you are going to disclose to the committee.  PLEASE REMEMBER, THIS LETTER NEVER TAKES THE PLACE OF THE APPLICATION LETTER. 

If what schools want and need is an application letter, why wouldn't they just say "application letter"?  Why do they all ask for a "personal statement"?  That makes no sense.  When I compare examples of personal statements on educational websites, none of them look like an application letter, and none of them look like "a letter to a friend."

This was all just getting a little ridiculous.  So I emailed another professor (that I like and trust) and asked her for help.  She said that "a good personal statement adds another layer of information the school would not have about you reading your official application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc. I always say to think of it like the interview you'll never have...Personal statements are one of my favorite things to read/talk about.  It's really a bizarre document, but it can be fun. Maybe. Sometimes. Or not."

So my personal statement is a work in progress.

Anyway, I should get back to my to-do list.  First up: finish writing to the African kids. 


Meaning that two months ago I was asked by a coworker to write letters to 12 African schoolchildren who were being sponsored by her charity group.  Here are their sweet faces:

I generally like volunteer work, and I have a soft spot for children in developing countries, so I agreed.  But I think I was supposed to be finished with these letters a month ago.  I have 3 of the 12 done, and I keep blocking out chunks of time in my day planner to finish the rest, but then I don't do it and another week passes and another week, and here it is, the middle of October.  I don't even want to tell you how many times the phrase "write to African kids" is peppered throughout my day planner, or how many times I have eaten junk food or taken a nap or read a trashy tabloid instead of writing these letters.  Isn't that terrible?  I am going straight to hell.

No, TODAY I am going to finish the letters!