Materials Girl: Buried under a mountain of digital paperwork

Posted on behalf of Materials Girl

I have been in grad school for two weeks. Already, my original plans to jump into research – and sleep 9 hours a day – are currently thwarted by a flurry of newly discovered fellowship applications. Also, my nemesis has returned: physics class! I now have the pleasure of competing against graduate students who majored in applied physics, instead of the previous motley crew of undergraduate science and engineering majors. Serves me right for going into matsci instead of inorganic chemistry. This sounds like grounds for a discussion on the merits of GPAs in graduate school…

Application writing is tedious. I don’t know a soul who actually enjoys composing personal statements, previous research reports, or proposals. I have also spent many hours typing personal information into online forms via the cantankerous internet connection in my office (at least it saves paper). Personally, my problem is not so much the time it takes to type up everything. The issue is in composing something scientifically meaningful, which communicates my ideas in a clear, clever fashion that does not put people to sleep. (Being a slow writer also causes troubles. Or maybe it’s just my brain that might be slowing; my mother recently commented on yet another lapse in my short-term memory, stating that age 21 is a bit early for Alzheimer’s to be setting in. I’d like to think that we all have these sorts of problems, though.)

In terms of producing worthwhile content, I specifically have the personal statement in mind. It’s like a repetition of college applications, where all of my accomplishments, background, and any aspect that I write about has inevitably been done, experienced, and described by myriads of other applicants. How does one presume to be unique, and then convey it in one thousand words? To what extent can a short essay convey the subtleties of a personality and the drive to excel, avoiding horrid clichés and hackneyed concepts? For those who wade through the sea of incoming material: how do you distinguish between creativity and reiteration? The same can be said about research proposals, too. They need to know that I know what I’m talking about. But how?

All I can do is my best, and hope it is sufficient to propel my application into the “accept” list. Good luck to everyone else in the process of begging for funding. Unless you are one of my competitors. (Just kidding! Or am I…?)