Applications: Get (and Stay) Excited!

The excitement of post-graduate opportunities!

Last week, Stacey gave some great advice about productive things to do when you’re forced to pause for some part of your project, such as waiting on shipments or lab analyses. But what about the other end of the spectrum? What if you have so much to do that you feel overwhelmed and lose motivation to do any of it? Or if you’ve been working on your project for so long that you begin to lose interest?

I found myself in a similar situation a short while ago. I’m currently applying to various grad schools, and a major component of these applications is the  “Statement of Interest” or “Personal Statement”, in which you basically say why you’re interested in that particular program and how your past experiences have prepared you for it. And at first, it’s exciting! You’re reading about the schools/programs/research you’re potentially going to be spending the next few years immersed in, and the whole situation is one of promise and novelty. So you’re motivated to write, and you work hard on your statements.

But then, as you start working through the second statement, then the third, then the fourth, fifth, sixth… and the school work and extracurriculars start piling on, the initial feeling of promise and novelty wears off, and the task becomes a chore, even though you know it shouldn’t be.

So how do you put your mind back on track? How do you regain the motivation you had at first? My answer: talk about it! I found that reading related papers and articles (by your potential future advisers, for example) was moderately effective, but talking to someone about it was much more powerful. Chatting with grad students and professors about their feelings toward certain programs or how their research relates to the places you’re applying is one sure-fire way to learn more about these schools as well as to re-motivate yourself.

And, if you can, chatting to your potential future advisers themselves is an even more powerful way of accomplishing the same thing! They all have valuable, fresh, and interesting things to say that may redirect your perspectives on a particular school, or show you a new way to think about how to approach your application. In any case, they will re-energize your statements. Even just casually talking to your friends about why you’re applying to each of the schools can remind you of the excitement you had at first.

Of course I’m not trying to say that you should ring up your professor just because you find yourself procrastinating on your statements (or your job/internship applications!). Rather, I’m saying that there is a whole lot you can gain from talking to people. So look up from your computer screen once in a while, and talk to professors, grad students, and friends, and I’m confident you’ll find yourself reinvigorated with fresh material to incorporate into your applications.

– Yuem Park, Natural Sciences Correspondent