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Personal Statement criticism?

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My biggest worry is that it is too straight-forward, but I really dont know what to do for this kind of thing, or how to differ a statement of purpose from a personal statement. I will add another concluding paragraph for each given school I am applying to mentioning who I hope to work with and what I know of their work and why i am interested.

" After competing and excelling in a number of state-wide and national engineering competitions in high school, with plans to attend a major engineering university, there was no doubt of my future career. It was never more apparent I liked engineering than during the first week of classes; but, I quickly learned I loved psychology, and that realization is responsible for my current path.

In the past two and a half years I have had the fortune to continue involvement as a research assistant in two psychology research labs at Virginia Tech, the Center for Applied Behavior Systems, directed by Dr. E. Scott Geller, and the Cognition, Emotion, and Self-Regulation Lab, under the supervision of Dr. Bradley White.

In the fall of 2009 I began assisting in the Center for Applied Behavior Systems collecting data for a variety of projects ranging from alcohol abuse prevention, to intervention based studies to promote pro-social behaviors. While the first two semesters provided the perfect introduction to psychological research, I knew there was more to learn.

After a year of work as a research assistant, I sought the opportunity to become more involved in the research process as an independent, undergraduate researcher, with the newfound responsibilities of assisting in the development and implementation of a brand new research project. In the weeks prior to the beginning of the semester, I was exposed to just how I had to learn, from thorough literature reviews, to the process of acquiring and ensuring IRB compliance.

With careful and thoughtful guidance from Dr. Geller, and Ryan Smith, a graduate student who oversaw the alcohol-related research, we were able to design a new study to examine the effects of alcohol intoxication on the processing of facial emotion recognition. Rather than a typical alcohol lab setting using low doses, the naturalistic setting allowed for more realistic drinking conditions, but provided a new set of challenges to consider. From the first day of discussing the project, the first night of collecting data, and following through the final analyses, the indescribable feeling of excitement and intrigue was ever present. Every new challenge was a new opportunity to learn and grow, and my first exposure to the application of statistical analyses will never be forgotten. With the assistance of Ryan Smith and Dr. Geller, I had the opportunity to present alongside them at the American Psychological Association.

Concurrently, I joined the Cognition, Emotion, and Self-Regulation lab under the direction of Dr. Bradley White in the Fall of 2010. With the focus of cognitive tasks and psychophysiological measurements, this provided a fresh glimpse into the wide breadth of what psychology has to offer. Through our weekly laboratory meetings, I was able to develop a newfound appreciation for the scientific rigor of psychological research, as we were regularly presented with relevant research articles and taught to understand, interpret, and apply them. Duties as a research assistant included interviewing participants and conducting a controlled psychological questionnaire, as well as administering cognitive tasks, and measuring physiological responses to various stimuli.

Although my research experiences helped to bolster my knowledge, they were not the sole influence on my professional interests. In the Spring of 2010, I volunteered at the local elderly care day facility as an activities assistant, planning daily activities to encourage participation and exercise of the mind and body. Though many were impacted by dementia, As the Secretary of my service fraternity, we participated frequently in events with the local middle school, partnering with food drives, and helping to put on a spring carnival, which first helped me realize my interest in working with youth. The following summers between spring and fall semesters were spent working with kids on a professional level, allowing for a hands-on application of psychology.

Developmental psychology provided the background knowledge, and being in classrooms teaching lessons and encouraging positive play with kindergarteners provided the real-world understanding of human development. A senior-level course on social and emotional development would culminate these past experiences with a greater understanding of individual development as it can relate to the greater system of familial, societal, and cultural influences. This combination of practice and knowledge created a foundation for exploration of further training in the application and understanding development.

After two years of working with an elementary school camp, in 2011, I began work with Autism Outreach, Inc, as an associate ABA therapist both in 1:1 sessions and in a camp setting, epitomizing the unique and individual nature of development. Though camp sessions were 4.5 hours per day, I have never had a more challenging yet rewarding personal experience. Each day we would follow a lesson plan, but would inevitably have to alter the plan and improvise on the spot to emphasize teachable moments, learning the necessity of flexibility. There are few feelings I have experienced more rewarding than working on an interdependent team to share in the experience of a difference in someone’s life through the application of principles of psychology. Everyone faces challenges in life, whether it is autism, stress, anxiety, or substance abuse, and the science of psychology enables an amazing power to learn more about a problem and study how to help it.

Since graduating, I have taken on the role of coordinator for the Center for Applied Behavior Systems, remaining involved in the academic world as I sought the next step for growth. The position has been a rewarding experience, sharpening critical thinking, attention to detail, and overall organization abilities. Daily duties include conducting literature reviews, facilitating the collection of data, maintaining and managing computer databases, and aiding in the preparation of research documents for presentation, and facilitating weekly Center meetings of 45 undergraduates and 5 graduate students to discuss current research projects, and aid in the introduction to the psychological research process.

In August of 2011, I had the honor to present at the American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C., alongside Dr. Geller, Ryan Smith, and other researchers in a symposium on our research. Presenting was an unparalleled experience as the culmination of over a year of hard work, but the rest of the conference proved to be even more beneficial, to be in the presence of leading researchers practicing in the domains I hope to enter. The most important thing I could learn in my undergraduate career was how much more there is to learn. As much as I have gained from my experiences as a research assistant and undergraduate courses, I feel excitedly anxious and fully prepared for the next level of growth.

A quote from a graduate mentor has guided my search for just what the next level should be, “Just because you are doing something does not mean you are doing the right thing”. The introduction I have had of the world of psychology as an undergraduate has only made me more eager to continue education, but I want to make sure it is the right education. There are many programs and paths that can lead towards generically ‘making a difference’ in the world, but my passions and experiences have led me to know a graduate training in clinical psychology will be the optimal combination of interest and practical education."

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I disagree with your self assessment in regards to the draft being 'too straight forward.' As it stands, your draft winds and weaves around its points. Additionally, you could do more to let readers know what you learned. (Right now, the draft spends more time describing how you learned.)

IMO, you should:

  • Consider tightening up your use of verbs. Be more active and be more direct when you can.
  • Reexamine your cause-effect relationships, they are not as clear cut as you think--especially in the first paragraph.
  • Tighten and reorganize your discussion of key events and moments.
    • Did you present to the APA once or twice?
    • What was the topic?
    • What were the key findings?
    • Do a better job at discussing your work as a coordinator at CABS.

      • Clarify how you made contributions to the center's work from the perspective of its central mission and most important projects.

      [*]Think twice before using the tired phrase "real world"--it suggests that those working in the Ivory Tower are detached from reality.


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To add on to what Sigaba said, you should also consider eliminating "I quickly learned I loved psychology." I have researched a lot about writing SoPs and spoken to professors on admission committees and they pretty much cringe at the "I love [insert specialty field]". They assume you love it and that's why you are applying. Make sure you show that you love it rather than just saying that you do.

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Thanks a ton for the advice, I can definitely understand the criticisms. I guess I was worried that the statement wasnt personal enough, and it seems as though it isnt, but for reasons that differ than what I had first thought.

I will comb through it and fine-tune my wording so it explains what I learned and why that is important/relevant, rather than simply what I've done, if I understand the suggestion correctly.

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