Top Ten Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

By: Lauren Creamer

The fall term is fast approaching and with it comes deadlines for graduate school applications. One piece of the application you want to leave plenty of time for is the personal statement. It requires a style of writing that most engineering and technology students aren’t used to using (because it isn’t a prerequisite of your academic programs). All the personal statements I have read required multiple drafts and tons of edits! Those things take time.

Consider the following tips when beginning the writing process:

  1. Read the prompt. Are you answering a specific set of questions? Are you simply explaining why you want to enroll in a specific program? You should include only what is relevant and required for the prompt.
  2. Tell a story/consider the narrative. Your statement should flow well, be authentic, and engage the reader. This style of writing is different than the direct nature of a cover letter, yet not too casual as to seem like you are writing a blog post. It generally begins with an anecdote about why/how you got into your chosen field, and moves into a summary of your experience to date, and then concludes with future goals. (This is generally speaking – again, follow the prompt!).
  3. Consider the weight of the statement – how does it rank against other admissions criteria? This one takes a bit of research (which I suggest you do). Is it weighed more or less heavily than your GPA or standardized test scores or an interview? Ask, because it may impact how much time you spend on this portion. See here for general advice from graduate admissions representatives.
  4. Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. “The writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads,” Dr. Seuss. (Yes, I just quoted Dr. Seuss).
  5. Get a faculty member to review your statement. Your professors already went to graduate school. They have written and probably read plenty of these before. Ask them for their two cents.
  6. Bring it into CO-OPS + CAREERS to have your advisor review your statement. It is our literal job to review your written documents. We get paid to do it. (Plus, a lot of us genuinely enjoy editing… myself included).
  7. If you struggle with spelling, grammar, sentence structure – go to the Center for Academic Excellence. A writing tutor will work with you to identify specific areas in which you can improve your writing capabilities. And/or take gander at some of the recommended writing tutorials.
  8. Consider format. A cramped, single-page document with small font is difficult to read. Seriously! Space it out a bit, use size 12 font. Make it easier on the older eyes (generally, your application will be read by someone who is several decades older than you and possibly wearing readers. This is not a joke).
  9. Things to avoid? Clichés, a negative tone, damaging information. You want the reader leaving with positive feelings about you – not critiques on your writing style and negativity.
  10. Finish strong – why is this school/program/lab your top choice? The reader should finish knowing that you would be a strong choice for the program.

I know this is already in the tips above, but it bears repeating: bring your personal statement in to have it reviewed by your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor before you submit!

Additional Resources:

https://www.cmu.edu/gcc/handouts-and-resources/grad-app-sop

https://www.prepscholar.com/gre/blog/graduate-school-personal-statement-examples/

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/642/02/

https://ctl.yale.edu/sites/default/files/basic-page-supplementary-materials-files/writing_personal_statements_for_graduate_school.pdf

On Finding a Research Co-op

 By: Lauren Creamer

I’m finding it more and more common these days that Wentworth students are thinking about education beyond their time at the Institute. Many students are considering graduate studies that involve some sort of research component (i.e. a PhD program would require research, dissertation, etc.). Like you would prepare for any other job after graduation, you will want to prepare for graduate-level academic research by… wait for it… doing academic research as an undergrad. This shows admissions representatives and department chairs that you are dedicated to the field and understand the commitment required of the program.

There are a few angles I suggest students consider when trying to identify a research experience that could count for co-op: Research Experience for Undergraduates, local area research hospitals, collaborating with faculty at Wentworth, or at a research institution (like The Jacobs Institute or WHOI).

Research Experience for Undergraduates, or REUs for short, are funded by the National Science Foundation, take place at universities across the nation, and span a number of academic disciplines. I see applied math and engineering students take advantage of these opportunities at high levels. REUs almost exclusively take place over the summer, so they are best suited for majors with summer co-op (applied math, electromechanical engineering, architecture), or as the optional summer co-op. Each program has its own application process, and deadlines are usually several months before students would typically begin their co-op searches (think early January/February). Applicants will have to submit a personal statement, which your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor can review! The most important thing to remember about REUs: don’t just blindly apply to as many as you can. Be thoughtful about which programs best fit your skills and interests (and graduate school goals).

Pro Tip: Many REUs cover the cost of housing, provide a stipend, and sometimes cover travel costs.

For those interested in the medical field, finding a co-op at one of Boston’s many research hospitals is a fantastic idea. We have had students do co-ops at MGH, Brigham and Women’s, Boston Children’s, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to name a few. Sometimes the careers pages on the websites of these hospitals will have formal intern postings (usually for summer), but in many cases, you can find the contact information for lab heads online. Most non-profits list employee contact information in a directory. It could also be found on the page of a particular lab or research group.

My advice to students seeking research in a hospital setting is this: narrow down your research topic to something a bit more specific (like “neuro-imaging research” or “pediatric cardiovascular devices”) and do a simple Google search of that phrase. You’ll turn up a listing of labs in the Boston area that you could potentially reach out to inquiring about a co-op. Talk with your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor on the best ways to conduct direct outreach. Students find their co-ops in this way all the time!

Pro Tip: Write a statement of interest (which isn’t quite like a cover letter) describing your interest in their research and how you would be a good fit for their lab. Focus more on the interesting bit. (Duh).

In the realm of non-profits, students should also consider free-standing research institutions. For example, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (aka WHOI) is a leader in the world of ocean science and policy. They cover a variety of research areas and they literally have a page where you can look up all the different labs (which you can then click into and find out who runs them).

WHOI hosts Wentworth students on co-op every year and the best way to find an opportunity is to reach out directly to the labs in which you are interested in conducting research.

Pro Tip: Sometimes these institutions have formal applications processes for co-ops/interns. Sometimes they don’t. I always recommend you CALL AND ASK. It won’t hurt to pick up the phone and inquire about the best method for application.

For those students that would prefer to stay a bit closer to home or just plain like working with one of their professors at Wentworth – many departments on-campus will support academic research for co-op. Of course, they would much prefer you went off-campus to get a new experience, but many students interested in pursuing graduate school have elected to stay on-campus to do research with a professor.

Pro Tip: You don’t need to make this experience a co-op. You can do it on your own during any academic semester! But if you want to make it a co-op, use this handout to inquire about and secure opportunities at Wentworth.

Whatever you choose, undergraduate research can be a highly rewarding experience. It is so important for graduate school (master’s programs with thesis-based requirements and PhD programs). And, if you can get a publication out of your research experience, well that is just icing on the cake.

The Pay Gap is Real – And What You Should Do About It

By: Lauren E. Creamer, Senior CO-OP + CAREER Advisor

By now you’ve heard about the “Gender Pay Gap” – it’s been all over the news these last few months. I don’t see it going away anytime soon, either. But just to catch everyone up, let’s define the gap. According to the American Association for University Women (AAUW), “the gender pay gap is the difference between what men and women are typically paid”. Research shows that this difference exists across all demographics, workplaces, and education levels.

Pay Gap Statistics

In 2016 women in the United States were paid 80% of what men made. In Massachusetts, we were right on par with the national average clocking in at 80-84%. If you break it down for Boston, specifically, women were making 87.1% of men’s earnings, and women made 94.1% in Somerville/Cambridge.

You might be thinking… the numbers aren’t so bad here! But look at it like this: The National Women’s Law Center estimated that a single woman in Massachusetts, in a 40-year career, would lose $416,720 when compared to a white man. That is too much money to leave on the table.

The Breakdown

If you take into account racial/ethnic groups, the numbers are even more alarming. Black women made 63 cents on the dollar, and Latina women made a staggering 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Asian women made slightly more than the national average at 87%, but the gap is still there.

If you look at the data from the National Women’s Law Center again, native American women in Massachusetts would lose just shy of $1,000,000, black women over $1,000,000, and Latina women would lose more than 1.3 million. Women of color are also less likely to have access to things like paid sick and family leave and flexible work schedules, all of which compound the systemic economic hurdles they face.

Factors that Contribute to the Gap

In April of 2016, the Democratic staff of the congressional Joint Economic Committee published a report highlighting the gender pay gap and the ramifications it has on the American economy. They outlined eight separate factors that play into the gap:

  • Women are more likely than men to interrupt their careers to care for children
  • Working mothers often pay a “mommy penalty” (when compared to women who don’t have children)
  • Women are more likely than men to be primary caregivers of other family members (aside from children)
  • Women who are forced to work part-time earn less (to balance family demands)
  • Women often work in occupations that pay less
  • Women are underrepresented in positions of leadership
  • Some women still do not receive equal pay for equal work (when all other factors are considered)

The final factor is perhaps the most troubling:

“After taking into account differences in observable factors such as education, field of study, occupation and experience, multiple studies have estimated that there is an unaccounted for gap between women’s and men’s average earnings of 5 to 9 percent. In other words, as much as 40 percent of the overall gender pay gap cannot be explained by factors that would affect earnings and may be due to discrimination”.

So, what can we do? What can you do?

On a legislative level, you can reach out to your elected officials and demand their support for pay equity. On an individual level, you can arm yourself with a negotiation education. You must remember: it is in your power to tip the scales. Always, always negotiate.

Steps to Negotiate

Salary.com found that 84% of employers expect prospective employees to negotiate salary during the interview stage. Yet only 30% of women bother to negotiate at all, while 46% of men negotiate, according to Forbes. There are many reasons why people choose not to negotiate: fear of conflict, feeling “under-qualified”, simply not realizing there is extra money available, and feeling gratitude for “just getting in the door”, to name a few.

In 2015 the AAUW joined forces with the City of Boston to train and empower 85,000 women by 2021 to close the gender pay gap. Dozens of free salary negotiation workshops are available every year across the city. The core tenants of their program are: knowing your value, benchmarking salary and benefits, knowing your strategy, and PRACTICING! The unknown has the potential to be scary – but with practice, the unknown becomes familiar and easier to navigate. Just like you would do a mock interview to prepare for a real interview, practicing the negotiation conversation can be a phenomenal tactic for success.

And, when in doubt, visit your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor for guidance and coaching. We are always happy to help!

Want to learn more about pay equity and the gender pay gap? Check out these great resources:

AAUW: https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

Institute for Women’s Policy Research: https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/

Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/01/racial-gender-wage-gaps-persist-in-u-s-despite-some-progress/

Joint Economic Committee: https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/0779dc2f-4a4e-4386-b847-9ae919735acc/gender-pay-inequality—-us-congress-joint-economic-committee.pdf

Sources:

https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

https://www.aauw.org/resource/gender-pay-gap-by-state-and-congressional-district/

https://www.aauw.org/aauw_check/pdf_download/show_pdf.php?file=Gender_Pay_Gap_Massachusetts

https://nwlc.org/resources/the-lifetime-wage-gap-state-by-state/

https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/01/racial-gender-wage-gaps-persist-in-u-s-despite-some-progress/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/no-the-gender-pay-gap-isnt-a-myth-and-heres-why_us_5703cb8de4b0a06d5806e03f

https://www.salary.com/salary-negotiation-separating-fact-from-fiction/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/07/13/why-dont-more-women-negotiate/#2479baa5e769

So, you want to go to graduate school…

By: Lauren Creamer

More and more students these days are telling me they want to go to graduate school. And they’re saying it earlier on in their collegiate careers. Before you jump on the grad school bandwagon, it’s important to a) ask yourself some critical questions, and b) have a plan of action. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it, if you know where you want to go next. Use the guide below to get started. And, as always, reach out to you CO-OP + CAREER Advisor for help!

Questions to Ask BEFORE You Begin:
• What do you want to go to grad school for? Master’s? PhD?
• Do you want to go into industry after OR do you want to teach?
• Why do you want to go to graduate school at all?
• Do you want to go immediately? Or work for a few years?
• How long do you want to be in school? One year? Two years? Five+ years?
• Where do you want to be? Does it matter?
• What schools offer your desired program(s) of study in your preferred location?

Action Steps to Take:
• Make a list of those schools, including program directors/coordinators and contact info.
• Make an outreach plan and conduct outreach – ask thoughtful questions, show interest.
• Rank programs. Know their requirements. Work backwards from their deadlines.
• Prepare for and take the GRE. (Or whatever other standardized test the program(s) require).
• Connect with faculty mentors to get their advice on selecting schools and the application process. (They once went through the same process!).
• Connect with your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor re: logistics for applying and writing your personal statement. (This is often more work than you might think!).
• Do you need to submit a skill-based resume or a CV? Don’t know the difference? See your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor!
• Begin applications and submit materials by deadlines.
• Prepare for program interviews. (This is a great time to loop back around with your faculty mentor).
• Review offers and accept at the program which is the best fit for you!
• OR defer acceptance until you are ready. (You never know, plans could change!).

20 Tips for Networking and Navigating a Conference

By: Lauren Creamer

Conferences can be intimidating – whether you’ve been to them in the past or not. Here are some fool proof tips for conference newbies and veterans alike.

Know your audience. What type of conference is it? Who will be there? Professionals? Peers? Students?

Make a hit list. Who do you want to connect with? Note any presenters or attendees that you really want to connect with and make them a priority.

Bring business cards (and have a resume waiting in the wings). It is not always appropriate to go doling out your resume to everyone you meet – but business cards are universally welcome in a conference setting. Don’t have any? Try Vista Print – you can order 250 for the price of shipping. Pick a clean, minimalist design and get printing. BUT, if someone asks for your resume, be prepared to share a hard copy or send it via email.

Don’t carry anything in your hands (if you need to have anything with you, it should be in a bag). If you’re loaded with stuff it might be awkward to shake hands or converse with people. It may also make you seem closed off or busy.

Focus on the other person. This isn’t about you. It’s about them. So make the other person feel as if you’re genuinely interested (and you should be!). Ask them questions, let the conversation flow.

Be yourself! You’re trying to build relationships with people at organizations that make sense for you. It’s important to be authentic – you want to make in roads at places that are a good fit.

Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up. Connect with presenters and attendees alike on LinkedIn. Follow them on Twitter. Send a “thank you for chatting” email post-conference.

At a break point or have some down time? Don’t take out your phone and surf the web! Interact. If everyone was sitting on their phones the whole time, no one would make connections.

See someone hanging out alone? Go over and say hi. If you’re in a group and you see someone alone, ask them to join. Either way, you’re making someone feel included and welcome.

Go to the pre-prescribed social activities: fun run, city outing, etc. This is a no-brainer! Structured fun = easy networking opportunity.

Making eye contact and smiling is always a good move. It makes you seem approachable and welcoming. Who doesn’t want to know someone who is approachable and welcoming?

Does the conference have an app? Can you talk to other attendees on it? Use it. You may be able to make connections through the app and then meet-up in-person, removing some of the anxiety. Same goes for a Twitter hashtag – chat with people through this, follow them, and then meet in-person.

Dress for the occasion. Ask around to see what the conference vibe is – sometimes it’s OK to wear shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Most of the time it’s not. Do your homework and dress the part.

Practice your handshake. No dead-fish hands! No vice grips! Nice and firm does the trick.

Went alone? Find a conference buddy and tag team. You can play off each other when networking and it may ease your anxiety.

If you have the time to prepare, submit a presentation/talk/poster – people will come to you!

Take breaks to rest and re-energize. You know yourself best. Need a 2 PM nap? Take it. Need to have some alone time before a night on the town? Do it.

PACK SNACKS. I cannot stress this enough. Being hangry at a conference is the absolute worst.

Wear comfortable shoes (but still dressy). You end up standing and walking more than you think you will, so wearing the right shoes is critical.

Relax. Take a deep breath. And go for it. What do you have to lose? If you don’t make any connections, you’re right back where you started. But I guarantee you, if you utilize these tips, you will do some awesome networking.