June 22, 2012
You would think as a writer, a graduate application essay wouldn’t scare me. You’d be wrong.
There’s a lot of pressure behind writing an essay, especially when you know the admissions committee has high hopes for you. You feel like you have a lot to prove! Well, that’s how I felt anyway. UGA wanted my application by Monday, and I knew they were expecting something impressive.
Luckily, Dr. Smith had given me some helpful insider tips:
- First, he recommended I express interest in a specific area of meteorology. He said that some students write an essay expressing interest in everything: tornadoes, urban snowfall patterns, turbulence forecasting (for planes), etc… but that shows a lack of scientific and academic maturity. Graduate schools are more likely to accept students with a clear plan in mind.
- Second, he said that it would be great if my specific interest was in line with the research of a current faculty member. He suggested I browse the website and pick a professor that I would be interested in doing thesis work with. That professor would then be asked to review my application, and if they wanted to take me on as student, it would work in my favor.
I spent my Friday night reading through all of the professors’ bios and recent research grants. In the end, I decided that Dr. Smith and another professor (let’s call him Dr. James) were both doing work that interested me. Dr. Smith was clearly already pushing for me to get in, but I had not yet spoken with Dr. James. I sent him an email introducing myself, explaining my interest in his work, and asking if I could mention him in my application.
The thing about writing an email on a Friday night about an essay that’s due Monday is you spend all weekend anxiously waiting to hear back. I couldn’t afford to wait idly; so I started to put something together with the assumption that he would say “okay.”
But oh man, talk about writer’s block. I just couldn’t come up with a good introduction for my essay. And when I don’t have a good introduction, I’m stuck. I can’t move forward, because I need everything to flow from the starting point. I tried different approaches: more formal, less formal, more creative, more straightforward, more personal, less personal. I even sent a draft to my mom at one point, and when she said she didn’t like it, I knew I was in trouble.
Sunday morning, after several tries, this is the intro I came up with…
I like weather. So? I like a lot of things. I appreciate European architecture; I am fascinated by urban cultures around the world; I enjoy writing; I love to travel; and I am a dedicated environmentalist. Why study atmospheric sciences at the graduate level, and why at the University of Georgia?
I then went on to explain how my interest of weather had developed over the years and what attracted me to the study of meteorology. I said that my ultimate plan was to go into broadcast, and I used specific examples to demonstrate that their program was right for me…
With the plan to become a broadcast meteorologist in mind, I came across the Graduate Certificate in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia (UGA) just a few weeks ago. After emailing back and forth with Dr. Smith, I quickly realized what a perfect fit the school is for me. As a former geography student, I am pleased to see that your atmospheric sciences program is housed within your geography department. The atmospheric sciences touch not only on physical geography, but also on human geography – and Dr. James’ course on Applied Climatology in the Urban Environment is a perfect example of how the subjects meld in my mind. The questions he asks, such as “Do cities create their own thunderstorms?” emphasize the fact that the atmosphere is not an island unto itself. In a time of climate change, it is increasingly evident that our actions influence our surroundings, and our surroundings influence us. As someone who wants to pursue a career explaining weather to the public, I believe it is important for me to understand how humans and the atmosphere are interrelated. In pursuit of that goal, I would be interested in working with Dr. James to research the development of thunderstorms and winter storms around urban areas. I am also interested in any work he may be doing regarding weather processes and severe weather.
Of course, the essay needed to be seriously tweaked for MSU, because their programs are extremely different. MSU does not require a thesis, and the program includes broadcast coursework - so instead of writing about a particular professor, I wrote about my discussion with their recent graduate and how she made me realize MSU was the place for me. Yes, you have to be a little two-faced when applying to more than one graduate school. But I wasn’t lying… I saw benefits in both options!
I also took the opportunity to express interest in working as a Teaching Assistant (TA). TAs usually receive partial or full funding, so it’s definitely something to consider if cost is an issue for you.
Dr. James wrote back just as I finished my UGA essay on Sunday night. He said that Dr. Smith had already mentioned me, and that I was welcome to mention him in my application. What a relief, since my essay was already written!
I submitted it with all of the remaining online materials (personal info, etc), and smiled. The hard part was done. Or was it? Now I had to wait to hear back!