How I Wrote a PD Soros Winning Personal Statement

My brainstorming and writing process

Prompt

Tell us about your experiences as a New American. Whether as an immigrant yourself, or as a child of immigrants, how have your experiences as a New American informed and shaped who you are and your accomplishments? Feel free to discuss how individual people (such as family or teachers), institutions, aspects of law, culture, society or American governance made an impact on your life as an immigrant or child of immigrants. The program is interested in understanding the context of your personal, professional, and academic accomplishment

How I interpreted this prompt: I viewed this as a Personal Statement, but it is specifically asking about how my upbringing as the child of immigrants shaped my life, accomplishments and goals.

My Writing Process

1. Brainstorming Every Formative Experience

When I wrote my first essay (I won the fellowship the second time I applied) I immediately gravitated to parts of my journey that were the most obviously influenced by my immigrant roots – growing up food and cooking were hugely influential within our family. Some of my earliest memories were gardening with my grandparents and homecooked meals was an opportunity for us to cook and come together. I centered most of my story around my love of food and cooking and highlighted my experiences working as a Chef de Partie at a great Italian restaurant in Baltimore during my time as an undergraduate.

However, I wasn’t selected as a finalist in 2019, so when I reapplied, I reflected on all of my formative experiences and wrote everything down. This exercise left me with a broad list of pivotal life events, hobbies, and influences. It didn’t matter if I thought these experiences were postive or negative, and more importantly, I stopped considering how others would view them in the context of my story. Through this exercise, I realized that water polo was easily the most important part of my life as a child, even if it wasn’t necessarily a classic or obvious ‘New American’ experience.

I picked a short-list of life experiences that I wanted to include in my essay: water polo, my grandparents’ passing, struggling during undergraduate training, falling in love with biomedical research, and building a health technology incubator.

Some of these things were initially difficult to write about. I didn’t want to admit that my story was often chaotic and unglamorous, but discussing things like my initial academical failures was true to myself. My goal shifted from writing something that I thought others would want to read to writing authentically.

2. Figuring Out My ‘Why?’

Once I had these core story elements, I thought about why each was so important to me. For example, I loved playing water polo because I could tangibly improve through practice and that really painful losses could serve as tremendous learning experiences. After reflecting on each part of my story, a clear theme emerged: so much of my own story involved failing and experiencing pain, but also perservering. I had suffered tough losses as a water polo player. I was deeply moved by my grandparent’s suffering and passing. I had struggled academically. I wasn’t some hotshot undergraduate researcher; instead my first job was washing glassware. Despite these experiences, I showed up and kept working towards a goal.

All of us have a ‘Why’. What makes you tick? What gets you up in the morning? What are you truly excited about? I think our motivations are shaped by our life experiences. After reflecting on your own life, think of this fundamental drive that you have and consider the events that have informed your personal motivations and goals. A clear theme will emerge.

3. Putting it Together

To say that I wrote and rewrote is an understatement – it probably took 6 drafts to write a story that I liked enough to start editing and sending out for feedback. Something helpful that I practiced during writing was to disconnect from my own writing. I’ve found, especially for deeply personal essays like this one, I have the tendency to get attached to certain words and stylistic choices that may actually not be the best way to write a certain part of the story. After writing a draft, I tried to be as objective as possible. Instead of asking myself what I didn’t like about the particular draft, I tried to attack my own writing. What was good about it?

The major consideration for me was to write a truly authetic story in a way that captured the reader’s attention, and I tried to write in a way that satisfied both of these conditions.

Takeaways

  1. Be as authentic as possible to your story: Instead of writing what you think others want to hear, write your real journey. By definition, you have had a unique path, and staying true to this story will make your essay memorable instead of cliché.
  2. Get excited about rewriting: Good writing often takes time, and I have never written a good first draft that I’ve stuck with. It isn’t until many rounds of revisions and fine-tuning that I’ve been able to write something compelling.
  3. Ask for feedback and ask early: Don’t be afraid to reach out to Fellows who have won and people in your life who know you well for feedback on your essay. Feedback will be integral in helping you see blind spots in your writing and will help you write a better story – just make sure your voice isn’t lost in other people’s revisions.

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