Writing a Strong Statement of Purpose

Writing a Strong Statement of PurposeIt’s the time of year when seniors are
graduate school applications and finalizing where they will submit applications. The application process can be an overwhelming process as students try desperately to stand out in a sea of strong applicants. However, for many students, there is little guidance available on what a school is actually looking for and what aspects of their undergraduate experiences to highlight. In many cases, the student’s only prior guidepost is their success with their undergraduate application. However, duplicating that process is unlikely to achieve the desired result. This is especially evident when it comes to writing a strong statement of purpose for a graduate school application.

The statement of purpose is the one place in the application where a student can talk about themselves as a person (and not classes they took or jobs they have had). They also get to use their own words and not rely on someone else to sell their best features, as in their recommendations. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to to fall prey to common mistakes. Here are 5 tips to writing a strong statement of purpose.

Focus on your research

Contrary to your undergraduate essay, your statement of purpose should not focus on your extracurricular activities or how well-rounded you are. Your statement of purpose should focus on your skills as a researcher, what your interests are (in terms of conducting research), and who you would like to do research for at the school you are applying to.

Highlight several areas where you would like to work

As you discuss where you are interested in doing research, you should list several (2 or 3) labs and/or professors with whom you are interested in working if you are admitted. You should explain why these labs/professors interest you and what you think you could contribute to their research. Picking only one limits your opportunities, especially if that lab/professor is not taking on new students (you should think very carefully about applying to a school solely because of one lab or professor). Conversely, by listing more than three, you appear unfocused. Interested in more than 3? If you gain admission, you will not be restricted to the labs or professors included in your statement of purpose.

Don’t be cliché

The people evaluating your application have read hundreds (perhaps thousands) prior to reading yours.  It is vitally important to avoid cliché statements. Your readers will  have definitely heard them all before and these statements will not help you stand out. For example,  “I knew I wanted to be an engineer because I loved taking things apart.” Almost all engineers have had this experience. If you want to highlight this aspect of your background, focus instead on a specific project and how it shaped your experience and future plans.

If there is weak point in your application, explain it briefly

If you are concerned about a weak point in your application, use a sentence or two to justify it in your statement of purpose. A common concern is GPA. Occasionally, students struggle during the early part of their college years, but strengthen as they approach graduation. If this is true for you, you might choose to characterize it as an “adjustment period” and describe how going through that period has strengthened you. For example, you might highlight your major GPA to show how you excelled in those core classes.

Check, double-check, and triple-check

Make sure to have your final draft reviewed by at least two people for grammatical mistakes and aspects that are not clear – select your reviewers for their ruthlessness and honesty, not because they are your friends, supporters, or relatives. One very common mistake is applying to school A, but having school B in your letter (or referencing labs / professors from another school). Not waiting until the last minute to prepare your statement of purpose will also help avoid careless mistakes made by rushing.

We hope these tips are helpful. If you are applying for graduate school and would like more information or tips, please let us know.

Of Goals, Dreams and Entrepreneurship

By Ginette Mayas Samwel

The Electrical Trade

Light BulbI don’t have many photographs of my father and me. But the one I treasure the most, or at least for
the purposes of this article is the one of where my mother is snacking on some food after having
finished wallpapering the dining room and doing some electrical work. I’m there posing with my friends on my First Communion and my dad looks like a wreck! I still remember my mother throwing a fit about my father waiting till the last minute to finish the work. The Jackson Five “Stop the Love You Save May Be Your Own” and “ABC” were still on the top of the Billboard Charts. Yep, it was that long ago. My father is dead now. I resurrect his memory now because of the single most important lesson he taught me. “Get your education,” he always said in his hilarious Haitian French accent. He also said many times “Get yourself a trade.” I studied French literature and law. I should have listened to my dad and acquired a trade.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment of electricians is projected to grow 20
percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. As homes and businesses
require more wiring, electricians will be needed to install the necessary components. Electricians with  the widest variety of skills should have the best job opportunities. Median salary is $49,830.00. To put  things in perspective, when I graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 1992, I had  classmates who made more money being a nanny than working as a public defense lawyer.  In terms of  STEM jobs and careers, electricians fall under the Engineering category of STEM. What is an engineer, but someone who uses science and math to solve practical problems?

Meet Jeff Rose: Master Electrician

In this article I interviewed Jeff Rose, a triathlete, master electrician and soon-to-be health drink
entrepreneur.  Health drink entrepreneur? What does this have to do with i-Trek or STEM for that
matter? Well, I’ll tell you.  Here is someone, a native of the Live Free or Die state of New Hampshire who fell into electrician work while still in high school thanks to the mentoring of his uncle who was also an electrician. After school he would attend shop class across the street and work summers helping his uncle. “Did you love doing electrical work?” I asked Jeff.  He chuckled for a moment, and said “I don’t know. But it was something I was good at.”

Like most high school students in the 1990’s he decided to try college: in his case a community
college in Georgia. It didn’t work out – moneywise, but he stayed on to acquire electrical skills with the printing presses. Eventually, he returned to New England and did electrical work for the commercial sector and developed skills in control wiring.  It would take a four year apprenticeship to obtain a journeyman license:  8000 hours of field experience, 600 hours of schooling including time spent in high  school shop class.  A year of carrying a journeyman license before taking test to become a master electrician.  As luck would have it, the person he fell in love with and married, was the daughter of a master electrician. Jeff’s electrician career took off.

“So what do you like about the work of an electrician?” I asked Jeff. “I like solving problems,” he
answered. I like challenges. Ohms law is the basis for most electrical work. I can solve most problems by manipulating constants and field verifications.” He concludes by explaining: “I guess I am lucky enough to be decent at math and understanding how technology works, which allows me to program electrical systems.”  There is also a logistical component to Jeff’s work. Sometimes Jeff has to call remote places in Europe just to be able to source a particular item for a customer. His high profile clients rely on him when undertaking big construction projects. Jeff Rose has become the quintessential go-to guy.

Jeff Rose: Master Electrician and Triathlete

runningIn 2011 in the midst of a sluggish economy that was affecting his business, Jeff Rose came across a
Men’s Health magazine article that challenged him to become a triathlete.  “Anyone can do it,” the
article supposedly said. With two young children, a house and small electrical business to run, Jeff Rose applied the discipline and problem solving skills he developed as an electrician to train for a year to compete in a triathlon. He taught himself how to run a marathon. He purchased his bicycle on Craig’s List. By his own admission he was a mediocre swimmer, but he worked at it.  Like an electrical issue on a construction project, Jeff understood the big picture and approached the challenges, methodically. He ran his first race in Sudbury and would go on to compete in three more races before trying the New York Ironman race in 2012.

Jeff Rose: Master Electrician, Triathlete and Entrepreneur

What is that old saying? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity? Well, in 2013 Jeff and his
triathlon partner, Kate Weiler, discovered maple sap during a race in Canada. Maple sap is what is
tapped directly from the maple tree and boiled to create maple syrup. But in parts of New England and Canada some people just drink the maple sap straight from the tree.  Currently on the store market shelves coconut water is abundant and touts all sorts of wonderful health benefits. Lo and behold Jeff discovered maple sap had many of the same health benefits like low glycemic index for diabetes prevention and maintenance and a non-dairy source of pro-biotics, among other things. Maple sap is a seasonal item. You begin tapping sometime in early February and by the end of March, there’s not much left to tap from the tree. How do you package this and keep the product fresh?

syrupWhen the maple people said “Unh, unh no way. You can’t package this without turning the sap to maple syrup first and reconstitute the sap.” Jeff recognized a challenge and set to work to figure out how to preserve the freshness of the maple sap without resorting to converting it first to maple syrup.

Jeff and his triathlon now business partner considered pasteurizing, new juice/high pressure techniques for packaging raw maple sap. “How long did it take you to figure this out?” I asked Jeff. As luck would have it, his triathlon partner Kate found a Rhode Island study written by a chemist who laid out the steps. It took four months to track down the right supplier who was willing to use the methods they researched. “I have experience sourcing things from my work as an electrician,” he reminded me.  In six months Jeff was able to get all of the leg work done to get maple. on high end store shelves and high profile athletic studios. “We’re the only facility to make raw sap shelf stable,” Jeff says. That’s why there are 270 producers of Coconut Water and our company is only one of three or four currently on the market.”

Regardless of one’s course of study, in the end it’s important to set goals and nurture one’s dreams
and ambitions. As we in society push for more STEM education, we must also realize that studying or even working in STEM in some capacity is not an end unto itself, or at least not necessarily.  Rather, it’s a pathway to something bigger if the dreams, ambitions, preparations and opportunities are in place. “There is more than one path to success,” Jeff says in conclusion to the interview. “Keep an eye to the future and parlay your experience to something else.”   I suppose being at the right place at the right time with the right people, helps too.

Bold Ambition and Our Core

By: Ginette Samwel

I-trek stands for “I turn research into empowerment and knowledge.” Do you ever stop to think about what the term ’empowerment’ means? Referring to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary yields three definitions; while the first and second explanations focus on delegating power and authority to individuals,  it is the third definition of empowerment that aligns the closest with i-Trek’s philosophy. This third definition states the following:

To promote the self-actualization or influence of <women’s movement has been inspiring and empowering women

~Ron Hansen –

Scuba Diving

This third definition, a statement that emphasizes self-actualization, forms the core of I-trek and represents what I wish to discuss in this article. I believe that i-Trek represents the desire to translate one’s dreams and ideas into action. Through i-Trek’s influence, a project in Florida that involved researching emissions from coral reefs allowed a student to get certified as a diver. Actions like these are worth celebrating and strongly represent what i-Trek is all about: empowering students, helping them self-actualize and inspire others to go out explore ideas.

For young people thinking about careers in STEM, it is important to consider that dedication to this field may not always result in a stable career. Although I do not advocate the common belief that you should always follow your dreams, I do support the following adage: Where attention goes, energy flows.

On July 17, 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella,  announced the layoff of 18,000 workers. Apparently, this is the fourth largest layoff in tech history and represents 14% of the workforce, most of it coming from Nokia.  13,000 were let go that day. 5,500 more will be laid off in the coming months. It is important to note that those numbers included many engineers and middle managers.

Layoffs can either signal bad news or a new opportunity. Microsoft has stiff competition these days; although they provide various digital services such as gaming programs, phones, speech recognition through Skype, and cloud computing, they always have to find a way to satisfy their consumers and remain one step ahead of everyone else. In fact, one of the key components of staying in business is finding ways to stay ahead of the competition while keeping your consumer base along for the ride.

A week before Mr. Nadella announced the layoffs, he disseminated an internal memo titled:


The memo is organized along three principal themes:

  1. Our Worldview
  2. Our Core
  3. Our Culture

When Microsoft started less than forty years ago, they focused on providing hardware and operating systems for consumers. Fast forward to the present, and Microsoft’s entire business is now connected through phones and the Internet, as well as through the cloud. Once personnel at Microsoft got wind of this memo, some of them thought, “Uh oh, a lay off is looming.” I guess they were right; however, the memo is also notable in that it represents a big picture vision of the company’s future.

In the second paragraph, Mr. Nadella writes the following.

“The day I took on my new role I said that our industry does not respect tradition it only respects innovation. I also said that in order to accelerate our innovation, we must rediscover our soul our unique core. We must all understand and embrace what only Microsoft can contribute to the world and how we can once again change the world. I consider the job before us to be bolder and more ambitious than anything we have ever done.”

TelescopeMr. Nadella’s memo talks a lot about the role of technology in cloud computing. He presents a vision for ambient technology that will allow computing to be more fully integrated in our lives. The right Microsoft team does not just clock in time and do the work. Their energy and attention is put into fulfilling the dream 24/7. Corporations are people according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Maybe that is why Mr. Nadella talks about rediscovering “our soul.” Trekkers, take heed. Discover your soul. Understand your world view, your core and your culture. Embrace your passion. For in that passion you may discover that which makes you unique and that which fuels your drive and innovation. To be clear, I’m not saying you should stop studying STEM and become a musical Artist. Rather, if music inspires you, find creative ways to use it to enhance your experiences. Maybe you use your innate talents and skills to design websites, utilize special effects that can improve performances, or even for creating educational materials. The list goes on.

Successful Trekkers are those who understand their unique value proposition. In the remaining weeks of summer and into the start of the new school year, Trekkers should seek to find what drives you to be bolder and more ambitious than usual. It’s okay to fall down, but it is even more vital to have confidence that you can get back up and keep going. However, don’t just keep going, be creative and constantly innovate.  The brilliant idea isn’t necessarily the most complex, but rather, it is the idea that helps our communities become better than it was before.

I will end this article with a quote from Mr. Nadella’s memo.

“We must each have the courage to transform as individuals. We must ask ourselves, what idea can I bring to life? What insight can I illuminate? What individual life could I change? What customer can I delight? What new skill could I learn? What team could I help build? What orthodoxy should I question? …With the courage to transform individually, we will collectively transform this company and seize the great opportunity ahead.”

Students Hack Away At Cyber Security in NYU Competition

By Tim Wright

Last Friday, Montgomery College hosted in partnership with New York University a cyber security competition among 45 high school students from Poolesville High School and Blair High School. Each year, NYU invites teams of students from across the country and abroad to use coding and cyber forensics to solve a murder mystery. This mystery is related to the hacking of a major company. Students from the competition have a chance to win a $14,000 scholarship to the University.

NYU’s Polytechnic School of Engineering sent clues to the cell phones of the students to help them solve the mystery. The students then had to use the knowledge they acquired in the classroom in order to decode the mystery and solve the murder.

Usually, the competition is not held on a local level. However, Mark Estep, head of the computer science department at Poolesville High, thought it would be a great idea to extend the completion locally, so that those who didn’t get invited to the competitive finals at NYU would have a chance to experience the competition. “We spoke directly after his students won. Mark and I were talking about reaching out to others that didn’t make it,” said Joel Fernandez, professor of digital forensics at NYU.

Amy Crowley, who works at Montgomery College office of Academic Initiatives, explained that she wants more schools to participate in the program because it encourages students to develop their skills in an area which carries many job openings in the DC metro area. “We want to make kids aware that it could be fun, but you can also make a career out of this.”

The winners were the 16-year-old students Suriya Kandaswamy, Christopher Look, and Cherru Zou. They each won a set of Beats by Dre Headphones.

Cyber security is a prominent field within the STEM community, and hopefully the Cyber Security Competition will bring attention to the field encourage students to develop skills that will be useful to them in college and in the job market.