February 23, 2012

Tell me about yourself

As I prepare for graduate scholarship interviews and life beyond the bubble of Mount Allison University/Sackville, NB I think more and more of how to effectively turn my background and experiences at Mount Allison into a compelling narrative. From answering the daunting "Tell us about yourself" to the more specific (and for most people, more easily answerable "What is it about you that makes you an exceptional candidate to study at our school/work at our company?", it is imperative for graduates to be able to efficiently explain who they are and why they're the right person for the job.

I've felt that this blog writing over the years, more that anything else has helped me be able to answer those questions. When I first read one of the questions I was taken a little aback because I'm not in creative writing and write about academic topics as opposed to myself. Here's a required graduate school application question:

Write a narrative about your life. This should include information about your accomplishments, family, educational experience, and outside activities. Be creative rather than philosophic. Remember that you are writing for a reader who knows nothing about you or your background. (1,000 words maximum)

First you have to realize that it's a bit of a trick question. They don't really want 1,000 words about your childhood. Like every other question in an admissions or job interview they really want to know if you're a good fit for them. In this case: can you write and does your background match what we want in a student? How has your life experience led you to wanting to be a part of this program? Can you write a short narrative about your life that  In effect, are you serious about this field of study or did you apply on a whim?

In 986 words I wrote five sentences of my life up to age 18 and spent the remainder discussing how different experiences relating to Mount Allison has led me to wanting to pursue a career in communication. I wrote about my first visit to Mount Allison in more detail than I have here and thinking about it in depth made me realize why I actually ended up coming here. The national rankings and the academic reputation of the school was a bit of an assurance of the quality of the school but I had visited (and been accepted with scholarship offers) other schools so there was something else about this place that stuck with me. Here's what I remember it to be and how it relates to my interest in communication.

...on a visit to a small college in Vermont during my senior year, my Dad persuaded me to visit his alma mater; Mount Allison University in the hinterlands of New Brunswick, Canada. So we drove through the northeast during a blizzard in February of my senior year. My expectations were low given the conditions. However, when I got there the bright-eyed and well-spoken tour guide was more than happy to lead me across the snow-covered campus through sub-zero temperatures, although since it was in Celsius I was not exactly sure what -25 degrees meant. It was this young woman, who lived out in the middle of nowhere, with her indelible smile and friendliness despite the freezing temperatures (and the numerous questions from an anxious mother on tour with us) that made me realize this was the place for me. I had become accustomed to the unwavering paid-for optimism on other college tours, but this woman’s confidence in her decision to spend four years on this blip on the map seemed genuine and reassuring.            
As I walked across the old red sandstone campus, strangers smiled at me and made me feel at home. Moving around several times during my life made me yearn for a place like that and I knew it is where I wanted to go to college. I did not know it at the time but I was also drawn to this student who could convey in just a few minutes what it felt like to live there. It was not the lines she had undoubtedly memorized months prior, but the warm and genuine way in which she communicated her experience. This experience was the first of many that led to my ultimate interest in pursuing a career in communication.

 If you've been reading this blog for a while, and especially over this past summer you'll  have read a few times about my growing interest in communication. At one point I was contacted by Natalie Allen who, after a discussion of what I had been working on, asked me to make a video for the WorkStory.net project. I'd like to think I've gotten more comfortable in front of a camera in the last 7 months since posting the video but it is a fairly brief narrative of how I discovered what I wanted to do for a career. If I did it again today I would (in addition to keeping it to under two minutes) spend far less time talking about NPR and more on other influences but at the time I was feeling grateful for that singular event I found to be especially meaningful.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how I got to where I am and where I want to go from here but I have a question for you: if you had to write about your life in 1,000 what would you write?