Examples, Examples and More Examples

Using examples to support any claim or statement you make is essential – it’s what builds your case, makes you memorable, it adds substance. As we craft personal statements and practice talking with others about our goals, interests and work, developing examples for what you want to say (i.e. I am hard working) will bring you and your story to life. It’s really about telling a story, isn’t it? Rich with details – whether those details be about instances in your background that currently inform your work, or for our more science-oriented scholars, details about the work you’ve completed in lab and ideas you have for future research questions.

This past week we had the expertise of both Shelly and Ed Hinck at hand – communication faculty – during our mock interviewing exercise. Their main message: build in examples to support your claims. Shelly likens answering every question to a “mini speech” – open with a claim, provide several examples to support that claim and then bring it back around and make that claim once again.

The other important factor to consider is how you “set the stage” whether it be during an interview, more informal-type conversations or in your writing. It’s that “tell me about your self” question that folks usually start with. Be purposeful – think about what’s most critical to highlight within the context of the exchange. It’s your chance to “draw the big picture” of who you are and where you are going. Think about three main points to make in this kind of opening:

  • I’m a McNair scholar at Central Michigan University studying xx; my goal is to xx.
  • I’m currently working on xx and I’m interested in looking at xx.
  • I’m a first generation college student from xx and I really enjoy <insert something unique about you OR something unique about your background>.

You want to be strong, energetic and focused in your answer. It sets the tone or “feel” for the rest of the conversation. It also sets up opportunities for interviewers to probe more deeply into something that you initially offer about yourself. Be sure that you are NOT simply offering a list of things, perhaps chronologically based, that will come across as random and/or scattered. Be deliberate and really think about how you wish to project yourself.

Perhaps the most important thing that you should do during any conversation or exchange is make sure that you are “connecting the dots” for people. This relates to the “big picture of you” – you want to talk about your background, your experiences, your research, your interests, your ideas and show how they connect, lead from one to another, how they all lead you to this next step of beginning your graduate work. You want “your story” to make sense. When your story is clear and rich with detail, it becomes compelling.

Create opportunities to talk with others in this way and take advantage of any practice exercises offered. Like with anything, the more you practice, the more “second nature” it becomes.

McNair Family

I posted a picture of our group at the Color Run this weekend and titled it – McNair Family. It wasn’t until after I did this that I thought to myself – wow, that’s really freaking cool. McNair family. We’ve got one.

We had five cohorts of CMU McNair scholars represented at the Color Run (5K) in Lansing plus several of our faculty mentors. We had scholars who recently got their Ph.D.’s, scholars getting ready to start their Ph.D.’s, scholars still in the throes of working on their research at CMU and just beginning to think about getting their Ph.D.

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McNair Color Run 2013

This summer we offered our scholars the opportunity to work with a personal trainer in preparation for this 5K. We had a “core group” that took full advantage (others trained on their own) and it turned out to not only be a great chance to build our strength and endurance, but also to bond as a group, support one another in a common goal and help each other grow our confidence and abilities.

Personally, I ended up following the lead of Amanda Clark during the run – someone who has been diligent in her training and someone who is a true inspiration to me. Amanda darted among the “walkers” keeping us going at an even pace. I knew she was thinking to herself how much easier it would be to be “walking” the Color Run, but as she said to me, “Then I couldn’t say that I ran my first 5K!”  To that, I say YES.

The beauty in this scenario is that we have the chance to be a family with one another. We are constantly learning from each other, supporting each other’s goals, celebrating our accomplishments. We do this in the gym, in the yoga studio, in GRE training and our lives in general.

The other day, one of our current scholars, Shantell, sent me a text saying that she’s so happy that she could cry. The reason? She had just sent out her research survey and had already received over one hundred responses. Their goal was thirty.

Seeing our scholars (and mentors) sharing a hearty laugh while grabbing lunch after the Color Run (or a tough workout at the gym), receiving texts with updates like the one from Shantell (as well as a pic from the wedding she’s at this weekend), hearing of new insights for directions to head in grad school – these instances in time are truly special. I cherish them deeply.

We have each other on many levels and the experience is worth it. Even scholars that haven’t met (yet) have each other. I can call up any of our alumni, connect them with one of our younger scholars, and have a meaningful exchange take place. Likewise, I can direct our scholars to any number of faculty mentors (past and present) and have the same thing occur. Now that’s cool.

Hats off to all of the scholars and mentors that came out – represented McNair – and shared this experience. It’s fun and empowering at the same time. I love summer. The fact is, making the Color Run an annual event (2nd year in a row!) makes it even better.