Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Personal Statement Howto

FIRST STEP: The Variables
While working on a project last year, I found myself reading through a series of personal statements for applications to law, business, and medical school. To my astonishment, the letters were completely identical in structure to each other. What's more, they were indistinguishable to the personal statement I had written for medical school three years prior. And here I was thinking I had come up with some wholly unique document. Well, turns out there exists a formula to the personal statement which I will attempt to describe as well as giving some advice on how to personalize a entirely generic essay.

Writing the personal statement can be the toughest part of the application. The challenges are in being original and illustrating character without bragging. The first step is knowing yourself and seeing what makes you unique. Diversity is a hot commodity so, make sure your personal statement showcases your individuality and diverse life experience. Too often, we go through life not realizing or appreciating the people who have influenced us or experiences that shape us. So, before you begin writing your statement, think and write about these influences. What did you learn from each experience, from the people you served, and from those you worked with?

FIRST STEP: The Variable
What were the 5 experiences that helped you realize your chosen medical specialty is right for you?
Where were you?
What happened, what did you accomplish?
Who did you serve, who did you work with?
How did you feel, what did you realize?
How did the experience change you?
Who are the 5 people in your life that had the biggest influence on you?
Who is the person, what did they do?
How did you come to know them?
What is it about them that influenced you?
How did you feel, and how did they change you?

Paint a portrait of yourself using these specific examples. Hopefully, you'll have many experiences through your extracurricular activities to draw upon when writing your personal statement. Remember, its these experiences, influences and your feelings about them that will make your personal statement unique.

SECOND STEP: The Formula
The second step in creating your statement involves understanding the framework of your future masterpiece. Personal statements follow a rigid 5-7 paragraph format. Since it is recommended that your statement not exceed one page, 5-7 short paragraphs is all you'll have room for. The first paragraph contains the "catchy opening sentence" as well as the thesis statement. Most people consider the opening sentence the most difficult part of the personal statement. The goal is to highjack the readers attention. Despite what you learned in Freshman English, starting with a quote is NOT interesting. Rather, you end up communicating that you are so unimaginative you needed someone else write your opening sentence for you. If you think there is a quote that sums up your existence, consider using it in the body of your statement. The way to capture the attention of the reader is to make them FEEL an emotion. This is most appropriately done through humor, or surprise. Since the rest of your personal statement, most likely, will be trying to be warm and touching; a humorous, surprising, or odd intro will provide contrast (e.g. comic relief).

One way to accomplish this task as well as communicate how one-of-a-kind you are it to think about something you have done, seen, experienced, or know about what no one else on the planet has done, seen, experienced, or knows about; or at least no other residency applicants. Maybe you have a unique hobby or interest? Lead into your statement using an anecdote, quote, question, or engaging description based on your unique theme. Then tie your theme into your thesis. For example, I am into Amateur (HAM) radio. My callsign is KB7BXP. So, I started my personal statement with: "CQ, CQ, CQ. This is KB7BXP, calling CQ, CQ, CQ." The next step is to tie your "intro" into being a doctor, or why you want to be a [whatever]. For example, I told about the time I contacted someone from the still communist Russia and like radio, medicine allows me to "connect" with others in a unique way. Then comes the thesis statement. This is something stating that your interest in [your specialty] is rooted in or stems from several unique experiences which impacted you and several people who influenced you. Then you will go on to share a few anecdotes from your life which will illustrate who you are and why your so convinced [your specialty] is meant for you. The next 3-5 paragraphs will be the anecdotes derived from the list of events, people, etc. that you made in the FIRST STEP.

A great way to talk about your accomplishments with out bragging about them is to focus your paragraph on someone you met while you were running into burning buildings to save hundreds of helpless children. You could focus on the bravery of firefighter Joe who went into the burning building with you. Then by inference, the reader will know you must have been in the burning building as well.Finally, your concluding paragraph should make reference to your initial theme and restate your thesis. I accomplished this by writing: "The ability to communicate and connect with people all over the world makes amateur radio a rewarding hobby. As a physician, I will connect with others by . . ." I then restated my thesis by summing up again the theme of my personal statement.

SECOND STEP: The Formula
Paragraph 1: catchy intro, thesis
Paragraph 2: person/place/thing/experience 1,
Paragraph 3: person/place/thing/experience 2,
Paragraph 4: person/place/thing/ experience 3,
Paragraph 5: person/place/thing/ experience 4,
Paragraph 6: refer to intro, restate thesis.

THIRD STEP: Plug and Chug
The third and final step is to put it all together. Come up with several interesting introductions, thesis statements, and personal anecdotes. Your personal statement should be longer than a single page at this point with the goal to select the intro, and 3-5 personal anecdotes that will work the best. Solicit the advice of friends, fellow students, spouses, parents, teachers, doctors in helping you rework, develop, edit and select the best material to keep in your personal statement.Lastly, you must work on flow and continuity between paragraphs. This can be a challenge as each of your paragraphs will be talking about completely different things. One way to connect paragraphs is to briefly allude to your thesis statement to make the transition. Then don't forget to edit for spelling and grammar. Remember everything your Freshman English teacher told you about using parallel construction (not only, but also), and avoiding passive speech.

THIRD STEP: Plug and Chug
Write several interesting, odd, humorous intros
Compile 7-10 personal anecdotes
Solicit others to edit, develop, rework and weed out anecdotes
Work on flow and continuity between paragraphs
Edit for spelling and grammar

Remember, I said that most personal statements will follow this format. So, by mindlessly following the suggestions here you'll likely get a drab, boring statement. These suggestion are intended as a place to start but hopefully by the end it shouldn't be obvious that your statement is following any generic formula. Also, if you have an experience or "ah-hah" moment that is particularly profound, you should consider devoting 2-3 paragraphs or even the entire statement to it. Your statement should be in a light conversational tone. Do not include specific names as that wil be interpreted as name dropping. And finally, your statement should reflect a little of your personality. Getting a sense of your personality is the major purpose applicants are required to write personal statements in the first place. In the end, If your statement reflects who you are, it will be as unique as you are.

Infant Formula and Omega-3-Fatty Acids

Enfamil and Simulac have developed new infant formulas that include important omega-3-fatty acids. These essential fatty acids cannot be made by our bodies are are impotant constituents of cell membranes as well as the meylin sheath of neurons in the brain. They also naturally occur in mother's breast milk. It is amazing how erogant we can be that either by divine design or evolution, mammals have the ability to provide the perfect food for their offspring and we think we can simply replace it with some synthetic substitute.

Hundreds of studies show the benifits of breast milk versus the deficiencies of formula. Some of formula's deficiencies include an average IQ lose of 5 points, as well as increased illness, greater severity of illness, and greater incidence of allergy problems. Research is showing us that omega-3-fatty acids play an important role as anti-inflammatory agents, immune modulators and decrease the risk of many autoimmune dieases as well as decreasing the incidence of eczema and asthma. They also play an important role in nerve meylination which could have significant effects in emotional and physical development, future mental health and coordination. Many infant formulas have had omega-3-fatty acids from the beginning and only emphasize it now because it is "en vogue".

Fruititarian Fallacy

Fruititarianism believes that all food should be eaten raw, organic, and all natural as God intended it. The claim being that many nutrients are lost though the cooking and preparation process. Well, there is a shred of truth to this aurgument. It is clear that the extensive food processing that is done today strips many essential vitamins and minerals from food. We would all do better by avoiding processed foods that have become such a mainstay of the American diet. However, new research presents an interesting aurgument to the "raw is right" stance.

Lycopene is a molecule found in tomatos which has been shown to decrease a man's risk of developing prostate cancer. Well, it turns out that a fresh garden tomato is NOT the best sourse of lycopene. The best source just so happens to be good old American Ketchup. This aurgument seems to be a case of extreme pendulum swinging.

The truth is that certain vitamins and minerals are made more or less bioavailable by how the food is prepared. Nutrients in raw foods have a different bioavailibility than those in food which are steamed, boiled, fried, stewed, baked, or microwaved. The truth with regard to good health is to maintain a variety. Additionally, not only did God give us fruit to eat but he also gave us fire to cook it.

Trans-fatty acids and Alzheimer's

Together with a genetic suceptibility, those seniors who consumed more trans-fats in their diets had a 2.5 times greater correlation of Alzheimer's disease. http://archneur.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/60/2/194

In the 1950's researchers discovered a link between saturated fat (animal fat) and heart disease. So, the food industry switched from using lard to using vegetable oil. However, vegetable oil is a liquid at room temperature and food makers needed a solid. So, scientists at Proctor & Gamble discovered the process of hydrogenation which removes some of the double bonds (kinks) in the long chain fatty acids. The resulting substance is a thick, greasy substance known as Crisco. However, some of the remaining double bonds get switched form the native cis- form to the abnormal trans- form.
What this means is that the body doesn't know what to do with the trans- form.

The body is picky about what molecules. The idea of chirality (handedness) is very important principle. Aminoacids, sugars, fats, and drugs all must be in the right configuration to be recignized and used by the body. Controlling the chirality of drugs is a $90 billion dollar industry (e.g. albuterol/levalbuterol, celexa/lexapro, claritin/clarinex).

Several things determine if a carbon chain is a gas, liguid(oil), or solid(wax) at room temperature. 1. length (e.g. propane[3C] = gas; octane[8C]= liquid; palmitate[16C]= wax). 2. functional groups (i.e. ethanol[2C+OH]= liguid). 3. double bonds (i.e. polyunsaturated fat[16C]= liquid). So, overal chain length helps the molecules stick together better at room temperture. Thus, long carbon chains are solid and short carbon chains are gases. However, functional groups like an alcohol can make chains stick together better. For example, ethanol[2C+OH] is a liquid at room temperature instead of a gas like propane[3C] and methane[1C]. An alcohol[OH] group is related to water[H2O] which is very cohesive. Double bonds on the other hand make long carbon chains not stick together as well at room temperature. A double bond makes a kink in the carbon chain which prevents them from stacking well together. This is what makes vegetable oil[14C] a liquid instead of wax at room temperature. Vegetable oil is polyunsaturated (multiple double bonds).

A study was reported in the annals of neurology which followed a cohort of elderly people in the Chicago area. They had these seniors record a few times a year what they ate during the day. It so happened that certain seniors in the study went on to develop Alzheimer's disease. Then with the help of a new USDA data base the researchers were able to make correlations between diet and risk of developing the disease. Well, there was only one very strong corellation and it was trans-fats. So, together with a genetic suceptibility, those seniors who consumed more trans-fats in their diets had a 2.5 times greater correlation of Alzheimer's disease. http://archneur.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/60/2/194

Proctor & Gamble is currently selling off and devesting itself of all its food processing and production business.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Atkins vs. South Beach?

A conference was held this year bringing together representatives from several current Fad diets including: Atkin's, South Beach, the Zone, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, etc. It seems new diet crazes are popping up all the time. It's hard to know what to eat any more. Fruitatarians encourage a diet exclusively of raw organic foods while Vegans discourage the consumption of any animal products. On the other hand, Atkin's suggests a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is best. If one were to follow all these guidelines the only thing left to eat would be DIRT. The purpose of the conference was to determine what dietary and nutrition guidelines could all these groups agree on. Well, the conference turned out to be a great success and the nutrition guidelines that were agreed to make up a balanced, common-sense diet we all can live.

1. Stay away from trans-fats. This is the stuff in the ingredients labeled "partially hydrogenenated vegetable oil." This is Crisco shortening. It is commonly found in margarine, artificial whipping cream, snack cakes, packaged cookies, bread and many other processed foods. So, butter is better than margarine. Trans-fats have reciently been linked to Alzheimer's Disease, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Trans-fats will be listed on all product labels beginning 2005.

2. Eat more Omega-3-fatty acids. This is the stuff in fish oil. It is a polyunsaturated fat, which is considered an essential fatty acid. This means our bodies can not make it. It is an essential vitamin just like A, C, E, B12 without which we would become diseased and die. Other sourses of Omega-3-fatty acid include venison, buffalo, canola oil, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, almonds, and wheat germ. Supplementing can reduce risk and treat an array of conditions including: heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer's, type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune dieases, and depression.

3. Exercise. Research was done in the 1950's looking at several groups of peoples around the world who had an extremely long lifespans. Researchers noted one group in Russia ate a peculiar food unkown at that time to the rest of the world; called Yogurt. Well, you know the rest of that story. Other fad foods have been introduced into our diets through similar studies without the desired health benifits. It turns out the one thing all these healthy, long-lived groups have in common is a lot of hard work and exercise. So, get off the couch, go out and get your pedometer, and walk your 10,000 steps a day.

4. Pay more for food. The American diet is killing us. Too much of the food we eat is processed and stripped of essential nutrients. We buy processed foods to save us time and money. However, we fail to appreciate how much time and money we're going to loose 20-30 years down the road when we've developed some terrible chronic disease.

5. Eat whole grains. Even Atkin's agrees that not all carbs are bad. The difference between some wheat bread and white bread is a little carmel coloring to turn it brown. Some wheat bread is made with varying amounts of the bran but very few wheat breads include the germ. Wheat germ contains fat and unless it is removed, flour will spoil and turn rancid within a few days (grandmother kept freshly ground flour in the freezer). Instead, to increase shelf life, the wheat germ is removed, sold to shampoo and cosmetic companies and the bread is then enriched with a few vitamins. Unfortunately, flour enrichment isn't able to put back everything that is taken out. Other fantastic grains include barley, sesame, oats, brown rice, rye, triticale, and corn.

6. Watch out for oxidants. Iron is the #1 oxidant consumed in our diet. Iron an essential mineral for blood cells and many other biochemical processes. Babies, children and menstrating females usually don't get enough iron because iron is poorly absorbed, they usually fail to eat enough red meat, and women loose iron by each month due to the bleeding associated with their period. However, post-menopausal women and adult men are suffering the results of too much iron. Research proves that iron oxidized bad cholesterol (LDL) which is directly related to the formation of the atherosclerotic plaque which causes heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. It has been shown that men who give blood twice a year can reduce their risk of heart disease. Additionally, it is important to note that white grape juice and orange juice facilitate iron absorption while purple grape juice inhibits absorption. So, the French and Italians had it right all along, "Red wine with Red meat." It's not the alcohol, its the flavinoid and polyphenol antioxidants.

7. More Fruits, Vegetables, and Fiber. Some of the best sourses of fiber are fresh and cooked fruits and vegetables. The "king of fiber" award however goes to the bean. Whether its navy, kidney, pinto, or black just a half cup of cooked bean equals 12 grams of fiber and close to half of your daily requirement. Not enough fiber in the diet is related to increased risk of colon cancer. Fruit juices are not much better than soda pop. Apple juice for instance is so processed that it is almost devoid of nutrients except for some added vitamin C not to mention the sorbitol in it being hard for many babies to digest. Real apple juice is cloudy and the apple peal contains fiber, and antioxidant flavinoids. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," but apple juice is keeping him busy.

8. Reduce sugar but do not substitute. The first part is common sense but the later advice comes from a recient study involving lab mice fed either a treat with real sugar or artificial sweetener. Both mice ate the same amount of sweet snack but the mice who had the artificial sweetener went on to eat three times as much regular food afterwards than did the mice who had the snack with the natural sugar in it.

9. Loose weight the healthy way. When it comes time to decide on a weight lose method, make life-style modifications that will improve you're overall health. There are many ways to loose weight using powerful stimulant and diuretic drugs. Some of these drugs can be habit forming or can result in severe electrolyte abnormalities. On the other hand, healthy changes will be easier to stick with for a life-time and the excess weight will therefore more likely stay off.

10. Don't supersize. Eat smaller portions. A serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. A serving of carbohydrates (e.g. rice, beans, potato, pasta) is about the size of your fist.

11. Take your time. Eating too fast fails to provide sufficient time for your distended stomach to signal to the brain that your full. Concequently, you eat more calories than you need or would want to if you had eaten more slowly.

12. Drink water not soda or juice. Some adults drink up to 1000 calories a day in softdrinks such as soda, juice, and koolaid. Many could loose weight simply by eliminating these extra calories. Certain sodas carry an added risk. The phosphoric acid in many dark sodas such as Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper bind calcium and can lead to osteoporosis, especially in females.