Self-assessment…eek!

So…I’m starting to write cover letters and personal statements again. I never have really practiced these before, I figured I’d just write from the heart and it’d be fine. I was always good at writing essays in school. But…I am starting to realize that those essays I used to write had citations and page numbers and all that, but a personal statement doesn’t, so I struggle. I thought I would take some time to answer these questions to understand myself and my goals better. I’m practicing how to be concise, but in some of these, I’m just going to go at it.

  • What’s special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story? I actually like this question. Being Asian-American makes me unique. Yes, there are a lot of us, but I always felt different from my friends — my parents encouraged independence, doing chores, and grades mattered but they were less strict than my friends’ parents. I think it allowed me to grow up faster in some ways and to do my own thing, my own way — ex. how I was inspired to get my internships. My life story starts with my parents because that’s how I’m here. My parents gave me everything so I could succeed, so I think that’s why I work so hard and give my all in everything.
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants? Going back to the Asian thing…a lot of Asian parents want their children to be doctors. I remember when I told my Asian friends’ parents what I wanted to be, and they looked disappointed in me. I’m not doing this to prove a point to them (although their disapproval was an influence), but to prove a point to myself that anything is possible, and you don’t have to do things just because everyone else does them. So that reminds me that there are a lot of paths in life, and a lot of paths to take in athletic training. Taking a year off from school is a great decision in my opinion, because I could enjoy learning again, get more credentials, and get more experience in the field. This is a tough question, I may have to come back to it.
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained? I played sports in high school but I got injured my junior year. I refused to stop playing, and it caused me 4–5 years of chronic physical and mental pain. I initially wanted to do PT, but a friend said I should try AT since I “like sports”. I stuck with AT because I wanted to work with passionate, determined, fiery athletes (because they inspired me, I hoped to do the same for them). I was frustrated when I couldn’t even “fix” myself while I was in the program…so I started doubting my AT skills.
    My first breakthrough: I discovered functional range conditioning in late fall of senior year. It surprised me a bit that you could increase someone’s range of motion (albeit slowly) so untraditionally. The mobility work I learned helped me get a lot better, so I became mentally stronger, which led me to be more confident in my abilities. I became a rehab fanatic! Becoming a rehab fanatic also requires you to understand the kinetic chains of the body — how pronation could stem from a weak glute muscle. Or, how your lack of hip internal rotation relates to a tender pes anserine/shinsplint-ish problems (just learned this on myself!). I’m nowhere near well-read on this idea, but I want to be. Anyway, this FRC stuff happened around the same time I started looking into the gait cycle and how it’s affected by footwear (as I started working at New Balance), especially since I had annoying cases of plantar fasciitis.
    My second breakthrough: when I began studying for my CSCS. I learned programming, used it on myself, and started to understand what the CSCS guys were doing with athletes — like, why they had softball players doing clean+jerks. It’s sparked my interest in self-learning.
    I’m well suited to the field because I enjoy working with people, I’m outgoing, I’m curious/ask questions/like to learn, and I understand the body. I’m studying physiology because I struggle there (starting to love it more), but I understand the structural components of muscle/tendon/nerve/bone interactions. I really like to help people, and I like to see the things I help them with physically improve— you can measure increases in strength, ROM, power, etc. I like to help athletes, whether they play recreationally or professionally, because I think everyone deserves a chance to have a healthy body.
  • How have you learned about this field — through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field? The best way I learned was when I encountered the injury or situation for the first time, and in real life. For example, the first knee evaluation I did on my own was my second semester in the program — and I missed a lot of stuff. A LOT. I haven’t done nearly as many injury evaluations as I feel like I should have. I think it was a confidence issue at first, but it also happens when you have a preceptor (not a bad thing, just saying how it is). You’re always learning, it seems. I learned the most listening to my preceptors, learning small tricks to make things easier, learning brand new injuries on the spot, etc. I had friends complain that their preceptors took proficiencies way too seriously, and I hated it, but I needed it. One of my preceptors would pretend she had an injury, she was actually pretty good at it and that really helped. For later: I plan to attend seminars and take courses to get more credentials and CEUs as time goes on, of course. I get a lot from conversations as well, even regarding things such as professionalism and how other people view ATs. I enjoy chatting about my passions within AT and hearing others’ opinions! That’s where most of my joy in this profession really comes from.
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth? I learned better speaking skills to help people feel comfortable and trust me (while working at New Balance) — athletic training is basically customer service, so I found that I could transfer those skills back and forth. I also led a club I formed myself, and it helped me become better at decision-making, dealing with snags/problems and being organized. I did micromanage a little bit, but sometimes as an AT you have to micromanage your athletes during rehab, right? Ha… So hopefully whenever I’m a preceptor I get better at that.
  • What are your career goals? I always thought I’d only want to do soccer (which is a big goal of mine!) but I am a bit more open now. For graduate school/early post-grad, I’d like to gain experience in all sports, but soccer IS my end goal (a soccer position in college would be great too, but you can’t be picky!). I’d love to work wrestling or water polo too — wrestling hooked me and I used to play water polo. And I mean this on the college or professional level, that’s a definite goal. I always say I want to reach the US National teams (soccer or water polo, who knows), so I think I’ll keep that in the back of my head to push myself.
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)? Yes…I was actually asked this. Apparently my GRE score was quite good, but my GPA didn’t quite match up. I struggled with bio and physics in my early years, and even certain classes in athletic training that I didn’t think were important (biomechanics, mainly). I like to teach myself topics/talk through them, which is why self-studying for the GRE was easier, but being taught by shorthand notes in packets or powerpoints was difficult for me.
    My GPA in the program was higher than my overall GPA, and I am happy to say I’ve realized my mistakes — after studying for my CSCS I see just how important biomechanics (and also exercise physiology) are. For example, sitting knee extension with a weight or band on your foot — SO much torque that it can be painful/detrimental to some athletes (just learned this a few weeks ago). I am happy to say that my GPA was improved dramatically my final semester when I was in a very healthy place mentally and physically and I know how to maintain this now.
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life? Again, I would say physical. I was very blessed to have a good family and parents with good jobs, but the injuries I had caused me problems for a few years. Nothing crazy though, compared to some people.
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
    I like to refer to my 2 soccer internships. Okay, I love soccer, but there aren’t many opportunities to work with high-level soccer teams in Pittsburgh (or in the USA). So I created my own position for my first internship. Second one — I mailed letters to every professional team. I’m persistent, perseverant (is that even a word? anyway I don’t give up even when it seems like I have no options), determined, creative, passionate (I don’t like to use this word, but I also don’t like to use the word excited because it makes you seem very…unstable, so I’m using this word because it’s true). I am professional (so I guess integrity applies here), I have had no problems according to my preceptors — or if I did, I’d fix them as quickly as possible. I also take criticism well. It hurts sometimes, but I look forward to evaluations in a weird way — I like to be reminded that I still have a lot to learn because it keeps me wanting to learn, whether it’s in professionalism or clinical skills.
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess? Planning and organizing — if I have to plan for an event, a soccer camp, I like to know exactly what I’m going to do before I go into it — thinking of good ideas along the way is perfectly fine, but I am a good planner. Self-management is also a good skill (I’m looking up skills online, okay) I think I have, I’m a lot more reflective and thoughtful about what I’m doing now. I’m also a team player/good at teamwork, I’ll do the dirty work because it just needs to be done.
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school — and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants? Taking a year off has allowed me to clear my head, take a break from school (because it’s very easy to get burnt out), and gain more experience. I get to experience a professional setting, so coming back to a college setting will help me to be “on top of my game” — I’ll have a good grasp on interactions with coaches/CSCS/doctors. Plus, I get to see what the best soccer players in the country get, and learn completely different ways to use modalities/rehab.
    I’m working as an AT for youth sports camps out here, and then I’ll be working back home in Philadelphia as casual call/possibly getting FMS/SFMA certified, and maybe some other stuff. After studying for my CSCS (and the BOC!), I’ve learned the best way that I learn (reading textbooks, making powerpoints, doing practice questions), and I will definitely use that in graduate school. My CSCS I plan to get will help me understand rehab, warm-ups and lifts better, so I am really glad I am studying for it. I also want to be a great preceptor if I have to be — I want to challenge my students the way I wish I could have been challenged some at certain locations. I also have an interest in doing research (but not long-term), and I have a lot of ideas for that. I enjoy self-learning, I’ve read papers on fascia and foam rolling, and I also enjoy self-applying things that I learn.
    Also, during my time at Pitt, I worked with a top-25 ranked D1 wrestling team, 2 top-25 ranked D3 soccer teams, so I understand the intensity and commitment required by some athletes. We had a lot of great professors, especially for injury evaluation, kinesiology and exercise physiology. We also had guest speakers who were Pitt alums (and now with great jobs) teach us things they researched, which were very unique and helpful. Pitt/the city of Pittsburgh has a very tight-knit sports medicine community, so I was able to make a lot of contacts and learn in some of the best facilities — we were able to practice spine-boarding on ice!
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you? One of the biggest things is that I have wanted to manage my own team for a few years now, after being under preceptors/head ATs. I would truly enjoy work every single day because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. I am very driven to go for what I want, and I believe that the learning does not stop once you get a position/into a program. When I got this internship, I was excited because I love soccer — but I was most excited to learn what the professional was like! I could technically spend this internship doing nothing but showing up to work, but I’m doing a lot of self-reflection, self-learning, and I’m motivated to get my CSCS (and not just for the credential!) and do my own research on things I see in the ATR or in general.

So, there you have it. That was actually really fun. It also helped me gain more confidence for my applications in general. I also didn’t write anything I wouldn’t share with a grad school, except for some jokes I tried to make.

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Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.

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