Very few people know why I started dental school coach. My friend Nived Ravikumar from StatementGuru.com recently interviewed me about Dental School Coach. I usually don’t share my personal stories, but he asked me to be personal.
In the interview I go deep into the following topics:
What inspired me to be a dentist in the first place
Why I chose not to attend dental school
Why I decided to start dentalschoolcoach.com
The biggest weaknesses I see among pre-dental students
How to write a GREAT personal statement
Can playing video games make you a good dentist?
How social skills make you an exceptional dentist
How to prepare for your dental school interviews
A single mistake that can cost you your application
Word of advice for International Students
What’s good about my personal statement
Why I gave out 75 + free personal statement edits?
I learned three great life lessons in a class that I almost failed.
I went against my advisor’s advice and registered for STAT 430. I thought I was going to crush this course. I spend 25+ hours studying on this class. I went to every single office hours. I tried my best, but I walked out with a D+.
That was the lowest grade in that class. This is an upper level class and no one gets below a C at Penn in upper level classes. But, I did. I got a D+.
Looking back, I learned 3 things why I failed that course.
a) I sucked at stat (not math though, I had a 800 on my MATH SAT)
b) I failed to prioritize and worked soo HARD, and,
c) I took too much on my plate without even realizing it.
I wanna explain what went wrong that semester.
First of all, I was taking 6 classes (a thesis class for International Relations, STAT, an upper level chemistry, and an upper level Economics class). They all were really demanding classes and needed a lot of time. I should not have taken that many classes. My advisor warned me not to take such a heavy load.
But I was too much of a rebel. I never listened to her and went with my frivolous thoughts. (I was immature back then.)
The funny part is I didn’t even need STAT 430 to graduate. It was a class I was taking for fun. (Was I crazy or something?)
To be honest, I did not know what I was doing. I was majoring in both International Relations and Chemistry. Why was I doing it? I just wanted to show off and be cool in the intellectual show and tell culture of Penn. Looking back, I was just a big fool.
I failed to prioritize my goals. ( I did not decide to be a pre-dental yet). I was just randomly taking classes to learn stuff. But that was a huge waste of my time because I could not possibly learn everything in the world and there was no method to my madness.
MEANWHILE, My friend and mentor – now a Penn Dental graduate – did it all differently from me.
I want to introduce her in this post. She was really smart about her decisions in college. In fact, she was my tutor for Organic Chemistry, mentor and a best friend for life.
This friend of mine, happens to be the most well-connected person I know. She went to undergrad with me at UPenn and recently graduated from Penn Dental as a dentist. She helped me a lot when I was applying to dental school. Even now, when I need advice about anything, she’s the first person I call.
I think everyone would benefit from our different approaches in life which ultimately led to similar goals.
She is a master at prioritizing and working SMART, not hard. Since her sophomore year in college, when she chose dentistry as her future career, she became laser focused on her goal. In fact, she dropped out of the most prestigious program -Vagelos Program at Penn and picked a relatively EASY MAJOR ( Biology) which had a LOT of overlap with pre-dental requirements.
This freed up her time for extracurricular intellectual pursuits on the side. That pottery class? Sculpture? Film Culture? The Third Reich? Financial Investing? Wharton’s plethora of management classes? Negotiation? Comparative Religion? She had time for it all !
She even had a great social life. She went out, in fact, on most weekends.
How?? Everyone wondered how she managed to carve out such a well-rounded curriculum as a Science major and had a great social life — well it turns out :
Turns out each of these seemingly ‘whimsical’ classes, were thoroughly researched before hand!
– Know who to believe — she always managed to mentally compile and compare first-hand accounts from former students and sometimes these accounts were very eye opening but NOT IN THE WAY YOU EXPECT.
I will leave it up to her to tell everyone here the SPECIFICS of her secrets to Phenomenal Success.
But first, I want you to do me a favor.
I could not attend dental school because of a situation that was beyond my control (my mother was sick). So, I started Dental School Coach with the intention to help people get into their dream dental school. I want to help as many people as possible and it will be only possible by your help. Here’s what you can do to help:
a) Share our blog posts, video on Facebook and Twitter so that others can benefit from it.
Many of you have already finished your DAT, completed your AADSAS application, finishing up secondaries, and waiting to hear back for interviews.
As promised, I will write a lot about interviews going forward. But, before starting to do that, I wanted to give you a glimpse of what topics I will cover. Below is a list of topics I’d like to cover.
How to get 100X better at interviewing
How to research the heck out of schools!
How to get insider advice from the dental students
How to some of the most common questions such as a) Tell me about yourself b) What are your strengths and weaknesses? c)Why Dentistry?
How to talk about hobbies, freelancing careers, and skills that are related to dentistry
How to answer some of the toughest questions
How to be TRULY YOURSELF
How to build an unshakable confidence in yourself without coming across as arrogant
How to understand the question behind the question and answer the toughest interview question
What if someone throws a curve ball at you during your interview
How to save money during interviews
What to wear during interviews
How to interact with other interviewees
How to decommoditize yourself and sell yourself during the interview
How to be likable during interviews
What questions you should not ask during interviews and what questions you should ask
How to send a thank you note and follow up
What to do when you had a bad interview
How to strategically network with dental students, adcoms and professors after your interview
This is not a complete list, so feel free to give me suggestions. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you’d like me to cover on this blog.
As many of you are finishing up with your personal statement, I thought it’d be a good idea for me to share a personal statement checklist that I used to review 900+ personal statements this application cycle. I found this checklist to be extremely helpful. I am sharing it publicly here, because I want to be useful in your life!
So, here’s the checklist that I used to review 900+ PS!!!
Goal of writing a PS: Write a personal statement that will compel the adcom to say, “This kid is interesting, and I wanna meet him/her.”
Do I have a compelling first sentence that will make adcoms read forward?
Does my introduction tell compelling stories that make the adcom interested in me?
Do I tell stories in my essay? Are the stories graphic, memorable and remarkable?
Do my stories weave together logically?
Do my paragraphs flow well?
Is my content emotionally engaging? Are my stories colorful?
Do I tell stories about what inspired me to be a dentist?
Did I answer the “Why Dentistry?” and “Why dentistry is a meaningful career?”
Shadowing: Do I tell detail graphic stories of my shadowing experiences?
Do I just talk about what I did or do I talk about what I learned and what impact I made in the world?
If I talk about my research in my essay, does it make someone curious about it? or does it make someone say ” This is too much details. I cannot take it”.
Is it simple to read? Is it fun/interesting to read about my research?
Am I using jargon, clichés or big phrases?
Is my conclusion catchy? Is it memorable?
Is the reader going to remember me 10 mins/10 hours/10 days after he reads my personal statement?
Does my conclusion loop back to the stories I mentioned earlier?
Do my stories logically flow well ? Do I have an overarching theme in my essay?
Is each sentence earning its way into my personal statement? or am I just adding junk/useless sentences?
Is it under 4500 character limit?
Did I check the grammar?
Do I come across as likable? Will the adcom be interested in interviewing me?
Hope you find this checklist to be helpful in assessing your own PS! Wish you all the best as you write the final drafts of your personal statement.
As promised, I have analyzed my personal statement in the following video. You can read my personal statement in this blog post or you can find it here. Enjoy =)
Muhammed Ziauddin Personal Statement for Dental School
‘Shri Ramajeyam!’ chanted the village magician back in Bangladesh, as he tried to heal my grandmother’s toothache for 40 Taka (equilivalent to $0.50 in the US). The cheap hocus pocus failed and ultimately, an oral screening at a local hospital diagnosed an oral lesion in her mouth. However, it remained untreated because of my family’s limited finances.
These financial challenges that have continually haunted my family have helped ingrain the value of patience within the very essence of my personality. Our patience in reapplying for the Diversity Visa Lottery over and over finally paid off the 9th time, when we won. We thought our financial distress would improve, so we happily left for America. But, surprises ensued. Extreme poverty, accompanied by a sudden cut in Medicaid forced me to curtail my visits to the orthodontist, but I continued to wait, as I had always been, for a change in fortune.
That change came when my orthodontist halved my fee after sympathizing with my situation. This drew me to a dentist’s prerogative to demonstrate compassion. The importance of a good patient-doctor relationship stood out even more when I shadowed Dr. Pinto, an oral surgeon. During his interaction with a medically compromised patient, who was suffering from a prior iatrogenic procedure, I saw how dentists not just treat the local symptoms of pain, but also address it in a systemic way. This interactive process reminded me of my time leading mentoring program as an International Youth Scholar, in which I mentored a Somali refugee named Abdi. Being psychologically vulnerable as a result of having faced a civil war, initially, he appeared reserved. With my consisted efforts, I built rapport with him as he slowly opened up about his struggle in the refugee camp, his love for soccer, and his dream to study in the U.S. With my encouragement, he applied and received a scholarship at Syracuse University. I will never forget his smile when he gave me the news. It reaffirmed the holistic nature of a dentist’s influence on an individual’s systemic as well as psychological health.
In addition to treating individuals, I want to expand the influence of dental awareness on a community-wide scale and I began this by targeting my local Philadelphia community. I co-founded the Community Dental Disease Prevention Society aiming to reduce the prevalence of dental diseases. We conducted workshops at low-income schools in the city. Despite the initial lack of interest among students, gradually the number of workshop participants grew as they could relate the workshops to their real life experiences. Here Tagita, a first grader shared her story of waiting for a dental appointment due to her family’s financial incapacity, reiterating the inaccessibility of the dental care provision. Meanwhile, high school students expressed concerns about the increasing prevalence of dental malpractice. This made me extend our goals to educate dental providers of iatrogenic dentistry. Additionally, we also set about spreading scientifically based awareness in dispelling damaging propagandas such as those spread by the Fluoride Action Network about the harmful effects of water fluoridation.
Aside from my involvement with the community, I found personal gratification and further enhancement of my endurance while I was taking a sculpture course. After the caffeinated nights and clay-stained hands at the studio, looking at my first project – a clay bust of Abraham Lincoln, an unprecedented sense of pride flooded through me. Right then, I knew that in order to be fulfilled I would need manual involvement in my future profession.
The unique opportunity offered by dentistry to integrate my manual dexterity with my love for science further drew me in. My passion for science grew in a crowded lab-hood at my organic synthesis lab, where I endured repeated tedious phases of optimization of the reaction conditions. Ultimately, I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction as I produced newer molecules in high yield culminating in a co-authorship of a paper in Organic Letters.
Perseverance gained throughout my life and from my involvement in science, arts and community activism makes dentistry a perfect match for me. Be it campaigning against iatrogenic dentistry via CDDPS, or making someone like Abdi smile confidently, dentistry has allowed me to consolidate my ideals. As I continue to advocate for increased accessibility to dental care for financially disadvantaged patients, I understand that progress will be slow; for now, I vow to stay focused, stay patient.
My wife kept asking me to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I kept postponing it. Finally,last weekend, I took out 2 hours to watch it.
The movie is about Jiro, a 85-year old world-class sushi master.
Jiro is obsessed with making sushi. Even in his dreams, he is coming up with recipes. His obsession with details is fascinating. Although his obsession is borderline unhealthy, sometimes that is what it takes to be the best in the world!!
Jiro is very methodical and systematic. Every plate of sushi he makes is unanimously a masterpiece – the taste, texture, and appearance is always the same and top-notch. Even then, he does not stop. He is still on a relentless pursuit of improving his skills.
When one look at Jiro and his flawless sushi making art, one can’t help but think “I COULD NEVER DO THAT, he’s naturally talented”. But as you watch the rest of the documentary you discover the only thing that distinguishes Jiro is his passion, hard work and eagerness to improve himself. For 50 years he learned, made mistakes, persisted, and worked hard before finally becoming the BEST SUSHI CHEF in the world.
Being a master dentist also takes a burning passion, hard work, practice and relentless pursuit of improving your craft. It takes time to be
But you may ask : “Muhammed, I thought this is a post about personal statements. Why are you talking about a sushi chef?
A great personal statement is like a masterpiece sushi made by Jiro.
However, acknowledge that, your first draft will be far from the great draft you will send to dental school.
When you look at a personal statement from an accepted student (like mine or aqz’s ), you are probably thinking, “I COULD NEVER WRITE THAT WELL”.
But that’s not true.
When I started writing my own essay, I struggled a lot. I didn’t know what to write. My mind was blocked. In my brainstorming phase, I looked at a blank page for two hours thinking what I should write. I literally started crying because I didn’t know what to write.
Then a dental student friend of mine told me, “Zia, just get something down on paper.” And I wrote anything down that came to mind.
It was terrible. But it was good enough for a shittty first draft.
I accepted that my first draft will be terrible and I needed to improve on it.
But how did I take a shitty first draft to a GREAT personal statement that got me into Penn and UCSF?
It’s no magic.
A great body of work is like an iceberg. You only see the visible result. 95% of an iceberg is hidden beneath the surface. You will never see it. That 95% = hard work, and relentless improvement on the first shitty draft.
You will never see the 50+ hours I spent crafting a GREAT personal statement. (The draft I uploaded on AADSAS application was my 25th draft.) But you will see a beautifully crafted personal statement
I always, put in double the effort than someone else doing the same thing. By putting 2X the effort, I reap 10-20x the reward. That’s why interviewers cry after reading my disadvantaged statement. And that’s why dental school interviewers become more curious after reading my application essay.
I put in a lot of work writing posts at SDN. Sometime to write one post, I spend 12-15 hours. But it’s totally worth it. Most of my posts get more than 3000-4000 views. The last post I wrote on personal statement was no different. I got 35+ requests from pre-dentals to review/edit their personal statements. Currently, I am having to turn down people because I am swamped with PS review requests. But you can read all my blog post on dental school coach blog.
I work hard, but I do it systematically. In that sense, I am almost like Jiro. However, for my systematic approach I have gotten comments like this:
Systematic approach is better than random act of non-productive techniques. If you are a pre-dental, you know how important systems are. Do you think dental schools will accept you if you didn’t submit your LORs or forgot to upload your transcripts? They probably won’t. (Dental School Application is a systematic process)
And yes! I do think in systematic, linear manner. In fact 99% of us do. The 1% of the human population probably don’t need a system (Good for them). For the 99% of us, systems liberates us and gives us opportunities to improve.
People who have criticized me by calling me a robot, should know better. Health professions are just full of systems, protocols and checklists. Read the book called The Checklists’ Manifest for your information.
Because I follow a systematic approach, I produce high quality results CONSISTENTLY. (ex: I attended Penn Undergraduate and got into dental school like UCSF and Penn).
I helped my friends using similar systematic approach to edit their personal statements and they all got into top tier ivy league schools in different fields of study. Not here to brag or anything.
In this post, I reveal THE SYSTEM I follow to consistently write high quality personal statements. It’s simple yet amazingly effective.
Let’s jump right in
a) Brainstorming + Creating a story Toolbox
Brainstorming is the hardest part in the essay writing process. Some people really struggle with what they should write about. See below
When I was in Ghana, my friend wanted to hook me up with girls. As a conservative Muslim, I didn’t know how to “hook” up with someone nor did I know how to talk to girls. ( I used to be a weirdo!)
So, my friend suggested I keep a story toolbox that will have pick up lines, jokes, etc. to tell when I approached girls.
The idea of a story toolbox has been pretty powerful in my life. I did not use it in dating, but I have used it to write master personal statements and win multiple interviews.
If you look at my personal statements, it’s full of stories.
How did I collect that many stories?
The answer is pretty simple. I keep a daily journal.
For example, when I was shadowing an oral surgeon, I kept note of things that I observed on a regular basis. If I saw something unusual/interesting, I made special notes about it. Once a patient came to the office with severe neuralgic pain. Dr. P patiently listened to him. When the patient finished ranting, he calmed and reassured him that he’ll be just fine. Instead of giving him any injection for his pain, Dr. P communicated to a pain psychologist and created a treatment plan for the patient.
A dentist calling up a pain psychologist !!! I have never seen that. That’s unusual, so I jotted it down in my journal.
Effective story telling is hard. It’s tough not because we suck at story telling. (You may be a story telling expert when you are hanging out with your friends.) But the stories you want to tell won’t readily come to your mind when you are sitting down to brainstorm for your personal statement.
So when you sit down to brainstorm, I recommend, do it in two or three different sessions.
Spend 30-45 minutes for the first session, take a 2-3 hour break and come back for another session. During the break you should take walk, run or shower. I recently read a book called The Power of Full Engagement. In the book, the authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schawartz illustrate a provocative study by Michael Gelb:
In his book, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, author Michael Gelb poses a wonderfully revealing question: “Where are you when you get your best ideas?” He asked that question to thousands of people over the years, and the most common response he gets include, “in the shower”, “resting in bed”, “walking in nature”, “listening to music”, “jogging/running”, “meditating”. “Almost no one claims to get their best ideas at work”- Gelb said.
You can sit at your desk, stare at a blank paper for all day and get frustrated because you still don’t know what to write.
Or you can brainstorm for 30 min. Write down your ideas. Take a break. Come back. Throw away all the bad ideas. Brainstorm some new ideas.
Here are some questions you should try to answer while brainstorming;
What incidents inspired you to be a dentist? Who inspired you become a dentist?
Do you have soft qualities that a dentist may possess? What are they and how did you come to acquire them? (ex: I talk about my immigration story and relate that to patience and perseverance, skills most dentists have)
What did you learn at your dental shadowing? How can you apply what you learned as a future dentist?
What did you learn at your Extra Curricular activities/Lab Work etc? Can you relate these activities to dentistry?
Do you have any academic accomplishments that you are proud of and want to mention in the personal statement ( publishing a paper, etc)
Did you pick up any manual dexterity skills ( playing guitar, violin, working at a science lab, etc)?
[In case you need help brainstorming, talk to someone who knows you well (close friends, parents, siblings, etc.). It really helps.]
c) Write Shitty first draft:
Once you have those ideas down on paper, take a break. Come back and write your shitty first draft.
Ann Lamott, author of Bird by Bird says,
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”
Just write something down on paper. Don’t worry about its quality, style, grammar. JUST WRITE.
Come back one or two days later. Print the essay out. Do a cold read of the first draft. Ask yourself, “What do I like and what do I not like about the essay? Does it logically flow? If I were an adcom, would I be interested in meeting this person?
d) Making an Outline:
After you have written your (shitty) first draft, make a detailed outline of the essay.
For example, my essay outline was:
Intro: How I became interested in dentistry? (story: My grandmother’s financial situation prevented her from getting dental care)
How I immigrated to the US? (relating how I learned to became patience and perseverant, skill dentist need)
Told stories about generosity and empathy ( First, I mentioned how generous my dentist was and then related that to how I showed kindness and generosity to a Somali refuge).
How I started “Community Dental Disease Prevention Society” and what impact I made. (Story of Tagita, a student I taught through the club).
My sculpture class and examples of my projects
How I honed my manual dexterity + Accomplishment in my research lab
Making a rigorous outline will take some time. But once you make that outline, writing a better draft would be a matter of time. I recommend writing this outline on a whiteboard. If you don’t have a whiteboard, do it in post it notes. Make the outline as visual as possible. Check if your essay outline is flowing logically. Send your outline via email to a few friends. Ask them to assess if your outline is logical.
Spend some time perfecting the outline. I used 3-4 hours white boarding until I knew I had an excellent outline.
e) Rewriting, revising and rewriting
Once you are satisfied with your outline, write the second draft of your essay.
(what are they revising? what are some elements they are looking to edit and what kind of a checklist should they follow in terms of what makes a good draft)
f) The best $5 I ever spent:
Once you are done with your second draft, start reaching out to your friends and professors.
Once I was done with my essay, I took my friends out to Starbucks, bought them a latte ($5) and asked them if they could read my personal statement. If they said yes, I immediately pulled out two printouts of my PS. My friends were brutally honest but that’s what I was looking for.
[I also reached out to my professors that knew me very well and ask them if they could review my PS. Some of them were busy, so they politely declined. But some of them got back to me immediately and offered to read my personal statement.]
g) Revise, Rewrite, Rewrite, and Rewrite
This is part of the iceberg that no one sees. Rewriting and revising is not fun. It’s boring and tough. But repeated rewriting is an absolute necessity to get to the perfect personal statement.
I rewrote my essay 25 times. Each time I re-wrote it, I printed my essay out, did a cold read, and ask “if I were an adcom, would I select myself for an interview.” I rewrote until the answer was yes.
To make your personal statement perfect, You’ve got REWRITE, REWRITE AND REWRITE.
Getting to the Perfect personal statement is no magic! You need to put in the hard work. Hard work is tough, challenging, and boring. Most people hate working hard.
Just remember, you are going to spend time and energy to write that personal statement; why not spend twice the time and energy to make it the world’s best personal statement.
On Thursday I will analyze my own personal statement and show you why it’s a GREAT personal statement.
Over the weekend, I will share the checklist that I used to review my rewritten drafts. I will also write a post about how to stay motivated (like an olympian) during the application season.