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How to answer "What is your weakness" essay question?

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Want2help posted 5/2/2014 13:23 PM

I'm a university student applying for a Scholars Program that prepares first generation graduate students for PhD programs (I will be pursuing my PhD in Epidemiology).

The program matches you with a mentor in your field, gives you the tools that you need to succeed in the research field, and pays you a stipend to conduct your own research. Should I be chosen for this program, my research topic will focus on maternal/child nutrition, and it's link to infectious disease, and will be conducted while I am interning in Uganda next year.

However, I need to write an essay detailing my research goals, and also my "strengths" and "weaknesses". I THINK I know what o say for my strengths (I work well with diverse populations, I have great written and oral communication skills, I'm ambitious) but I'm so nervous about listing WEAKNESSES.

Previously I had always heard to disguise a strength as a weakness (as in "I'm a perfectionist, I like all of my work to be perfect."). I took an informal Facebook poll of professional friends who say NO, don't do that. It's insincere.

Most of these people who gave the advice(made of of classmates I have become friends with, colleagues, and former coworkers) offered the opinion that my biggest weakness is my tendency to second guess myself, and not see my worth. I would agree with this, I rely way too much on external validation (i.e. I never look at my work and think "That's good!" until someone tells me so).

The drawbacks are:

1) I feel like it's more a personality flaw then a weakness.

2) I feel like it's talking them out of choosing me. Who wants someone who second guesses their work?

The pros are:

1) This is something I have truly been working on since I began school, so I can mention that.

2) This feeling of unworthiness likely stems from the fact that I was a high school drop out when I began college (I didn't even have a GED), and I can work that into my essay, to show how far I've come and what I've accomplished since then.

I'd love some opinions, from the collective wisdom of SI. You guys have never steered me wrong.

(Oh, and the essay needs to be turned in on Monday).

ETA: If you could also send me some mojo, in hopes that I will be selected for this opportunity, that would be awesome as well!

[This message edited by Want2help at 10:26 AM, May 3rd (Saturday)]

Crescita posted 5/2/2014 13:36 PM

I think 2nd guessing yourself is a great topic if you go into how you feel it has held you back and what you are doing to overcome it.

And given you are posting this question here, I see you are still second guessing what you already know is a good topic

You've got this, and your program sounds fascinating!

marchmadness posted 5/2/2014 13:39 PM

I think this sounds like an amazing program. To answer your question, I think that the weakness that you are focusing on will work for this assignment. Both of your "pros" are areas that you should explore in the essay. If you can, I would try to explain how this specific weakness will affect your research project and what steps you can take to counter it.

million pieces posted 5/2/2014 14:02 PM

Totally honest job interview.

Don't watch if you are easily offended

caregiver9000 posted 5/2/2014 15:24 PM

I would call it self confidence rather than second guessing.

I think that honesty here is a good idea. The fact that you are over coming perceived difficulties to now succeed will help in the self confidence. The first step to fixing a problem is identifying it. You can always say that every success and achievement contributes to "fixing" this weakness.

It also tells them that you will work well with a leader who praises and recognizes the strengths in others. A selfish grand standing SOB won't hire you and that will be good for both of you!!!

cayc posted 5/2/2014 16:29 PM

The interview question about weakness is designed to figure out how well you know yourself. The key is that when you state your weakness, you follow it with your coping strategy.

So it's "my weakness is that I sometimes hesitate to act decisively when my decision will greatly impact a lot of my co-workers (code for 2nd guessing yourself). I handle this weakness by making sure in those situations I talk to a few other people and alleviate the concern that my choice won't be well received.

Or something like that.

NaiveAgain posted 5/2/2014 21:25 PM

My biggest weakness is my tendency to overextend myself and not practice enough self-care. So I usually give that as my weaknesses but talk about how I am limiting how much I take on and that I make sure I have 30 minutes to myself every day to exercise or read a book, etc......

Want2help posted 5/3/2014 10:25 AM

Thank you, everyone! I knew you'd all be insightful!

I begin writing my essay today, and turn in all of my materials (and there are a LOT) on Monday.

If you could all send me some of that good old SI mojo, that'd be awesome! This program is a tremendous opportunity.

million pieces, I cackled wildly through the whole thing!

[This message edited by Want2help at 10:41 AM, May 3rd (Saturday)]

asurvivor posted 5/3/2014 12:08 PM

Here's an idea: "My weakness is honesty and quite honestly that's a dumb ass question"

Want2help posted 5/3/2014 12:33 PM

Here's an idea: "My weakness is honesty and quite honestly that's a dumb ass question"

Oh, it's funny because it's true!

My little brother says "You can't walk away from a fight [argument]. If you know someone or something is wrong, you're powerless to walk away."

Somehow I don't think that would fly with the panel of Ph.D.s who will be looking over my application.

norabird posted 5/4/2014 10:28 AM

Mojo!!!! Sounds like a great program and your essay on your greatest weakness will be awesome too

cayc posted 5/4/2014 11:42 AM

I had a friend that once answered that question with the answer "kryptonite". It was for a job in Hollywood, and he got the job lol.

Want2help posted 5/4/2014 13:19 PM

Cayce, that's hilarious!

Norabird, thank you. I've put it off until today. I'm shaking in my boots just thinking about it.

Also, fear of of rejection. Just thinking about getting a rejection letter is keeping me from writing this essay. Gah!

Kajem posted 5/4/2014 22:16 PM

Since the essay is (hopefully) written by now. I'll send mojo for the results!

Want2help posted 5/4/2014 22:23 PM

Ugh, I'm still trying to write it! I have 5 mini essays to write, and normally I'm the type who can bust out any essay in 20 minutes, but I'm just so stuck! Nothing I type feels good enough. Gaaahhh!!!

mainlyinpain posted 5/4/2014 23:08 PM

Mojo Mojo Mojo Mojo Mojo >>>>>>>>>>>Want2help

Want2help posted 5/5/2014 01:59 AM

Thanks mainlyinpain and Kajem! They are written! Now I have to submit my application tomorrow, hope that they have received the (snail mailed) letter of recommendation, turn in my other two letters, and then cross my fingers until I find out!

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