You've always been great at science and figured your research – whether in college, grad school, or professionally – would help you get into medical school.
Now you find it a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, you probably aced the MCAT science sections. On the other, you may be viewed (rightly or not) as one-dimensional, overly concerned with details, and prone to losing sight of the forest for the trees.
Physicians need a combination of science abilities and soft skills, and there are many ways your personal statement can fight the stereotype and show that you're in fact a multi-dimensional human being with various interests and skills. Here are some questions to ask yourself when writing your winning personal statement.
What's your story?
Your personal essay must be short and still include the personal details that will give the admissions committee a clear picture of you. A laundry list of your accomplishments and talents can't portray you as vividly as an illustrative story can. Of course, this means that you need to be selective about what story (or stories) you tell. Can you relate compelling episodes from your research experience that reveal why you'll make a great doctor? Do you foresee research being an important part of your future medical practice? If so, then it could be an appropriate subject for your personal statement.
If you aren't quite as keen about a research career, or want to focus on a different side of your personality, you might consider just listing research as a post-graduate experience - you can always provide more information in your secondaries and interviews.
What's your research about (in a nutshell)?
If you decide that research is a unique and defining experience, how can you best express this to the admissions committee? You know your subject matter inside and out, but not everybody needs – or wants – that much detail.
Treat your personal statement as a personal introduction, not an in-depth technical description of your work (again, you can do that in your secondaries and interviews). Briefly outline the goals of your research project and, more importantly, describe your role in it by using specific examples that draw the reader into the story. Use ordinary language and be sure to ask your liberal arts friends to read it. If it makes sense to them, you've succeeded.
What are your other attributes?
Teamwork, communication, initiative, mentoring – these are just some of the qualities that medical schools look for in their students. As you identify what your research has taught you, give equal time to interpersonal skills like these, along with specific examples of how you've used them. This will combat the stereotype of "science nerd" while showing the admissions committee that you've got what it takes for med school.
Why medical school?
Given your research background, you probably want to explain how it fits into your future. You aren't expected to have all the answers at this point, but you should explain why you want to be a doctor in honest, heartfelt terms that go beyond a basic desire to "help people," and implicitly answer the unasked question: why aren't you going into pure research?
Just as important, you need to share your understanding of what practicing medicine will be like, based on your interactions with physicians. What do you love about the profession? Have you been inspired by doctors who balanced research and patient care? Knowing the challenges and difficulties, why is this still your career goal? Again, provide specific supporting examples. Your realistic expectations and first-hand observations will reflect your maturity and commitment to succeed as a physician.