Curriculum Vitæ: Some Dos and Don'ts

27. November 2012

Jean-luc Doumont

Whether on paper or in electronic format, the résumé or curriculum vitæ still plays a crucial role in job applications. By analyzing a draft CV kindly provided by OSA student member Matt Weed, this article offers some dos and don'ts toward effective communication.

Compared to many résumés I have seen lately, Matt's draft CV shows many positive qualities. It sets the name of the candidate very visibly (top left) with unique contact data (top right), rather than multiple addresses or phone numbers that can confuse a potential employer. It focuses on competencies and goes beyond the mere research experience to include public policy and leadership. In terms of style, it puts forward specific achievements with action verbs.

On the other hand, the CV is on the long side (more than two pages), with page breaks in the middle of sections and a third page 75 percent empty. With some tweaking of the text and/or page layout, it can either be brought back to exactly two pages (my recommendation) or perhaps be extended to three, with the third page devoted solely to publications and presentations, almost as an appendix.

More important still, the otherwise effective structure is not very visible. Despite being set in small caps bold, the headings do not stand out. Whatever white space is left on the first page ends up separating related information horizontally (such as degrees and dates) rather than separating distinct sections vertically. Similarly, the dates on the right are a little lost.

While I know it is common practice, I am always skeptical about career objectives and other so-called profile information. The objective stated here is vague, hence hardly useful. It is best moved to the application letter and written specifically toward a given company or job. On the CV, it can be replaced by some sort of tagline under the candidate's name, summing up his qualifications and, indirectly, previewing the structure of the CV.

As for style, perhaps the best advice I ever received is that good writing is read-out-loudable. Matt's CV uses conjugated verbs but without the subject (understood to be I), probably in an effort to be concise. The outcome is compact and consistent yet would not read out loud well. For example, many readers may not recognize “image” to be a verb in “image devices and processing steps”. Along the same lines, beware of industry jargon. In the sentence “Developed quantitative naval periscope image resolution metrics across functional groups”, I did not know what exactly was quantitative (the periscope, the image, the resolution, or the metrics) and I could not quite place the phrase “functional groups” (which, to me, evokes hydroxyl or alcohol groups on organic molecules).

Finally, a word of caution for those of you applying for jobs internationally. Matt's draft CV is US-centric, with phrases such as “Annually visit DC” or “Orange County schools”, a phone number without country code, and no information whatsoever on language skills. Even the full name “Matthew Davidson Weed” would confuse many people outside the United States, who are not used to middle names, especially when these sound like family names: To a Latin reader, “Davidson Weed” is a perfectly normal compound family name for the son of Mr. Davidson and Ms. Weed. For international communication, I recommend sticking to one given name and one family name (in that order), perhaps with the family name set in small caps to clarify which is which, given that not all cultures place the family name last.

In the attached PDFs, I propose a revised version of Matt's draft CV and I provide more detailed comments on both draft and revised versions.

Jean-luc Doumont (jl@principiae.be) holds a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University. He now devotes his time and energy to training researchers and others in effective communication. He is a traveling lecturer for OSA.

Matthew Weed (mweed@creol.ucf.edu) is a Ph.D. Candidate in Optics studying integrated, chip-level lasers and photonic systems at the University of Central Florida. You can visit his website at www.MattDWeed.com

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Learning to Teach

16. November 2012

Arti Agarwal

As a young academic focused predominantly on research, I felt conflicted when I was asked to lecture at my university. I was nervous about teaching for the first time and concerned about the amount of time and work required but also excited about the opportunity to impact students.

When I actually got into the classroom, I found that it was every bit as difficult as I had expected.

For those of us who are not natural teachers, the idea of facing a few hundred students, waiting like hungry lions to devour our fearful attempts at introducing discrete Fourier transform, is not an enticing prospect. However, in spite of its challenges, teaching is an integral part of an academic career. Every academic could benefit from learning how to do it well.

Fortunately, there is help out there. Here are a few ways that you can learn how to be a better, more effective teacher:

Take courses. Many universities offer classes on various aspects of teaching: theories of learning and teaching in higher education, curriculum development, assessment, teaching techniques, etc.  These courses can be very helpful for new teachers, so take advantage of them.

Find relevant workshops. I participated in a two-day teaching workshop focused on designing classes, including preparing slides, hand outs, and assignments. We practiced giving lectures that were video recorded and played back to us. Watching ourselves on tape allowed us to see how we appeared to students. Did we talk too quickly or too quietly? Was our writing legible on the blackboard? Did we fidget or appear nervous? Seeing these kinds of errors helps you to correct them.

Look to professional societies. Many professional groups and technical societies also have teaching resources for educators. Usually they will be subject-specific, and thus can be a great place to find material, teaching tips and activities for your particular area.

Seek advice from teaching experts. You can also find support from people who specialize in the study of teaching and learning. Input from these sources can be very helpful in engaging students For example, I recently had a group of students who were not solving tutorial problems. No amount of exhortation on my part could convince them to do the assignments. I was getting increasingly frustrated, so I went to the Learning Development Centre at my university and asked for their advice. They suggested that I divide the class into groups, and assign a question to each one. They would have to solve their problem on the board in front of the rest of the class, and then prepare a new question for the other groups to tackle. The most challenging question won. Peer pressure and healthy competition provided the motivation necessary to get my students excited about their work.

Even if you don’t feel that teaching comes naturally to you, you can learn techniques to help you be a more competent and comfortable teacher. It takes a lot of hard work and practice, but the rewards are worth it in the end. There is no better feeling than when a class goes well and you know that your students are truly learning and benefitting from your efforts.

Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Information Engineering, School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her personal blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com.

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Advice for Listing Research Details on Your Resume

6. November 2012

Lauren Celano

This post is based on content that has already appeared on the Propel Careers website and BioCareers.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

When you apply to a job, the details listed on your resume provide your future employer with information about the type of job you are looking for. Everything matters—the key words you include, the way you phrase your accomplishments and experiences, how you order your bullet points, etc. These details build your brand.

RESEARCH ROLES

Include research techniques. If you are looking for a job doing bench research, make sure you include the major research techniques that you used during each of your roles, as well as a separate section listing all of the methods you have ever used and know well. A hiring manager will want to see both the current techniques and previous ones. Whether you are a post-doc or an industry professional, listing these details is important to show growth.

List relevant details. Many companies use resume-parsing systems to input a candidate's details on their job skills into their database. Companies then scan resumes against job descriptions to see which candidates could be a fit. Resumes without details listed won't come up as matches, and you will be passed over in favor of candidates who have listed the relevant skills.

Be specific and thorough. Include research techniques that match the desired job description only if you have experience with them. Customize the resume for each job. Don't just list a general term like molecular biology techniques. Elaborate on exactly which technique you have experience with, such as molecular cloning, recombinant DNA methods, PCR, site directed mutagenesis, DNA isolation, purification, and sequencing, Southern blotting and Northern blotting. Don't rely on a hiring manager to guess that you have the right experience. Don't be afraid to take too much space when listing skills; you can recover some of that through clever formatting: by using a smaller font for the list, as well as going from a vertical bullet point list to a horizontal one.

NON-RESEARCH ROLES

Don’t include research details. Resumes for non-research roles should not include details about research techniques, since these are not typically relevant to these jobs. If you are considering a role in clinical research, disease and/or therapeutically relevant experience is important to highlight. You can include high-level information about techniques you know under each of your experiences, but you do not need to include an entire section on research methods. Sending a research-focused resume for a non-research role will indicate to the potential employer that you are not sufficiently interested in the role that you are applying to because you did not bother to tailor your resume to the job.

Highlight transferable skills. Hiring managers for non-research based roles prefer to see more transferable skills and experiences such as: leading teams, managing collaborations, working with clients, managing projects, strong communication and writing experience and mentoring, rather than specific laboratory skills and techniques. For a non-research role, extra-curricular or community service activities should also gain more prominence on your resume. For example, note if you write a blog, work as a teaching assistant or serve as the president of a charity. These activities highlight your transferable skills, especially if your previous job or academic experience is heavy on laboratory research and not much else.

What you decide to include on your resume is important. The details tell a story and indicate the type of position you are looking for. Be focused and strategic. The effort will pay off!

Lauren Celano (lauren@propelcareers.com) is the co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers, a life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences companies.

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A Frog in a Well: How Photonics Broadened my Career Perspective

2. November 2012

Yosuke Ueba

The expression “frog in a well” is sometimes used to describe a person who cannot see the big picture because of the narrow or sheltered environment in which they find themselves. It is the opposite of a “frog in a field,” which broadly surveys its environment and takes advantage of the many possibilities available to it.

When I started my Ph.D., I was a frog in a well. I was convinced that there was only a narrow range of options open to me after I graduated. I assumed that I would go into academia or industry because those were the only paths I knew about. All the other Ph.D.s I met were in one of those two worlds, and in Japan that seemed to be the natural progression that one followed.

Ph.D. students often feel like they are in a tough situation: There are precious few jobs available for them outside of academia and industry, and yet the number of opportunities within those areas appears to be even smaller.

Fortunately, I came to learn that doctoral scientists actually have potential in many fields.

So how did this frog climb out of its well? I was able to do it because the research focus of my laboratory is photonics, and because I have become part of a much larger community through my OSA student chapter.

Like many areas of interdisciplinary research—including electronics, medical science, chemistry, biology and environmental science—photonics opens the door to a wide range of fields, academic societies and contacts. I have benefitted very much from being a part of Osaka University’s OSA/SPIE student chapter; it has 27 members who are studying diverse topics represented by no less than five academic departments. After I joined the chapter, my horizontal network dramatically expanded—and so too did my career prospects. Taking part in chapter activities also broadened my knowledge and contacts for future collaborative research or the founding of a company.

Furthermore, organizing chapter events with students beyond my own lab and institution has been an invaluable experience. For example, I collaborated with others to develop outreach activities for local schools and an international student conference in Asia. This gave me insight into diverse people and job possibilities that I could not get through my daily work in my lab. It spurred me to think for the first time about career possibilities beyond industry and academia.

I got acquainted with a group called Kashin Juku though personal networks that I had through my photonics and student chapter connections. Kashin Juku derives from the famous school for western learning named Tekijuku school, which was established in 1838; it educated many excellent people from broad fields who would come to play an important role in Japan's Meiji Restoration. We invited leading doctors from many fields—for example, a  politician, a novelist, a financier, a consultant, a corporate manager and a journalist—to talk about how having a Ph.D. expanded their potential in their chosen careers. These fruitful discussions broadened my view of the options one has available to them after acquiring a doctoral degree.

While I once believed that Ph.D.s have few options in Japan, the field of photonics and my student activities have shown me otherwise. I haven’t yet decided exactly how I will contribute to society, but I know I want to make effective use of my education and to make my career meaningful. Nowadays, this frog is right where he belongs: in the field.

Yosuke Ueba (yosuke.ueba@gmail.com) is a graduate student in photonics at Osaka University in Japan. He is president of Osaka Univ. OSA/SPIE Student Chapter, and he established Osaka Univ. JSAP (Japan Society of Applied Physics) Student Chapter in 2012. His research interests include thermal emission, plasmonics and metamaterials. To discuss or collaborate with him, visit him on Facebook

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