Barry Hoffer and Story Landis
you've submitted papers for critical peer review, you know that it can
be humbling and not a little anxiety provoking. What could be exponentially
worse, however, is submitting not just a single paper, but yourself, in
your job-seeking postdoc entirety, to the same kind of scrutinyin
other words, submitting your relevant life story to the powers that be
as you vie with other candidates for plum positions in academic and corporate
Crafting a curriculum vitae
(vital stats; an outline of accomplishments) and résumé
(a more descriptive elaboration of that outline) that stand up to a rigorous,
competitive review process can be daunting. To help NIH postdocs improve
their chances of success, the NIH
Fellows Committee, the Office
of Education, and the Office
of Research on Women's Health held a CV and Résumé Writing
Workshop July 10 in the Lipsett Amphitheatre.
A capacity crowd heard the
Scientific Director Barry Hoffer,
NINDS SD Story
Landis, and Randall Kincaid of Veritas, Inc., a Rockville biotech
companyhammer out their best
advice on how to "make the short list"be
one of the handful of people, often among hundreds of applicants, to survive
the first cut and be called in for an interview.
Nothing succeeds like success,
so if your postdoctoral career has been legendary, you might have employers
clamoring for you. But for the average, or "merely" above-average,
candidate, a finely crafted application package is the key to getting
your foot in the door. Even if you've done some high-profile work within
your field, your application may be reviewed by several people who've
never heard of you. As Hoffer suggested, "You sort of have to pretend
you've come from Mars, and [all] they're going to know about you is what's
in your résumé."
Although specific application
requirements vary with the position, an application should conform to
the general format below. And unless an e-mail or HTML format is requested,
materials always should be sent by regular U.S. mail.
Your package should include:
one-page cover letter,
briefly stating why you are writing and what you have enclosed. Avoid
redundancy with other enclosed material.
CV, consisting of: education (beginning with college degree), research and teaching
experience, any administrative experience, awards, professional society
memberships, and grants (if any; postdocs early in their careers might
consider applying for a K22 award; see <http://www.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-ES-98
for more details). Only professionally relevant items should be included.
As Hoffer noted, "The clock starts ticking in graduate school."
Thus, all awards and positions listed should be from graduate school
onward. Be certain that honors or fellowships listed reflect competitive
awards (the IRTA is not a competitive award; a FARE award is).
Landis also brought up the
matter of "taste." Using an example of an unnecessarily embellished
CV, she pointed out elements that could be a turn-off to a committee member.
For example, "Who's Who"-type listings are a bit on the "cheesy"
side, she implied, and indiscriminate parading of awards may, to a reviewer,
reflect an undesirable trait. Some audience members were dismayed that
anyone should incur a penalty for receiving honors, highlighting the fact
that there is an arbitrary element to the application review processsubjective
In general, Landis suggested,
your CV is a high-maintenance item, requiring continual updating and shaping,
so that it reflects only your most important accomplisments. "You
have to think of your CV as a living organism, as a tree that you have
to trim," she advised.
of publications. Putting your name in boldface type in your bibliography helps committee members
quickly assess if your name is in the "right" placefirst or last. Hoffer urged postdocs and their mentors to discuss authorship
issues and, ideally, establish that one or two peer-reviewed papers
will carry the postdoc as the first author. If you feel you may be
deficient in this area, be sure to point out any papers in which you
were a corresponding author or perhaps a second author but given an
"equal credit shared with first author" footnote.
Résumé. This is an item on which opinions diverged. Hoffer suggested including a narrative,
up to three pages, of your research experience that brings out additional
elements that may not be apparent from your CV. This might include
administrative duties, supervision of less experienced personnel,
supplemental training, and perhaps engagements as a ple
nary speaker at symposia. For an industry position, this type of narrative
can be helpful to the employer and should be included. However, especially
for academic positions, Landis advocated a more economical approach:
Give them precisely what they ask forno more, no less.
statement. (for academic jobs) and/or a description of technical skills (for industry).
Again, what you send depends on what is requested. Usually this consists
of a brief summary of your current work and plans for the future,
including plans for funding if possible. Companies frequently do not
ask for research statements, because they already have an agenda.
According to Kincaid, biotech companies often are interested in what
skills or expertise you bring to their efforts, including computer-related
experience, and it helps to highlight these capabilities separately.
Also, for any research position, include reprints of two or three
If letters are requested,
have them enclosed or sent under separate cover by referees as soon
as possible. If names only are requested, three to five individuals
should be listed, ideally including both thesis and postdoctoral mentors.
Finally, attention to
production values is criticaleliminate
typographical errors, and make sure that grammar and syntax are impeccable.
With as many as 200300 applications flooding academic departments
each recruiting season, give search committee members the slightest
excuse to can your application, and they will. They have to. For the
sake of time and money,employers must limit the number of candidates
With a good record of
research, some attention to detail, and perhaps a bit of luck, your
application could end up in the small stack of five or six invitees.
Then, all you have to worry about is your job interview. But that's
another workshop (let's hope).
a Job? a Grant?
All NIH fellows are
invited to attend a series of workshops on "What They Never
Taught You in Graduate/Medical School." All workshops will
be held in Building 10, Lipsett Amphitheater from 8:30 to 11:30
September 28, 1998:
Job Hunting, Part 1
October 19, 1998: Job
Hunting, Part 2
January 11, 1999: Oral
February 8, 1999: Writing
March 8, 1999: Grantspersonship
May 10, 1999: Personnel