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Make your job applications stand out

Posted by on April 21, 2015

artin Chalfie gives careers advice to stuentsBy Rebecca Nesbit

Many early-career researchers are haunted by fears about their future of employment. The stats aren’t reassuring – fewer than 1 in 200 science PhD students become professors. But there are exciting next steps to be found, and here are some ways for aspiring academics to increase their chances of success.

For a start, anyone committed to a research career shouldn’t limit themselves to applying for advertised post-docs. By contacting academics you’d like to work for you create your own opportunities. You’re in a position of power – you are free to approach whoever you like.

Do you want to work for a famous lab? Don’t be daunted by seniority – Nobel Laureates actually report a drop in the number of people applying to work for them. Another important choice to consider is whether your scientific training would benefit from working overseas.

Your future employer will look for evidence of your passion, so make sure you choose research that excites you. Once you’ve identified where you’d like to work, it’s time to apply (which should be months before your contract ends).

This isn’t a case of sending your CV with a cookie-cutter *insert relevant fact here* letter. It’s about taking the time to come up with your own ideas.

Martin Chalfie, who received a Nobel Prize for his work on GFP, explains how this distinguishes you from the vast majority of applicants:

Many of these thoughts are shared by Paul Nurse Hon FSB, who doesn’t need to have his website repeated back to him by applicants to his lab:

The ability for independent thought which needed to put these applications together stands you in good stead for any interviews.

Many PhD students and postdocs find themselves wondering whether academia is the right path to do down. Sometimes this is simply the result of tough times in the lab (and failures happen to everyone), but it’s a good opportunity to explore other options.

As the Society of Biology jobs board demonstrates, there are some exciting possibilities for scientists outside academia, and scientific training equips you with a broad range of skills. Popular post-academia choices include working in industry or working in science communication.

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