Less is more… Job Applications

Jobs. Graduate jobs. The job market. We’re handed horror stories on a daily basis about how tough it is out there. Ever the optimist, once I’d handed in my thesis in September 2014, I began my job hunt adamant that it was a load of fuss and nonsense.

How wrong I was. I am so sorry to break it to you. It’s true. It’s tough. I think I have now applied to >20 jobs, all based around scientific and university outreach, and only now, am I getting somewhere (fingers crossed I will have an announcement very soon…!). So I’d like to share an experience with you, and let you know what I think has (hopefully) helped me get somewhere.

Many colleagues, family and friends were happy to console me from the lows of being constantly knocked back. ‘The right job is just around the corner, just you wait’, ‘Just be patient and keep going, you will get there in the end’, ‘Good things come to those who wait’…

Whilst it was comforting to hear that loved ones were sure I would get there in the end, I was frustrated and bored. I had become desperate… sending multiple applications a week, tweaking CV and cover letters left, right and centre to make them fit the job description.

Just before Christmas I received an email from a kind employee of Kings College London which has completely changed my approach to job applications. It was the most lengthly and detailed ‘feedback’ email from any of the jobs I had applied for, and one which I am wholeheartedly grateful for. As a summary, this person made the following suggestions…

1) Needs more detail with regards to the activities and events that you have organised and delivered. 
Whilst I had meticulously listed all the activities I had been involved in, I didn’t necessarily explain what exactly they were, why I did them or what skill set they afforded me.

2) Requires more in relation to your interest in the position, including personal reflections.
The email pointed out that other candidates were able to demonstrate their thoughts about the position, including their particular interests, aspirations and viewpoints. I think this could be particularly effective if demonstrated within a professional capacity.

3) Add how your experience would help you in different aspects of the role.
Whilst I was keen to explain my experiences with matched the essential and desired criteria of the job specifications, I think I was lacking context. I hadn’t taken the time to consider different aspects of the role and directly relate my experience to this.

So thank you, KCL employee, for restoring my faith in the application system, and opening my eyes to what employers seek in a good application. Less is more, when you are able to articulate yourself competently. I hope following this formula has/will win me that interview!


The Viva

It was the 4th November 2014. I woke up very early, with a lot of butterflies. Today was the day. The concluding day of my PhD. Or so it felt.

My mouth was so dry I could feel my lips sticking to my teeth. But really, I am pleased to tell you, there wasn’t too much to be nervous about.

My examiners made clear with their body language and the nature of their questions that they weren’t there to grill me, or to be just plain mean. They just needed to check I understood my project. Even though the experience was over a month ago, here is a list of questions that have stuck in my mind:

1) What were the most important conclusions from your project? (pretty straightforward)
2) Draw a graph of the PCR reaction (wow, this took me back to first year undergrad! But it is not the first time I have heard of a ‘basic’ question be asked in a viva…)
3) If you wanted to find (this) out, how would you do it?
(this came up ALOT. Think about some future experiments and research a broader range of techniques in advance)
4) Have you considered looking at (x)? (again, think of the wider context of your actual experiments in advance)

I have to say it was not one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had. At no point did I relax, contrary to the experience many PhD graduates before me had proclaimed. I also did not leave my viva with a huge sense of relief. But perhaps that is because of the large amount of minor corrections I wanted to complete in the short amount of time before the graduation deadline.

Needless to say my examiners were thorough. Judging on what advice I was given from websites, PhD graduates and academic colleagues, coupled with my own experience. I can almost guarantee no viva is the same. But if you have read enough, and you really did do all your own experiments, you’ll be ok 🙂 



New to the game…

I’m Charlotte. I just handed in my PhD thesis. I am looking for a job in scientific education and communication.

To achieve this, blogging seemed like the way forward. And it seems some others had the same idea…
and so on….

So why bother I hear you ask? All job applications I have *meticulously* studied, ask for experience. In wordpress, in communication, in writing… And moreover, they want proof. I’ve guest blogged before (http://www.plantcellbiology.com/2013/10/biotechnology-yes-an-entrepreneurial-adventure/
But it is time for me to go it alone.

I feel like I have so much to say. About science. About my PhD. About my experiences. And about the post-PhD journey I am about to embark upon… In the words of Dr Pepper: “What’s the worst that can happen?”