Online courses – how important are they once you’re employed? Once you’ve finished with college, you’re done learning and can now sail by on the skills you have, right? Wrong! More than ever, learning is a lifelong process, and new skills can come in handy when you least expect them to.
If you work in the life science industry, chances are your whole career is built on discovering and analyzing new information. It never hurts to broaden your perspective with a little more! Whether you’re looking to enhance your skills in your current position, level up into a new one, or prepare for the workplace of the future, an online course on your resume can help show employers and peers that you’re ready for a challenge.
General Courses for General Knowledge
Chances are, you’re not an expert in every single scientific field. If you can identify an area of study that would help you in your current role, it may be a good time to bulk up on some learning! For the record, willingness to learn is high on the list of qualities employers look for in potential employees. Show them you’ve got what they’re looking for by skilling up in a relevant field.
Maybe you work as a geneticist, and you’d like to gain a more thorough understanding of anatomy. You may not need the knowledge, but a course in the subject would likely deepen your knowledge and understanding of your own practice. As a science/biotech practitioner, other subjects you may want to consider learning more about include biostatistics, immunology, and computer science.
Online Courses on Hot New Topics
There’s no quicker way to learn about a new industry than a one-and-done online course. With so many virtual education options literally at our fingertips, we can easily dive into topics that aren’t relevant to us yet, but that we believe will be soon.
So, what’s trending now? Well, for example, ChatGPT – and so are discussions about exactly what it can and can’t do. Ever considered taking a course to get some real answers? Then there are up-and-coming scientific and medical fields like health informatics, nanotechnology, and quantum biology. If one of these highly current fields piques your interest, don’t hesitate to jump on the bandwagon and learn more.
Developing Specific Skills
If you want to level up into a new position or refine your craft in your current one, a highly specific skill set is your golden ticket. For traditional science positions, some useful in-your-pocket skills include data analytics, bioinformatics, and digital literacy for scientists.
Maybe it’s not even a skill you need for your career, but one you’d like to understand because you work with others who use it. In this case, you can still go for it! There’s very little downside to learning a new skill. In fact, scientists who continuously learn new skills can expect to reap many benefits in their careers.
Consider a Communications Course
If information can’t be communicated, it loses its value. As a result, writing, speaking, and presenting are fundamental aspects of any industry. Consider a course like this offering by the American Society for Biochemistry and Microbiology to kick your science communication skills up a notch.
You may or may not see yourself as a communications expert, but even a small improvement in your verbal skills can lead to major breakthroughs in your job performance. For example, if you’re working as a data analyst, strengthening your writing skills could inspire you to write a LinkedIn post about applying statistics knowledge to the real world. Naturally, this could broaden your network and lead to new career opportunities.
Bottom Line: Up-Skill to Reap Rewards
Sometimes it’s intimidating to take the leap and learn something new. Keep in mind that you won’t become an expert overnight, but even a bit of extra knowledge can set you apart from the crowd. Online courses are abundant and generally affordable – so if you have the time, there’s no reason not to level up your skill set!
Do you know who to hire for which role? Gone are the days of the lab-only scientist. Nowadays, positions in STEM fields can call for a variety of communications skills, whether that be writing, management, design, or something else. These science communications positions are all the rage nowadays, but because they require at least two skill sets, they can be difficult to fill.
When hiring for a science communicator role, there’s no one-size-fits-all background to look for – so screening applicants can be tricky. What keywords do you search for? Who do you rule out? Many qualified applicants won’t have had a separate career to match every skill required for a role. So, you’ll need to find other ways of assessing their potential to succeed.
Types of multi-skilled roles in the sciences
As careers in science communications become more and more well-known, interest in the field is burgeoning. Examples of positions in science communications include scientific communications specialist, medical writer, and research analyst. Some positions will skew more communications-based, and some more science-based. The trick for who to hire for which role is to discern which skillset comes first for a particular job. Then, you can comb through the applicant pool with that information top of mind.
Positions that are often more science-based can include roles in technical editing, data management, and curriculum development. Such roles absolutely still require communications skills – just perhaps not the same kind of verbal acuity that might be required of a presenter or writer. There are no hard and fast rules, though! Always use your judgment about the skill set that would work best for a particular position.
Who to Hire for Which Role
A role that primarily involves research or leadership, but seldom calls for in-depth or on-the-spot scientific knowledge, is often well-suited to a communications professional. If you’re on the lookout for a Director of Communications for a life science business, for example, don’t hesitate to choose someone who’s well-versed in leadership and project management, and less experienced (but highly trainable) in research analysis.
For roles that hinge on a deeper STEM knowledge base, consider hiring scientists – albeit that they boast some natural writing acumen. For instance, you may be on the hunt for a data science consultant who can not only solve problems, but effectively communicate their solutions. Because data science is not usually a skill that people pick up “on the fly”, you’ll probably want to first gather a pool of candidates with experience in the field. Then, to form your “top tier” of potential hires, you can identify the strongest communicators within that pool.
Some positions get especially tricky, though. Let’s say, for example, that you’re on a mission to find the perfect technical editor to fill an opening. In this case, you might actually be better off hiring a trained scientist. That’s because editing, while communications-based, is very detail-oriented and factual. Of course, any editor should have a good handle on grammar and paragraph structure, too – but in this case, finding someone who knows the ins and outs of the subject matter may prove to be the most important factor.
What to screen for
For science positions that involve preparing presentations, articles, or other written materials, ask your shortlist of candidates to show you a couple of relevant samples. A candidate’s portfolio may include brochures, slide decks, even emails – as long as it gives you a sense of their writing style, it should offer valuable insights into their suitability for a communications role.
Ultimately, when you’re hiring for a multi-skilled position, the most important thing to screen for is ability to learn. If a candidate sounds terrified, or perhaps just bored, by the thought of becoming well-versed in a subject that’s new to them – this may not be a recruitment match made in heaven. But if their eyes light up when you tell them more, and they can describe times they’ve used a similar skillset somewhere else – you may just have a winner on your hands.
The most important skill – who to hire for which role
Figuring out which candidate is likely to make the best hire can be a tricky balancing act – especially when it comes to science communications roles. As you search for suitable candidates, keep an eye out for those who are sharp, enthusiastic, and above all ready to learn – even if they don’t have the perfect resume.
And remember: people can always surprise you. Just because a writer hasn’t researched scientific topics before doesn’t mean they aren’t cut out to learn some new ropes. If your new science news editor has advanced technical degrees in their subject matter but little to no writing experience, you can assess their language skills another way. Keep a critical but open mind, and you’ll find a candidate who brings to the table an impressive skillset – and a willingness to keep learning more.
Author: Cliff Mintz
Looking for a new job can be an overwhelming and daunting experience. A vital first step in any job search is the creation of a carefully constructed and well-crafted resume or curriculum vitae (CV). While there are clear distinctions between resumes and CVs—the former is a one-to-two-page document whereas a CV has no page limit—the CV is the preferred document for life scientists. This is mainly because the shortened resume format doesn’t provide scientists with enough space to adequately explain their training, accomplishments and research interests to prospective employers. However, for non-scientists jobs like administrative assistants, pharmaceutical operators, and data entry professional resumes are preferred.
Too often, inexperienced job seekers will hastily craft resumes without paying much attention to format, style, content or grammar; and then wonder why they are not landing job interviews. The purpose of this article is to provide some advice and tips to help life scientists improve their resume writing skills. The terms resume and CV will be used interchangeably; but most of my remarks are mainly directed at crafting CVs.
Formatting and Resume Writing Tips
Open, uncluttered and less densely-written CVs are visually appealing and more likely to be read by hiring managers. This is because these individuals scan hundreds (sometimes thousands) of resumes daily and unless an applicant’s qualifications, skill sets and personal attributes “jump off the paper”—and are easily discerned in 60 second or less—the likelihood of a face-to-face job interview is remote.
Short descriptive and succinctly-crafted phrases are the best way for employers to quickly ascertain whether a job applicant is qualified (bullets are option). Avoid using paragraphs because they are dense and sometimes difficult for hiring managers to navigate and interpret.
Finally, powerful, action-oriented verbs and adjectives tend to evoke strong, positive impressions. The use of action verbs and superlative suggest that a job applicant is confident, self assured and has a “can do” attitude. Unfortunately, scientists usually don’t excel in this area but it is essential to be successful in a job search.
Constructing a CV
Generally speaking, there can be as many as eight different sections for resume writing.
1. Summary of Qualifications
The Summary of Qualifications or candidate profile is the first section of a CV that a hiring manager will see. It represents the best opportunity for a candidate to convince a prospective employer that she/he may be the right person for the “job” It should not be longer than 4 to 5 lines and must be peppered with key words (gleaned from job ads). Many organizations use software programs to screen CVs for key words and if they are absent the likelihood of employment for a job candidate is low.
2. Professional Experience
The Professional Experience section lists a candidate’s work experiences in reverse chronological order (most recent to past). Three to four short descriptive phrases that detail a candidate’s professional experiences while holding each position is generally sufficient.
3. Professional Activities
Professional activities include things that are related but not part of a person’s official job responsibilities. Examples include, consulting, editorial duties, committee memberships etc.
Education credentials generally begin with the lowest degree first (associate or bachelor) and end with the most advanced degree or educational experience, e.g. postdoctoral fellowships or professional school. The name and location of the institution that awarded the degree and major area of study ought to be listed with each entry (Fig 1). PhD and masters’ theses title or a brief description of a research project (postdoctoral fellows) may also be included. It is perfectly reasonable to list the names of PhD mentors or postdoctoral advisors associated with PhD and postdoctoral training.
It is not necessary to list the dates that degrees were awarded. While this may not be a bad thing for entry level employees, it may hinder more experienced job seekers from securing new positions because of age discrimination.
5. Award & Honors
Awards and honors include any official recognition for outstanding service or accomplishments and include dean’s list, travel awards, scholarships etc.
6. Professional Affiliations
Membership in professional societies, organizations or clubs should be listed in a separate section entitled Society Membership and Professional Affiliations (Fig. 1).
7. Other Skills
When appropriate, it is okay to list (in a separate section) any extracurricular activities or specialized skills related to the job that may increase a candidate’s competitiveness.
All of a candidate’s authored publications should be listed on the last page of a CV in the in this section. Usually, this section is divided into three subsections: 1) Peer-reviewed papers; 2) Chapters, Books and Reviews; and 3) Oral and Poster Presentations (Fig. 1). Early career scientists need not include all of the categories if they lack the appropriate publications. Likewise, midcareer scientists may consider not listing oral and poster presentations. Publications ought to be numbered and it is appropriate to list papers that are “in press.” Manuscripts that are submitted should not be included.
As a rule of thumb, never send references to prospective employers unless they specifically ask for them. Simply indicate on the resume (usually immediately before the publications section; Fig 1) that references are “available upon request.” However, for most academic jobs it is customary for an applicant to send references at part of the original application package. For industrial jobs, references are generally not requested unless an employer is interested in moving forward with a possible job offer.
Tailoring Resume Writing
To be competitive, job candidates must routinely tweak and modify their resume writing to meet individual job requirements. One convenient way to tailor a CV to a specific job, is to read the job ads created for the opportunity. Employers always list the skills, qualifications and experience that will be required by the successful applicant (typically what is mentioned first is most important). Once identified, a resume ought to be modified with keywords to show that a candidate possesses all or most of the job qualifications and requirements.
Finally, keeping a resume current is vitally important. Resumes that are not fully up-to-date may suggest that a candidate is lazy or not interested in a particular job. Also, some job opportunities may appear quickly and the time required to update an out-of-date resume may prevent a candidate from competing for a job.
Before the advent of the internet, a cover letter was an essential requirement when applying for a job. These days, however, some companies may require a cover letter while others do not. Interestingly, in some instances, companies do not specify whether or not a cover letter is required; leaving the decision to include one (or not) up to you! That said, if a cover letter is optional in the job search, I highly recommend that you upload one with your resume when applying for a job. After all, it is just one more click to upload it to your online job application and it may make the difference between an interview or not.
Purpose of a Cover Letter
Cover letters offer jobseekers an opportunity (or an edge) to get noticed by employers. Typically, a cover letter is a written version of an “elevator pitch” that is used by jobseekers to extoll their skills, qualities, experiences and strengths that make them stand out from other job applicants. Put simply, it is a way for a job seeker to convince a hiring manager that he/she is the “right fit” candidate for a particular job. While the job market is currently a great one for job seekers in many disciplines, there are certain jobs (like the biotech and pharmaceutical jobs) that remain highly competitive and where a cover letter may be helpful to get your “foot in the door.”
Cover Letter Organization in the Job Search
First, it is not a bad idea to create a template cover letter. This will eliminate the need to rewrite one every time that you apply for a new job. However, it is important to note that the cover letter must be tweaked and tailored to each job that you apply for. This is because the requirements, expertise and qualifications may vary from job to job and your cover letter must reflect these differences.
Second, it is not unreasonable to address the cover letter to: “Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” That said, if you have the name of the hiring manager addressing the cover letter to them is a must.
Third, the first paragraph of a cover letter is intended to capture your career highlights. These include your top skills, past relevant work experience and achievements as an employee. The goal here is to convince the hiring manager that you would be a good fit for the job and what value you might bring to a company if hired. Also, when crafting this paragraph, it is advisable to include key words and phrases from the job description. This demonstrates attention to detail and mindfulness and may help to pique the interest of the hiring manager to consider you (rather than other job applicants) as a possible interview candidate. Finally, if you have an executive summary as part of your resume, you can simply incorporate it as part of the first paragraph of your cover letter.
Fourth, a second paragraph is optional but may include when you may be available to start, whether or not you are interested in onsite or remote work and any other information (additional skills, fluency in a foreign language, volunteer activities etc.) that you think would help you stand out from other job applicants.
Finally, close the cover letter by thanking them for their consideration and that you are looking forward to hearing from them soon regarding your candidacy.
Before You Hit Send
It is vitally important that the cover letter be spelled checked and read several times before uploading it and hitting the send button. Spelling, grammatical errors and poor sentence structure can doom a job application even though you may be a well-qualified candidate for a particular job.
The first step in any job search is to ensure that your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) are ready for submission to prospective employers. The following can help make resume writing simple. For those of you who may still be struggling with the difference between a resume and a CV, a resume is usually a 1-2 page synopsis of who you are, where you have been and what you have done. In contrast, a CV is a much longer document that does the same thing as a resume but in much greater and granular detail. For most scientific positions a CV is the preferred document style. However, in some cases, employers may request a resume so pay attention before you submit your application.
While most people believe that a resume or CV is simply a list of your education, skill sets and experience, there is a preferred style, format and way to write these documents that will enhance the possibility of securing an interview for the position. That said, it takes many years of writing and editing to perfect the process-something that many of you may not have time to do. If you are unsure about how to write a resume/CV or have not updated your “paper” in many years, the quickest way to begin applying for jobs is to hire a professional resume/CV writer to do it for you. Generally speaking, this will cost anywhere from $200-$500. Sadly, many graduate students and postdocs don’t have the money to invest in resume writing and in many cases are unable to craft a job winning resume/CV.
If you are unable to hire a resume writing professional, I came across a DIY solution called Scientific Resumes. This service company exclusively caters to graduate students and postdocs looking for resume/CV writing help. In addition to their automated self-help products, they offer resume proofreading services and likely customized resume/CV writing too. I have not used or carefully evaluated their products but it may be worth a visit to their website.