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Nine CV Tips For Early Career Scientists


To make it as an academic scientist it’s crucial to make sure you’ve got all the skills you need to achieve your goals. Just have a look at the diagram here from the Royal Society about careers in and outside of science.

The Scientific Century - Securing Our Future Prosperity: Royal Society Policy Doc 2010
The Scientific Century – Securing Our Future Prosperity: Royal Society Policy Doc 2010

Whatever stage you’re at you’ll always be busy but putting all your time into the lab is short term thinking. If you want to progress in your career then think ahead and plan for the medium and longer term. It’s important to make time to actively engage in extra and different work that will help you in your scientific career. When you take part in varied work and put yourself out of your comfort zone then you’re likely to be gaining ‘soft’ or transferable skills that will increase your chances of success.

If you want to be an independent researcher what skills do you need and how do you get them? Here are some key pointers that will be very important to your progress and will help to improve your chances by enhancing your CV and your skillset.

1. Publishing
It’s essential to publish from your PhD and post doc as much as possible and in as high impact a journal as you can. Familiarise yourself with journals to understand what the different publishers are looking for and how papers are structured. Journal clubs offer an opportunity to analyse what makes a good paper. Keep up to date with current research in your field.
Always think about publishing – when you are planning or carrying out an experiment make sure that it’s publication quality, does it have the correct number of replicates, is the image neat and does it demonstrate what you want to show? When you’re writing reports make sure you practise using scientific language and figures have appropriate legends. You can learn by offering to proof read papers for your supervisor or colleagues and review papers from journals for publication.

Gain teaching experience
Gain teaching experience

It can be difficult to gain teaching experience, you might find you have to ask for the chance rather than waiting for it to come to you. Ways of building up this experience could include tutoring groups of undergrads, taking journal clubs, helping out with labs or working as a paid lab demonstrator. You don’t need to do a lot of lecturing but it’s good to be able to have some experience for your CV and that will then open up more opportunities for you.

3. Grants and Funding
To be an independent researcher you need to learn how to apply for funding successfully in a very competitive environment. You can start thinking about this as a PhD student, applying for travel grants and bursaries from funding councils and learned societies for yourself and writing applications for example for summer school grants. Applying for relevant fellowships will give you the opportunity to complete a full funding application; even if it’s unsucessful the first time it allows you to take part in the process to see how it’s done which will increase your chances next time round.
The next stage is asking your supervisor if you can contribute to their grant applications then to try to get involved in co-writing a larger grant, perhaps continuation funding for a grant you’re named on, co-writing it with your supervisor. Being a research co-investigator means you will be named on a grant and demonstrates that you’ve had a significant intelectual contribution to the science on the grant.

Learning Lab Techniques
Learning Lab Techniques

3. Lab Techniques
Is there a technique you need to learn? Then be proactive in going out to find a lab where it is available. Try to get a mentor; if you have to gain skills in a technique having someone who is an expert and spending time in their laboratory is invaluable in learning the technique and having a network of contacts for discussion and support afterwards. Look around as there can be travel budgets available to help with travel and accommodation costs. Manufacturers may also provide training for their own kit so it’s worth checking with them.

5. Leadership
Leadership is important to show you are able to manage projects and people. You can gain experience by managing projects and supervising others, managing people and getting team work experience. This may be through being active in societies or taking part in projects such as iGEM or the Microsoft Imagine Cup, attending training and programmes, volunteering, taking on leadership roles, supervising undergraduate students and summer students in your lab. Also take on roles in your universities post grad societies and post doctoral societies. Look for opportunities to mentor others, an excellent way of learning how to be a good mentor is to be mentored yourself. External leadership opportunities will give you transferable skills whether it’s through leading a sports team or voluntary work.

Raise your professional profile using social media
Raise your professional profile using social media

6. Raising your Profile
Build your profile in a range of different ways. Enter (and win!) competitions and awards such as the BBSRC YES entrepreneurship competition, scientific essay writing competitions, scientific image competitions and 3 minute thesis. Social media can play a significant part, if you enjoy writing consider starting to write a blog or tweet. If the tweets are clever or insightful then you’ll find yourself getting retweeted by research council and conference organisers helping to raise your profile positively. Keep your Linkedin profile up to date and it will keep your contacts informed of your career progress.
Gain experience by organising events and outreach which could range from organsing your own student led conference to TEDx events, BRITE club, cafe scientifique, and fundraising for research charities. This can increase your network massively as you’ll have to contact the speakers, organise and coordinate.

7. Presentation Skills
Practise presenting information by speaking in front of your group, doing a poster session and speaking at conferences. Offer to be the substitute if your PI is asked to speak at a meeting but is unable to attend. Gain confidence by attending training courses in structuring presentations and gain experience by attending public speaking groups such as Toastmasters which provides a supportive forum for practising your oral presentations.

Expand your range of contacts by networking
Expand your range of contacts by networking

8. Networking
Networking is about making connections based on a genuine interest and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with scientists and other people who can be helpful to your development and success. Good networking allows you to share and interact, leaving a positive impression and building your reputation as a scientist and colleague. Connecting with people can help you to find and create opportunities to collaborate, find work and build relationships. And most importantly reputations can be positive or negative, so it’s up to you to make a good impression.

9. Personal Career Development
Consider how you can learn and demonstrate other key skills such as self-management and prioritisation, planning your work, collaboration and multidisciplinary working. And think also about the importance of creativity, negotiation, team working and entrepreneurship. You can gain relevant experience on the job, off the job or by attending training sessions and workshops.

Sure it’s a lot of work but you’re not choosing a scientific career in academia for the 9-5! So let me finish with a quote from the writer Katherine Whitehorn she said: “The best advice to give to the young is, find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.”

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