How to Write a Persuasive Personal Statement

March 19, 2018

It that time of year when applicants to medical schools are feverishly writing and re-writing drafts of their personal statements for medical school in anticipation of applying in June. To help our readers with this awesome task, Dr. William Higgins, Pre-professional Advisor with the OITE, has provided some suggestions that will help you to make a stronger case in favor of your admission to schools.


To write a persuasive statement, Dr. Higgins encourages applicants to think about two main questions, “Why do I want to go into medicine?” and “How have I prepared myself to be successful?” In other words, applicants need to know that admissions committees are reading through thousands of essays looking for experiences that enabled you test the various roles (direct patient care, research, science, leadership, teamwork, service,) that a medical student and future physician will take on. Then you can select your key experiences that will persuade the admissions committee members that you have a strong foundation that has prepare you to succeed in medical school and as a physician.

When you are sitting down to begin writing your statement, Dr. Higgins urges you to stop and recognize that “generation of the content is a separate process from generating the actual text and words. Do not do them at the same time.”   Spend some time writing down and organizing your ideas and insight first. Then and only then, begin composing the text. Forego the writing strategies that are used in creative writing where you were “encouraged to use free writing, flowery language, complex sentence structures, and unfamiliar and artificial style.” For example, instead of writing write, “McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup” you would simply and directly write that, “McBride fell 12 stories…” Higgins suggests that a using logic and clearly worded statements to persuade your reader is appropriate because “medical or professional school essays must flow but don’t have to be a story.”

Dr. Higgins provides the following strategy to create a flowing and persuasive personal statement:

Step One: Do not write! Schedule time to generate the content.

  • DO NOT attempt to simultaneously brainstorm and start to write!
  • Find time when you are not under stress
  • Jot down your various ideas/experiences on notes (post-it notes) and place them on the wall or a large white board.
  • Use concrete examples from your life experiences that excite you

Step Two Choose key experiences and place them order that will create your argument

  • Organize your post-it notes on the wall
  • Select 1-2 themes of your essay
  • Then re-organize them determine the flow to persuade your audience
  • Start with the most important points (those that the admissions committees want to hear)
  • Note key phrases and catch words

Step Three: Start Writing Your Essay

  • Write an opening paragraph that forecasts what you are going to tell the reader during the statement.
  • Focus on key experiences. You don’t have to include everything. Do not rewrite your activities list.
  • Be clear and direct (i.e.: Tell them what you want them to know) No need for flowery language or many adjectives
  • Use the active voice and strong verbs.
  • Write often during scheduled times
  • Write positive statements and avoid negative ones. For example, don’t write, “I didn’t want to attend medical school or be a medical doctor initially…”
  • Eliminate unnecessary words such as, “Based on, In terms of, Studies have shown, Doctors are, It is thought to be, what happened was…”
  • Use correct punctuation
  • In the conclusion link back to your opening argument or thesis

Step 4  Proof Read and Edit

  • Put the essay away for 2 days before re-reading and editing
  • Read it aloud. TRUST YOUR EARS
  • Check for linearity
  • Underline the subject and verb in each sentence. Is the verb in the active voice, strong, appropriate for the subject?
  • Check each paragraph for structure, transitions, etc.
  • Check for continuity
  • Use spell check.
  • Schedule an appointment with a OITE advisor or counselor review your essay. Ask a peer.

Visit the OITE for all workshops and programs related to applying to professional schools. Seek similar services in your region or from your primary institution if you are part of our extended reading audience.


First Week on the Job in Industry

March 6, 2018

Congratulations!  You succeeded in landing your first position in industry after NIH and, like most trainees, you are experiencing a mix of emotions in anticipation getting started.   For many of you, not only is this your first “real job” after your graduate school and postdoc, it is your first job outside of academia.  This blog will provide suggestions of what to expect during your first week and offers some do’s and don’ts in support of a successful transition from the comfortable routine of NIH lab to the work world.



Week Prior

Like many adventures, preparation in advance will be essential to your success in your new position.  Give yourself at least one week’s time after you leave NIH to prepare to begin your new position. During this time, you can relocate, establish your new home, assemble your wardrobe, and take care of personal and family business. Complete any pre-work (articles, projects etc.) that your boss recommends before your first day.  Bring any forms of identification (usually two) for your first day. We also suggest carving out some personal time, to de-stress and engage in wellness activities so you can start your job refreshed.  Consider doing a practice commute before your first day to assure that you will be on-time and know the directions.  Typically, your new boss or HR manager will provide you with a place to report, a contact person, an itinerary of what to expect that day, and where to park (if needed).

First Day – Onboarding

You have arrived (preferably about 15 minutes early), are well-dressed, and are prepared to approach the day with a fresh positive attitude. More importantly, prepare to meet lots of people!   Your new supervisor (or someone that they appoint) will welcome you, introduce you to your co-workers, show you to your workspace, and take you to lunch.  You will also meet many important people (office assistants, IT, HR etc.) who are charged to get you prepared to communicate with your coworkers and succeed in the company.  Expect to fill out paperwork, get pin-numbers, get yourself established with payroll, establish an email account and telephone number, get ID cards, obtain security clearances, obtain parking passes, and obtain access to any facilities you will need.  Someone will take you on a tour of the facilities and escort you to any meetings that have been scheduled for you.  Also, expect to be enrolled (that day or in the first week) in a New Employees Orientation that will introduce you to company culture, provide you with instructions for how to enroll in benefits (Health, Dental, Vision, etc.),  and inform you of resources available to you as an employee.  During down time  settle into your new space, read any materials that you were given,  and enjoy some quiet time.  On your way home, be sure to say goodbye to your boss and team.

First Week – Establishing yourself as a team member

Beginning with your second day continue to get established in your new work environment by learning about your first work activities  and completingion of the onboarding process (most likely takes longer than one day).  Approach each new day with the goals of being alert, asking good questions, behave collaboratively, and to begin contributing to the team’s success (without overstepping).  The following are suggestions for the remainder of the week to help you become successful.

To Do

  • Meet your co-workers casually, in meetings, and over lunch. Prepare a short introduction to use including your new title, where you came from, and your department.
  • Begin to set up a calendar and To-do list that includes time to meet with your new supervisor and team.
  • Be observant and learn about office norms (arrival and departure, dress code, meeting etiquette etc.).
  • Attend all orientations that are scheduled for you and complete paperwork on time.
  • Look interested and be attentive in meetings. Ask many questions
  • Contribute to office discussions – minimally at first, but enough to show you are engaged
  • Begin a list of SMART goals to accomplish during your first 90 days

Things to Avoid

  • Don’t arrive late or leave early. Communicate with your boss or administrative assistant if there is a conflict (inclement weather, etc.) so they are aware.
  • Try not to call in sick or be absent unless it is crucial. Why? You need to earn sick leave.
  • Don’t use your cell phone or I pad, or earphones. This non-verbal behavior will be interpreted as aloof, closed off, disinterested and disrespectful.
  • Don’t sit in your office or eat alone. Seek out an opportunity to be a collaborator and team player
  • Don’t be silent. Add something to the conversations to show engagement in meetings
  • Don’t agree with office gossip or speak negatively about co-workers, work environment, boss, culture. It is better to say “thanks for the heads up”
  • Don’t ask your about future promotions additional positions in the company. Focus on the current position

Getting a new position in industry is exciting.  Following these simple suggestions can help you start off in a positive manner and be prepared for success.  Visit our videocast and learn more about starting a faculty position.   Feel free to chat with an OITE career services counselor to discuss starting your job in more detail.




Learn to Negotiate Before Your Interview

February 16, 2018

In recent weeks, many well trained and educated fellows have been offered positions in industry and other non-academic settings.  While that is good news, some were caught off guard because they were asked about salary requirements, start dates, or seemingly offered the position.  Traditionally, large corporations and academic departments extend job offers by telephone after the interviews are over and you are at home, eagerly awaiting the call.  However, during some industry interviews in small or medium sized companies, they may ask you these questions as part of the interview. They can be asked by a range of interviewers including hiring managers, scientists, CEOs or HR staff.  Understandably, trainees may feel unprepared to answer such questions during an interview, and therefore fear they are making a mistake that could cost them negotiating leverage and even the job.  Here’s how to prepare to professionally and confidently address these questions.


Assume the employer is in your corner  While tricky, this is a part of developing your relationship with the company and answering an interview question.  So approaching it from a positive place will benefit you.  When speaking with recruiters, many say that they are hoping to land the best and brightest talent and are eager to make you a good offer that you will accept.  Therefore, they are asking what you would like to have in advance, so they can begin to craft an appealing offer.

Learn how to negotiate and what is negotiable before you interview Review the archived OITE Careers blogs about preparing to negotiate and the ABC’s of Negotiation.  In general, this will help you to know the process.

Prepare to answer salary questions If you are asked about your salary requirements, you can craft a response based on your research of salaries for scientists in that area or company, and give a mid-range versus an actual salary number.  If they ask you about your current salary, you can be honest, and also remind them that it is for a postdoctoral fellow and not the current market rate for someone with your credentials.

Know when you can start  Before you interview for any job, think about what is an ideal start date for you.  Usually, it is preferred that employees provide a two-week notice of your departure from the job.  Typically, more time is often needed.  As a postdoc you will need to plan for transitioning your responsibilities in lab to help the PI continue in the research after your departure. Also factor in your time for packing and relocating.

Time to Evaluate the offer  Usually companies will give you one if not two weeks.  Don’t make a rushed decision or give them any indication that you have accepted the offer. It is to your advantage (and theirs) that when you accept the offer, you will be comfortable settling into the position.  We suggest reviewing the archived OITE presentation, and attending a future Industry: Negotiating Offers and Making the Transition workshop to learn how to evaluate an offer.  If you have other interviews scheduled that you would like to honor, it is good to be clear that you would like to honor those interviews before you accept the offer.

If you need further assistance, make an appointment with an OITE career counselor to ask questions and or have a mock interview appointment to practice your responses.  If you are part of our extended readership, contact a career professional in your institution or local area.

Handling Unanticipated Interruptions at Work

February 5, 2018


One of the most predictable workplace variables that successful scientists can learn to control for is an unexpected work interruption.   These breaks in service can range from changes in staffing and equipment malfunctions to anticipated breaks in the work due to the economy and/or inclement weather. Naturally, during such events (predictable or not), you will experience a range of reactions including awkward excitement, anxiety, fear, panic, frustration, anger or even avoidance and denial.  As a future professional, you will be expected to have the skills to manage such reactions and continue to act professionally as a leader. In fact, when you are applying to graduate/professional schools and jobs, you probably be asked questions about how you handle ambiguity or unanticipated changes in the workplace. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you cope with these disruptions in a positive way.

Accept the unexpected. Plan for it. Follow the leader.

You will handle workplace surprises with more confidence if you accept the reality that they will happen in general. To prepare yourself, ask your PI (or incorporate) plans to manage your research study. For example, if you are in a lab, review and follow established procedures for managing all aspects your research project during challenging times. If none exist, then consider taking the lead in designing a plan based on what you learn in the current situation. Feel free to consult others who have survived the interruptions in the past and follow their suggestions.

Heed the warning

Read your emails from administration, watch the news, listen to co-workers who you trust and your PI to be able to forecast interruptions. If you get advanced warnings, then take them seriously as discussed earlier. Avoidance will only increase your anxiety and leave you to struggle.

Take a deep breath. Be Optimistic

Communicate using a realistic and positive tone to your co-workers and subordinates to stay resilient during this time.  For example, you could say, “While this is inconvenient, we need put the following procedure in action to maintain the integrity and future focus of our project moving forward.” Also utilize reframe any negative thinking and shift to a can-do attitude. For example, shift from a typical woe is me response such as “I cannot believe this is happening to me,” or “this is ridiculous” to “I (we) can handle this. Let’s put a plan together to keep the work moving forward”

Respond professionally

Using the problem-solving strategy of emotionally detaching and focusing on the moment will allow you to stay calm and in control of your emotions, and analyze the situation. Focusing on what is lost or interrupted has the potential will give the impression that you are ill equipped to handle change and ambiguity. By focusing on the present situation and setting up a plan, this will engage you in moving towards the future and communicate trust and optimism from your co-workers.

Take care of yourself. Practice wellness.

In these situations, be sure to factor in your personal wellness as part of the plan. In OITE, we encourage you to practice self-care during these times and suggest that you read and incorporate the strategies suggested Dr. Sharon Milgram’s blog about how to keep stress from derailing your work and life. For those of you who may have anticipate a break in work, we suggest viewing Michael Sheridan’s Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs article, Waiting is Hard to Do, for suggestions on incorporating wellness activities while waiting.   These plans can include taking walks, going to a movie, or even seek counseling to help you cope.

If you feel that you need further support, feel free to utilize all OITE workshop, counseling, and advising services to help you manage during these times. Our extended readers are encouraged to utilize similar resources in your area.

Tips on Applying for Federal Jobs:  Take Your Time and Do It Right

January 31, 2018

In recent weeks, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies have posted several positions for scientists that have captured the attention of interested fellows.  To help you prepare, the Office of Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you view the NIH YouTube video, How to Apply for a Job with the US Government.   In addition, here are some additional tips to help you prepare a strong federal job application.  It takes time to review applications and fill out the application.

Where are the positions and what GS level should I apply to as a Post Doc?

All positions are posted in  There may be several positions posted that look similar so be sure to apply to those that are marked “Public” in the right-hand column if you are not employed in the federal government.  Post docs are not qualified for MP (Merit Promotion) positions because it requires that you are a current federal government employee seeking promotion. Most postdocs apply for GS (General Service) 12-13 positions.  

Am I qualified for these jobs?  Read job description and the Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.

We recommend that you read the OITE careers blog on how to read federal job advertisements.  Note that for federal jobs, there is a job description with qualifications and a required Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.  Before you apply, we recommend printing (or saving a copy) of each  job so you can highlight important skills including soft-skills (team, communication, leadership, etc.) that are required for each position.  Later, when completing your application, it is crucial that you use the skills to assure you’re your resume is evaluated by the reader.  On the questionnaire, be sure to give yourself credit by indicating the highest rankings of your skills and abilities and be sure that they are clearly stated on your resume.

 How much time should I spend on this? What kind of resume should I use?

Don’t rush.  Give yourself ample time to apply.  Carve out 2-4 hours (at least) to complete the federal application profile and enter the information.  While you have the option to upload a resume after you complete the profile, an HR reviewer recommended that applicants should use the federal resume builder because this is the format that they are accustomed to reviewing. Pay close attention to the suggested formatting (no use of bullets, use CAPS for keywords, using accomplishment statements).  Follow the tutorial suggestions on the website has clear directions for how to complete a federal resume.

I am a busy Post Doc.  How can I best invest my time?

Completing the federal resume will require that you have access to a lot of information (beyond that of a traditional resume) when completing your application.  You will be investing wisely because there is no page limit, and the more you enter will have a direct impact on the salary level and offer that you will be made. To save time, before you apply, collect important documents such as copies of your transcripts, previous employer information address, salary, hours per week, previous supervisors’ name and phone number.  Also collect the contact information for the references that you will use.  You should include all training, relevant to the job, certifications, patents, skills grants, awards, leadership, the sciences from undergraduate through your post doc years.

 How can I make my experience stand out?  

As mentioned, be sure to follow the formatting described in the federal resume builder Be sure to utilize the skill words that you highlighted in the job description on your resume and give specific accomplishments.  Here are two examples to help guide you (Please do not copy)

Example 1:     Ability to collaborate widely, both within NIH and outside the agency, and to work effectively as both a team member and team leader.

Collaborated widely both inside and outside of the NIH.  Managed scientific collaborations with a lab in another Institute at the NIH and additionally with the University of Texas. Team leader to set up timelines, phone calls, reagent swaps. Team member to strategize scientific directions, troubleshoot research challenges, perform experiments, and write publication.

Example 2: Scientific and administrative management of a portfolio of grants, contracts, and fellowships including the stimulating, planning, advising, directing, and evaluating of program activities of research awards.

Plan, advise, direct and evaluate scientific activities. Plan projects for self and team to understand the movement of group II introns. Advise peers and supervisor on best course of scientific direction including advocating to use a new method for understanding a scientific question. Direct a technician and masters student in daily activities including setting weekly goals, monitoring progress and adjusting experiments based on data collected. Evaluate scientific activities to understand biological mechanisms, troubleshoot challenges, provide options for new scientific methods, write reports and other publications.

After you have followed the suggestions above, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career services counselor .  There are also many web-based and written guides, feel free to visit the OITE library and reviewing several helpful resources on applying for federal jobs including a Troutman’s The Federal Resume Guidebook, 6th Edition to see additional federal resume examples.  For our readers beyond the NIH, we suggest working with a career counselor in your area or through your university and visit your local library or bookstores.

The Way to Go: SMART Career Resolutions

January 8, 2018


Happy New Year!  It is that time of year to make career resolutions that you will accomplish during the next 12 months.  Two years ago, in the New Year Careers Blog we suggested that trainees make an appointment with a career counselor.   This year, to be more confident that you will accomplish your career goals , we suggest that you utilize the SMART goals strategy, Specific,Measurable, Achievable, Results driven, Time-specific when creating your resolutions.  Using this strategy will take you further..faster!  Here are some detailed examples for fellows to consider as you create your career resolutions for 2018.


General Resolution:        Apply or re-apply to Medical School

SMART Resolution:          By June 15, 2018 I will submit my completed error-free AMCAS or AACOMAS application for admission to medical school. I will have attended an OITE Applying to Medical School workshop, had a personal statement critique, reviewed and edited my AMCAS application, used MSAR to  identify a list of 15 medical schools (3 reach schools, 10 within in range and 2 safety schools), achieved my MCAT score goal by June 1, 2018 (before I apply), obtained all letters of references needed, have obtained sufficient direct patient care, research, and leadership experience.

Graduate Students

General Resolution:         Apply for postdocs

SMART Resolution:          On June 2, 2018 (or 6 months prior to completion of my doctoral degree of my) I will apply for at least 4 postdoctoral research fellowships with a clean, critiqued, error-free CV, application letter, research statement that I created utilizing OITE career counseling, workshops resources, talks with my PhD advisor, NIH PI, science professional associations, and researchers that I meet at conferences.

Postdocs, Visiting and Clinical Fellows

General Goal:                                    Start applying for jobs

SMART Academic Resolution:     One June 1, 2018 (or eight months prior to the last day of my post doc) I will apply for 2 academic jobs with an CV, Cover Letter, Research and Teaching statements, and a well-developed job talk presentation that have been critiqued by OITE staff and my PI.

SMART Industry Resolution:        One June 1, 2018 (or 6 months before post doc ends) I will apply to jobs in a chosen industry with my resume, cover letter that has been reviewed by an OITE career counselor. I will have had a mock interview for industry positions, attended the Career Symposium in May 2018, conducted 3 informational interviews

Please join the OITE team for our January Wellness event,  Setting Goals for the Upcoming Year, on January 18, 2018, 2:00-3:30pm, Building 50 Room 1227.


Waiting is Hard to Do

December 18, 2017

Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs,

It is December 2017, and while many are preparing for holidays, if you are trainee, you are probably asking yourself, “I haven’t heard back from a number of medical schools, is there something I can do to move them along? Should I assume I won’t get in?  Will I get an interview at the graduate programs that I applied to?  I am waiting to hear from academic positions …is there anything I can do?  The good news is that, if you haven’t heard anything yet, you are still being considered. With the holidays fast approaching, it is probable that most communication will resume in the new year.  The reality is that waiting for a response is hard thing to do.


Dr. Michael Sheridan, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs offers some strategies to help and writes that an area to be aware of while you wait is what is going on in your mind – specifically, the “inner chatter” that is present. It’s important to realize that you “talk” to yourself more than anyone else and thus, what you are saying makes a difference.  There are two particular qualities of this inner chatter to be mindful of – the “when” and the “what.”

The “when” of your inner dialogue refers to how much the mind is focused on either the past (“I wish I had remembered to put X in my application.” “I should have had so and so critique my letter before I sent it.”) or the future (“What will I do if I don’t get any interviews?” “If I don’t hear back from them by the end of this week, it means I didn’t get in”).  The reality of both past and future musings (or let’s face it, worrying) is that it is truly wasted effort as you can’t change something that’s already happened and you can’t predict what is going to happen in the future!  The only moment you have any control of is the current moment – and even then, I’m talking about control of your own thoughts and behaviors – not the actions of others or the eventual outcome.  Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t lowers anxiety and builds confidence.

The “what” of your inner chatter has to do with the overall message or tone of what you are saying to yourself.  Are your thoughts harshly self-critical? (“I know I did a terrible job on that personal essay – I probably sounded really stupid”) Do they have a doomsday or “catastrophizing” flavor to them? (“I didn’t get this position, which means I won’t get any of the others I applied for either”)  Or are they balanced and positive? (“I know I won’t get accepted by everyone, but I probably won’t get rejected by everyone either” -“I’ve done the best I can and I can handle whatever the next step needs to be”).  A good thing to cultivate during the waiting is compassionate self-talk, or treating yourself with “the same kindness, care, and concern that you would treat a good friend” (Dr. Kristen Neff, So notice what you’re saying to yourself and if it is not supportive, ask yourself if you would say this to a good friend.  Chances are, you would offer something more encouraging, so try being your own good friend!

In addition to Dr. Sheridan’s suggestions above, we invite you to visit our most recent blog, where we suggested some activities to engage in during the holidays that will help you prepare to continue pursuing your career goals in 2018.  Also, be sure to visit our OITE web page as well to attend workshops and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.  If you are one of our extended community readers, please check with your home institution and local resources for career services. We will see you in 2018!