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.


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.

Building Bridges Towards Your Career During the Holidays

December 11, 2017

holiday spirit

Cheers! The months of November and December is the time, annually, when workers from the NIH and across the globe take time to celebrate and relax.  During this time, the communication between future job and graduate school opportunities slow down for a couple of weeks.  Even if your research is continuing, PIs and trainees may take a few days off.   This will give you an opportunity to schedule some time and focus on your career development.  Of course, the OITE’s wellness model encourages scientists to have a healthy balance between work and time to replenish your mind, body, spirit and connections with others.  Here are some easy career development activities that trainees can easily schedule in, that will build your career spirit!

Re-kindle professional relationships

During the next few weeks utilize the relaxed schedule to continue developing and reconnecting with your colleagues who will enjoy learning about your status and future goals. Send a holiday card, set up a coffee chat or phone call to re-connect with mentors to strengthen your professional relationships You can also carve out some time to conduct an informational interview, gain clinical and volunteer experience.  Discuss your career plans with others (verbally) to build your confidence articulating your professional career goals while gaining support.

Read! Read!  Read!

Read at least two hours per day will serve you personally and professionally. In fact, reading is one of the recommended methods to help applicants prepare for the MCAT CARS section and interviews.  You can read a variety of media including short stories, novels, newspapers, and professional journals and news magazines to you will increase your ability to read critically and more quickly and effectively.  It will also keep you up-to-date on current issues in your field and in the world.

Revise your resume, CV, cover letters and practice interviewing

Use portion of the time to update your job search correspondence materials including your CV, resume, cover letters and other application materials while at a coffee shop or watching TV. While it is time consuming, it is a necessary part of managing your anxiety about applying to jobs or graduate schools in the future.  Allowing yourself the time to practice interview questions with a trusted friend, family, or colleague can help you hone your skills in this area as well.

Review and update your social media profiles

Employers and graduate schools admissions staff often review the social media sites of their applicants. This is an excellent time to manage your on-line image.  Create and update your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Set privacy controls, add professional photos and delete any questionable language and images.   This is a time to connect the image that you want to project in 2018 electronically and in person.

Re-energize with physical activity

Whether it is cold, warm, snowy or balmy, the holidays are great times to enhance your physical well-being through active or mindful exercises. These activities will strengthen your ability to be a strong co-worker and have a positive outlook.  Take a walk, jog, dance, listen to music and/or take time to breathe.  If you must be indoors, then go to the gym, swim, engage yoga or mindfulness activities are wise uses of time.

Also, as you are building your professional bridge to success, retool by visiting the OITE website and read through the selection of blog articles, videocasts, and other materials that are designed to prepare you as professional scientists. When you return, you will have engaged in the four areas of the OITE wellness model and begin 2018 with refreshed and strengthened career goals!


Handling Telephone Communication During Interview Season

November 7, 2017

Now that you have applied for positions or graduate schools, the next step is that you will be contacted to set up interviews.  While many recruiters and faculty utilize email as the primary form of communication, there is still a great possibility that you will be contacted by telephone.  It important that you handle all communication in a professional manner to make the best impression possible. Here are some suggestions to help you!


Prepare your environment and support people for the calls in advance.

  • Record a professional greeting for your cell and land line so if you are away from the phone, your callers are greeted properly.

Suggested Script: “Hello you have reached the cell phone of {your name}.  I am unable to take your call right now.  Please feel free to leave a message with your phone number.  I will return your call as soon as I am able.”

  • Let the phone go to the answering message If you are in a lab meeting, sick, asleep, taking care of children, driving, or in a busy noisy place, Call back soon afterwards.
  • Put the organization and into your phone contacts- then if someone calls, it will show up.
  • Ask your roommates and family members to answer the phone politely and to take messages if they answer your phone. Give them a script if you need to.

Suggested Script:  Hello?  (Your first and last name) is not here right now. May I take a message? Thank you for calling.”

Train yourself to answer all calls with a greeting and your name.  Avoid answering with colloquial phrases or sounds such as “Hey” “Yeah,” or saying, “uh huh,” “right,” no problem” during the interview.

Suggested Script “Hello…this is Bill.”

If you are in a noisy place when the phone rings

  • Let the call go to your pre-recorded message. Listen to the message, then return the call shortly afterward when you are in a quiet place.
  • If you answer, and it becomes noisy call them back.
  • Do not put the caller on hold.

Suggested script: “I am sorry, but some unexpected noise just started, may I return your call shortly.  Thank you”

Address the caller with their appropriate title and use last name.

  • Use Dr., Mr., or Ms., and the caller’s last name (e.g. Dr. Smith)

Be enthusiastic throughout the entire call.

  • Try Smiling when you answer and talk on the phone
  • Sound enthusiastic. Don’t’ let any feelings of depression, irritation, anger, or fatigue creep into your voice.

Suggested Script: “I am happy to hear from you XYZ” or “I look forward to communicating with you further about the position.”

End the call professionally and enthusiastically. 

Suggested script: “Thank you for calling” or “I am happy that you called.  I will follow- up with you with the items that you have requested. It was nice to speak with you.”

We invite you to review or various blogs about  interviewing for a variety of positions. Please visit our website to make an appointment with a career counselor, register for workshops, or watch videos to help you prepare.


Writing the Teaching Statement

September 28, 2017

As you prepare a your written application materials to use when entering the Academic Job Market, in addition to the standard Curriculum Vitae (CV), Cover Letter,  and a diversity statements, you may be asked submit a Teaching Statement .  In general, teaching statements help search committees gain an understanding about how you approach teaching courses in your academic discipline.  This statement, that will include your philosophy towards teaching science,  will give the reader a concise synopsis of the underpinnings and origins to your approach to teaching followed by the strategies you plan to use, and examples and evidence of your success. The authors of,  The Academic Job Search Handbook (5th Edition), write that the Teaching Statement can be described as, “…a brief essay that will give a hiring committee an idea of what you actually do in the classroom. You will need to make some general statements but be sure to give some examples of things you have already done, or at least seen in practice, rather than give examples that are entirely hypothetical.”.

The NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you watch our video casts on the Academic Job Search Process  before writing your statement.  Strong teaching statements will:

  • show clear evidence that you can “walk the walk”.
  • communicate that you are student-centered.
  • showcase your ability to teach to diverse learning styles
  • demonstrate your ability to reflect about your role as a teacher.
  • convey your enthusiasm for teaching.

For beginning instructors, Science Magazine provides some specific tips to the academic scientist who is starting the job market. The AAAS makes several suggestions to impress the search committee that include tailoring it to the institution, drawing form your personal experience learning science, and discussing what courses you would like to teach.  To help you get started, jot down your responses to the following reflective questions as you begin or re-evaluate your teaching statement:

  • Think back …Who or what experiences have influenced your approach to teaching?
  • How do you teach science? How do you motivate students to learn?
  • Do you teach differently to undergraduates, graduate, professionals?
  • What methods, materials, techniques, technology will you use to support your teaching goals
  • How will you teach to diverse audiences?
  • Describe creative methods to teach in your field?

If you are new to teaching or need more experience teaching, the OITE offers the course Scientists Teaching Science  that is an excellent program to help you begin to strategize and develop the skills for teaching in the profession including developing a teaching philosophy.  If taken, this can be included as training in your teaching statement and on your CV.


Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

September 18, 2017

We are going into the archives to re-post this blog for those of you who are in the process of applying to professional schools.

OITE Careers Blog

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates…

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Getting a Faculty Job – Revisited

August 14, 2017

We are reaching into the archives to update the August 2013 blog post, “Getting a Faculty Job.”   Starting in August, a large share of faculty jobs will begin accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  Here are some key elements of the academic job search to consider before you apply:

  1. What type of educational institution is appealing to you?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a four-year liberal arts environment, (like Swarthmore College) or community college.  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service and obtaining tenure. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.  Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their domestic and international academic openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Identify universities that have strong research programs in your field who may have positions open.  Utilize your professional network with faculty at professional meetings, conferences, and visit their websites to learn about future position openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package that will include several elements.
    a.   Curriculum Vitae (CV )– a record of your academic career.  Your CV, as described in the OITE Resume and CV Guide, will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.
  1. b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is tailored to the job for which you are applying.  The OITE also publishes a Cover Letter guide document that shows several examples to explain why you are interested in establishing your career at that university, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.
  2. c.   Research Statement/Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years that is similar in format to what you would use for a grant submission with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.
  3. d.   Teaching Philosophy/Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a hiring committee a visual of your approach (philosophy, learning outcomes, methods, skills, texts etc.) to teaching students in that subject matter. Include specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.
  4. Diversity Statement – In recent years, several universities request a written statement that addresses such questions your past and future contributions to diversity through research, teaching, and service. You may be asked to link this to the mission of the college and university as well. Go ahead and consult the diversity statement blog from 2016.
  5. Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.
  6. Practice Academic InterviewsIt is important to practice answering questions for academic interviews. Most often these interviews will be on campus, however, in some instances they may be conference interviews. The key to this is to research the university/college before you interview to avoid any interview gaffes. This also involves preparing and rehearsing for your job talk presentation and addressing any challenging questions.  We recommend practicing with scientists in your field who can provide helpful suggestions and pose questions that you may encounter during your interview.

Creating strong application documents and active preparation are keys to success in the academic job search market.  We encourage you to attend academic job search workshops and programs offered by the OITE.  In addition, the counselors can help you with preparation and encourage you watch our OITE video casts online including the Academic Job Search Overview prior to scheduling appointments. For those of you beyond NIH, consider setting up a practice interviews with your home institution’s academic department or career center.