You’re completing your doctorate and planning to apply to an academic institution to continue your research. What steps can you take with your application to improve your chances of being accepted?
I interviewed one of our busiest young faculty for his suggestions on this topic. David Rasko, PhD is an Assistant Professor, Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and a scientist at the Institute for Genome Sciences. David’s lab researches pathogen evolution using comparative genomics, with a focus on identifying new virulence factors. He has been expanding his lab since he came here in 2007, reviews many applications and shared some of his “do’s and don’t” tips:
•Get the basics correct!
Make sure you spell the person’s name correctly with their correct title. David has worked in different labs and has had a succession of titles. If he gets an application using a previous title, he knows that candidate hasn’t done their initial research very thoroughly. Since part of the candidate job description is attention to detail, you want to demonstrate thoroughness, especially in today’s competitive environment.
•Make sure you understand the focus of that scientist’s lab.
In David’s case, his lab works with enteric pathogens and microbial genomics. If a plant genomics researcher applies who is interested in shifting into microbial work, David will review and consider the application. But if someone applies to him who is interested in continuing their plant genomics research, then that tells him they are applying to the wrong lab.
•Write an excellent cover letter.
Scientists want their postdocs to help write papers, so you need to demonstrate your writing proficiency in your application. If you don’t know what a great cover letter should look like, David suggests that you talk to other postdocs for examples. You can ask your mentors for examples of cover letters that have impressed them. There are also great examples online.
•Customize your letter to match that person and that particular lab.
Sure, it’s more work but if you want a position, you can’t use a generic letter to multiple labs. It is time-consuming but it’s essential, and there are no short cuts. A mass generic letter just gets trashed. Look at that lab’s website. If you’re applying to a particular scientist, and you want to work with him / her, then you need to differentiate yourself from others who are also applying. Try to read at least one of their recent publications and be prepared to talk about the topics.
More to follow….