Wednesday, June 6, 2018

My Advice for Summer Research Placement Applications

Summer research experiences for undergraduates have been common in the US for years, and more recently have been growing in availability in the UK (where they are sometimes called "summer research placements"). They are one of the best ways to help obtain a PhD position where demonstrating your experience and ability in the research environment really helps.

As an undergraduate at Oxford I benefited from summer placements in two summer breaks. I spent the summer between my first and second years working at the Davis Planetarium at the Maryland Science Center (as part of the British University's North America Club, BUNAC exchange scheme), and in the summer between my second and third year I spent 10 weeks working with Duncan Forbes, then an academic at Birmingham University (which happens to be relatively close to where I grew up), on a project which resulted in my first ever published paper: "The elliptical galaxy formerly known as the Local Group: merging the globular cluster systems", Forbes, Masters, Minniti & Barmby 2000, A&A 358, 471.

I have also previously been in charge of organizing a summer research placement scheme (Summer Research Placements at the ICG, Portsmouth), and it has been a real pleasure to be able to help the current generation of undergraduates access different schemes.

Here are my top tips for summer placement applications, as well as making the most of a short talk/poster presentation which may follow:

Application Tips (many of these I assume apply to more than just summer placements):
  • Tailor your cover letter (at least a bit). A form letter is easy to spot, and probably worthless
  • Spell check.
  • Be open to different project possibilities, but honest about subject areas/placements that don't interest you.
  • Spell check.
  • It's extremely helpful if you include details of your results in different units. This helps us figure out which project may be most suitable for you.
  • Spell check.
  • Don't assume the person you are sending the application to is admin staff (especially if they are female).
  • Spell check.
  • Don't assume the person you are sending the application to is male (especially if they are female).
  • Spell check. 
  • In fact just address the letter to "Dear Prof/Dr. A. Non". Don't go with "Ms. A. Non", "Mr. A. Non", "Amy", "Andrew" or "Dear Sir".... No-one was ever offended by you being more formal than you needed to be, and I suggest you spend 5 minutes looking up who you are writing to (or if if you can't work it out go with "Dear Sir/Madam", or "Dear Summer Placement Organizer").
  • Spell check. 
  • Send your CV as a pdf, with a filename which includes your surname. 
  • don't use a personal email - your University should have provided you with an email you can use. 
  • list references up front, rather than list them as "on request".
  • Oh did I mention you should use the spell check on your computer (honestly I'm bad about this too, hence mentioning it so much. Correct spelling demonstrates you care about your application). 

Poster Tips:

  • Go for visual impression. It's likely your poster will be in a room with many posters, so you need to attract attention
  • Include some photos of what you did.
  • Don't put too much text - just the main points.
  • Make sure you can read all text if you print the poster A4 size - then it's about right for printing full size to go on the wall (and you can make handouts easilly if you want to). 
  • Include your email/photo/full name. 

Presentation Tips:
  • Say your FULL NAME, and the University you study at. 
  • Say the FULL NAME of the location of your placement, what they do, and what your project was
  • Describe your main result and/or something you enjoyed about the placement. Describe the implications of what you found (these may not be obvious). 
  • End with "If you'd like to know [more or something specific] come and see my poster, number XX".

No comments:

Post a Comment