So, you really want to do a summer placement in the lab. You are in your – let me guess – penultimate year of studies from one of the best universities in the world and would like to gain research experience. You find the topic of sleep fascinating and perhaps you wrote a dissertation/small thesis as part of your coursework. Can I please find attached a copy of your CV stating your fantastic grades and your passion for violin and volunteering?
Now, while I am genuinely impressed by your achievements and passion, you must realize that I get emails similar to this one, AT LEAST twice a week; in the periods after exams, when people find they have more time to write, even more frequently.
I usually accommodate 1 student during the summer; very exceptionally two. I cannot commit to taking more. So, how do I go about choosing whom to offer the job if everyone looks identical on paper? The bottom line is: if you want to work with us in the lab, you have to impress me. You have to look different from everyone else and you have to be interesting and appealing to me. How you decide to do that is completely your business but be aware that a very generic email will not cut it. Not even remotely. Finding a summer research placement is a good exercise for the future task of finding a real job: you simply cannot assume that people will be sitting and waiting for your generic email to be sent.
Prove to me that you read all of our papers, explain why it is exactly my laboratory and not another laboratory working on a similar subject that you would like to visit. Give me a VERY CONVINCING reason: “I like neuroscience” is not a convincing reason. One note: I care about your grades only up until a certain point. Even if you are not the star of your class and in fact even if your grades are average, I will still consider your application fully and perhaps successfully provided that you will be able to impress me in some other way.
Examples of things that will impress me:
- Your letter of intents and/or your CV do not contain empty statements but impressive evidence: many start their CV with “I am a hard working individual with a passion for science blah blah blah”. Well, show me that. Walk the walk. Can you support your claims with some tangible evidence? If you cannot, your braggings are of no use to me, sorry. E.g.: If you are a programmer and you are passionate, send me a link to your GitHub account. Are you into neuroscience? Tell me why you think that one particular theory of consciousness is actually plain wrong or tell me about that one experiment you tried on yourself when you were a teenager.
- In the past two years, you were busy studying for your exams but you were so attracted to working in the lab that you actually started visiting the lab of Dr. so-and-so, and you have been working with them 1 or 2 days a week every week, helping on a project on blah, achieving this and that.
- Before starting university you worked for XXX in YYY, and you achieved ZZZ.
- You are attaching a two pages project proposal that is interesting and actually doable in the placement time-frame.
- Anything else that will make me understand you are different from the other 20 people who sent me a similar email in the past month.
Examples of things that will not impress me:
- You can use Microsoft Office and you can speak fluently your parents’ native language.
- You do not attach a CV to your email.
- The email you wrote to me could be so generic that you could send the same one to 100 lab heads, changing just a couple of sentences (the biggest no-no).
- You misspelt my name.
Procedure: how to apply.
Now, if what you have read so far makes you eager to apply, please do get in touch! I am looking forward to talking to you. Please send me an email clearly indicating your proposed start and end date in the lab and do so by the 28th February 2019. Good luck.
Carl Borufka, University of Vienna, Austria.
Arian Jamasb, Imperial College London. Currently PhD Student in Artificial Intelligence at Cambridge University ( http://jamasb.io/ )
Yizhou Yu, supported by a BBSRC bursary. Currently a third-year undergraduate student at Imperial College London.
Michaela Joyce, Liverpool University. Currently a PhD student in the lab.