phd leaving academia

Divorcing Academia: Changing the PhD Mindset

By Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I made up my mind. I was dropping out of graduate school. I was going to leave with my Masters degree, get a job, get paid, and leave academia behind forever. I was so excited about the possibility of escaping the bench that I couldn’t think about anything else.

I lined up a few jobs, told a couple of close friends, and started putting my plan into motion. But then my excitement wore off. I wasn’t sure what to do next. How do I drop out, exactly? Do I just give my academic advisor two-week notice, or what? There was nothing in the student handbook about this.

A few days later, as I was still gaining the courage to quite, I got an email from one of the deans. He wanted to meet. One of my friends told him that I was planning on dropping out. Why did he care? I walked down to the Dean’s office and he called me in. “Do you need money? I mean, we all need money but do you need money?” This is what he asked.

No, I guess I don’t need money. I mean, I was poor and unhappy and just filed government assistance because I was having trouble paying for groceries but I wasn’t living in a cardboard box or anything. There were thousands of reasons why I wanted out of graduate school, but I didn’t say any of them. Instead, I said that I didn’t want to stay in academia. I wanted to transition into an alternative career.

“Come here,” he said. Then he walked over to his computer and pulled up a job website listing dozens of biotech and biopharma industry positions: “PhD required, PhD required, PhD required, PhD required, PhD required, PhD required.” …I got the point. Most of the postings preferred job candidates with a PhD. I didn’t realize there were so many options for PhDs outside of academia. My mindset about my career and the potential of my PhD changed right there in that moment.

Too many PhDs lose themselves in academia.

Before entering into academia, many PhDs know exactly who they are and what they want.

Then, over time, these same PhDs start to lose themselves in the academic routine. They get pushed down by the thankless grind of trying to publish. They get lost in the uncertainty of when they might finally graduate. They see the numbers like >60% of PhDs and >80% of Life Sciences PhDs will NOT have a paying job at graduation (The Atlantic), >99% of PhDs will NEVER be tenured professors (Royal Society), and 43% of PhD students will NOT get their PhD within 10 years of starting graduate school (CBS News). As a result, they become hopeless. They lose their confidence and their optimism about their future.

According to a report by the Royal Society, the proportion of PhDs who now manage to secure academic tenure positions is only 1-in-200. That’s right - academia only provides a future for 1 out of every 200 PhDs. Yet, if things are so bad in academia, why do so many PhDs choose to stay in academia after getting their degrees? The reason so many PhDs stay in academia after getting their degrees is because they’ve learned to limit their futures. They’ve been trained to have a limited mindset in academia. They’ve been trained to accept less than they are worth.

They’ve heard things like “things are getting better in academia” “if you leave academia you are a sell-out” and “you’ll never get a job outside of academia” over and over again. The only way PhDs can open themselves up again to all the possibilities available to them is by changing their mindset. They must change their mindset from limit and lack, to opportunity and options.

There are a number of limits that PhDs place on themselves in academia. One such limit is that high unemployment rates for PhDs mean that every PhD should accept whatever postdoc he or she can get. It’s true - the employment numbers for newly graduated PhDs do not look good. Over 30%-40% of PhDs are unemployed at graduation. This, coupled with the fact that graduate students and postdocs have a 1% chance of getting tenure now, can make PhDs feel isolated. These PhDs have made a decision to work hard, to create knowledge, and to make a difference. Yet, their futures seem bleak. As a result, most of these PhDs desperately accept any low-paying postdoc you can find.

The only way for a PhD to avoid this fate is to realize that he or she is not alone. Every PhD is worried about their future. Yet, every PhD has a future. Yes, the academic landscape is changing. Academic jobs are disappearing. But PhDs are still in high demand. There are over 22,500 new industry researchers and over 7,000 new government researchers right now (International Forum For Cell Biology). These industries are expanding.

PhDs may not be able to get tenure as easily as in the past, but they still have many options that will allow them to do meaningful work and get paid well for it.

If you leave academia, you’re a sell-out and can never do “real” science again.

How many PhDs have been told this? Too many. Too many graduate students and postdocs stay stuck in academia because they’re afraid of leaving science behind. They feel this way because these PhDs have dedicated their lives to research and study, and they falsely assume that transitioning into an alternative career track means turning their backs on their love of learning. The truth is that very often PhDs can do even more learning in alternative career tracks. PhDs can get access to better equipment and higher-level knowledge outside of academia than they can inside of academia. Again, the academic landscape is changing. Academia as a whole no longer has access to the highest level information in most fields. Instead, this information is often only available in industry and government positions. Moreover, these positions pay very well. PhDs should understand that it is now possible to make good money and do great research at the same time.

Changing your mindset is not easy. This is especially true if you are a PhD who has spent the last 20-30 years in academia. If academia is all you have ever known, you will have an academic mindset. PhDs in today’s world and job markets do not need to leave this mindset behind entirely, but they do need to expand it. PhDs have opportunities available to them today that they never had before, and they should seize these opportunities. But first, they must believe that they can seize them. These PhDs must know their own value and must leverage their value to the careers and lifestyles that are right for them.


Dr Isaiah Hankel is the founder of Cheeky Scientist, a one stop shop for PhDs wanting to transition out of academia and into industry.


Escape from Exhausting Learning and Insufferable Experiences: Sleep May Do the Trick


By Yue Liu

A 2004 film, 50 First Dates, depicted a romantic story about how the hero won the love every day from the heroine, who suffered from a fictional form of anterograde amnesia and lost her previous day’s memories after every single night. In reality, a unique form of human amnesia, sharing great similarities with that afflicting the heroine in 50 First Dates, was reported in 2010: after a car accident, the patient FL could recall events that had happened before the accident and remember things from the same day after the crash, but she could not register memories in her brain from the previous day after a night’s sleep. What had happened to those memories during her sleep?

The role of sleep in memory has been stated in a “two-stage” model: During the day, we temporarily store a remarkable amount of information in the hippocampus, a brain area named for the structural resemblance to the seahorse. While we sleep, the hippocampus gradually gets disengaged, and memories are handed over to the neocortex for long-term storage. In brief, we consolidate our reminiscences during sleep by transferring them from the hippocampus to the neocortex. If the transferring process during sleep is disrupted, as may be the case of the patient FL, temporary memories will be lost, whereas permanent memories that are already stored in the neocortex will remain intact.

In this month’s issue of Nature Neuroscience, Michaël Zugaro’s lab in France provided the first direct evidence for this two-stage model of memory. They observed a fine temporal coupling of oscillating activities between the hippocampus and neocortex in animals during deep sleep. When the animals’ learning periods (20 minutes) were long enough to trigger memory consolidation, the oscillatory coupling between the hippocampus and neocortex during sleep became stronger. However, when the learning periods (3 minutes) were too short, the strength of the hippocampo-cortical coupling did not increase; thus, the memories could not be consolidated. Interestingly, in the latter animals, boosting the hippocampo-cortical dialogue during sleep promoted memory consolidation, which otherwise would not have happened due to the short learning period.

This study offered the first causal link between the hippocampo-cortical dialogue during sleep and memory consolidation. It may also invigorate a fantasy: Can we learn much more quickly (in 3 rather than 20 minutes)? Can we study less during the day and receive a special electrical therapy during the night that can selectively enhance the hippocampo-cortical oscillatory coupling? Someday, an electrical device may be hooked up to a human brain to monitor and record electrical activities associated with various experiences. We may program the device to tighten the hippocampo-cortical coupling during the night for a specific experience, to strengthen that particular memory.

How about erasing a particular memory during sleep? In another 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, finding their relationship did not work out, a couple turned to a special procedure, which wiped out their memories about each other during sleep while their romantic episodes replayed. The basis of this fantasy procedure may be the vulnerability of memories while they are replayed during sleep. Human imagination may propel scientists to develop a strategy that can make erasing memories possible in reality. Someday, we may ease some insufferable emotional pain, such as that resultant from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), by disrupting the replay of fear, stress, or anxiety associated memories.

When science and technology can make it possible to easily save and delete our memories, we may escape from laborious learning and unpleasant memories just by clicking “save” or “delete” on electrical devices connected to our brains. But remember, our memories sculpt who we are. After this technological intervention, will you still be you?



Get to know the Scientista Foundation!


By Lakshini Mendis

The “leaky pipeline” model describes the high attrition rate of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), which happens at every step of the way, from getting interested in science and math in elementary school, through doctorate, postdoc, and career steps. There had been much progress in recent decades to advance women in STEM, with many organizations focusing on professional women or young girls.

However, while attending Harvard, sisters, Julia and Christina Tartaglia, both biology majors, noticed a lack of resources, community, and role models, for college women in science and engineering. The Tartaglia sisters decided to tackle this problem and create a one-stop resource for college and graduate women. After placing as a Harvard College Innovation Challenge semifinalist and winning a Harvard TECH prize, they launched The Scientista Foundation, a platform and national network that addresses the needs of pre-professional women in STEM, in 2011.

Since its founding, Scientista has successfully expanded to 10+ campuses, with its first international chapter launching in Newcastle earlier this year. It is currently the largest network of campus women across STEM disciplines and has been named amongst the "Top 12 Amazing Organization for Women in STEM" by Enable Education. Scientista has also launched a successful intercollegiate Research Symposium, and has started partnerships with major organizations and media companies, including The Huffington Post and the Association of Women in Science.

In addition to providing a network for collegiate women through its chapters and conferences, the Scientista Foundation also provides content, from education and career advice, to maintaining a good work/life balance, to empower pre-professional women in STEM. The blog also provides visible role-models by reviewing recent research, which has been led by women, in the Scientista DiscovHER section, and interviewing women in STEM who at various stages of their career.

Scientista is helping build a cohesive network of women, who can act as one voice to overcome the persistent hurdles to the advancement of women in STEM.

This article was written by Lakshini Mendis, Editor-in-Chief of the Scientista Foundation blog.


The Most Important Thing on Your Resume: The Executive Summary

The Most Important Thing on Your Resume: The Executive Summary


By Rudy Bellani, PhD and Zach Marks

Co-founders of Oystir

This is the second in a series of posts by former recruiters and co-founders of Oystir, a new free service helping STEM PhDs find non-academic jobs.


In our last post, we laid out the basics of how to write a winning resume. Today, we discuss what we have found to be the most impactful part of a resume, and the one most PhDs leave off: the executive summary.


An executive summary is a short statement at the top of your resume that quickly summarizes what makes you the right candidate for the job. We recommend 3-5 punchy sentences (more on what they should say later) that emphasize your most relevant strengths and experiences and make the best case for why you are uniquely qualified for the job. In this post, we’ll cover why you need an executive summary and how to get started writing one.


Why do you need an executive summary?

 Why Your Resume Needs an Executive Summary? Tweet this image!
Why Your Resume Needs an Executive Summary? Tweet this image!

1) Quickly articulates your value – “the elevator pitch”

Imagine you were in an elevator for 30 seconds with the hiring manager. What would you say to convince them to hire you? That is your “elevator pitch.” This is the purpose of your executive summary. We recruiters love it. As a hiring manager, I can read 3-5 sentences and know if you’re qualified. You save me time and effort. The great benefit for candidates is that you control your story and get to make the case why you’re a great candidate, instead of relying on my interpretation of your history of experiences.

The first thing recruiters see is what is up-front and center. This is also the section they will spend the most time on. So it is crucial you put the most important information they need to see up front in an executive summary.

From the beginning, list the most important pieces of information that demonstrate how you are uniquely qualified for the job. This will hook the hiring manager and make them want to read more about you.

Consider the two example resumes below (name and institutions have been changed). They are both the same person – a postdoc applying for a scientist job that requires experience with CRISPR/Cas9 technology, leadership and management. In the version with an executive summary, the candidate quickly summarizes his background as an accomplished molecular biologist with major publications, then highlights his experience CRISPR/Cas9, and emphasizes evidence of his ability to manage (mentoring students) and lead (co-founding a program). In the version without an executive summary, the recruiter doesn’t get any of that color. Worse still, by leading with education instead of experience, the recruiter has to get past the first third of the page to see if the person has any gene editing experience or has demonstrated leadership or management. You took 2 of the 7 seconds I was going to spend on your resume and wasted it with low-value information.

PhD Resume without Executive Summary
PhD Resume without Executive Summary. Click on the image to enlarge.
PhD Resume with Executive Summary
PhD Resume with Executive Summary. Click on the image to enlarge.


2) Makes you stand out from the crowd: Emphasizes strengths and highlights transferable skills

When you apply for a job, your resume will likely be one of a long stack under review. It is essential that you stand out from others and don’t blend into the crowd. By leading with your education or your postdoc, you make it difficult for the recruiter to identify how you are different than anyone else – there are a lot of PhDs. Make that job easier for them by making your relevant skills and experiences pop out at them up front in an executive summary. Recruiters will thank you for not making them go digging through your resume to figure out what makes you qualified and different from other PhDs.

This is especially important if you are applying to an industry job from academia. Many jobs list industry experience but recruiters ultimately consider applicants without it. Leading with an executive summary gives you have time to persuade a recruiter you’re worth considering, rather than emphasizing the fact you are fresh out of academia. Executive summaries are also helpful if you are applying for a role that doesn’t traditionally get filled by PhDs; you get a few lines to emphasize your transferable skills and convince the hiring manager why you should be the exception.

In addition to highlighting your skills, an executive summary conveys the important message to recruiters that you are a strong communicator. Most industry jobs will require you to synthesize complex concepts into a few key takeaways and communicate them clearly and concisely. By crystallizing your experiences into several punchy bullet points, you will demonstrate you have the communication skills to craft a narrative. If you can sell yourself, you can sell a company’s product.

3) Targets a specific job and aligns you with employer needs

Traditionally, people kicked off their resumes with an “objective statement,” in which they wrote what they were looking for. You may have seen objective statements like this before:

“Seeking to obtain a research scientist position at a leading biopharmaceutical company.”

“OBJECTIVE: To apply expertise in molecular biology and bioinformatics in a fast-paced challenging environment.”

Objective statements are essentially useless – you’re telling me you want to apply for the job you have applied for. I know that. Ditch the objective statement for an executive summary.

Objective Statement vs. Executive Summary
Upgrade your resume with an executive summary Tweet this image!

The major problem with objective statements is they tell hiring managers what they already know. If you’re applying for a research scientist job, the employer knows your objective. That’s why you sent them your resume. Don’t waste precious space in your resume telling them what they know.

Additionally, objective statements are written with your goals in mind, not the hiring manager’s. Hiring managers are looking for what you will bring to the job, not what you want to get out of it. You wouldn’t try to sell your house by saying you need the money; you’d take the buyer’s perspective and show off what they’d get by purchasing the house. On your resume, take the employer’s perspective, understand their needs and demonstrate how you would fulfill them.

So how do you get started writing your executive summary?

1) Identify the employer’s needs and how you fulfill them

Just as your resume should be tailored to the job for which you are applying, so should your executive summary. In fact, it is even more crucial to tailor your summary since that is the one part the recruiter is guaranteed to read.

Read the job description to determine what is most important: If it’s a research scientist role, what lab techniques are they looking for? If it’s a data analyst role, what scripting languages are they looking for? If it’s a consulting role, are they looking for entrepreneurial experiences? Is it important to emphasize your experience managing others or should you emphasize your written communications skills?

Once you’ve identified what skills the job needs, go through your resume to identify which of those skills you have. List the most relevant experiences that pertain to each skill set. Of the scientific research techniques listed in the job description, which have you mastered? If the position requires you to lead a team, when have you managed others? If the job requires you to be part of a new unit, have you started an organization to prove you’re a leader who can shape it? If it requires communication skills, have you written articles for popular consumption or given presentations to wide audiences?

2) Understand it’s YOUR story

In addition to tailoring your summary to jobs you apply for, make sure your summary is tailored to YOU. We realize that sounds a bit obvious, but often we read resumes whose opening sentence is something like:

“Highly motivated scientist with strong problem-solving skills, tireless work ethic and detail-oriented mindset.”

That could describe just about any PhD applying to any job. Throughout your executive summary and resume, try to emphasize skills, experiences and attributes unique to you. When you write a bullet point, ask yourself, “Could just about anyone say this?” If the answer is yes, rewrite.

3) Write the bullet points

Now that you’ve done some initial thinking about what skills and experiences you have that are relevant to the job and make you stand out, it’s time to put them on paper.

Your executive summary should appear right below your contact information and be about 4-8 lines. We prefer bullet points to paragraph form: a big block of text is intimidating to read and difficult to skim, which frustrates hiring managers. This is more important for bullet points under your experience section, which we will cover more in another post, but the rule applies to the executive summary as well.

Here’s a rough outline for your executive summary:

Bullet 1 - The Pitch
Summarize yourself in a sentence (e.g., “Creative biochemist with demonstrated leadership skills and 7 years experience in immunology and cancer biology research”)

Bullets 2-3 – The Skills
Emphasize the most relevant skills you have tailored to the job description (e.g., “Deep expertise in mathematical modeling in monte carlo simulations, performing numerical analysis on large data sets and data visualization”)

Bullets 4-5 – The Fit
Highlight your soft skills and anything else impressive that defines you (e.g., “Former professional poker player well-prepared for an environment of rapid decision-making and financial risk”)

To get started on your executive summary, here are some questions to ask yourself to help flesh out each bullet point:

ow To Write An Executive Summary
How to write an Executive Summary Tweet this image!

For inspiration, here are a few executive summaries of real PhDs we have helped get jobs (names changed of course). Notice how the emphasis changes depending on the job they apply for!

Research Scientist

Research Scientist PhD Executive Summary
Credit: Oystir

Data Scientist

Data Scientist PhD Executive Summary
Credit: Oystir


Consultant PhD Executive Summary
Credit: Oystir


Real PhDs resume samples
Credit: Oystir

This was one of a series of posts on winning resume strategies for PhDs. Stay tuned to Scizzle for future pieces including making your skills and achievements stand out from the crowd and samples of “before” and “after” resume success stories.

Rudy Bellani and Zach Marks are co-founders of Oystir, a new free service helping PhDs find non-academic jobs. You can reach them at To begin exploring what jobs match your skills, sign up at

9 Winning Resume Strategies for PhDs


By Rudy Bellani, PhD and Zach Marks

This is the first in a series of posts by Rudy Bellani and Zach Marks, former recruiters and co-founders of Oystir, a new free service helping STEM PhDs find non-academic jobs.


You pour your heart and soul into years of research all for this one document. It is how your time in grad school will be judged and it will play a significant role in determining your future. PhD candidates dread it more than anything. Not the thesis. The resume.

You have to summarize yourself, your accomplishments, your transferable skills, and what makes you stand out into one page. We’ve been in your shoes. We know it’s hard. But it’s important. Are you going to let years of hard work in the lab, applying to fellowships, and succeeding in extracurriculars go to waste by not investing time into your resume?

A senior HR executive at a top consulting firm told us, “PhDs are the hardest group of individuals to evaluate from their resumes. They’re terribly written.” Take this as encouraging news. It means that if you take the time to write a stellar resume you will stand out from the pack.

We’re former recruiters and have read thousands of resumes. As co-founders of Oystir, we are currently helping hundreds of PhDs get non-academic jobs. We know what works and what doesn’t. In a series of exclusive posts for Scizzle, we will share our job market-tested, hiring manager-approved resume strategies for PhDs.


1) Resumes matter

[box style="rounded"]Unless you have a major connection to help you get an interview, you’re going to need an awesome resume.[/box]

Let’s kick things off by making one point clear: your resume is the key to getting an interview. A biotech hiring manager told us, “We’ve probably interviewed and ultimately hired less qualified candidates at times simply because they wrote a better resume.”

The average recruiter reads about 200 resumes a week. Of those, 50 will get a second review and 15 will get a phone screen. Your goal is to write the resume that makes you one of those 15.


2) Resumes aren’t CVs

[box style="rounded"]1 page for every 10 years of work experience. If you’re a 5th year postdoc, that means 1 page.[/box]

A resume is not a curriculum vitae (CV). The biggest difference is length: a resume is a 1-2 page summary of your experience, education and most relevant skills; a CV lists everything, including publications, presentations, honors, awards and affiliations. You might put some of that in a resume, but only the information that is directly relevant to the job you are applying for.

A CV is used for applying to academic jobs. A resume is what you need to transition out of academia and apply for industry jobs.


3) Mind the ATS: use relevant keywords

[box style="rounded"]Use keywords from the job description and keep formatting simple to get past Applicant Tracking Software.[/box]

The first screen of your resume will most likely be done by a computer. Most companies use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to do the first review of resumes. ATS systems typically eliminate 75% of resumes before passing them on to a hiring manager. So before you can impress a human with your resume; you have to impress a machine.

ATS systems parse resumes looking for keywords relevant to the job, so be sure to include keywords from the job description in your resume. If the job requires experience with SPSS or R, don’t just write “statistics” – list those specific skills. If the job requires project management experience, explicitly list “project management” – don’t let that skill get lost in a long sentence about working with a team in a lab for your thesis research.

Also keep structure and formatting in mind to get past ATS systems. The resume is not the place to get creative with design. Don’t include any images or logos. That is the best way to “break” the ATS’ parsing mechanism and disqualify yourself before your resume even gets reviewed.

Have clearly separate headings for each section and be conservative with formatting. Use standard fonts (e.g., Times, Arial, Helvetica). Try not to go smaller than 12 pt and stick with black ink. This is important beyond the ATS: you don’t want to get passed because you made the hiring manager squint to read your accomplishments or confused him with arbitrarily blue text.


4) Make one for every role

[box style="rounded"]Tailor a resume for each type of role you’re applying to.[/box]

Every job requires a resume specifically tailored for it. Emphasize the skills, attributes and keywords required for a particular role – for guidance, read the exact keywords listed in the job description and make sure to include them up front in your resume. For example:

  • If you’re applying to a consulting position that will require you to lead others, play up your project management skills (e.g., managing an undergrad) and entrepreneurial experiences (e.g., starting a student organization).
  • If you’re applying to a medical science liaison job that will require you to interact with clients, play up your communications skills and list any science outreach you’ve done.
  • If you’re applying to a research scientist or data analyst job, make sure you list the specific research techniques or statistical skills included in the job description.


5) Win with structure

[box style="rounded"] Give your resume structure with clearly demarcated sections.[/box]

A study tracking where recruiters looked at resumes show they spent nearly 80% of their time on six points: name; current and previous position’s title, company, start and end dates; and education. After that, they’re skimming for relevant keywords to the job.

Put that information where hiring managers are expecting to see it.

List your name and contact information up top followed by an executive summary (more on how to write an executive summary in a future post), your experience, then your education. Separate each section with clear headings. Bold each position on your resume so the hiring manager can easily skim and see all the roles you have held.

Recruiters spend more time on highly structured resumes; without that structure, the person reviewing your resume will throw his hands up and move to the next one. Look at this heat map tracking recruiters’ gaze as they reviewed two resumes: one structured, one not. There is simply more “heat” on the structured one: the recruiter reads the summary then scans each of the individual’s titles and spends time reading bullet points from each experience. In the unstructured resume, the recruiter doesn't even make it all the way through.


heatmap for resume scanning
Credit: The Ladder.


6) Prioritize information

[box style="rounded"]The information in your resume should be ordered by relevance to the job.[/box]

After you write each line of your resume, consider what would happen if the hiring manager stopped reading then. Would they walk away with the most important points?

That is a very real hypothetical. Recruiters spend an average of 5-7 seconds on your resume. Every piece of information on your resume should be important. Prioritize it ruthlessly to make sure the most important information is at top. Apply this principle to your whole resume and to each section. Put the most important information up top in an executive summary. Within each section, list your bullet points in order of importance.

Make sure you are prioritizing what the hiring manager wants to see, not what you want to tell. The most important pieces of information to a recruiter are the skills and attributes needed for the job, which don’t always line up with your proudest achievements.


7) Less is more

[box style="rounded"]Be brief. Pack it in.[/box]

As PhDs, we are taught the more data the better, so we are often tempted to include as much information as possible: all our publications, all our posters, all the projects we have contributed to in lab. On your resume, less is more. For each experience, ask yourself: “Is this relevant to the job?” If it’s not, cut it. Treat every centimeter on your resume as precious real estate and be sure to leave some white space.

If you are not applying for a research scientist job, your exact publications are not very important. If you have a first-author publication in a high-impact journal, it’s fine to list it in a section showing selected publications, but don’t list all of them. Better to have a punchy bullet point that says, “Co-authored 7 publications, including in Nature, PLoS Biology, and Journal of Neuroscience.”

Tangibly this means you might have to cut 70% of your most prized accomplishments so you can really zone in on the 30% that are relevant to the job. We know this is hard. Trust us, it’s for your own good!


8) Avoid the most common killer

[box style="rounded"] Have others proofread your resume.[/box]

We’ve reviewed thousands of resumes and most have typos. Our most recent favorite: “Professonal experiences.”

Don’t do this. Have friends read your resume – often it takes someone else to find hidden typos. This is particularly important if English is not your first language.

A life sciences recruiter told us: “A flawless, well-written resume tells me something about a candidate. They can communicate. They’re attentive to detail. They put in the extra bit of effort on even tedious tasks because that’s the kind of person they are.”


9) If you only remember one point: Be results-oriented

[box style="rounded"]Write bullet points that describe and quantify what you did, beginning with an action verb.[/box]

Write punchy bullet points that describe your experiences in concise, results-oriented language. Make each bullet a single sentence and lead with an action verb (e.g., developed, launched, managed) and include a result. Hiring managers want to know what you have achieved, not your job duties. Avoid bullets like “responsibilities included” or a list of roles. Instead, include tangible achievements. To make them tangible, quantify them. For example, if you helped secure funding for your lab, list how much; if you managed lab technicians, say how many. Here are some examples to illustrate the point:

A wasted bullet: Nathanson, C., Jensen, R., & Bender, Y. (2002). Nature.

A boring bullet: I was part of a team that published a paper in Nature, which was cited by over 50 other researchers.

A great bullet: Led the development of a multi-national collaboration, coordinating 3 research groups across 2 time zones, resulting in a Nature publication cited by 50 researchers, all within 6 months after work began.


This was the first in a series of posts on winning resume strategies for PhDs. Stay tuned to Scizzle for future pieces including writing an executive summary, making your skills and achievements stand out from the crowd and samples of “before” and “after” resume success stories.


Rudy Bellani and Zach Marks are co-founders of Oystir, a new free service helping PhDs find non-academic jobs. You can reach them at To begin exploring what jobs match your skills, sign up at

Trend Setters: Innate Lymphoid Cells in Immune Tolerance


By Amanda Keener

In the world of immunology, there are innate immune cells—first line defenders with non-specific receptors, and adaptive immune cells –lymphocytes with receptors selected for specificity and binding strength. These classifications have become somewhat murky, though, as a collection of cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILC) has grown. ILC are lymphocytes, like B and T cells, but they have no antigen-specific receptors. Like innate cells, they are known for their rapid responses to pathogens within barrier organs, like the gut and the lungs. So far there are three groups of ILC and the localization of many ILC subsets at microbe-rich barriers makes them natural ambassadors between the immune system and the microbiome. The evidence for this is strongest for group 3 ILCs, which are defined as being positive for the transcriptional regulator RORγt. Defects in these cells are associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and a recent study found that they actually present bacterial antigens to T cells in the spleen in order to induce tolerance to commensals.

RORγt+ ILC keep the peace between microbes and the immune system, but they also require the presence of gut microbes for their maintenance and maturation. The link between commensal microbes and RORγt+ ILC maintenance and activity is still somewhat of a black box, particularly because these cells don’t express the microbe-sensing Toll-like receptors. A study by Arthur Mortha that appeared in Science last month reported an unexpected chain of events, linking RORγt+ ILC to commensals on one side and to immune modulating regulatory T cells (Treg) on another.

The study by Mortha et al. started in an unlikely place. The group was working with mice deficient in Csf (formerly GM-csf), a protein involved in dendritic cell and macrophage differentiation. They found that Csf-/- mice had fewer and less functional dendritic cells and macrophages in the lamina propia of the colon. One of the main functions of dendritic cells in the colon is to induce Treg differentiation, and sure enough Csf-/- mice had fewer Tregs.

Surprised by the role of Csf in the colon, the group decided to determine its source and found that it was mainly expressed by RORγt+ ILC3 cells. They painstakingly confirmed this finding through knockouts and cell transfers, and showed that antibiotic eradication of commensal bacteria led to reduced Csf in the colon. So they found that commensals signal RORγt+ ILC3, which secrete Csf, signaling dendritic cells to induce Treg.

But they didn’t stop there. They wanted to know what induced the RORγt+ ILC to make Csf. They narrowed down on the inflammatory cytokine IL1β as a top candidate and found that it was most highly expressed by intestinal macrophages. To find out what drove macrophage to make IL1β, they made a semi-macrophage-specific KO (driven by LysM-Cre) of the Toll-like receptor mediator, Myd88. Without being able to sense microbes through Toll-like receptors, colon macrophages dropped their IL1β production, and consequently, RORγt+ ILC dropped their Csf production. So in summary, macrophages sense commensal microbes through Toll-like receptors and secrete IL1β, which signals RORγt+ ILC to make Csf, which in turn signals macrophages and dendritic cells to make signals that induce Treg.

It’s quite the domino effect, but what does it mean for tolerance or disease? The researchers tested whether this chain of events was important for immune tolerance, using the egg antigen ovalbumin (OVA). They sensitized mice to the OVA antigen and tested tolerance by exposing their ears to it later on. OVA-specific Treg normally mediate tolerance and limit ear inflammation at exposure. The group found fewer OVA-specific Treg and more ear inflammation in Csf-/- mice compared to wild-type mice and confirmed that the Csf came from RORγt+ ILC.

This study pins down a concrete mechanism demonstrating just how RORγt+ ILC connect commensal microbes to the rest of the immune system and provides a peek into black box hiding the link between the gut microbiome and Treg-induced tolerance.


Try worm infection to get rid of allergies

Got allergies? Try worms


By Amanda Keener

If you have allergies, it may be because you don’t have worms. At least, that is, according to the “hygiene hypothesis” and its more recent cousin, the “old friends hypothesis.”  Both of these suggest that the absence of pathogens and microorganisms in our environment somehow promotes atopic allergic diseases and are supported by the rise of allergies in Western cultures throughout the 20th century.  The “old friends hypothesis” suggests that the type of microorganisms we come in contact with matter; those that humans as a population have grown accustomed to offer benefits that are lost as sanitation increases.  Tiny worm-like parasites called helminthes have been the case-in-point for this idea.  Helminth infection can re-program the immune response by promoting the production of regulatory T cells and B cells. These cells balance their inflammatory counterparts and the worms create an environment for themselves where the immune system is dulled and incapable of clearing the invaders.

Epidemiologically, helminth infection is inversely related to allergic and autoimmune diseases.  Some studies, however, have found that helminthes actually aggravate allergies.  In a recent issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Layland et al took a closer look at this relationship in mice.  They used the blood fluke, Schistosoma mansoni to ask whether the stage of the parasitic infection would influence how the immune response responded to allergic airway inflammation.

They infected mice with S. mansoni and during different stages of the parasite’s life cycle, they sensitized the mice to egg ovalbumin, a protein commonly used for studying antigen-specific immune cells.  Repeated exposures to the OVA essentially make the mice allergic to it, so that when they are challenged with the aerosolized protein many weeks late, they get an allergic airway inflammatory response, much like asthma.  If the mice were sensitized to the allergen during the time that the parasites were actively producing eggs, then the immune response to the allergen was significantly reduced.  This protection against lung inflammation was absent if sensitization to the allergen took place during the early stages of infection.

To understand how the egg-producing stage of the infection prevented airway inflammation, the researchers looked to the regulatory T cell (Treg) population, which had been known to expand during helminth infection.  The late stage infected mice did in fact have greater numbers of Tregs in the lymph nodes draining the lungs.  If the researchers depleted the Tregs during the allergen sensitization, the mice responded to OVA challenge with lung inflammation whether or not they were infected with the parasite.  So, the Tregs were vital in mediating the anti-allergic effect of the S. mansoni eggs.

It would be interesting to know how the Treg population changed during the course of the infection—were they only expanded during the late, egg-producing stage and not the earlier stages?  The group didn’t compare the cellular immune responses of the mice sensitized during early and late stage infection, so it’s unclear whether eggs direct better Treg expansion than worms.  What is clear is that the stage the helminth infection is at during allergen sensitization does matter and this study may help explain the variability in the way that helminthes direct allergic responses.  It may also direct researchers to potentially useful antigens expressed only by the eggs that could be explored as therapies to treat or prevent allergies.

Amanda Keener is a freelance science writer and a PhD candidate in Microbiology and Immunology.  She writes about immunology research on her blog ImmYOUnology.

The Biggest Time-Saving Tip of All: Do Real Work First


Laura Vanderkam

I had lunch with a friend who works in academic medicine the other day. She had an unfortunately too common complaint. She went into science because she wanted to solve real puzzles -- problems that affected people’s lives. The problem? She was now spending precious little time on science. There were meetings and paperwork and other things that left her just scattered enough that she was losing days. In theory, she had her dream job. In practice, she wasn’t spending her hours the way she wanted at all.


I hear versions of this lament from people in all kinds of work. Since I write about time management, people ask me for ways to spend less time on the boring stuff so they can get to the projects that they went into their profession for.


The problem is that life doesn’t work like that. You can find an efficient way to sort your emails -- but then more email will just land in your inbox. You can invite fewer people to meetings, but saving 15 minutes on pleasantries won’t change your life.


You don’t create the job you want by saving time. Instead, you create the job you want, and time saves itself.


This isn’t to say there aren’t good ways to minimize distractions.  My friend had good ideas about scheduling meetings back to back to open up time in her days. Defense is necessary to play this game of life. But ultimately, it’s not sufficient to win. To win, you need to score points. For her, that meant committing that every week she did science.


Yes, if you’re a scientist, you can decide that science happens first, and life can fill in around it. Science can get blocked into your calendar just like meetings. Hours and hours of science. Indeed, if you have reasonable control of your schedule, you can simply declare that certain times are for research and that is that. I write best in the morning and so, unless it is really important, I don’t take phone calls between 8-10 a.m. Maybe you decide that you will be in the lab every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday until 1 p.m. Sure, on Tuesday morning you may find yourself behind on some paperwork you’d started Monday. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. If it has to happen, it will eventually happen. It will probably take less time than if you’d given it more time!


And in the meantime, the lab is calling.


The truth is, a life is lived in hours. If you want to enjoy your life, you need to spend your hours doing things you want to do. There are always some sub-optimal parts of any job, but in any given hour we have more latitude over our lives than we think. So why not spend that time doing what you feel called to do? Long-term, this is what keeps us motivated and moving forward. That’s the definition of productivity -- not getting things that don’t matter done ahead of schedule.

For more great tips visit Laura's website.

5 Things You Should Do Before Applying to Graduate School


Brian Clark

So it’s application season again and you’ve decided to go to graduate school. Great! Now what?

The process of finding a graduate program that fits you is very important to your success and happiness. This goes far beyond GPA, GRE scores and US News & World Report rankings. The process can seem overwhelming to some but with a little planning and engagement, it’s pretty simple.

Below are the top five things to consider when applying to graduate school:



Take a step back and think about why you want to go to graduate school. Is it the right time for you to dedicate your life to an advanced degree? It should not serve simply as a bridge to a better job. Really think about your goals while in graduate school. What do you want to accomplish while earning the degree? How will that experience impact your career afterwards? If you are planning to attend a research-based STEM program, research experience is often required.


Be Proactive

The timeline for finding and applying to graduate school should start at least 2-3 months before application deadlines. Think beyond the time to fill out the application itself. You’ll likely have to find the programs you want to apply to, take the GRE (or other standardized exams), ask your references to write letters of recommendation (minimally two weeks in advance of a deadline), compose your statements of purpose (I advise writing one for each school you apply to) and have your transcripts sent to your programs of choice. If you are proactive these checklist items will be easy to complete.



Fit is the most important thing to remember. Finding the best program for YOU is crucial. This goes way beyond rankings. No two programs are alike. Each has its own culture, faculty, curriculum, research focus, students, setting, etc. Prioritize your academic goals and what is important to you before starting your search. If you know exactly the area you want to study, find programs that are publishing in that area. If you’re not exactly sure, find an interdisciplinary program where you will learn a variety of fields and techniques. Geographic location and program culture are also important elements to fit.



Once you find some programs that may fit (using, of course) begin digging in to see which programs are right for you. Look up the faculty, funding, publication history, stipend/scholarship information, how competitive you are for admission and the list of programs will begin to slim down. Finding a good fit and putting in a little time researching will eliminate the need for a long list of “back up” schools.



The most underutilized resource in this whole process is the programs themselves. Always keep in mind that graduate programs need students that will excel in their program. Beyond your academic success, motivation, commitment to the program and fit are common criteria in admissions decisions.  Communicate with them. Ask them questions. Email the director of the program (sometimes called the Director of Graduate Studies or DGS) or faculty you are interested in working with. Build relationships with these individuals. If you’re a good fit, you may end up spending the next few years working with them!


What else? If you’ve been through the graduate school application process we’d love to hear your story. If you’re just starting the process and need advice or have questions, email Brian Clark, President & Co-Founder of


Gradschoolmatch is a growing community that brings prospective graduate students together with graduate program directors to connect and find the best fits! Best of all, it’s free for prospective students to join!