Module 3: Preparing Professional Materials

Learning Objectives
Access future research opportunities through the preparation of professional materials that communicate your skills and interest in research opportunities.

Materials Development

The professional materials module focuses on the development of a CV, an email template, and a personal statement. Here we will work through several rounds of revision based on peer and instructor feedback, as well as development in course workshops.

Personal Statement

A good personal statement is honest and a little bit vulnerable. This can make them challenging to write because we tend to become overly critical of our lives or consider profound or interesting experience to be relatively mundane. The personal statement should tell our story. It is an opportunity for us to provide a picture of who we are and why we would be a good fit for a particular position (be that graduate school, a research fellowship, or something else). Personal statements can take many forms and include lots of different kind of information and are typically 2–3 pages in length. It might cover our personal journey or could be an opportunity to go into greater depth on some elements of our CV. Personal life challenges or gaps in our record can be placed into greater context here and be used to showcase the learning and growth that has resulted from those circumstances. See Appendix 8 for some brainstorming questions to help start a personal statement.

There is some great general guidance here on writing personal statements:

Sometimes reading a great personal statement is the best way to start to visualize how to write one.

Curriculum Vita (CV)

This is a summary of qualifications. A CV is essentially a curated list. Unlike for resumes, snappy bullet points are not needed to describe positions, however further description to items can be added if needed. The top of the CV should contain your name and contact information, followed by your education information. Subsequent ordering of the next sections depends on personal interests and the position to which you are applying. It can include sections such as work experience, research experience, teaching experience, leadership, mentoring, outreach or service activities, technical skills, awards and scholarships, and professional associations. These are just some example categories. You will not necessarily have all of these and you might have other categories not listed here. If you have not yet acquired many college level experiences, consider adding elements from high school. As you build your CV over the years, you may eventually cycle these off, but in the meantime they represent relevant recent experience. Often times you can find CVs online. They may be attached to a lab or personal website of a researcher. If there is a researcher you admire, do a little online sleuthing and see if you can find a copy of their CV. This will give you additional ideas on how you might format your own.

Email Template

We will develop a draft of an email template to use to inquire about potential research positions. The email should provide a brief introduction, identify the position in which you are interested and why you are interested, and lightly touch on relevant experience you would bring to the position. Often students might attach their CV to this email upon sending it.


Introductory Workshop

On the research retreat we will build connections with faculty through interactions in various settings. Part of the weekend will include a panel to introduce the subject of personal statements and provide opportunities to ask questions about them: what they are, why they are important, what makes for a strong personal statement, etc. Following the panel we will pair up with a faculty member to continue the conversation during dinner.

Preparing Professional Materials Workshop I

This workshop will use a storytelling activity to help flesh out the personal statement. We will take turns telling the story of our personal statement and giving feedback on another’s story. Do not read the statement, but instead recall what has been written and share that story with a partner. It is okay to add more detail, as this might help determine how to fine tune the statement or come up with ideas not previously thought of. Do not be afraid of pursing these rabbit holes. Consider recording the session in order to refer back to the tale at a later date. The listening partner should wait until the end of the activity to give feedback but can take notes on the strengths of the story, where it could use development, or clarification (see suggested questions below for aspects to pay attention to). Then switch roles. Repeat a second time with new partners.

Example feedback questions to consider:

  • What did you like the most about the story?
  • What were its greatest strengths?
  • Were there parts of the story that needed more clarity?
  • Where did you want to hear more detail?
  • Where did you want to hear less detail?
  • Were there parts of the story that felt disconnected from the whole? Is there a way to connect them?
  • What themes did you notice in the story?
  • Did the story have a good pace or were there points where it bogged down? How might they address this?
  • Was there a part of the story you felt a strong connection to? If so, what was it and why do you think you felt a connection there?

Finding Research Opportunities

This workshop will feature an invited speak who will discuss with us how to find various kinds of undergraduate research opportunities. Many students apply for National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU). Others find research opportunities from faculty on campus. These can take various forms, such as volunteer, credit-based, or paid experiences.

Preparing Professional Materials Workshop II

This workshop will consist of mock interviews and a Q&A session. Invite faculty in the biodiversity sciences to participate several weeks in advance. The first portion of the class will consist of mock interviews aimed towards an undergraduate research position in a university lab.

A student and faculty member shake hands before engaging in a mock interview.
Learning to talk with other scientists about research interests and previous experience is a critical professional development skill that will be utilized over and over in a professional career. Source: Photo by Sora Shimazaki

We will visit the offices of two different faculty members as a part of this exercise. The purpose of the mock interview is to experience what the process of interviewing entails so we feel more prepared when undergoing an actual interview. During the interview practice talking about relevant experiences and research interests. Additionally listen to the faculty member describe their research and ask follow-up questions. After the first 20 minutes rotate to another faculty member and conduct a second interview. Following the interviews students and faculty will return to the classroom for an informal panel discussion. This is an opportunity to ask more general questions of the faculty members, such as advice on applying for research opportunities.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Experiences in Biodiversity Research: A Field Course Copyright © 2024 by Thea B. Gessler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.