Before you begin assembling application:

• Read the eligibility criteria carefully; don’t waste time preparing applications to

programs for which you will not be considered.

• Read all of the FAQs.  Nothing makes a program director crankier than your

asking a question that has already been answered.

• Follow all of the links on the website.  Those links were included because

someone in the training program office thought they had information that would

be useful to you.

• Visit a career website

Read and follow all directions.

• If the directions for the cover letter ask you to discuss four points, make certain

that you address all four.

• If you are asked to list all the courses you have taken and the grades you

received, do not just list science courses.

Timing:  Never submit your application at the last minute.

• Editing and polishing your application is important, and it takes time.

• Lots of applicants will be submitting their applications at the last minute.  An

electronic system may crash under the load.

• If selections for the program are made on a rolling basis, you may have an

advantage if you apply early.

Ensure that everything you submit is grammatically perfect, clearly expressed, and

neatly organized.  This is absolutely essential!

• Write a draft, edit it repeatedly, and ask someone whose judgment you trust to

read it and make suggestions for improvement.

• If you are submitting a hard copy of an application, use bold and italics, changes

in font size, tabs, and white space to help the reader find important information.

Your job is to make your application easy to read.

• If you are submitting an electronic application make certain to find out in

advance if the system will accept formatting.  For security reasons, some web-

Writing Successful Applications for

Biomedical Research Training Programs based applications accept only plain text inputs.

In this case, the only tools you will have for formatting will be capital letters, spaces, hard returns, and characters on the keyboard such as – or *.  Bold, italics, tabs, Greek letters, and other fancy formatting will be stripped away or, worse still, they may be replaced by other, meaningless characters.

• Compose and polish sections for an electronic application in a word processor

(or, if appropriate, a plain text editor such as Notepad or TextEdit) and then,

when they are perfect, paste them into the application.

Tailor the elements of your application to the program for which you are applying even if

this means writing multiple cover letters or resumes.

• The medical school recommendations that are on-file at your school will probably

not address the issues that are important to a biomedical research training

program, e.g., your technical skills, your ability to trouble-shoot experiments in

the lab.   Ask for a second set of letters.

Make certain that all of the information you submit is accurate.  Supplying fraudulent

information will eliminate you from consideration for a program.

Components of an Application:

Contact information

• A cover letter

• Your resume or CV

• Letters of recommendation

• A transcript or list of courses and grades

Selection committees and individual investigators who review your application are trying

to find the individual(s) who will fit most comfortably into their programs or labs and

make the most significant contributions to ongoing projects.  Depending on their

personal preferences they are likely to be looking for individuals who speak and write

well, who have some prior successful research experience, who think about science in a

mature way, who are creative, who take the initiative and are self-motivated, and/or who

work well in teams.  Your job is to use each element or your application to demonstrate

the skills, aptitudes, interests, and experiences that would make you an outstanding


Contact Information: Why would we even take the time to discuss your contact

information?  It is important that you provide email and mailing addresses and a phone

number that will permit program staff to contact you.  What else is there to say?

Surprisingly, many applicants to training programs provide contact information that is

Writing Successful Applications for Biomedical Research Training Programs Do you really want the individuals who will be evaluating your application to think of you as “yuppieguppie07” or “DrHoney”?  Do you want an investigator who is calling to offer you a position to hear the message that seemed so clever when you recorded it on your answering machine to amuse your friends?

Your Cover Letter: Your cover letter is your opportunity to “speak” persuasively to

those who read your application.

• Scientists are busy people.  Keep your cover letter brief, focused, and succinct; it

should be no longer than two pages.  Say what is important, but nothing more.

• Follow the guidelines!

• Tailor your cover letter to the particular application you are completing.  Why do

you want to participate in this specific program?  How do your skills and

experiences make you the perfect match for the program?  Show that you have

done your homework.

• Do not present material that is included in your resume except perhaps to

highlight your major accomplishments.

• Describe realistic expectations for the training experience you are seeking.  It is

unlikely that you will cure both cancer and the common cold during a ten-week

summer internship, for example.

• Pay particular attention to the way in which you describe your research interests.

o If you are applying to a program in which investigators pick their own

trainees, it is likely that many of them will search the application database

for individuals with whom they share an interest.  If you are willing to work

on several areas, it might be useful to mention them all specifically to

increase your chances of a “match.”

o If you are applying to a program like the NIH Academy, which has a

specific focus, be certain to describe your interest in that focus.

Be specific. Remember that examples, stories, and details are likely to stick with

the reader.  It is better to provide an example that illustrates your ability to work in

a team than to state that you are a team player.

• Consider commenting on your long-term educational and scientific goals and

how the program might help you in meeting them.

Your Resume or CV: This document should be a concise (no more than two-page at

this stage in your career) summary of your educational and professional history.

•  A general format is

o Contact information

o Education – degree, field, institution, and date for each degree you have


o Professional/work experience – include volunteer experiences if they are

relevant.  For each specify the dates, location, and your supervisor, again,

if relevant.  You may wish to list the skills you acquired during scientific

Writing Successful Applications for training experiences and any mentoring or supervising you were asked to provide.

o Honors and awards

o Community service/leadership experience

o Publications and presentations

• Use formatting or spacing on the page to make your resume/CV easy to read.

The reader should be able to find important information quickly.  The document

should not have such a small font and dense presentation of the information that

the reader is discouraged just looking at it.  Try putting an extra hard return

between paragraphs.

• Be judicious about what information you include.  As you get older, childhood

accomplishments will become less important.  In general, once you have

completed college, you would mention high school accomplishments only if they

demonstrated a particularly important facet of your personality.

• Think twice before including hobbies or “Objectives.”  Do they add significant

information to the application?  If your goal or objective is simply to obtain a spot

in a training program, that fact is already apparent from your submission of an


Letters of Recommendation: Individuals who are evaluating applicants to a research

training program are trying to identify those individuals who are most likely to complete

the program successfully and who look as if they will make the greatest contributions.

Letters of recommendation can provide insights into your prior successes and

comments on your potential future contributions.

• If you are applying to a scientific program, the best references will come from

practicing scientists.  NOTE: this means that meeting and cultivating potential

references is something you should always be doing.

o More senior scientists will be more credible than graduate students.

o A recommendation from someone who knows you personally will carry

greater weight than one from a faculty member who can comment only on

your performance on tests.

o Individuals who have worked with you in a research setting are excellent

choices for references.

o Science faculty will be preferable to faculty in the humanities who will be

preferable to your minister or rabbi.

• Never ask a family member to write a letter on your behalf.

• When you ask an individual to serve as a reference, also ask him/her if the letter

will be supportive or positive.  This is somewhat embarrassing, but it is far better

than having a negative letter submitted.

• Provide your references with a current copy of your resume/CV; a description of

the program(s) you are applying to; stamped, addressed envelopes if their letters

are to be submitted as hard copies; and perhaps suggestions of areas you would

like them to address in their letters.

Transcripts or Lists of Courses and Grades:

At this time in your life it is probably sensible to order several transcripts from each

institution you have attended, especially those at which you have completed degrees.

This will ensure that you never miss applying to a program because you did not have

the required confirmation of your educational credentials.

If you are asked to submit a list of courses and grades, you are being given one more

chance to demonstrate your ability to organize information and follow directions.

• Think carefully about how you will organize and format the information, again, to

make it easy for the reader to follow.

• If the application is electronic, check to see that your organization has been

retained during the submission process, and fix any glitches.

• Submit grades for all courses you have completed (if this is allowed).  Scientists

must write well.  We will be pleased to see that you have earned good grades in

English as well as in chemistry.

•List the courses in which you are currently enrolled and update your application,

if this is possible, as you complete additional courses.

•If you have just moved to a new education level, e.g., if you are a freshman in

college, figure out how to communicate some information on your high school

grades in this section.

To Reiterate:

Start early.

Follow directions.

Tailor your application to the program to which you are applying

Edit, proofread, and ask friends to proofread your application.


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