Are you being active during your PhD to boost your CV? There are some simple things that you can do that will make your CV stand out when you graduate. Making you more likely to get the job you want when you finish. Whether that is a post-doc position, industry lab or something else entirely.
Find out my 6 easy ways to boost your CV during your PhD below.
Make a website
Get yourself a website. The reason I put this first is because the website will give you a place to advertise yourself. The advice below will help boost your CV, but making a website will get you exposure. Plus it’s fun learning how to make a website!
I have done a lot of research into the best website builders and hosts. WordPress is great. It takes time to get used to but once you grasp it the possibilities are endless. It gives you way more freedom than many website builders.
WordPress is the website builder but the website needs to be hosted on a server. If you are making a professional website with its own domain name (which I recommend – it isn’t much money per year and looks much more professional) WordPress themselves recommend using Bluehost to host the website.
This is one of the cheapest and best options I have found.
If you don’t have any money to spare, then you can create a free website using WordPress but it will not have a fully customized domain name. You could do this and then later transfer the website across to Bluehost with a new domain name (it isn’t as hard as it seems and there are guides online).
Gains: Website design skills, exposure for you and your CV
6 Easy ways to boost your CV during your PhD
1. Publish a review article
You should publish a review article in your chosen research area. This will give you a quick publication to boost your CV without requiring time in the lab. It will also massively improve your knowledge of your topic area. You will thank yourself when you are doing presentations/are in your viva and are asked tough questions.
How to start a review??? First, tell your supervisor you want to write a review. They may already have an idea of where to start. If they don’t have an idea but are supportive try and identify a gap in the market in your topic area;
- What you need is a topic/theme not covered recently and with enough recent papers to justify a new review article
- Read the review articles in your topic area first! This avoids copying what has already been done and will give you a bit of background knowledge
- Has a general review on your topic area been written in the last 5 years? Is an update warranted?
- What are the most recent breakthroughs in your area. Collate these papers
- Are there any common themes that could become a review article?
- Brainstorm with your research group
- When you have an idea take it your supervisor for criticism
- You can propose a review article to a journal before you write it. Your supervisor may want to try this
If there are other people in your group consider collaborating with them. This will make the writing process easier as review articles can be time consuming. Plan the review article and give different members of the team a section to write.
I recommend this in the first year of your PhD. At this time you are reading and learning a lot anyway (take notes!!! and keep papers you have read organized using Mendeley or a similar tool).
Gains: An extra publication (huge benefit!), knowledge of your research area, writing experience
2. Write for fun during your PhD
During undergraduate and masters degrees you are constantly writing essays and improving your writing skills. However, during your PhD (depending on your institution) you may only write when you are going to publish a paper or when writing up your final thesis. However, writing is such a crucial skill in academia (and beyond) and your writing skills can quickly become stale. I found my writing skills had blunted in the couple of years prior to writing up my thesis.
Additionally, there are loads of opportunities in the world of medical/science writing. I wish I had invested more time writing and exploring the world of SciComm (Science Communication) during my PhD. If I could go back, I would have started my own blog or wrote for other platforms (such as Brainstorm). This would have massively boosted my CV when applying to SciComm jobs.
Write an article for Brainstorm or start your own blog. This will give you experience and exposure for your CV! (See below about creating a website if you want to start your own blog)
Gains: Communication skills, a portfolio of written work (important for many job applications)
3. Volunteer in outreach events
Universities and research centers often have public outreach events. GET INVOLVED. These events can be fun and help you improve your communication skills. Communicating your science with the public is a great way to learn how to communicate to a non-science audience. Academic jobs will also often want evidence of outreach. Non-academic jobs will see this as evidence that you are someone who gets involved and are a team player.
Gains: Team player, communication skills, evidence of public engagement (important for many job roles!!!)
4. Join councils/committees
My University has various councils and committees that are often looking for volunteers to join. I have been on my University School of Medicine staff council and Post-doctoral development committee. In both I am there to represent staff members from my Center.
Benefits for me;
- Met members of staff I wouldn’t normally meet – great for collaborations
- Learnt a lot about the University (structure, funding, decision making, etc)
- Experience organizing events such as a seminar series within my research center
- Gained teamwork, leadership and communication skills
The time commitment is more than worth it for the experience I have gained and I would recommend similar activities to any PhD student.
Note: For Post-docs these experiences are crucial but if you want to progress within academia you will also need experience outside of your University (e.g. joining an editorial committee for a national/international society)
Gains: Leadership evidence, communication skills, organizational skills, teamwork
5. Make yourself irreplaceable to your lab
Every lab has that one person who seems to know where everything is, how everything works, and is the go-to person for the PI. Make yourself that person. Take on responsibilities when given the chance and learn as many skills as you can. Then when your PhD is finished your supervisor will want to keep you so badly that if they have funding you are almost guaranteed a job. That is if you want to keep working in the same lab. Sometimes a change is needed, but having your PI think highly of you will help massively regardless of what you want to do after.
Gains: Evidence of taking responsibility, leadership within your lab, increased chance of employment within your lab in the future
6. Learn skills unrelated to your work
This one is very dependent on your time. I had 2 months away from the lab due to injuries to my hands and needed something to work on. At this point I only had basic stats experience and no experience with large data sets. Experience with ‘big-data’ seemed to be on many job requirements and I had an interest, even if at the time I had no direct need for the skill. During these 2 months I spent time learning the basics of R, a free to use programming language great for statistics and making graphics.
Then about 6 months later, Covid-19 hit. All of a sudden I was working from home. I had plenty of writing to do and results to analyze but I also wanted to get back to R and see if I could improve my skills a little. A friend of mine worked on a masters course which involved using R and had access to a short course. I completed this course over the 3 months I was at home.
Hopefully you won’t need to break any bones or have another global pandemic to find the time to learn new skills. I would recommend spending a small amount of time during your PhD learning something that you may need in the future. Have a look at jobs you would be interested in. What do they have in their desirable criteria? What free courses does your University offer PhD students?
Gains: A new skill potentially required for a future job, evidence of a drive to learn
So now you have completed these 6 easy ways to boost your CV during your PhD. Add them to your website! What to have on your website;
- Information about you – your interests in and out of work
- A section for your Science Communication – written articles/blogs, presentations, etc.
- List of your publications
- A downloadable version of your CV
- Include other things you have been involved in – e.g. outreach events,
The world is online now. If you are willing to travel for work (or want to work remotely) there is a whole world of opportunity out there. But that means there is also a world of competition. Make yourself stand out. Don’t just do lab work. Implementing a few of these methods will really make you stand out, and give you lots to talk about when you get interviews!!! The main point is, keep your eyes open for opportunities and take them when you see them.
Good luck everyone with your PhDs and future careers. You have so many transferable skills. So sell yourself.
Any advice I haven’t mentioned? Please comment below or on social media.