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Microbe Mentor July 2015


Microbe Mentor July 2015

I am about to graduate with a PhD, and would like to eventually find a job in industry.  How to I structure a professional resume for applying to industrial, non-academic positions?   


Excellent question!  The fact that you understand that there even is a difference between a curriculum vitae, or CV, and an industrial/professional resume has you ahead of the game.   Quick review:  an academic CV catalogs a person’s academic career, thus contains the full reference for every publication and presentation given, all awards, honors, committee membership lists, etc.  A CV can encompass decades’ worth of a career.  The content and format are primarily tailored to highlight a person’s overall experience, and are reviewed by peers who generally understand the technical verbiage used in publication and presentation titles. 

In contrast, a professional resume summarizes the most recent years of a professional life (often not going back more than 10 years, unless something is particularly relevant).  The format and content of a resume are tailored to specifically highlight how closely an applicant matches a specific job posting.  Resumes are often reviewed by a Human Resources Department who  will likely not be fluent in technical verbiage.

So, how to create a resume when you are at the start of your career?  Fortunately, most senior-level graduate students actually have experience necessary for non-academic employment and do not even realize it!  Start looking at your everyday activities from the perspective of somebody in a professional environment.  Read lots of job postings in your field – you will start to notice common elements, such as “Must be able to multitask multiple projects, demonstrate the timely delivery of high-quality work products, and maintain corporate health and safety protocols.” Now, think of how your graduate-school responsibilities can demonstrate how you’ve done this.  

everyday activity…

rephrased for resume

Work with younger graduate students or undergraduate researchers in your lab

Mentor junior personnel

Develop, modify, or follow laboratory or experimental protocols

Design, evaluate, and follow technical protocols

Maintain classwork and teaching responsibilities while also making progress on your dissertation

Balance and prioritize multiple deliverables

Operate scientific laboratory instruments (GC, GC-MS)

Operate and maintain sensitive and technical equipment

Write for scientific publications, draft grants, present at conferences

Possess excellent technical communication skills

Teach undergraduate labs/courses or write articles for a general audience

Possess excellent non-specialist communication skills

Follow protocols to safely handle chemicals, lab equipment, or cultures, and enforce the use of lab coats and safety glasses  during experiments

Adhere to health and safety regulations such as enforced use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

(As a rule, you should use the past tense for former positions and the present tense for your current work.)

The next step is formatting your resume   A quick search of the internet shows many formats, each with pros and cons.  In general, however, keep the following in mind:

  • DO use a clean and uncluttered format.
  • DO use bullets, which allow for the reader to quickly scan the document, get interested, and then slow down to read it in more detail.
  • DO treat the page as real estate… blocks of blank space are wasted opportunities to mention something that will make you stand out
  • DO use one font type and size … this will allow for easier reading, and will reduce the chance of problems when electronically uploading a resume to a company’s employment website.
  • DO write a concise paragraph for the top of the page.  This should summarize how you meet the job requirements, and stress your unique skills and achievements.
  • DO follow this with sections for education, job experience, professional memberships, certifications, etc.  Use the order of these items to stress relevance to a particular job posting. 
  • DO include key words from the job posting.  Resumes are often first reviewed by a computer, ranking them based on the number of matches to a list of key words. If the resume passes this test it will be forwarded to an actual human.
  • DO keep in mind your resume will likely be judged by a person not trained in technical verbiage. 
  • DO customize your resume for each job you are applying for.
  • DO include a link to your LinkedIn profile.
  • DO build a very robust LinkedIn profile – list every publication and presentation.  Prospective employers can only judge you on what you give them – and many will check your profile before deciding to contact you.
  • DO stress any professional certifications, licenses, etc.
  • DO have a mentor read your resume before submitting. 
  • DON’T waste space on your name, address, etc.  - put this in a header
  • DON’T include your hobbies or outside interests, unless they have contributed directly to your professional development.  Employers don’t care that you enjoy photographing puppies on your weekends. 
  • DON’T include information about race, age, marital status, or nationality (unless the job specifically states that only US citizens can be considered, due to mandatory security clearances, for example).
  • DON’T over-use italics or bold-facing – non-uniform formatting makes a document harder to read.
  • DON’T use the word “research”, unless you are specifically applying for an R&D position.  Refer to dissertation “projects” or “deliverables”. 

Always keep in mind that employers care about what you can do for them – not what you want - so don’t include a statement about your goals (“…wanting to become a fermentation specialist…”).  They care what you bring to the table for them to use.  Once you’ve proven yourself at your job, then you can start telling your employer how you would like to develop as your career progresses. 


 Dr. Jennings is a Principal Microbiologist at Total Environmental Concepts, Inc., an environmental consulting firm located in the Washington DC area.  She has worked on contaminant remediation projects on multiple continents, and currently serves as the U.S. science advisor to the National Science and Engineering Council of Canada.  She is also the Chair of the ASM Career Development Committee and is on the ASM Membership Board.






About the Authors:


POV4e Back Cover Volume I

Jane Flint is a Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.  Dr. Flint's research focuses on investigation of the molecular mechanisms by which gene products of adenoviruses modulate host cell pathways and anti-viral defenses to allow efficient reproduction in normal human cells.


Vincent Racaniello is Higgins Professor of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Racaniello has been studying viruses for over 35 years, including poliovirus, rhinovirus, enteroviruses, and hepatitis C virus. Dr. Racaniello blogs about viruses at and is host of the popular science program This Week in Virology.


Glenn Rall is a Professor in the Blood Cell Development and Function Program and the Associate Chief Academic Officer and Director of the Postdoctoral Program at the Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Rall's laboratory studies viral infections of the brain and the immune responses to those infections, with the goal of defining how viruses contribute to disease in humans. 


Anna Marie Skalka is a Professor and the W.W. Smith Chair in Cancer Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Director Emerita of the Institute for Cancer Research, and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Skalka’s major research interests are the molecular and biochemical aspects of retrovirus genome replication and insertion in the host cell. 


Microbe Mentor May 2015

Microbe Mentor May 2015

Welcome to the first installment of the Microbe Mentor!  ASM members have expressed a significant interest in being able to gain career advice from microbiologists who have “been there and done that” and the Membership Board has responded with a career-advice column to be regularly featured in Microbe.  The goal is to provide a place where ASM members can present career-related questions or concerns.  Submitted questions will be answered by microbiologists hand-selected to bring a wide range of backgrounds to the column. 

Mentors come from a variety of backgrounds: academia, industry, health care, and government, and have specialties that range from teachers, researchers, consultants, regulators, and corporate CEO’s.  However, the one trait that all of these mentors have in common is  a strong belief in giving back to the next generation of microbiologists by sharing their real-world experiences in their particular fields and career paths.  These mentors understand that the life of an early-career microbiologist can be filled with unknowns, possible pitfalls, and lots of questions.  They want to hear the questions and concerns that student, post-doc, and young-career microbiologists are facing today, and to then provide guidance and advice based on what has (or has not) worked for them.   

In short, this is an opportunity for early-career microbiologists to learn from the successes, and sometimes mistakes, of those who have gone before them into a wide-range of microbiology careers.       

ASM invites its student, post-doc, and early-career members to begin contributing their questions to the pool of microbiology-mentors.  Future columns will address:

  • How do I prepare myself for a position in microbiology with a different focus than what I was trained in?
  • When should an applicant divulge their marital status?
  • How do I structure my CV to suite industry?

This is just the beginning.  Send us your questions! The microbiology-mentors welcome questions on any career-related topic that you may have.  Please submit your career questions or concerns to  Confidentiality is guaranteed! 

To kick off the series, the Microbe Mentor asked Wade E. Bell, Chair, ASM Student Member Committee, Eleanor M. Jennings, Chair, ASM Career Development Committee, and Victor J. DiRita, Chair, Membership Board, to share some advice they would give to their younger selves.

Be noticed and ask for things.  If you are a naturally shy person, happy to quietly do your own thing it is really important to learn how to assert yourself.  If you want something – to attend a conference, to get a promotion … you need to ask.  There was always the chance you will hear a “No”, but likely that will be a fraction of the times you hear “Yes!”  If you don’t speak up, nobody will know you want something until it is too late and the opportunity has passed.  Even worse, you’ll be overlooked.       

Some people are just difficult (or unkind, or unfair…).  Don’t be afraid to admit this to yourself since sometimes you have to learn to work with them.  Often you realize that the person isn’t as bad as you initially thought.  However, sometimes they turn out to be even worse, and thus you have to figure out a way to co-exist with unpleasant people.  I envy those who apparently can do this with ease.   

Learn how to manage Type-B personalities.  Frustratingly, not everyone in the world is a classic, Type-A personality who attacks an assigned problem with the gusto of a religious zealot.  Some people need prodding, and some need flat-out babysitting.  Part of managing a team is figuring out how to get these people to do an on-time, quality job. 

There is a time to walk away.  You’ve been taught to never leave a job unfinished, and sometimes you do need to stick out a difficult situation in order to reap the rewards.  However, sometimes it’s time to bolt.  It’s one thing to be asked to work hard and “pay your dues”, but it’s an entirely different thing to be in a no-win situation that has no end.  If you find yourself in the latter, calmly develop a realistic exit strategy and start implementing it immediately.  

Consider taking a year off between undergrad and graduate school.  Of course, by taking time off, I don't really mean backpacking in Europe or hanging out in cafes (that's what the sabbatical is for).  Instead I mean getting a job as a technician or as a laboratory manager at a university or research institute for a year or two.  This will provide enormous advantage once you do start graduate school:  you'll be older, and possibly more mature, when you start, and more focused and ready to hit the ground running.   Testing your independence and learning some lab skills when there aren’t milestones like coursework, exams and thesis chapters will be a bonus.  

Get into literature!  The best way to become a good writer is to be an enthusiastic reader.   Your career will be based on producing new knowledge and publishing papers to describe your research findings to the field.  Learn what’s out there, what new findings might influence your own work.  Even research only loosely connected to yours is worth reading about because you’ll find out some cool stuff about biology and also learn new experimental approaches.   Reading papers on a regular basis is like taking a master class in research, taught by experts from your field and others.   Make it a goal to read at least one paper from the primary literature every day. 

If you don’t publish your work, you really didn’t do it.   No matter what else is on your CV, search committee members will look at the publications first. That doesn’t mean you should crank out a lot of shoddy, low-impact papers, but it does mean you should always think about how your experiments are going to fit into a paper.  Avoid carrying out a lot of experiments that are just going to give you orphan data you’ll never publish.  If you constantly outline your current work in the form of a manuscript, you will see the gaps in what you are working on, and then be able to focus your effort on filling those.  

Bring commitment to your passion.  Think of it this way:  passion gets you through the honeymoon…the golden anniversary requires commitment.   You definitely need to have a passion for your field of study and for getting answers in your research, but commitment brings you into the lab to process fifty samples on a Saturday afternoon.  Decide what you want to commit to (and why), and then don’t waver.    Your path is a very challenging one in many ways.   By committing to it, you can let others leave the path when passion wanes due to the inevitable failed experiments, poor funding levels or competitive job market.

Explore your diverse interests.  Scientific forays into entomology, nematology, immunology, and cell biology aren’t really normal preparatory paths for a microbiologist.  However, when I was faced with the opportunity to move into a faculty position, the diverse background I had accumulated during my wandering ultimately opened the door to the job I still hold. Being a jack-of-all-trades actually comes in handy in the small college world, and elsewhere.


Wade E. Bell, Ph.D. is a Professor of Biology at the Virginia Military Institute and Director of VMI Research Labs.  His specialty is eukaryotic microbiology.  In addition to serving as Chair of ASM’s Student Membership Committee, he also represents the Virginia Branch as Councilor at ASM’s Council Policy Committee.

Victor J. DiRita is a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Associate Dean for Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at University of Michigan Medical School, and Chair of the ASM Membership Board. He studies biology and pathogenicity of the human intestinal pathogens Vibrio cholerae and Campylobacter jejuni. He has worked closely with faculty, trainees, and professional development staff to encourage and support career preparation activities by pre- and postdoctoral trainees. In June 2015 he will join the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University as Rudolph Hugh Professor and Chair.

Dr. Jennings is a Principal Microbiologist at Total Environmental Concepts, Inc., an environmental consulting firm located in the Washington DC area.  She has worked on contaminant remediation projects on multiple continents, and currently serves as the U.S. science advisor to the National Science and Engineering Council of Canada.  She is also the Chair of the ASM Career Development Committee and is on the ASM Membership Board.