Sunday, April 19, 2009

So You Want To Be A Physicist - Writing Your CV

I have made a new entry in my continuing essay on "So You Want To Be A Physicist". In Chapter XIX, I talk about what you must have in your Curriculum Vitae (CV). This comes from a direct, personal experience, both as someone who was looking for a job, and someone who is evaluating potential candidates to fill a position. In the latter position, I find that it can be quite frustrating to figure out what a candidate actually know, and I don't mean in terms of academic knowledge. Often, the CV lack the most important thing that I'm looking for, either because it wasn't clearly explained, or if it was omitted completely because the candidate didn't think it was important enough to be included. This would be tragic that something you have and didn't write down is exactly what a potential employer is looking for.

The purpose of that chapter in the essay is to force a job applicant to think a little bit what exactly is this potential employer looking for, and whether your SKILLS are really more important than your academic knowledge for that job that you are applying for. That is a crucial point to consider because it may force you to make drastic changes to your CV to tailor it to that particular job.

I'll repost some of what I wrote in that essay. While what I wrote is more relevant to an experimental position, I think the "theme" of what I'm trying to convey should apply to even theoretical job application. In many cases, you are not applying to the exact same area of physics that you wrote your thesis in. So you need to figure out what technical skills that you possess that is being sought for in this potential job. Is it your knowledge to do Monte Carlo analysis? Or programming ability?

Here are the items that MUST appear on your CV:

1. Name, mailing address, e-mail address, phone number;
2. A brief (one short paragraph, or even just a sentence) on your goal;
3. Your educational background. List in reverse chronological order, i.e. the last degree obtained first.
4. Your skills, expertise, and knowledge;
5. Other awards, recognition;
6. List of publications (if there's too many, list the more important ones, or the ones relevant to the job you are applying to).

Try not to exceed more than 2 pages. Keep in mind that people who are reading this have to read a lot of other CVs from other applicants. If it is too long, one loses interest very quickly.

Most of what I've listed above are pretty self-explanatory, and most applicants know what do write, except for #4. This is what I will try to discuss in the rest of this chapter. From what I have read of a number of CVs lately, this is where many applicants drop the ball.

Most CVs that I've received wrote way too much on the "physics" content. Now, such a thing may be appropriate in some circumstances, especially if you're applying in the very exact, same area of knowledge as your research area. The person who is hiring would probably know the subject matter quite well, and would be very interested in it. However, this is also not very common. What occurs most of the time is that you are applying for a position, especially for a postdoc position, in which the subject area is a bit different, some time VERY different, than the subject area that you majored in. What is in common are the skills and expertise that you have that the potential employer is looking for. So HIGHLIGHT THE EXPERTISE AND THE SKILLS in the CV! Don't bury it under lots of physics and don't simply mention it in passing. Not only are you not showing to the potential employer what he/she is looking for, but it also shows that you simply sent out a generic CV without bothering to tailor it to this particular job position. I had that impression many times while reading several CVs.

Let's do an example. Say I'm looking for someone who can make photocathodes for some particular application. Now, I'm not looking for someone with an exact background who majored in photocathode physics, because it isn't a common area of specialization, and there probably isn't that many students who graduated with that knowledge. However, I am looking for someone who has the expertise to make material fabrication. In particular, I'm looking for someone who has the expertise to make thin films of semiconductors, using various deposition technique, especially chemical vapor deposition (CVD).

Unfortunately, it was hard to find that in many of the CVs that I read. Most of the CV talked about the physics (or chemistry) of the material, what was studied, how the physics was important, etc. In cases where the applicants did mention about making thin films, the skimped on the details. I would say something like this: "Ability to make thin films for XRD and XPS studies to arrive at the strain-stress effects on the band structure". Yes, what WHAT did you use to make the thin films? That is what I am looking for, and you had just glossed over that piece of information! The strain-stress effects on band structure is the "physics", and unless you are applying for a research position in which THAT is one of the areas of study for that open position, the potential employer probably cares VERY little about that useless fact.

Instead, what the applicant should have done is say something like "Ability to fabricate metals and semiconductor thin films using MOCVD, producing large epitaxial single crystals. I am also able to analyze these thin films using XRD to evaluate the quality of the thin films". The applicants could also list ALL of the thin film materials that he/she had the ability to make. Now THIS would be something valuable. In doing that, the applicant has revealed the skill that he/she has, and it is a skill that completely transcends any particular subject matter area. This is because the skill to make films using CVD technique is used in MANY different areas, and not just in physics either. Having that skill allows one to apply to a large variety of jobs that would not have been possible if one were to stick to simply the subject matter of one's major area. This is why such skills MUST be clearly and plainly described in one's CV!