Burn Your Apron: Resume Tips for the Underemployed Scientist

You’re smart.  You’re talented.  You’re versatile.  You’re educated.  You’re waiting tables.

Your resume sucks.

I know.  Against the stifling forces of small town Appalachia, I made a break for DC to chase that ticket to the promised land, a diploma.   I graduated with honors from an amazing university, collected a diverse portfolio of school projects, volunteered for some great causes, but of course I had to pay for it.  Enter the twin sirens of career delay: retail and food service.  Pretty soon I found myself yearning for the professional world.  I saw Maria Parrotta, as the doctor or the reporter or the person who discovers 3 cures for cancer, a handful of planets, and reconstructed a human brain entirely from pig cells.  Unfortunately, my lack of experience gave the world a different impression.

Maria Parrotta, as the Eternal Busboy.

Through my journey, I’ve collected some resume dos and don’ts for the young dreamer who’s ready to throw in the kitchen towel and start a brand new career in medical science.
Think about your transferable skills.  Compare what you gained from food service to what you want to do.  What have you learned about communicating, multi-tasking, teamwork, and meeting deadlines?

Stretch the comparison too far.  Avoid referring to pharmacy technicians as “the busboys of the medical industry.”
Use strong words like “lead”, “accomplish”, and “analyze” to illustrate daily tasks and communicate your future desires.  Action verbs and precise language show that you have passion for everything you do.

Use strong words like “desperate”, “starving”, or “pharmacoterrorist”.
Mention language skills that your Spanish –speaking coworkers taught you.  Informal education can be far more valuable than classroom experience when using conversational language with patients.

Provide a full list of the words they taught you.  Even if you consider it a “physiological term”.
Discuss your volunteer work in relevant scientific or health-related subjects, like malaria prevention or medical marijuana advocacy in states (or Districts of Columbia) with successful legislation.

Talk about your volunteer work in pro-smoking advocacy, zombie virus prevention, or medical 2C-B.
Here’s an example of how to (and not to) demonstrate your objectives and skills.

Maria Parrotta
Russian language graduate seeking an opportunity to apply an international education and five years’ customer service work to a career in medical interpretation.
Skills and Qualifications:

  • Excellence in immersion environment:  3.9 semester average at Russian university.
  • Understanding of medical terminology: dedicated student in post-graduate pharmacy program.
  • Efficiency in communication:  trained new employees while serving over 50 customers in a high volume restaurant.

Maria Parrotta
Seeking a job that appreciates my knowledge of Star Wars trivia, where I use microscopes and wear a lab coat. Can I wear a lab coat?
Skills and Qualifications:

  • Served martinis to a former member of Minor Threat this one time.
  • Lit myself on fire shooting homemade rockets on the fourth of July.
  • Proven record of never, ever falling asleep in church.
  • Contributor to the web’s leading source of information about gesticulating singer/biologists, Greg Graffin Pointing at Things.

So you see, resume writing is a matter of presentation.  All the above statements are true about me, but a good resume demonstrates my most relevant and favorable skills (notice how I didn’t choose my record of giggling in church).  Conjure up all your confidence.  If you can sell overpriced liquor after happy hour, you can sell yourself.


About Maria Parrotta

Maria Parrotta is a writer, student, and daring pharmacovigilante on a mission to be an approachable source of honest, relevant information about drugs, healthcare, science, and technology. She is often found teaching impromptu chemistry lessons at social gatherings, building her fleet of tiny motorized robots, or recruiting members for her new "pharmcore" band. She sleeps in lab goggles and dreams of nothing but science.
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