Should I Send a Thank You Note?

The Vetducator thank you note for interviews.

Interviews are tiring events for everyone.  The interviewee has to be ‘on’ all the time.  But the interviewers are taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you.  Academics always feel overwhelmed and time-stressed. Staff are often underappreciated.  Thank you notes acknowledge the time and energy dedicated to your interview.

Should I Send Thank You Notes?  Yes.  You won’t be cut from the shortlist for not sending a thank you.  But you DO appreciate people’s time, don’t you? Why not show it? This reflects a level of class and professionalism.  Who wouldn’t want to hire the classiest, most professional applicant?

Should I Send a Thank You Note to Staff?  Yes. I always send a thank you note to the staff who helped arrange the interview.  I have gotten reports from my admin during faculty interviews ranging from, “She seemed really nice.  She asked me questions and was interested in the area” to “We drove in silence the whole way.” Staff can subtly alter the perception of your visit- let them know their hard work is appreciated.

Should I Send a Thank You Note to Faculty?  Maybe. I recommend sending one to anyone you spent a significant amount of time with.  These will be the individuals who directly interviewed you. If you had a large session with 20 faculty for an hour, I wouldn’t send a note to all of them.  But if you had lunch with 2 faculty, a note to each is suggested.

Should I Send a Thank You Note to the Hiring Managers/Committee?  Yes. If applying for an internship/residency/faculty position, you should send thank you notes to the decision-makers.  For faculty positions, this is the search committee and the department chair, possibly to include the Dean. For internship/residency positions, this is whomever is in charge of those programs, assuming you met with them (Intern Training Committee, group of specialists for residencies, etc.).

What Should I Say?  I recommend personalizing each note as much as possible.  If you can remember a specific topic discussed with that person, mention it in the note.  If not, you can make it generic. It does not need to be long- 3 sentences are plenty. Begin with “Dear Title Lastname,” and end with “Salutation, Yourfirstname Yourlastname”.  Do not use your title in your salutation. Respectfully, sincerely, with thanks, and regards are all good salutations.

What Form Should the Note Take?  This is up to personal opinion so I will not be prohibitive here.  Your options are email and a physical thank you card. I personally prefer to send a physical thank you card, but an email in this day and age is acceptable.  I feel a physical thank you card is a little classier and more consistent with my professional image- I am a little bit old school and a little bit formal. It can also be hard to find email addresses for some individuals.  If you are concerned about a physical card arriving after the decision-making group meets, an email may be preferable. Decisions are rarely made less than a week after an interview, though, giving plenty of time for a physical note to arrive.

What Happens if I Don’t Send a Thank You Note?  Probably nothing. For vet school, those who interview you may not be on the selection committee.  In this case, after the interview is over, they have no say in your selection. For internships, residencies, and faculty positions, those who participate in interviews will probably have varying levels of influence on any hiring decisions.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Well, that person didn’t send a thank you note, so I think we should put them lower.”

Does a thank you letter change them from a “no” vote to a “yes” vote?  Unlikely. In the event of two equally qualified candidates, does getting a thank you letter cause them to vote slightly higher for that candidate?  Possibly. It is a very low-cost action to take which may ever so slightly improve your chances of success. Why not send a thank you note?

The Key to Successful Negotiations

Imagine someone you think is a great negotiator.  Do you imagine a tough-as-nails, take-no-shit hardballer?  Do you imagine a sleazy salesman who wheedles their way into your mind and gets you to agree to something you don’t want?  A free-wheeler chatty type who “only wants your best interests”? None of these are helpful to you. What you need to imagine is Tyrion Lannister.  You want to be dispassionate, practical, and professional.

I have seen negotiations go seriously off the rails.  I have even seen offers for faculty positions retracted by administrators.  The reason these happen are ego and emotion. People take things personally, they perceive slights where none may be intended, they become irrational, and then everyone loses.  Before you negotiate, you have to decide what you NEED and what you WANT. From there, it should be a professional, factual, and positive experience.

When you negotiate, your interests are not the sole consideration.  You must also take into account your current colleagues, your current institution, your future colleagues, and your future institution.  A successful negotiation is sympathetic to all of these five interests. If you want something, it is much better to shape it in the context of one of these other interests than your own.  For example, if you want a piece of equipment, it should be clear that this is for the benefit of your future institution and colleagues as well as for you. If you want a spousal hire, this is for the benefit of your future institution because it will ensure you are a loyal, dedicated employee who will stick around and be appreciative.

So, decide what you NEED.  State these clearly, unemotionally, factually, and in the context of how it benefits someone other than you, if possible.  If you don’t get what you NEED, calmly explain that you cannot accept the offer but you greatly appreciate it.

Then decide what you WANT.  Again, state these clearly, but you may use softening language such as, “It would be easiest for me to accept if given XYZ.”  If you don’t get what you WANT but you get what you NEED, accept, be grateful, and be happy. Don’t be resentful you didn’t get everything you wanted and don’t be ungrateful.

Ask for everything you want UP FRONT.  Don’t ask for XYZ, then get that, and then you come back with, “Oh, can I also have This and That and The Other Thing?”  Now, if they don’t give you X, you can come back with, “Well, can I have U instead?” But if they give you what you ask for initially, the negotiation is done.

It should go without saying: be sincere.  I have to say it, though, because I see people negotiate who are not sincere and it is supremely frustrating.  If you don’t want the position, don’t bother negotiating. Don’t bluster and threaten and lie. At all times, be genuine to yourself and to the situation.  No one wants to feel like they have been cheated- institutions or applicants. If you are factual and dispassionate, this should be easy, but it bears repeating: do not lie.

When in doubt, be clear, be positive, and be factual.  Take emotion and ego out of the equation. During one negotiation I had, my wife didn’t get a position which was open as the same institution.  I could have ranted and raved that they missed out on an easy spousal hire, but instead I approached the department chair and calmly said, “OK, that didn’t work out.  What can we do to make this successful?” And then they made it happen. Just be a goddamn professional about it and you will be so much better off.

Words of Caution for the Aspiring Vet Student

The Vetducator - caution for vet school applicants and aspirants.

Being a veterinarian is a lifelong dream for many.  Animals are such an emotional part of so many lives when growing up, it’s natural that children want to get a job where they can help animals.  For many, that seed is planted deep and grows, consuming their life’s direction and passion. For others, being a vet seems like a neat idea, just one of many possible professional paths.  Your motivations for going to vet school don’t matter nearly so much as how content you will be with the decision. This is The Vetducator’s What You Should Know About Vet School Before you Apply.

  1. You will work extremely hard.  If hard work and learning isn’t your thing, find a different path.  Some students fail veterinary school. How is it possible, since we’re picking the top students?  Simple: undergrad and even grad school do not prepare you for vet school. Some people can’t handle the time and intellectual pressure.
  2. When it comes to the social dynamics of vet school, vet school is high school.  You will be with the same people all day, every day, for four years. Cliques form, relationships get made and destroyed, egos are built and crushed.  If you think it’s some enlightened bastion of higher learning, think again. It’s not a reason not to go, but you should be prepared.
  3. It is incredibly expensive.  Vet school, if you plan to be a general practice veterinarian, is not a good financial investment.  Ask yourself if you could be happy doing something else. Your instinctive answer is “No! I have to be a vet to be happy!”  I believe this is extremely naive. You don’t know what will make you happy until you get there. In fact, we have very good evidence that humans adapt amazingly well to their experience.  Imagine losing your arm, or your sight- can you imagine yourself being as happy as if you had the arm or your sight? Probably not, but in studies people who experience some ‘adverse’ life changing event are just as happy as those who do not.  Think long and hard about the return on investment. And absolutely do not go to a private school for vet school. Although some of them are fantastic, you will be so incredibly in debt your happiness will be reduced because of it. If you can’t get in to your state school, find a different career.
  4. You may not have a job.  Before 2008, it was believed veterinary medicine is recession proof.  Well, the global financial collapse proved that to be wrong. I remember many years when new graduates did not have jobs by graduation.  Veterinary schools are admitting more students, and more veterinary schools are popping up all the time. The market will be flooded again and, if that aligns with an economic downturn when you graduate, what will you do?  Particularly if you are deeply in debt from going to a private school?

I am tempted to end on some warm-hearted, encouraging note, but I have to be honest with you.  Veterinarians have a high rate of suicide. We work long hours and clients scream at us for being money-grubbers who don’t care about their pets.  Serious injury from being bitten or kicked is not uncommon. You can certainly make a good life being a veterinarian, but you can also make a good life doing a lot of other things.  Academic veterinary medicine has been good to me, but I think I could have been just as happy doing, say, biochemistry. Maybe you could be, too.

How to Address People in an Interview

Earlier this week I posted a general guide for how to address future colleagues during an interview.  Here is a helpful flowchart for you to determine what forms of address to use during an interview. I tend to err on the side of formality, because no one will be even a little irritated to be called “Mr.”, “Ms.”, or “Dr.”, but there are some people who may be irked at being called “Chuck”.

The Vetducator - forms of address flowchart for interviews.

How to Not Mess Up When Addressing Future Colleagues

The Vetducator - What do I call you people image text.

You would think that rules of formality as laid down by Society would be well-known.  Indeed, this is an assumption of social rules- they are generated in the aggregate. Nonetheless, we do have experts who weigh in on these topics, like Miss Manners and Emily Post.  Our rules in medicine for interviews and applicants are slightly different than the social sciences, so I wanted to take a brief minute to go over them.

These rules are fairly consistent regardless of the form of communication.  You can apply them to any professional academic veterinary interaction- email, phone interview, video interview, or in-person interview.  You are unlikely to be corrected by anyone, and opinions on these may differ.

My general approach and advice is to be more conservative.  No one is going to look at you strangely if you address the Dean as Dean Smith.  But if you call him Chuck, it will be noticed. Maybe not enough to keep you from the short list, but when competition for a position is fierce, why not make yourself the most outstanding candidate you can?

These are in generally increasing order of conservatism:

Do you know this person personally?  Have you worked with them extensively, preferably as a peer?  If you were an intern and this person was a faculty member, unless you had a close relationship with them, go to the next level.  If you know this person and have worked with them as a peer, you may use their first name.

Is this person the Dean?  If so, they are addressed as Dean Lastname.  An exception may be made if you are interviewing for a Dean position or higher.

Otherwise, use Title Lastname.  This even goes for administrative staff.  Addressing an email to Ms. Lawrence is a nice, respectful touch.  Staff are people, too, and they appreciate being addressed by a stranger in a socially-acknowledged way.  Those with doctorates should be addressed as Dr. Lastname.

Can you be more informal than these rules dictate?  Sure. But you will never go wrong adhering to these rules in the application/interview phase of an academic position.  Once you get the position, the rules may vary depending on your position and institution. But while you are a candidate, err on the side of formality.

DrShaverVetducatorPodcast

Podcast Episode 2 – Dr. Stephanie Shaver

DrShaverVetducatorPodcast

Dr. Shaver and I go way back to when she was an intern and we wrote a short paper published in JAVMA together. We got to work together for a couple of years recently and started a bajillion research projects as we think a lot alike. She was generous enough to offer to be our first veterinarian interviewed for the blog. Enjoy!

Links to topics brought up in this episode:

Maximize Your Senior Year for Internship Success

There is No Ideal Applicant

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

The Vetducator - mentor growing pupil.

You would think this would be simple.  You need a letter of recommendation. You contact someone you think could write one for you.  You ask them to do so. Job done, right? For some reason, I continue to encounter students who do not do a good job with this step. Those students need help, and I am here to give it to you.

The academic career system is predicated on other academics vouching for you.  This process ensures that someone familiar with the position’s demands and your abilities can evaluate your preparedness for the position.  They then write an analysis of your preparedness in a letter of recommendation. Letters are ubiquitous and are variably important, depending on the position to which you are applying.  We will cover elsewhere who you approach to write for you. Here we will discuss how to approach a potential letter writer.

Once you have identified who you want to contact, you have three options: email, phone call, in person.  In all cases, the specific phrase you need to use is, “Would you be willing to write me a GOOD letter of recommendation?”  The good is important. It is often implied, but you need to make it explicit. Otherwise, you may end up with someone writing you a letter of recommendation which is not good.  It is possible even if you ask them to write a good letter that they will not. But most academics are professionals, and if they feel they cannot write you a good letter when asked explicitly, they will tell you. You have three options for initiating this request:

Email.  This is the easiest, lowest-stakes, and generally preferred method.  You have time to compose your message and consider how you want to phrase your request.  In general, you should open with the position to which you want to apply. If you have not been in contact with the person for a year or two, you may mention your current position or your interest in the new position.  The only reason not to use email is when you have an individual whom you know who does not rapidly (or ever) respond to email. Then you may need to resort to other means.

Phone Call.  This requires some preparation and timing can be problematic.  You need to reach them when they are available to listen to your spiel and are not distracted.  After the usual opening pleasantries, you can ask, “Is now a good time to chat?” If not, you may ask about a time to schedule a call.  You should have a plan for what you want to say. If it has been a while since you have been in contact, you should chit-chat about your current status and ask how things have been for them.  You can then make your request.

In Person.  This is usually done with individuals you see regularly and it is just as easy to ask in person as it is in email.  Usually you won’t need much of a lead-up, but asking, “Can I ask you something?” is a decent opener. As with other steps, explain what you are applying for and then make your ask.

For phone calls and in person asks, ALWAYS FOLLOW UP WITH EMAIL.  Send them an email reminder of your request. After you receive a “yes”, regardless of contact, make sure to send a follow up reminder a couple of weeks before the due date.  Reasonable people will find this helpful and not irritating.

What if you get a “no” response?  That’s fine, it’s better to know before they send off an unflattering letter!  Thank them and, if appropriate, you may ask their advice for whom else you could ask.  Hopefully they will give you some constructive advice and, if not, you haven’t lost anything.

Most professionals who are willing to write letters of recommendation are not scary.  It should not be an anxiety-inducing experience to ask for a letter from someone with whom you have worked.  Most professionals will be flattered. Try to be realistic about it. What’s the worst they can say? “No”, and then you know they would not be a good writer!  It’s a win-win. Be bold and respectful and everything will be fine.

What is FTE and why do you Need to Know It?

This is important for anyone applying for a faculty position.  The FTE is a core part of every faculty position. It dictates how you’ll spend your time, how you will be evaluated, and what the main focus of the position is.  The FTE, or sometimes EFT, means “Full-Time Equivalent” or “Equivalent Full Time”, and is divided among teaching, research, service, and administration. The FTE always should total up to 100% for a full-time position.

Every academic position includes the classic triumvirate: teaching, research, and service.  How much you do is dictated by your FTE. Teaching includes didactic teaching and perhaps clinical teaching, depending on the institution.  Research dictates the amount of publications and extramural funding required in your position. Service is divided among clinical service and other responsibilities, such as committee work.

The service component for clinical faculty is arguably the most important variable, as that dictates how much time you spend on clinic duty.  It’s tremendously difficult to do research or didactic teaching on clinics, so the more service time you have, the less you will be able to do the other domains.  Tenure-track clinical faculty typically have approximately 50% service. Clinical-track faculty typically have approximately 66% service. Non-clinical faculty may have very low service FTE; for example, pharmacology faculty may have 5% FTE which reflects their committee responsibilities.

The research component indicates what is expected in the realm of scholarly activity.  This differs by the institution, but in general a low research FTE, such as 5-10%, usually indicates an expectation for case reports, case series, or contributing authorship on other people’s works.  A high FTE, such as over 50%, usually has the expectation of significant extramural funding. Many tenure-track clinical faculty have a research FTE between 20-30%, which indicates they should have some publications and, depending on the institution, possibly some extramural funding.

Teaching often covers the balance of the FTE, and I suspect for most institutions it is not clear what the teaching FTE translates to, with respect to the number of hours spent in the classroom.  For example, is course coordinator for a 1-credit class worth 5% FTE or 10% FTE? Or some other value? I suspect few institutions have this down to an equation, but if yours does, please share below.  As a general rule, the greater your classroom teaching time, the higher your teaching FTE, but this is relative to others in your institution and may be fairly fuzzy.

Administration FTE is typically reserved for section chiefs, directors, department chairs, and other administrative roles.  Section chiefs may have a small administrative FTE- such as 5%- whereas department chairs often have 50% or more. Most regular faculty do not have any administrative FTE.

The FTE distribution I held as an associate professor and section head was 40% instruction, 35% service, 15% research, and 10% administration.  The FTE distribution I held as a department head was 20% teaching, 35% service, 20% research, and 25% administration.

Realize that a full-time faculty position does not necessarily mean 35 hours a week, or 40 hours a week, or 60 hours a week.  Like any good workplace, academia is results-oriented. Some weeks you may work 20 hours, some 60 hours. The FTE indicates your relative distribution of your time, NOT how many hours you work.

The FTE is usually a component of the job description and should be a component of the offer letter.  You want to know what you are getting in to. The FTE may change slightly from year to year, but it shouldn’t change dramatically unless your job duties change dramatically.  You need to know what FTE you have for any faculty job to which you apply.

Set Your Post-Graduate Success in Vet School

Vetducator - Mean and nice chihuahua dog.

I was chatting with a colleague the other day who mentioned a course we had just converted that semester from a graded course to a pass/fail (at 70%) course.  Apparently students had been harassing the course coordinator for a few points here and there, even though these students were already above a 70%. They couldn’t ‘pass’ any more than they had, yet they were hassling this poor embattled new assistant professor.  

My colleague asked me, “Don’t they realize they will want us to write letters of recommendation for them in a few years?  Do they think we’ll have forgotten how they made our lives unnecessarily difficult?” I’m not saying vengeance will be taken or anything of the sort.  I’m also not saying students shouldn’t ask polite questions of faculty members to improve their own understanding of a topic. But students who want an 89% instead of an 88% in a course which is pass/fail will be noticed.  And remembered.

During vet school, you want to be quietly competent.  Not invisible, but not obnoxious or difficult to work with.  As always, aim for zero. Ideally, faculty members know more or less who you are and if you are a good student.  “Good” in this context does not necessarily mean earning high grades. For a clinician educator like myself, a “good” vet student is one who tries to understand the clinical rationale for decisions and is not just memorizing data.  If you are a club officer, hopefully the faculty mentor for the club knows you and you feel comfortable talking to them.

Focus on the big picture.  I understand it’s easy to get swept along with your classmates who all want top grades, but ask what the important thing is about what you’re learning.  Is the most important thing to get good grades, or is the most important things to become a competent clinician? I distinctly remember the #1 ranked student in a class got to clinics and one of my interns wondered, “How can they be so smart and so dumb at the same time?”  They were academically gifted, but couldn’t handle clinical decision making. Don’t just memorize data. Understand concepts.

I don’t want any student to feel like they can’t talk to a faculty member and ask respectful questions intended to expand their own understanding.  But when the questions are purely to get an extra point or two, ask yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish. And consider the collateral damage you may cause.  Faculty members are, in general, fairly intelligent, with good memories. We will remember the grade grubbers. And they will not get good letters of recommendation.

How to be Successful: Growth Mindset


The Vetducator - Image of plant growing.

Since vet schools care so much about GPA and GRE scores, you would think that being an amazing vet student, intern, resident, or faculty member is largely about intelligence.  Being smart helps, no doubt about that. But it is only one piece of the puzzle, and an arguably small piece at that. The best veterinary professionals aren’t necessarily the smartest.  They are ones who aim for zero, who show up, and, above all, have a growth mindset.

The fixed mindset vs. growth mindset is a relatively recent concept in psychology.  The essential premise is that people with a fixed mindset believe they have certain natural talents which are just innate and they cannot become an expert without these.  For example, I have an amazing sense of direction and, if I believed I was just born with this, I would have a fixed mindset.

Those with a growth mindset believe that you can learn anything- you just have to put in the time.  This is popularly explained as the “10,000 hour rule”, which suggests if you spend 10,000 hours on a skill you can become an expert.  The real value is probably closer to 50,000 hours, but the premise stands. I believe I have an excellent sense of direction because I studied maps as a kid, regularly navigated my environment in challenging ways, and had the ocean constantly to the west, making navigation more intuitive.  I got good at navigating because I practiced, not because I was born with it.

You would assume every competent veterinary professional has a growth mindset, and you would be partly right.  After all, everyone went through vet school and had to learn how to be a veterinarian- they weren’t born being able to be a vet.  But you would also be partly wrong, because countless students say things like, “I’m just not good at physiology! I’ll never get it!”  That suggests a fixed mindset.

When I am working with a student, intern, or resident, I want to work with one who is enthusiastic and willing to learn.  Being open to new ideas is essential to being a great veterinarian. I had a solid half hour back-and-forth with one of my classes about the uselessness of warming intravenous fluids (I know better now how to have this debate, but we all have to learn somehow).  They just couldn’t believe that this standard of practice everywhere they worked was useless for helping core body temperature.

Having a growth mindset is synonymous with making and learning from mistakes.  At Midwestern University, the faculty had a debate about how to handle students who made a grave medical error.  Although some faculty members wanted to punish the students, most wanted to first ask a question: How did the student feel about it?  Did they recognize the mistake, admit to it, and try to correct it? Or did they bury the mistake, blame someone else, or act unbothered by it?  Being willing to learn from mistakes indicates a growth mindset.

You can change your mind to be more in a growth mindset.  I had been teaching martial arts for 15 years and veterinary medicine for 10 before I first heard my best friend say in an instructor training course, “In any situation, figure out what YOU could have done to make it better.”  He also said, “Name a time when something went wrong that wasn’t your fault, but you could have done something to make it better/not happen.” This revolutionized the way I taught and even approached life. Now when my students don’t understand a concept, I couldn’t shuck responsibility.  I had to see what I could do to make things better, so I had to improve my pedagogical skills.

As I began to learn more about human error, cognitive biases, and medical error, I became more excited about learning how we make mistakes and how to learn from them.  I moved my mind to more of a growth mindset so you can, too. The earlier you start, the easier it will be. You can get better. You can BE better. But only if you believe it and only if you try.