Tag Archives: advice

Podcast Episode 7 – Dr. Jarred Williams

Dr. Williams and I worked together at an institution and spent many a night doing colic cases together. He has insight into the world of veterinary equine medicine and equine surgery. I hope his insight is helpful to those of you interested in that path!

Doing the Best Phone Interview

The Vetducator - Michael Scott from The office talks on the phone.  Don't do it like him.

By The Pharmducator

The last time I did a phone interview I was a senior vet student applying for internships.  Therefore, I do not have the experience with this format that I do with any other. However, my significant other has been interviewing like a fiend for the past 6 months and has done numerous phone interviews.  I have called her in to offer her experience and expertise to give you, our reader, the best information available.

This is the Pharmducator. Which is my way of saying that I’m The Vetducator’s spouse and my field of expertise is pharmacy, not vet med. I was asked me to write this post because he has very little experience with phone interviews, whereas I have been interviewed by phone many times during my one-year (in total) full time job search experience.

In reading this post, it’s important to understand that I HATE speaking on the telephone. I can’t tell you exactly why, but texting/emailing/in-person conversations have always been my vast preference for communication. However, when your entire job is to find a job (or internship/residency/vet school acceptance), you put up with a lot of anxieties.  Here’s what my experiences have taught me about phone interviews:

Environment: In a lot of ways, phone interviews can be easier than video interviews. You can do them in your pajamas, without removing all of your questionable artwork from the walls, in any kind of lighting set-up. You should, however, plan to be in as quiet a space as possible. If I’m at home, I’ll usually do a phone interview in my bedroom with the door closed so the cats won’t decide that they need attention halfway through my conversation. If you schedule a time during work or school, find a similarly private space. I shared an office for my most recent position, so I couldn’t guarantee I would be alone for my interview. I wound up in my lab, since I knew no one would need that space during my scheduled time. Obviously, you should make sure your phone is fully charged or can be connected to your charger if necessary. I wouldn’t recommend using speakerphone, as the sound quality is often quite poor. If you have access to a good-quality landline, that may be your best bet.

Preparation: Phone interviews typically last around half-an-hour; I’ve only done one or two that lasted close to an hour. The institution may have a hard-and-fast time limit; that is, it’s possible your time is absolutely up once that 30 minutes elapses. Some may allow for more time, but be prepared to be concise in your questions as well as your answers. Sometimes the sound quality on the other end may be compromised, so get used to the idea that you may need to ask people to repeat themselves. If you’re provided with the names of the people who will be on the call, research them ahead of time and tailor your questions or answers accordingly.

Format: Phone interviews are usually part of the screening process for candidates. The institution usually has some set questions, either from the individuals on the call or mandated by the institution. This is why it’s important to be concise in your answers; your caller(s) may have to ask you these exact eight questions, and, if you spend five minutes on each answer, the callers may be late for their next interview or class, or you may not be asked the question that’s going to prove you’re the best candidate on their list. Listen carefully to what you’re told regarding the format and be mindful of the time you have.

Aside from that, all the same preparation rules for interviews apply: look up the institution, know as much as possible about the position, and have questions prepared. Post in the comments if you have questions that I haven’t covered here!

Should you do a Residency?

The Vetducator - deciding on doing a residency.
Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

The residency is the path to specialization.  There are a handful of veterinary specialties you can earn without a residency, but, for the vast majority, a 2-4 year residency is the only path to specialization.  So, really, the question of doing a residency is: Should you be a specialist? Obviously this is a question you need to answer for yourself, but here are some considerations which may help.

Timing.  There are many paths to being a specialist, but the most common is straight from vet school to residency (pathology, lab animal medicine specialties), or from internship to residency (for most others).  Some people may be tempted to go into practice first, and then go to a residency. While possible (and even successful for some specialties- like radiology), read the post about taking time off before deciding on this path- it will be harder than a more traditional path.

Salary.  Most, but not all, specialists make more, sometimes considerably more, than general practitioners.  If you have chronic health issues or family obligations, you may be able to take care of them more easily as a specialist.  Otherwise, the salary shouldn’t factor into your decision-making.

Academia.  Although some universities are figuring out they should hire general practice vets to train general practice-bound students, the vast, vast majority of faculty are still specialists.  If you want to go into academic veterinary medicine, becoming a specialist is really your best bet. And academia is pretty great!

Expertise.  In a study we did interviewing senior veterinary students, those interested in specializing expressed the desire to be considered experts and sought after for their knowledge.  As a general practitioner, you become more knowledgeable and proficient in a wide variety of domains. As a specialist, you become an expert in a single field. Both can be intellectually rewarding, but if you want the social status that comes with being The Expert, becoming a specialist is an easy path to that regard.

Time.  Do you want to spend 2-4 more years of your life on your education?  Or do you need to get on with things? This depends on your own life situation, probably largely determined by your family life.  Along with this is the reduced income you will have as a resident relative to entering general practice. This is only relevant during the residency, though, as your salary will be much higher once you are done.

Flexibility.  As a specialist, there will be fewer places in the country you can work.  General practitioners are needed even in very small towns, but Americus, GA, does not need a board-certified veterinary surgeon.  In general, as a specialist, you will work at a university or in a private practice in at least a small city.

Dedication.  As a resident you will work long hours for little thanks and little pay.  Can you suffer through that? Are you OK being treated as a minion for more time in your life?  It is physically and psychologically tiring, so you have to be dedicated to the pursuit or you will be miserable.

There are a lot of great reasons to do a residency, but it is not without cost, and it is absolutely not for everyone.  Talk to your friends, your family, and your mentors. It’s a difficult, but important, decision.

What I Wish I Had Known as a Student Applying for Internships

The Vetducator - Rock lines path symbolizing internship path.

I only applied to 11 internships, 9 of which were academic.  My letter and CV were not particularly good, but I was very assertive on clinics, did a good job, and got good letters of recommendation.  I didn’t participate in clubs or do any substantive research during vet school. If I applied nowadays, it is unlikely I would have gotten any internship, much less a good one.  I want to help you avoid my mistakes by giving you this advice:

Apply everywhere.  I have no idea why I limited the scope of where I applied.  I suppose I had some high-minded ideal of only wanting to go to places on the west coast.  Don’t do this. Apply wherever you think you could be happy for a year. Which is anywhere.  Even the frozen north or broiling south.

Polish your materials.  You need to reach out to your mentors and have them provide advice and perspective on your application.  Almost no one writes a good letter or CV the first time around without input. Seek advice constantly from those who know better.  If for some reason you don’t have mentors, reach out to me.

Don’t try to game the match.  I thought I knew how the match worked and ranked institutions according to where I thought I would get matched, rather than where I wanted to go.  This reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of the match. Rank where you WANT to go first.

Demonstrate leadership.  Although I didn’t participate in vet school clubs, I opened and ran a karate school for 4 years while in vet school.  I wish I had known that participating in student clubs may have helped my application more than running a non-vet-school-related organization.  I don’t think it hurt but, for the amount of time it took, it didn’t help as much as it could have.

Go to private practice.  I knew I wanted to do a residency and felt that an academic internship would position me best for this.  It’s probably true, but, in fact, I did a private practice internship which has been incredibly valuable for teaching students for the Real World.  You may need to take a more meandering route if you do a private practice internship- doing specialty internships or other roles after your internship- but it is better to stay in the system in some capacity.

Fortunately, you have the benefit of my experience as well as the entirety of human knowledge in your pocket.  Hopefully, you will make more informed decisions than I did. I have a pretty great life, so do not regret any decisions, but it would have been nice to know the consequences of my decisions when I was younger.

How to be Successful: Kaizen

The Vetducator - Kaizen kanji.

I spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for my interview for a department chair position.  My talk was about the psychology of motivation, as I believe that is a core principle to understand when leading people. I focused on Self-Determination Theory, which states that people are internally motivated by autonomy, competence, and relatedness with others.  When discussing the competence domain, I wanted to try and express a concept I had been living my whole life, manifested most obviously in my martial arts training.

When you begin training in martial arts, regardless of your age or athleticism, you begin as a white belt.  No matter what talents you bring to martial arts, you start at the beginning because you don’t know about about this specific skill.  As you learn, you progress through clearly delineated ranks. Do this skill correctly, then earn this rank. It makes skill progression visible and tangible.

I have been training in martial arts since I was 12, so this process was largely invisible to me- it was just a way of life.  OBVIOUSLY, if you practice more, you get better at the skill. That is what a growth mindset gets you. But, to get really good, you need to not only train.  You need to identify what you need to improve, work on improving it, then evaluate your performance and improvement. This can be conceptualized in the plan-do-act-check cycle, which is a component of Kaizen.

Kaizen means “good improvement” and describes a cycle of continuous improvement.  The Toyota Corporation was an early adopter of Kaizen, and the principle became more widespread and accepted in the past few decades.  Although originally used in industrial processes, the principle can be applied to any human pursuit. Applying Kaizen speaks to the competence domain of Self-Determination: you get better at something, which increases your competence, which makes you want to do it more.

What can you do to continue to improve in life?  Here are some suggestions:

1) Learn a skill.  “I’m already learning a skill, Vetducator- how to be a vet! (or a better vet)”  Yes, but you can learn other skills, too. I prefer movement-related ones like dancing and martial arts, but maybe you like learning coding, or home repair/maintenance, or cat training.  This is valuable because you never know when learning something new will help you in another area, it keeps your mind sharp, and it keeps you in the HABIT of learning new things.  Find something FUN to learn.

2) Read a book.  “I am reading so many books already for school, Vetducator!”  Yes, but you need to develop non-veterinary skills and knowledge, too.  I prefer non-fiction books for this development, but fiction books can expand your vocabulary and provide other improvements.  I have been on a recent kick reading books about teaching, so I get to expand my knowledge of teaching.

3) Practice social skills.  If you’re already an adroit, socially-competent person, you can skip this.  For the other 99% of us, you can ALWAYS practice interacting better with other humans.  And I don’t mean acting more extroverted, bouncy, and outgoing. Maybe your focus is you need to listen more, maybe you need to think about treating people with more respect, maybe you want to smile more.  I think everyone can improve on this.

4) Diet and exercise.  This is a common trope today, but it is nonetheless useful.  Don’t know how to cook a vegetarian meal? Practice. Not good at making bread?  Practice. Can only do one pull up? Practice. Keep getting better, even if it is incremental.

This principle applies to being a better student/intern/resident/faculty member because you want to be the best one of those you can be.  The ‘best’ will look different depending on the individual, but the principle is to be constantly improving. You don’t need to push yourself every single day (unless you enjoy that!).  But you should always be looking at how you can improve. Don’t just tread water. If you want to be successful, if you want to be a +1, you need continuous improvement.

If you want to get better, it’s not enough to just want it and hope it comes to you.  You need to make efforts and you will achieve. Don’t stop.

Will They Pull a Faculty Position Offer?

For anyone applying for a faculty position, this is probably the nightmare scenario: you interviewed, you like the position, they liked you, they offer you the position, you begin negotiating, and then they pull the offer.  What the hell just happened? This topic is difficult for me to discuss because it is so thoroughly beyond-the-pale unprofessional and unacceptable for institutions to pull an offer that I can barely wrap my head around it.  Nonetheless, it does happen in veterinary medicine, and I have personally seen it twice.

The first I heard second-hand about but did not participate in.  The small, private institution had offered a candidate the position and the candidate came back with requests.  The problem is, one of those requests was absolutely impossible for the institution. The applicant felt strongly about it, though, so contemplated it for a long time and came back with another possible solution.  There was at least one other back-and-forth like this. The candidate came back with another possible solution, and the hiring manager at the institution became frustrated and said, “Forget it.”

The second happened to a friend of mine.  They received an offer for a faculty position at an off-campus research center affiliated with a large state school.  My friend came back with a request for flexibility to allow remote work from an office on-campus (4 hours away from the research center) 4-6 days per month because of a personal family situation.  The institution pulled the offer without further negotiation or explanation.

Let me be clear: this is the fault of the institution, NOT the applicant.  I told my friend that it was probably for the best: any organization which would pull an offer during negotiations is not one you want to work for.  This happens only because individuals at the organization get ego and emotion involved, which you SHOULD NOT do during negotiations. Here’s how negotiations are supposed to work:

The institution extends an offer.  You respond with what you would like in order to accept it.  The institution responds. They may give you everything, they may give you something, or they may give you nothing of what you ask for.  If they give you everything, great, you accept the offer. If they give you something, you may be able to reply asking for a different something.  The second-to-last step in any negotiation is the institution saying: this is our final offer, take it or leave it, and we need a decision by this date.  It is then up to the candidate to decide if that is acceptable to them or not.

I can’t imagine why an institution would rescind an offer unless it is due to ego or emotion.  I have heard administrators say during a negotiation, “Well, they aren’t appreciative enough of our offer,” or “What they are asking for is unreasonable.”  The first reflects a ridiculous premise- of COURSE they appreciate the offer, but they want to do the best thing for themselves, their colleagues, and the institution.  The second is irrelevant- if the institution believes it is unreasonable, they can reply with, “We cannot do that.” That’s how negotiations work!

If you are applying for faculty positions and are concerned about the pulled offer, my advice is: Do not be concerned.  First, they are vanishingly rare. I have a personal sample of probably 50 negotiations of which I am aware enough to know if this happened. The fact that this happened in only two cases indicates a 4% incidence rate. In fact, the rate is very likely much lower than that, as there are hundreds more negotiations I do not know of that did not result in a pulled offer. Second, it is a GOOD thing if an institution pulls an offer to you.  This indicates they are immature and unprofessional and don’t know how to conduct a negotiation. You don’t want to work at an institution like that. Of the two cases I described, I believe both candidates dodged a bullet.

Any competent administrator, if faced with a situation where they can’t give a candidate what the candidate is asking for, will say so, “This is the best we can do.  Let us know by this date if you will accept or not.” When negotiating, you need to ask for what you NEED and what you WANT and offer reasonable explanations for your requests.  Don’t accept any less because you are afraid of the pulled offer. The reasonable institution will give you what they can and negotiate in good faith.

NB: All of this assume YOU dealt with the institution in good faith. If you withheld something (pending license investigation, legal trouble, accusations of academic malfeasance, etc.), you should absolutely expect this will be discovered and, no matter where you are in the process, the offer will probably be rescinded. But you wouldn’t do anything like that, would you? So does not apply to you.

How to Be Successful: Show Up

The Vetducator - success by opening doors by showing up.

Show up.  That’s it.  End of blog post.  You can believe me and stop reading or you can read on if you need more convincing.

Living in the South is strange in so many ways.  One which you would not expect is the approach service workers (plumbers, electricians, roofers, contractors, etc.) take to showing up.  That is, maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Not just being late- that’s any service worker. You make an appointment, and they never show or call to reschedule.  This is distinctly different than in other parts of the country in my experience. It seems like a simple arrangement- you show up to do a job, I give you money. Don’t you like money?  Apparently, laborers in the South do not. Every now and then you find one who actually shows up, and they get all my business and my friends’ business. Until they also eventually start to not show up.  It’s a weird way to run a business, but this was a huge sign I had of how important it is to show up.

Teaching martial arts for 20 years, I see this constantly.  Who are the black belts? The best students? The most competent, the stellar athletes?  Not at all. The black belts are the students who showed up. They came to class and kept coming to class, slowly learning and progressing.  The most amazingly athletic students- they were aiming to be a +1– they fell off because they actually had to apply themselves to progress rather than rely on their raw talent.  The slow, steady, quietly competent and attentive students were the ones who became terrific martial artists. They showed up.

The best vet student, intern, resident, or faculty isn’t necessarily the smartest.  Smartness helps, as does wisdom, but to be excellent you first need to show up. If you’re a student, be there before anyone else on your team and leave after everyone else on your team.  Offer to take extra on-call responsibilities. Study when you get home. One vet student with whom I worked answered a call to participate in a research project. She was so capable and engaged that she became integral to other projects, and now she has her name on three published research articles.  Those who put the time in, get the rewards.

This goes all the way up.  The most productive faculty aren’t necessarily the smartest or the most ruthless.  I know some faculty members who never come into their office when they are off clinic duty.  They’re fine faculty members, but they won’t ever be amazing until they start showing up.

We’ve talked before about how to avoid being a -1: aim for zero.  Here is where we start to see how you can go from a zero to a +1. Start by being quietly competent. Then show up.  The world is run by those who show up.

Make Sure You Have What you Need for the On-Site Interview

Traveling is harrowing under the best of circumstances.  You may get lost, you may have flight troubles, your baggage may not make it.  This is compounded when you are traveling for an interview. Will you be well rested enough, prepared enough, and avoid getting run-down?  Some of these things you can’t control. One thing you CAN control is packing correctly. The best resource for this is a checklist.

Checklists are becoming more popular in human medicine and, trailing behind as always, in veterinary medicine.  We did a study documenting that addition of some checklist steps dramatically reduced adverse anesthesia incidents.  Checklists are effective because human brains are actually terrible at retaining 100% of the information they should retain.  This is doubly true if it is an event you rarely encounter. Traveling for an interview is probably not something you do every month, so creating a checklist is key.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Toiletries.  Although most good hotels will have the essentials, you certainly have your own things you need to bring.  On my list is a hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor.
  • Clothing.  Obviously you need a suit if you are doing an interview.  Make sure it is folded to minimize creases. When you arrive at your destination, hang your suit up first thing.  You may need to iron it or your shirt/blouse. On my list are undershirts, shirts, underwear, socks, pants, pajamas, tie, dress shoes.
  • Electronics.  It is one of the most frustrating experiences to get to a destination and realize you don’t have your laptop charging cord.  On my list is a phone, phone charger, power adapter, laptop.
  • Miscellaneous.  This obviously includes a wide range of items, but for me includes books and headphones.
  • International.  If you are traveling internationally, you need a separate section for this.  Hopefully you know the visa situation before you pack. On my list are passport and foreign currency.

I travel a lot, but you would not believe the number of times I have been saved by having my checklist.  Ease some of the burdens on your mind in an interview by automating the packing part of the travel. Make up a checklist ahead of time, and then you have no worries packing!  Do you use a checklist? Have you ever forgotten something critical for an interview? Share in the comments!

Recommendation Letters Series

The Vetducator - interconnectedness image for recommendations.

Asking for letters of recommendation is hard, which we have discussed before. In addition, from whom should you get letters of recommendation? This differs depending on what position you are applying for, I have create four separate posts for each of my audiences:

Those applying for vet school.

Those applying for internships.

Those applying for residencies.

Those applying for faculty positions.

I will be posting one a day this week to have them consolidated all in one spot. I hope they are helpful to you!

How to be Successful: Being an Introvert in an Extrovert World

The Vetducator - Quiet book cover

According to Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,’ before the turn of the 20th century, our country had a culture of character.  You were trusted and people did business with you on the basis of your integrity. Around the turn of the century, though, the culture began to change to the culture of personality.  Everyone should read this book, since it’s incredible. Extroverts should read it so they understand the introverts, and introverts should read it so they understand themselves. Until you can, let’s talk about how to successfully be an introvert in this day and age.

Fortunately, you have done well with your chosen career.  Many people enter veterinary medicine believing- incorrectly- that they get to work with animals more than people.  So it seems the profession may select for more introverts than, say, business. This means there are more of Your People around, which will make things easier.  You don’t have to explain as often why you don’t want to go out after a hard week of studying and test taking. You can spend time with your small collection of close friends without much pressure to do more.  Not everyone is an introvert, but it’s not hard to find them in vetmed.

I personally think introverts have an easier time with my first rule: Aim for Zero.  Introverts take time to observe before acting, and deliberate, and therefore tend to make more thoughtful actions.  It seems that extroverts are the ones who may try to put themselves out there attempting to be a +1 and fail miserably.  I personally prefer people who are quietly competent, and this seems easier for an introvert than an extrovert.

On the other hand, it’s also important to show up and smile, which may be harder for introverts.  So you may need to do something outside your comfort zone. Fortunately, this is good, because it forces you to get better at something which is difficult: a key concept embraced in Kaizen.  If it’s hard for you to go socialize with people, then work on this. Develop it like any skill, and it will pay strong dividends for you.

Give yourself permission to be an introvert.  If you are at a social function and you are Just Done, feel free to ghost.  Push yourself a bit, but in measured amounts.  Give yourself time to recharge. If you want to have quiet time to read at lunch, find a little nook on the top floor where nobody goes and curl up with your book.

Although introversion and social awkwardness and anxiety and shyness are not synonymous, they often co-exist.  If you are socially awkward, that is just fine, PARTICULARLY for academic veterinary medicine! You don’t have to be the most flamboyant, expressive, bubbly person.  None of the suggestions I give in the How to be Successful series hinge on being an extrovert. Because you don’t have to be sociable. You DO have to be pleasant to work with and hard working, but quiet people can do this easily.

Academic veterinary medicine is a great place for an introvert.  You can (generally) set your own schedule and decide how much or little you want to interact with people.  Yes, you do need to teach, but with practice you will get better and more comfortable. You can engage in highly detailed and cerebral pursuits.  You can lock your office door or go for a walk to recharge. If you’re an introvert, seriously consider a career in academia. It’s pretty great.