Tag Archives: application

Sample Vetducator Corrections for 2019 Letters of Intent

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

I thought I would share with you the way I have worked with students in the past and the sorts of comments I provide.  In general, I try to offer the writer the perspective an evaluator will have. This sometimes comes off as blunt, but I’m trying to genuinely share what goes through my mind.  You can see that I don’t rewrite things, just offer suggestions, so it is still the original author’s work; their work with added editing and expert advice. These are all anonymous and submitted with the author’s permission.

Examples of Poor Letters of Intent

The Vetducator- Bad Apple
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

We have previously given examples of good stories in letters of intent, so I wanted to take the opportunity to show some examples of poor letters of intent.  These examples are from letters which were overall evaluated as “unrankable” for internships, but they apply to any stage of your professional progression. Although the entire letter was given a low value, I wanted to sample the specific segments I think are most illustrative.

“Whether it’s researching alternative therapies for treating an incontinent cat, working a busy ten hour shift in the ER, or consoling an upset client, I really enjoy my work. I am positive, hardworking, determined, organized, and good at working with others. I love to research and think outside the box when it comes to addressing challenging cases. I love working with cats, dogs, and pet exotics. I particularly enjoy emergency medicine, internal medicine, and companion exotic animal medicine.  Being on the verge of completing veterinary school at Unseen University in the top 10% of my class, I want to pursue further study with a one year internship followed by a residency in exotics. I am looking for a rigorous small animal internship in which I can have primary case responsibility, a heavy and varied case load, and the opportunity to continue learning under the guidance of veterinary specialists.”

As an opening paragraph, it is an abrupt start.  A little bit of a lead-in would be nice. It is highly self-promoting: telling the reader how amazing the author is.  They give some indication of what they want, but not why.

“An internship will provide me an opportunity to expand my knowledge base under the guidance of mentors and will continue to grow my veterinary school technical education. It is my desire to be trained by committed and passionate people who are experienced in helping interns to develop a good medical judgment and clinical skills. Likewise* the high volume of clinical cases in specialty practices will assist me to learn and manage multiple cases efficiently. A private practice internship will also enable me to provide optimal care for patients, learn to maximize customer service, and provide opportunities to develop interpersonal relationships with clients.”

What in the world does this entire paragraph tell me?  Of course an internship will help you grow. Everyone wants to be trained by great people.  The high volume is a good detail- I know this person would be a better fit for a busy practice than a slow, cerebral one.  I think ANY job would help you provide optimal care for patients, work on customer service, and work on interpersonal relationships.

“As there is increasing public interest in exotic and nontraditional companion animals* I have exploited every opportunity to continue my education and clinical training with species beyond those routinely presented to the Unseen University Teaching Hospital.  As a zoological and wildlife intern at numerous institutions I was responsible for patient care, heard health, public health, animal husbandry, and patient medical records. Through my direct interactions with chief veterinarians at esteemed zoological institutions I participated in numerous procedures, as listed on my C.V., and attended journal clubs and quality of life meetings.  Professional collaboration was essential in these settings as I discussed patient care and wellbeing with multiple individuals whom were all invested in the same animal, yet possessed differing degrees of medical knowledge. I have knowledge of avian, reptilian and mammalian wildlife, including proper handling and restraint through my experiences caring for these species at the Nature Center and Unseen University Wildlife Ward.”

Let’s analyze each sentence:

1 – Convoluted.  How have you exploited them?  Exploited is not a good word choice.

2 – Misspelling error in ‘heard health’.  Also, how is this different from anyone else?  Of course you’ve done medical records. What do you want, a cookie?

3 – Great, if it’s on your CV, why is it here?  I HAVE your CV, why waste valuable letter space on this?

4 – I can’t even unpack this sentence. “Whom” should be “who”.

5 – Great, you have skills.  I’m not too interested in skills- I can teach you what you need to know.  How are you to WORK with? Based on this, self-promoting and superficial.

* – Missing comma.

I know these applicants were sincere and dedicated and really wanted a position.  I do not want to dismiss their passion. Unfortunately, passion is not enough. They didn’t reach out to mentors and friends for feedback, resulting in relatively poor letters.  I hope you can learn from them, and avoid these missteps.

Biggest Mistakes Made During the Faculty Search Process

Possibly due to poor preparation, possibly due to nerves, and possibly due to ignorance, people applying for and interviewing for faculty positions routinely make mistakes.  Most of them are minor, some of them are major. Here are some I have seen (and a few I’ve done myself). Hopefully, by reading this, you can avoid them.

1) Mentioning the spousal hire at any point before getting an offer in hand.  Just don’t do this. You are interviewing for a job- focus on the job. You don’t want to bias anyone by making them think you will be a more complicated or difficult hire due to a spouse.  You want them to evaluate you on your merits alone. Wait until you have an offer to mention the need for a spousal hire.

2) Aiming to be a +1 in your application materials.  As mentioned before, the point of a faculty application is to get you an interview.  You just need a decent CV, decent letter, and decent recommendations. You may be able to get a slight leg up on other applicants if you have amazing versions of any of these, but probably not.  Most of the time, if you aim to be a +1, you will fail and become a -1.

3) Phoning it in.  If your application contains spelling errors, or you seem bored during your interview, you won’t get the offer.  You need to be enthusiastic and interested from beginning to end.

4) Fleeing your current position.  No one wants to hire a jaded, bitter, and angry faculty member.  You need to be chasing something great at the place you are applying for, not fleeing something terrible.  You MAY say your current position isn’t a great fit, but you MAY NOT say it is terrible and you just want to be anywhere else.

4.5) Talking badly about colleagues.  This is often seen in conjunction with fleeing your current position.  I don’t care if your mortal enemy works where you work, you cannot talk badly about them.  This is the image you are painting of who you are as a faculty member. If you talk badly about current colleagues, that means you will talk badly of future colleagues.  You MAY say you don’t communicate well with a certain person, but you MAY NOT say they are a monster and make your life hell.

5) Giving a bad job talk.  This is separate from phoning it in, but often occurs concurrently.  You need to practice your presentation and make sure it is amazing. Most positions involve teaching, after all.  If you can’t teach, you can’t do the job.

6) Being a boor.  This covers a wide range of sins, including ordering numerous alcoholic drinks, not engaging people, being rude or dismissive, not smiling, not meeting people’s eyes, saying inappropriate things, and other unprofessional behavior.  I’m not sure what to say to get you to not do this. Practice being a better person, I suppose?

7) Not having a clue.  If you didn’t do your interview/site visit prep, or if you want a tenure-track position but are interviewing for a clinical-track position, or if you don’t know what the institution is about, you will turn people off.  Do your prep work and make sure you actually want the job.

8) Being weird.  Look, I am all for being outside of normal, but not during an interview. Dress conservatively, practice your conversation and interview skills, and don’t go off the rails in conversation topics.  I once had an applicant who OVER-prepared and wanted to show it off (aiming for a +1) and, as a consequence, we didn’t get to talk about things that were actually important for the job.

I could probably go on.  This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but to give you a general sense of how to act during a faculty interview.  You want to demonstrate that you will be a good, positive, productive colleague. No department chair wants a Project or a Problem Child.  The more you can show that you get along with people and will do a good job, the better.

Examples of Good Stories from Letters of Intent

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Once, I read a letter of intent from an applicant which was filled with personal, but relevant, stories.  It created a compelling narrative which I believe made them a great applicant.

That, right there, is a narrative story.  It relates an event on a personal level, rather than just relating the facts.  Another way to start this post may have been: Stories are important because mankind has used storytelling for as long as we have had language, and they create powerful engagement with a listener/reader.  Each opener works fine, but I believe the storytelling one is slightly better. You can use this same strategy in your letter of intent.

One of the most common recommendations I give to applicants as well as interviewees is: tell a story.  Relate it to your own personal experience. Behavioral interviewing regularly uses this strategy, such as: “Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult ethical decision.”  Given this recommendation, I thought it may be helpful to provide some examples of particularly good stories. These have been made anonymous and unidentifiable.

“During my time at <shop>, I worked to expand our product lines, reach out to our alumni, partner with Unseen University’s SCAVMA for mutual benefit, and move to a new location. Between the growth in available merchandise, development of a user-friendly website, increase in foot traffic, and more optimal hours – <the shop> has been able to generate revenue and continue giving back to the college.”

“When I moved to the States from Another Country, I knew very little English.  Many have told me ‘it’s impossible, you can’t do it’; but this only motivated me to push myself, and work incredibly hard to overcome these barriers and strive to pursue my goals with excellence.  Today, many are not even able to pick up on my accent and I hope to bring this ‘can-do’ attitude to your institution.”

“Working in a surgery referral practice* I had the opportunity to see firsthand the immense value added to an owner’s life when their pet’s life is saved or its quality of life is improved, and that is when I finally realized that I wanted to become a veterinarian.”

* – There should be a comma here.

“Through my unique experience pursuing an MPH, my eyes have been opened to the human influence present in veterinary medicine. This, in turn, has made me more aware of the importance in recognizing the human-animal bond and cultural influences when it comes to animal health and welfare. Teaching classes to children and adults has shaped my development as an effective communicator during my clinical year at Unseen University. It is my hope to continuing exploring this perspective at your institution.”

“I can remember the feeling of profound amazement the first time I was able to watch the motion of a beating heart during a partial lung lobectomy procedure, the frustration of a meticulously placed cortical screw giving way, the disappointment of being unable to help a critical patient, and the confusion of an atypical presentation. It seems that Murphy’s Law has a special place for veterinary medicine in its heart. These experiences provided me the opportunity to witness creative thinking when things did not go as planned, taught me that dedication to our patients, clients, and colleagues helps to ensure a smooth running machine, and demonstrated the importance of perseverance when progress seems impossible.”

“As the daughter of two veterinarians, I was exposed to both the professional and personal aspects of veterinary medicine from a young age. Working at my parents’ small animal general practice for many years showed me the emotional and mental fulfillment that comes from caring for people and their animals as well as solving medical challenges on a daily basis.”

“Recently, I externed at a large multi-specialty center and met diplomates in various disciplines as well as the current interns. This gave me a chance to get familiar with the expectations of an intern. I saw the long working hours, financial restraints and sleepless nights during internship. I see these hardships as seeds of dedication and passion that will help me bloom into a well-informed, more confident and skillful clinician. I was inspired seeing the diplomates, residents and interns working on very challenging cases. I aspire to be like them one day and hope one day to inspire others.”

What I hope you will see with all of these examples is not just a recitation of facts, but an interpretation of the experience.  “I had this happen, this is what I learned.” This is the core of storytelling- the Hero’s Journey.  You have a challenge, and you learn from it.  It’s a simple narrative but, if you can apply it to your letters, I believe they will be more compelling.

5 Ways to Improve your Application for Internships as a Non-American

At one of my old institutions, I routinely evaluated the international batch of candidates for our internship.  This was usually a pretty sizeable group- between 40 and 50 of 200 applications. Unfortunately for the applicants, it was one of the easiest groups to evaluate.  A short skim of most applications would reveal them to be unacceptable candidates, so a thorough analysis was not needed to determine where they might rank as a candidate.  It’s harsh but true. If you are not from the United States, and you are applying for a veterinary position here, it is a steep uphill battle.* Here are five ways to improve your success.

1) Get some time working for an academic clinical specialist.  Ideally one in the United States, but a well-regarded institution in the English-speaking world or Utrecht is better than nothing.  This is the most important point because it is ESSENTIAL. No one who hasn’t been trained in the U.S. system knows the U. S. system, so any letters of recommendation you get have no bearing on how well you would do in a U. S. internship.  If you have an application with only letters of recommendation from your home country, unless it is the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or The Netherlands, you won’t get very far. You need AT LEAST 2 weeks, but 4 weeks is better with a single specialist.  Ideally, all of your letters of recommendation will be from specialists in the U. S.

2) Figure out the visa situation.  This has become more problematic in the current political climate.  Most private practices and many universities simply cannot accept international applicants.  This may be true even if you are from Canada or Mexico. Check with the institution unless they specify it in their program description.  If you can’t get a visa, you can’t get an internship.

3) Have a native speaker proofread your work.  I realize you may be fluent in English, but English is an incredibly ridiculous language.  I have almost never read a letter of intent from a non-native-speaker which was 100% correct.  Even professional editorial services can’t always be trusted unless they are small and personalized and feature native English speakers.

4) Apply shortly after you graduate.  I see a lot of applications from people who graduated 4-5 years ago and since then have a very strange work history.  It may be a normal work history for that country but, from a U. S. perspective, doing a 7-month internship at the school you graduated from and then doing 2 months as a food inspector and then being a small animal clinician and then working for the state is weird.  Most U. S. applicants apply straight out of vet school. You should aim to do the same. If you are reading this too late to make that decision, make your professional progression CLEAR. You did this, THEN this, THEN this. Don’t muddle up your professional responsibilities and jobs.  If you did part-time work, specify this.

5) Get some time working for a veterinary practice in a country with a strong clinical training emphasis in their veterinary education.  We took interns from some European countries which do not have a strong clinical focus and it showed, and we largely stopped taking those applicants.  You need your vet school training to be on par with vet students in the U. S. in order to be competitive. You could also spend time working as a vet in a country where clinical training is emphasized.

Essentially, you need to make your application as close to a senior veterinary student from the United States as possible.  If your application can’t indicate that you are at least as competent as an average new veterinary graduate, it won’t go anywhere.  There are plenty of more qualified applicants.

*This generally does not apply to those in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, although you still need to look at the visa situation.

Using ETC., E.G., and I.E. Correctly

This is a short, but important, PSA-style blog entry.  You are probably using abbreviations like i.e., e.g., and etc. incorrectly in your applications.  It isn’t a fatal flaw, but it is really distracting to those of us who spend a lot of time reading and writing.  So here is a quick, simple guide on the use of these abbreviations.

i.e. should be read as “that is”.  For example: I went on a long journey (i.e. a trip across the country) before I started college.  This is identical to writing: I went on a long journey- that is, a trip across the country- before I started college.

e.g. should be read as “for example”.  For example: I went on many adventures (e.g. helping a village care for its goats in Nepal) during my year before college.  This is identical to writing: I went on many adventures, for example, helping a village care for its goals in Nepal, during my year before college.

etc. should be read as “and so forth”.  For example: During my year before college, I walked, hiked, biked, flew, etc. around the world.  This is identical to writing: During my year before college, I walked, hiked, biked, flew, and so forth around the world.

It is rare that a sentence contains all three of these abbreviations, so in general I would suggest you avoid using more than one.  After you use one, go back and read it with the literal definitions I have given above and see if they make sense. These three are often confused, and it reflects a certain lack of attention to detail if you commit this error.

The 8 Steps of Writing an Application Letter

I’ve written a lot about the ideas you should express in letters of application, and even some specific suggestions on what to include.  We’ve talked about what not to do and what goals you should have, but one of my editors suggested I write an actual nuts-and-bolts-how-to-style post about writing an application letter, so here you go.  How to write an application letter in eight steps.

1) Sit down at your computer and open your word processing program

2) Write: To Members of the Selection Committee

3) Write: I am applying for <insert position>.  I am currently <your professional role>

4) Write down everything you can think of about yourself which makes you an excellent candidate.  Write down everything you can think of about your interest in the position. It should be many pages long

5) Trim.  And trim. And trim.  Take the best parts of what you have written in step 4.  It needs to be one page, no more

6) Proofread.  Edit, clean up sentences, make sure the grammar is correct.  Make sure the ideas flow from one to the next

7) Give it to friends, family, mentors- anyone whose opinion you respect.  Ask them to use Track Changes or similar to make changes and comments. Read all the comments and changes and take the ones you like

8) Read it again.  Does every sentence serve a purpose?  Is there any rambling? Do you use decisive wording or do you sound wishy-washy?  Sharpen it

Now you are done.  You have to do this for each step of your professional progression.  Don’t refer back to what you wrote for vet school when you’re applying for internships.  Start fresh. And remember Kaizen– continuous improvement. Each iteration should be better than the last.  Have fun and good luck!

What Mindset Should You Have When Applying to Faculty Jobs?

Opinions on this may differ, but I wanted to share with you my philosophical approach to applying to faculty jobs.  It can be summarized pretty easily: don’t bluff and be genuine. This can be harder to do than it sounds.

Academic institutions have interesting, but fairly consistent approaches to salaries and raises.  There is usually more money available for new hires than for existing hires. Existing hires have had to get raises through lean years and when the legislature (if a public school) is more conservative with education than other years.  As a result, salary compression occurs

Salary compression is when people who have been working at an institution for a while end up making less than a new hire.  Although uncommon, you can have a situation where a full professor makes less than a new assistant professor.  While you don’t need to make a lot of money to be happy, you DO need to make a fair amount of money to be happy.  Studies indicate that employees are generally happy with their salary if it is fair.  Unfortunately, salary compression can result in salaries not being fair among faculty members

The ‘solution’ to this problem in academia is, unfortunately, applying for other jobs, getting an offer, and then using that to negotiate with your home institution.  I put the solution in quotes because I hate this solution. I believe it is disingenuous. This may be where my sense of an idealized world conflicts with reality: you shouldn’t HAVE to resort to this, the institution should keep your salary at pace with others over time.  But I understand that isn’t always reality and this is how some people manage it

I had one colleague who was grossly underpaid at a large state school.  He was a full professor, had asked for an adjustment, and been told ‘no’.  As a consequence he began applying elsewhere. Once he got an offer from another institution, his home school was suddenly able to find money and pay enough to keep him.  Would he have actually left if he hadn’t gotten a retention offer? Maybe yes, maybe no.

What I would prefer to advise people instead is this: if salary means that much to you (I sure wish it wouldn’t), and you are genuinely unhappy because of the lack of fairness, then you should genuinely look for a job elsewhere.  It should not be a ploy or a bluff. If you are unhappy, you SHOULD look for a different job. But I believe you should only look for jobs you may seriously consider taking.

I feel that it is a disservice to the institution and, potentially, your reputation to interview somewhere you absolutely know you will not go.  Most schools dedicate significant time and energy to faculty interviews- you don’t want to waste those resources. Also, maybe there is another candidate who would LOVE to go there but doesn’t get an interview because you take up one of the slots.  We routinely interview only about 3 people on average for many faculty positions. If you know you won’t go somewhere, don’t take someone else’s spot.

On the other hand, if you believe you COULD go there, even if you’re not sure, then it is fair to apply and interview.  I have applied to institutions I wasn’t sure about and, after visiting, was favorably impressed and willing to consider moving if given an offer.  Some places I have interviewed and decided it wasn’t a good fit for me, but I didn’t know that before visiting.

My wife went on numerous interviews and got several offers, which helped refine her understanding of what she wanted from her career.  So I’m not saying don’t interview unless you’re certain you will accept an offer. You may need to go through an interview to decide if the institution or job is right for you.  I am saying: don’t interview if you’re certain you wouldn’t accept an offer. To do so is not being genuine.

Making Research in Vet School Work For You

The Vetducator: Stand back I'm going to try science.
Credit xkcd.

Now that you’re a vet student, you have it made.  You’ve achieved your life-long goal and just have to graduate.  But what if there’s something more? What if you want to do post-grad education, or work in public health, or contribute to society other than taking care of dogs, cats, and horses?  Maybe there is the opportunity to do research.

Conducting research during vet school opens a lot of doors.  You get to engage in scientific inquiry which hopefully has some ultimate effect on a patient’s outcome or quality of life.  You get to work directly with a faculty member who is (hopefully) interested in mentoring you. You get to build your CV and demonstrate to future programs that you are dedicated, responsible and focused.

Getting involved in research during vet school can be surprisingly challenging.  Undergraduate students often have whole offices dedicated to their success. For vet students, you have two easily accessible options: do a fellowship or volunteer your time.

A summer fellowship is often supported by various industry groups and provide a stipend.  A summer fellowship is a good first step, but it is unlikely you will finish a project in that amount of time. You may be a cog in the wheel of benchtop research, or you may start your own research project. If you want to continue to be a part of the project, you will likely have to volunteer once the summer is over.

Volunteering your time is also an option.  You may seek out a mentor who is doing something interesting or a mentor may announce that they are looking for students to help with research.

No matter how you get involved, before you start, you should talk openly with your potential mentor to make sure you are a good fit.  The experience needs to be positive for you and for your mentor, otherwise ill feelings can creep in.  First, you need to determine what you want out of doing research:


Experience.  You just want to try research to see if it is something that may engage you.  This is great- tell your prospective mentor(s) this. You don’t need to commit to what you want to do for the rest of your life at this point.

Relationships.  Doing research often puts you in closer contact with a faculty member than in the normal course of vet school.  You often work closely with them and meet with them regularly. You now have a mentor- you can ask them for advice, for help with letters of application and CVs, and for letters of reference.  Mentors are incredibly important in your career, and identifying and working with one through research can be a strong bond.

CV Building.  If you intend to go on to further education after graduation, research may bump your application slightly.  Be aware that almost every serious applicant I have reviewed for internships has some research experience. Just engaging in research doesn’t do much to set your CV apart.  Having a paper which is submitted for publication or, even better, accepted for publication is more remarkable. If you are buried in an author list, that is not particularly memorable.  If you are the first author on a peer-reviewed publication, evaluators may take notice. In general, having research experience and publications in your internship application won’t make or break it, but it may give you a slight edge.  If you intend to pursue a graduate degree, demonstrating some interest and experience with research during vet school is key.

An example of an improved CV from vet school research.

Second, you need to kick ass doing research.  If you want to secure a positive recommendation, just doing what you are asked/told is not enough.  You need to identify opportunities to do more. Answer emails promptly. Complete tasks eagerly and rapidly.  Many vet students do research. If you want to excel, you have to stand out. Follow a project through to the end or, if you absolutely hate what you’re doing, be clear and upfront with your faculty mentor.

Finally, make use of the resources you developed with this experience.  Don’t hesitate to ask your faculty research supervisor for help with applications.  If possible, make progress on a publication which has your name on it. The world helps those who help themselves.  Don’t just expect everything on a silver platter because you helped with a research project. Make use of the skills and connections you made.

Research during vet school can be rewarding and illuminating.  If you have the slightest inkling that you may want to do something other than primary care medical practice, dip your toe into research.  You may find out something about yourself.

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.