Tag Archives: grammar

6 Steps to Being a Professional via Email

I was talking to a surgeon friend of mine about applicants for their surgery internship program.  She told me they had three general pools- amazing, middling, and not-ranking. She emailed one applicant from each pool to set up a time to chat about the program.  Their responses fell out exactly as the group had already placed them.

The not-rankable applicant replied 4 days after the initial email, on Jan. 4th, “Hey, that sounds good.  How about 1/6 at 5pm?”

First, there was no address line.  Second, they only provided a single time.  Third, my friend had clearly instructed the applicants to schedule time the week of 1/7. Fourth, they were proposing a weekend, which is a bit of an imposition. Fifth, they only gave my friend 2 days to figure out the scheduling.  Clearly, this person does not have their act together, so will not be ranked.

The middling applicant replied within 24 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you for the offer.  I am available 1/7 at 11am or 1/8 at 12pm.”

This applicant included a form of address and provided two options during the week indicated.  A fairly reasonable response, so clearly a decent applicant. However, the applicant did not confirm the date once it was set or check in the day before. Furthermore, the applicant then did not answer the phone at the appointed time, moving them pretty close to the ‘not ranking’ pool.

The amazing applicant replied within 4 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you so much for the offer to talk.  I am very interested to hear about your program. I am available the following times: 1/7 11am, 1/8 12pm, 1/9 3pm.  Please let me know which works best for you, or if there is another time which would be better. Thank you again and I look forward to speaking with you.”

This applicant is clearly enthusiastic, appreciative, and engaged.  They had a rapid response, gave numerous options, and overall just presented a proper, professional image via email.  They also followed up 24 hours before the set time to confirm the day and time. Of COURSE they’re at the top of the applicant pile.

Responding professionally in an email does not seem particularly burdensome to me, but from this small sample, we can see that it is a skill which not everyone possesses.  And these are applicants for a surgery internship, who have done a rotating internship already, and, presumably, want an extremely exclusive position as a surgery resident.

EVERY email my surgeon friend gets from these applicants should be impeccable. How in the world do these applicants think they are ever going to get a residency position?  Okay, enough of my ranting, here’s what you have to do, Applicants of the World:

1) Respond promptly. This doesn’t necessarily mean in the same hour, but if you can respond the same day, that indicates you are enthusiastic and eager.  “But what if I’m in surgery all day!” Sure, but you do go home eventually, don’t you? When you do, send a reply.

2) Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Yes, you may be enthusiastic on the inside, but if you can’t express that, the reader does not know.  Show your enthusiasm in your word choice and what you say.

3) Be courteous. Respect the recipient’s time and energy.  If they are trying to schedule a time with you, give THEM as many options as possible and be willing to defer your time for theirs.  Don’t expect them to move their schedule for yours. Give plenty of notice.

4) Follow up.  If you have communicated about an appointment, send an email to confirm the day before.  If you have sent an email and don’t hear back, send a check-in message.

5) Use a form of address.  This one’s simple. In professional correspondence with people you do not know, address them properly in the email.  “Dear Dr. X,” or “Dear Mr./Ms. Y.” It’s not hard, it doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t cost any more. Why NOT do this?

6) Proofread.  Always proof your emails before sending them out.  I’d say a solid 10% of my own emails have some kind of typo I pick up after writing them which I would not have noticed if I hadn’t proofed them.

So, there you go.  Pretty simple steps to make sure your emails get perceived as professional.  Please share this around so that every email I get from now on will be wonderfully polished.

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.

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.

Please Use Commas

I was reading some residency application letters and my head was almost exploding.  Everyone has their “thing”, and maybe I have more than most, but I am passionate about appropriate comma placement.  I wouldn’t sink an application for poor comma use, but it just grates on me, and why would you want to irritate the people who may make your professional dreams come true?  I am not a grammar nut and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of rules- those you can find elsewhere.  

The most common error I see in letters of application is not using the comma as a pause.  The most bothersome absent comma is the one needed to create an appropriate rhythm to the sentence.  Here are some examples. Say the one without the comma out loud. When you say that sentence, isn’t there a natural pause?  That pause is where a comma goes.

No commaAppropriate comma
As a student I worked with a faculty on a special project.As a student, I worked with a faculty on a special project
No I didn’t realize that trip would change my life.No, I didn’t realize that trip would change my life.
I did some research and did a RAVS trip.I did some research, and did a RAVS trip.
When I did an externship in Costa Rica I experienced the connection between people animals and the environment.When I did an externship in Costa Rica, I experienced the connection between people, animals, and the environment.
When I saw my first case a 5-year-old GSD I realized this was real.When I saw my first case, a 5-year-old GSD, I realized this was real.
Fortunately I was able to work with great mentors.Fortunately, I was able to work with great mentors.

I could go on.  My point is you should pay attention to this.  It doesn’t mean you’re a monster, but it does make me question your attention to detail.  If your letter of intent has these kinds of simple flaws, will you have the attention to detail needed for good records or research?  Be detail-oriented in your written materials. And please, PLEASE have other people read and edit your letters!

How to be Well Spoken in an Application Letter

The Vetducator - Picture of MLK giving speech.

How can you demonstrate you are an effective communicator in a single page in a letter of intent?  We’ve covered mistakes to avoid as well as a general structure for application letters. Now we need to progress on to the kinds of detailed feedback I often give letter writers.

Make an outline.  You may not have done this since you were in grade school, but trust me, it helps.  You should have an introduction, some key points you want to hit, and a conclusion. You don’t have to use a five paragraph essay, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t use one regularly when writing letters of recommendation.  There’s a reason it’s an iconic literary construct.

Make sentences punch.  Compare:

  • Original I am confident that my dedication to meeting new challenges, commitment, willingness to learn, and positive attitude will make me a valued asset to the team.
  • Punchy My dedication to meeting new challenges, commitment, willingness to learn, and positive attitude are characteristics I can bring to the team.
  • Original These experiences have fostered my love for building the human-animal bond and as well as recognizing the importance of building positive client relationships, which is something I aim to continue to develop throughout my professional career.
  • Punchy These experiences have fostered my love for building the human-animal bond and showed me the importance of building positive client relationships.
  • Original While I am excited by the opportunity to refine my skills and expand my knowledge, I know that it will not be without long hours and hard work and I am motivated by the challenge.
  • Punchy I know that an internship will often involve long hours and hard work and I am motivated by the challenge.

Use simple language.  Compare:

  • Original As a veterinary student, I saw that anesthesia offered an opportunity to draw upon a capability in the sciences to solve unique and complex problems with facility and compassion.
  • Simple As a student, I saw that anesthesia offered an opportunity to solve complex problems with compassion and facility.
  • Original With the advantage of knowing my life’s passion early on, I dedicated my spare time to furthering my knowledge under the tutelage of senior colleagues and board-certified specialists.
  • Simple Removed entirely.  This sentence doesn’t add anything.  It’s saying the applicant spends time learning.  Yes, you were in vet school, this is self evident. Also, the language is meandering, obscuring the meaning in overly complex phrasing and word choices.

Don’t get confused.  When you start an idea in a paragraph, see it through to the end or scrap the entire paragraph.  Don’t try to bundle too much into too little space.

Flow.  Make sure a reader can follow your train of thought.  Do your conclusions flow from your statements? Are there isolated ideas or concepts not tied to the greater narrative?  Get rid of them, make sure there is a consistent narrative throughout which reveals who you are.

Kill your darlings.  Although oft-misattributed, this concept is important even to the single-page-letter-writer.  Do you have a turn of phrase from your vet school application, or a poignant story you think is perfect?  Maybe it is, but maybe you can’t see the problems with it. Seek out advice and, when all signs point to it, do the right thing and cut it.  My wife edits all my blog posts and regularly cuts segments which I think are just great, but in the end I agree with her.

Second draft = first draft – 10%.  Stephen King introduced me to this idea and I have almost never found it to be wrong.  It is easier to trim than it is to create good content. Start more expansively and then begin cutting.

When in doubt, make sure to use simple but not simplistic language.  Put the thesaurus away. Be sincere and show them who you are. There are innumerable writing guides on the internet and in book form- go check them out.  Your letter doesn’t have to be perfect, but the clearer you can be as a writer, the more effective you will be.