Tag Archives: letter of intent

Mastering the Internship Application Timeline

The process to make your application most competitive for an internship starts long before your senior year.  Each step along the way is important, and poor decisions can make it progressively harder to be an excellent candidate.  Here is a timeline to help you be the best internship applicant you can be.

First Year – Get involved in at least one vet school club.  Work hard so you are a shoo-in for an officer position next year.

First Summer – Participate in a summer research scholars program or equivalent professional experience.  This does not mean going back to the clinic you worked at growing up. That does not add to your CV.

Second Year – Be a leader in your club(s).  Now that you have the hang of vet school, make sure you have at least one extracurricular activity you could put on your CV in addition to the club responsibility.

Second Summer – If you didn’t do a summer research program last year, do one this year.  If you already did one, try to get some professional-adjacent experience, ideally overseas or with under-served and/or marginalized and/or low SES populations.

Choosing Rotations – This may happen in your second or third year.  See the post on maximizing your senior year for internship success when choosing rotations.

Third Year – Study study, pay attention, show up, and do the work.  These classes are often the most clinically applicable. If you can get a handle on the material now, you will be a more competent senior student.  If possible, wrap up any lingering projects from earlier in vet school- you may not have time during senior year.

Fourth Year – At the start of each rotation, let the faculty know you are interested in an internship.  If you did well, at the end of the rotation, ask if they would be willing to write a good letter of recommendation for you.

  • September – Begin working on your letter of intent and CV.  You want lots of input from mentors and friends on this- give them time to give it to you.  Begin to research prospective programs.
  • October – You should have most of your letters of recommendation requested by now.  If you have a rotation in November, you may wait for one of them. If you didn’t ask your potential letter writer at the end of the rotation, ask them now.  Do not wait. Your letter of intent and CV should be in near final form.
  • November – Make the last tweaks on your letter of intent and CV.  All of your letters of recommendation should have been requested by now.  Narrow down your list of programs to which you want to apply and rank.
  • December – Match applications are due.  After submission, some programs may want to do phone or video or even in-person interviews.
  • January – Your rank order is due and the programs submit their rank order later in the month.
  • February – Match results come out!  The Scramble happens in the event you didn’t match.  Hopefully, you have a position now and can cruise until graduation.

If you aren’t sure if you want to do an internship, that is just fine.  I advise any students who are on the fence to proceed as if they will apply for an internship.  If they decide not to, no worries. But if they did not prepare and decide they do want to apply later, it can be an uphill battle.  Start early and be prepared. Have any questions about how to prepare? Post in the comments!

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!

Creating Compelling Residency Application Letters

The Vetducator - American Board of Veterinary Specialists seal.
ABVS Seal

Competition for residencies is fierce.  So many variables are out of your control- do they have a candidate in mind already?  Do they know your mentors and references? Do they have some crazy GPA/Class Rank cutoff?  Fortunately, one of the things in your control is your letter of intent. You need to make it excellent.  Many of the rules for internship letters apply, with some important upgrades. Let’s start with the evidence.

There hasn’t been an analysis of veterinary residency application letters, so for data we need to go to the human side.  There are numerous studies looking at residency applications in human medicine, so we will only look at a few.

In one study of human anesthesia programs, those applicants who included an interest in physiology and pharmacology were more likely to have an interview extended to them.    In a study of dermatology applicants, they were more like to match for a dermatology residency if they included statements emphasizing the desire to study cutaneous manifestations of systemic disease, to contribute to a knowledge gap in the literature, and to better understand the pathophysiology of skin disease.  Evidently, different disciplines look for different interests in their applicants.

On the veterinary side of things, you can’t go wrong by first avoiding common mistakes of letters of intent.  Once you have navigated those, how do you go about creating a memorable, distinct, interesting letter which will help you secure a residency position?  On the one hand, the idiosyncrasies of the evaluators will have a tremendous effect on how they read your letter, probably even more so than internship letters.  On the other hand, you will probably be applying to fewer programs. If you know any of the evaluators at the programs, you may be able to tailor your letter. On the third hand, the same letter gets sent out to all programs.  What is an applicant to do?

Clearly, you need to tell them why you want to pursue that specialty.  Stories may help illustrate this, but be mindful they can appear trite if not done well.  Sharing your long-term goals may be worthwhile to do at this point.

Much like in other letters, you need to indicate you know what is involved with this residency.  Is there expected to be a lot of on call work? Will it be more physically demanding (surgery) or more mentally demanding (radiology)?  Will it involve long hours with clients (oncology) or clients not even knowing you exist (anesthesiology)?

Drilling down into an understanding of what is needed by members of that specialty is what you are looking for.  If you are applying for a zoo med residency, it’s obviously because you want to play with the charismatic megafauna- so does everyone else who is applying for that position.  If you can elaborate on how the different responses to drugs among phylogenetic orders captures your fascination, that is rather more distinct and illustrates you know what is needed or interesting about the specialty.

As always, my advice is to be sincere and genuine.  If you don’t like teaching students, don’t say you do in your letter.  If you don’t like doing research, don’t highlight that. Residencies want to make sure you will work hard, you will get along with people, you won’t create problems, and you will reflect well on the program once done.  Highlight those considerations.

Ultimately the residency letter probably matters less than the internship or vet school letter.  At this level, most of your success is likely due to personal contacts and references. But you can still make sure your letter doesn’t give them a reason to cut your application.

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.

Writing a Good Internship Letter

The Vetducator image of career progression with arrow at internship.

This is a specialized version of a post I have about general application letter writing advice, aimed at intern applicants.

It may be impossible to describe a letter written by a highly-ranked internship applicant, but we will apply Justice Stewart’s test– I know it when I see it.  Given the wide variability in internship evaluators, and the subjective nature of the process, can you actually write a good letter of intent?  The answer is yes. Let’s do it.

Once evaluators have whittled down the list by tossing those applications which are clearly unacceptable, they will more carefully review the remainder.  You want to be at the top of this list. While your entire application packet matters, the letter is fully under your control right now. It is one of the few ways you can connect with the evaluator and they can get an idea of who you are as an applicant.  You have to make the most of that opportunity.

Your letter should achieve the following goals:

  • Tell them why you want an internship.
  • Demonstrate good communication skills.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of what the internship entails.
  • Illustrate why the program should choose you over another applicant.
  • Create some memorable or interesting personal detail for the evaluator to remember.
  • Avoid all of the mistakes previously described here at The Vetducator

Tell them why you want an internship.

If I have to read another letter that starts, “I want to pursue an internship because I want to continue my education” I will punch my computer.  OF COURSE YOU WANT TO CONTINUE YOUR EDUCATION, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE APPLYING FOR AN INTERNSHIP! As a general rule, don’t waste space in your letter writing anything that is self-evident.  I understand why you do it- you need to open with SOMETHING, and this describes your motivation in the most simple terms possible. Instead, open with the position to which you are applying and be specific about what you are looking for and what you can offer.

Demonstrate good communication skills.

In addition to avoiding grammar and spelling mistakes, you want to be articulate.  I will devote an entire blog post to this topic because it is expansive. In general, be sincere, use simple (but not simplistic) language, use punchy sentences, use appropriate openers and closers, present your thoughts in an organized way, use paragraphs, create narratives, and use good punctuation.  You may also demonstrate good communication skills by relating a story of a challenging communication you had with a client, another student, clinician, etc. Everyone knows communication is essential to any job- show them you can do it well.

Demonstrate an understanding of what the internship entails.

Everyone knows you work a lot during an internship, but what is “a lot”?  How do you know? Do you just see the interns at the hospital late at night, do you talk to them, do you have a family member or friend who did an internship?  What else do interns do? You want to show the evaluators that you know what you are getting in to. They want to know if you have what it takes to be successful at this job.

Illustrate why the program should choose you over another applicant.

This is the real kicker, and consequently almost impossible to pin down.  You need to draw from your experiences and who you are and showcase your best characteristics.  Don’t just tell them what you did in school. They have your CV, they know WHAT you did. WHY did you do it, WHAT did you learn, HOW does it make you a better person and candidate?

Create some memorable or interesting personal detail for the evaluator to remember.

First, make sure your details are not too quirky- this turns off some evaluators.  What you want is when they are reviewing the 40-60 shortlisted candidates and your file comes up, one or two of them will say, “Oh yeah, that’s the one who talked about learning about One Health when visiting a small village where the animals and people all mixed together.”  This is not essential, but if you are able to pull it off, it is a slight one up in your favor.

Avoid all of the mistakes previously described here at The Vetducator.

Please?  For me?

At the end of the day, you have to express yourself, and no rules or formula can tell you how to do that.  Have others review your letter- friends, classmates, mentors. When you get suggestions for changes, though, you don’t have to accept all of them.  We can probably take 100 people and generate a ‘typical’ good letter, but it won’t be YOUR letter, it will be a regression to the mean. Now get out there and write!

Make Your Faculty Application Letter Great

The Vetducator - image of You have ONE job: Pique their curiosity.

You’ve been through vet school, you’ve done post-graduate work (either a Ph.D. or an internship/residency), and now you are applying for a faculty job.  First, congratulations, this is one of the best, most rewarding jobs I can possibly imagine. Second, realize that this situation is entirely different from any you have encountered before.

For vet school and post-grad, the stakes are high- many applicants, few positions.  For faculty positions, particularly clinical positions, the exact reverse applies. Few applicants, many positions in most disciplines.  As a result, your letter does not need to make you stand out as much as your previous letters of application. It can be more staid and you don’t need to ‘shine’ as much.  You will be in an applicant pool of probably less than half a dozen. They will read each application thoroughly and know your name, CV highlights, and other characteristics.  The job of the faculty application letter is to get you an interview, not to get you the actual job.

As always, you should avoid the common mistakes made by all applicants in their letters.  One caveat to that general list is that your letter may be two pages if necessary. Few applicants need two pages but, since there are fewer applicants, the one page limit is not a hard one for faculty applications.

The institution has a need, and your goal is to make them think you may be able to fill that need effectively.  Again, you don’t have to hit it out of the park, you just need to pique their curiosity. You don’t need to bare your soul in your application.  You should be genuine, but you don’t need to share every hope, dream, and aspiration you have for your career in this letter. Here are the things you should be up front about in your application letter if you feel strongly one way or another:

Clinical track vs. tenure track

If you don’t want to do a clinical track position, tell them now or call and talk to the contact in the advertisement.  Even if they only have a clinical track position, if you’re the only candidate, or if you blow the rest out of the water, they may be willing to interview you and work something out.  But if you get an interview on the premise of doing a clinical track position and then tell them you want a tenure track position, they may be irritated at spending the time and resources for an interview if that is 100% not in the cards.

Research time vs. teaching and clinic time

Obviously there is always an expectation for research.  For clinical positions, if you expect to be doing so much research you may need less teaching or clinic FTE, make this evident in your application.  You don’t need to specify FTE % at this time- that comes at the negotiation. But if they need a hard core teacher and you are a hard core researcher, it’s best to figure that out at this point.

Everything else can come up during the interview or during the negotiation process.  Early in my career, I applied for a faculty position and indicated in one part of my letter that I desired to pursue ‘some additional training’- possibly a non-traditional ACVECC residency.  I didn’t get an interview. When I asked some colleagues why I didn’t get an interview, they pointed to that section of my letter. I was an otherwise excellent candidate, but they weren’t look for someone who wanted to expand their own clinical training, they wanted someone who would fill their need, which was for a full-time clinical anesthesiologist.  

In retrospect, if I had really wanted that position, I should have kept my desire for some additional training to myself and figured out how to make it work after starting the job.  As it turned out, I stayed at my institutition at the time and finished two Masters’ degrees with the institution’s support and blessing. I probably could have done the same or similar at the other institution. I could have worked there for a while and gained their trust and understanding. They would have understood that it would not impact my primary work responsibilities.  But from just looking at my letter, and comparing it to other letters, they thought, “Well, this applicant seems to want something other than what this job is. So no interview for him.

Your goal with the letter is to tell them what interests you about the position, that you would be a viable candidate, that if given an interview and an offer you would accept both, and that you can fill their need.  Don’t gush, keep it simple, and show them you are competent and not a prima donna.

The All-Star Vet School Application Letter

The Vetducator Star Symbol

Applying to vet school is exciting and intimidating.  For many, it’s the culmination of years of focus and enthusiasm.  It’s a high-stakes application, with an applicant:seat ratio of between 1.6 and 2, indicating that there are at least 1.6 applicants per available position in veterinary schools.  Your strategy to apply to vet school may be a years-long affair, with retaking classes, studying for and taking the GRE, and fulfilling prerequisites all long before the application.  Once it comes time to apply, though, you have direct and immediately control over your application letter. It is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s one you can improve right now.

Your letter should achieve the following goals:

Tell them why you want to be a veterinarian. Demonstrate good communication skills. Demonstrate an understanding of what veterinary school entails. Illustrate why the program should choose you over another applicant. Create some memorable or interesting personal detail for the evaluator to remember. Avoid all of the mistakes previously described here at The Vetducator.

Tell them why you want to be a veterinarian Of course you love animals.  Of course you want to help them.  This is self-evident because you are applying to veterinary school.  But what is it about being a veterinarian that appeals to you? You can use the “I was a child and my horse got sick and the vet helped it and I knew at that moment that’s what I wanted to do” story, but it’s hard to make it unique or interesting enough to (possibly jaded) evaluators.  Try to elevate your origin story from the first Deadpool movie (I got cancer and I love her doc) to something more like Infinity War (my world was dying from overconsumption so I solved it the only way I knew how- killing half the people).

Demonstrate good communication skills In addition to avoiding grammar and spelling mistakes, you want to be articulate.  I will eventually devote an entire blog post to this topic, because it is expansive. In general, be sincere, use simple (but not simplistic) language, use punchy sentences, use appropriate openers and closers, present your thoughts in an organized way, use paragraphs, create narratives, and use good punctuation.  You may also demonstrate good communication skills by relating a story of a challenging communication you had with a client, other student, clinician, etc. Everyone knows communication is essential to any job- show them you can do it well.

Demonstrate an understanding of what vet school entails You have no idea.  No. Idea. Nothing you have done- unless you went to another professional program in your life- can possibly prepare you for vet school.  Undergrad and grad school are a cake walk. A full-time job where you only work 40 hours a week- laughable. The social dynamics are like high school- 4 years together, stuck in one room with the same people day after day.  The workload is indescribable- you never imagined there was so much information in the world. The psychological and mental toll WILL break your mind in order to rebuild you stronger, better, faster.

You can acknowledge that vet school is a new, unknown challenge but you have the mental fortitude to handle it.  Can you tell a story of when you had grit? Can you elaborate on a time when you helped solve some interpersonal conflict in a group?  Can you handle it? The evaluators want to know if you can.

Illustrate why the program should choose you over another applicant. This is the real kicker, and simultaneously almost impossible to pin down.  You need to draw from your experiences and who you are and showcase your best characteristics.  Don’t just tell them what you did in school. They have your CV, they know WHAT you did. WHY did you do it, WHAT did you learn, HOW does it make you a better person and candidate?

Create some memorable or interesting personal detail for the evaluator to remember. First, make sure your detail is not too quirky- this turns off some evaluators.  What you want is when they are reviewing the short listed candidates and your file comes up, one or two of them will say, “Oh yeah, that’s the one who talked about learning about One Health when visiting a small village where the animals and people all mixed together.”  This is not essential, but if you are able to pull it off, it is a slight one up in your favor.

Avoid all of the mistakes previously described here at The Vetducator. Please?  For me?

Veterinary school letters are a small part of the overall package.  Compared with grades, GRE scores, recommendations, experience, and interviews, they are probably near the bottom of the pack.  Nonetheless, they can still help or hurt you.

At the end of the day, you have to express yourself, and no rules or formulae can tell you how to do that.  Have others review your letter- friends, classmates, mentors. When you get suggestions for changes, though, you don’t have to accept all of them.  We can probably take 100 people and generate a ‘typical’ good letter, but it won’t be YOUR letter, it will be a regression to the mean. Show them you can be a great vet.

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Application Letter

The Vetducator Avoiding Mistakes in your Vet Application Letter - Slipping banana peel

There’s no “right” way to write a letter of intent.  Applicant evaluators are so widely varied, you can’t possibly write the ideal letter unless you happen to A) know the evaluators and B) apply to only one institution.  Fortunately, there are some “wrong” ways to write a letter of intent. Let’s try to avoid them.

First, think from the evaluator’s standpoint.  They have a monumental challenge- reviewing possibly several hundred applicants for a handful of positions.  It is a grueling, churning, time-sucking task that they get very little thanks for. If you give them the opportunity to rapidly assess your letter as representing someone who is not a good fit, it saves them the trouble of reading your CV and letters of recommendation and thus saves them time.

Here are my rules to keep your letter from getting tossed into the discard pile.

One page or less.  I know some evaluators read two page letters.  I know more who use this as an instant rejection.  You should be able to express yourself succinctly.

Good grammar and spelling.  This may seem obvious, but I would say a full 20% of letters I read fail this test.  Have other people go through your letter _carefully_ with a fine-toothed comb and make sure they are brutally honest.

Good use of English.  This one is hard for non-native speakers, but it is very obvious when it is present.  If your English is good but not native, find several native speakers to review and correct it.  We use language in odd ways in English.  The Japanese small old car is technically correct, but does not sound the same as the small old Japanese car.

Avoid a TOO-unique letter.  You can and should write your own letter and not a form letter, but if your letter is quirky or eccentric, this may work for some evaluators but not for others.  This is highly polarizing with people who feel very strongly on both sides. Don’t risk it.

Don’t use odd word choices, or excessive Thesaurus use.  This may not get you an instant rejection, but it can be off-putting.  Keep it simple.

Don’t be boastful or arrogant.  I think there is some advice out there on the internet that you need to be assertive and confident in your application letters.  Maybe this is true for business, but it is not true in academia. Some people may not notice or care about this, but I know many evaluators who react poorly to arrogant letter-writers and veto their application.

As noted in the introduction, evaluators are an extremely heterogeneous group, and you can’t possibly avoid all pitfalls of all evaluators.  Maybe some don’t like anything other than a five-paragraph-essay format. Maybe others will reject any letter with the word “yellow” in it. It’s impossible to predict all the things on which evaluators may reject you.  However, the tar pits listed here are the most prominent, consistent, and important. Write your letters accordingly and, if you need help, please reach out to me. What elements of letters of application have you seen or heard of which you think should be considered mistakes?