Tag Archives: professionalism

How to be Successful: Be on Time

Image by annca from Pixabay

When I was growing up, my mom’s best friend was always 10 to15 minutes late to anything.  I never really understood it. There was always Something that came up last minute that prevented her from getting there on time.  This was my first encounter with people who are just tardy all the time. Other people are consistently timely. Most people are probably in the middle, and I want to sway you to be timely.  But first, why be on time?  

  1. You may miss out.  If you’re going to a meeting or presentation, you may miss out on some important information you would have liked to have.  Why go to a meeting to participate if you’re not going to get there in time to participate?
  2. You get noticed.  Trust me, showing up late to a talk turns heads. The student who walks into rounds even 5 minutes late bugs the heck out of me.  It disrupts the rounds and brings everyone’s focus to that individual. You don’t want to stand out in a bad way.
  3. It is disrespectful.  I think this is the nidus of what irritates me about people who are late.  They are implying that their time is worth more than my time. This is a very self-centered behavior.
  4. Putting the time in is how you get good.  Step number one for anything is to show up.  Show up on time to get the most out of your time.
  5. Successful people are timely.  OK, maybe the eccentric entrepreneur can get away with breezing into work whenever.  Think about the last time you went to see a physician. How long did you wait? Did that irritate you?  If a different doctor was on time, all things being equal, which would you choose? 

OK, so now you know it is important to be timely if you want to be a successful veterinary professional.  How do you get there? Here are some strategies which may help.

  1. The easiest method, which works for people who don’t have a chronic tardiness problem, is to aim to show up 5 minutes early.  Don’t aim to arrive on time, aim to arrive early. That way, if you have some slight delay, you’ll still get there on time. Also, showing up early indicates you are eager, energetic, and want to do whatever activity is happening.
  2. If you are chronically tardy, try keeping track of how late you arrive.  Then plan to arrive that amount of time ahead. This is like #1, except that it is more personalized.  If you are always 15 minutes late, aim to arrive 15 minutes early.
  3. My personal method is to set all of my clocks ahead 7 minutes.  This means if I arrive when my clock says, I am 7 minutes early.  I know there is a little flex time built into my clock, but 7 is an awkward enough number to do math in my head that it’s usually not worth it to me to figure out exactly how many minutes I have before I have to be somewhere.  I just know to aim right around the time when something starts, and statistically, I will be there early.
  4. Care about being on time.  Read the reasons why you should be on time above.  Talk to professionals in veterinary medicine.  I don’t know a single professor who likes it when students stroll into class late.  Once you BELIEVE it is important to be on time, it is easier to shift your behavior.

What challenges do you have with being on time?  Do you use any strategies other than the ones listed here?

Veterinary Academia in a Time of Uncertainty: COVID-19 Special Blog Post

I have to admit, almost all of the reading I have done the past week has been about the stock market and COVID-19.  I’m curious to know about what’s going on, and, although we have a lot invested in the market, I’m primarily bemused because I understand how the market works (Just stick to your pre-established investing strategy; the market goes up and down and buying as it goes up and down will work out great).  Nonetheless, the world is not business-as-usual right now. My posts here tend to ignore trends, holidays, etc., but I thought a post addressing the epidemic was relevant for my readers. How do you handle your professional progression in the face of COVID-19?

  • Don’t panic. “That’s easy for YOU to say, you have a job and aren’t worried about graduation or getting into vet school or an internship!”  I’m not saying not to worry- these are scary times. Having an emotional response is perfectly fine. I’m saying not to PANIC. You can make good, healthy, important decisions for your life and career, but not if you’re panicking.  So, step one is: don’t panic.
  • Be an RFHB.  Don’t yell at the airline counter agent about a cancelled flight.  Don’t yell at your physician or veterinarian for not being able to see you RIGHT NOW.  Don’t yell at your pharmacist for following insurance company regulations. Don’t yell at the admissions counsellor at the vet school.  Treat people with respect. We ALL have challenges right now.
  • Get information.  Things are in constant flux, and it’s difficult to know what will happen with the future.  The more information you can get, the more in control you will feel (even if that’s just an illusion).  A lot of information may not be available, but get what you can. Find out what the plans are for exams in your classes, when the plan is for graduation or starting an internship.  If information isn’t available, go back to step 1.
  • Go on a news diet.  I’m not suggesting cut off all news, but a lot of the news is repetitive or filled with unhelpful, fear-inducing information.  Unless you can look at the news with bemused wonder (as I do), I suggest dramatically reducing your input. Maybe check things out once a day. The Up First podcast by NPR gives news highlights in about 15 minutes, so it’s a great way to accomplish that. 
  • Reach out to others, even remotely.  Sometimes sharing our fears and concerns with friends, colleagues, and even strangers can help.  Reach out to friends and family. Ask questions on internet forums and Facebook groups. We are all going through this together- sometimes just knowing someone else is facing your troubles can help.
  • Focus on your circle of control.  What CAN you control? You can’t control if graduation will happen.  You can’t control students being dismissed from clinic rotations. You can’t control the epidemic.  You CAN control your emotional response. You CAN control your planning. You CAN control your own social interactions to minimize spread of infection.  When faced with a troubling obstacle, ask yourself what you can do about it. If the answer is, “Not much”, then shrug and move on.
  • Try not to worry.  We’re all fairly reasonable people in veterinary medicine.  We want the students to succeed. We want the best candidates for vet school, internship, and residency.  We want to support our students and colleagues. WE WILL FIGURE IT OUT TOGETHER. Believe that the people and institutions want what’s best for you and them, and we will come up with reasonable, balanced solutions.  If a school you applied to isn’t doing interviews now, try not to worry that they’ll overlook your application. They will figure out a fair system. If you got admitted to an internship in the US and live in an infected country, we will figure it out.
  • Life has challenges and isn’t fair. Although we are going to figure things out together, sometimes the outcome may not be what you wanted.  Maybe you don’t look good on paper but interview amazingly well, so missing an interview opportunity means you don’t get into vet school.  What’s the alternative- to maybe infect dozens of interviewers and other staff for your benefit? Maybe the internship in the US you got says they won’t take any students from highly infected countries.  What’s the alternative- to maybe infect the whole hospital for your benefit? Sometimes decisions made are not in your personal best interests. So, you need to consider: what do you do if the worst professional outcome happens?  Do you rend your clothes and curse the world or do you get back up and try again? This could be an opportunity for learning more about yourself and personal growth. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”Albert Einstein
  • Keep your health.“Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” – Count Rugen.  As long as you have your health, your friends and family, and your basic finances, you will be in a much better place to succeed.  If you let stress get to you, and this compromises your immune system, you will be in a much worse place and have further to go. Try to relax, follow social distancing, eat well, and take care of your mental and emotional health.

Above all, trust that whatever happens, you will get through it.  We all will. Be excellent to each other.

How to be Successful: Pay the Price

“If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.” – Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert)

I read this quote in the comments section of White Coat Investor’s blog recently and I loved it so much I had to write an entire post about it.  This premise distills down the essence of what you need to be successful in life.  I hope that The Vetducator blog helps you achieve success. This is my vision for this blog and how it can help you.

Figure Out The Price – Part of the problem with people being successful in veterinary medicine is: they just don’t know what is needed to be successful.  You don’t know what’s looked for in applications, you don’t know that you need to form relationships, you don’t know that you need to act professionally. Many of the blog posts are focused on this idea: teaching you what the price is.

Then Pay It – This is the other problem with a lack of success for individuals in veterinary medicine.  They may Khttp://vetducator.com/the-key-to-successful-negotiations/NOW the price, but don’t know what to do to pay it. Now that you know what evaluators look for, HOW do you write a better letter and CV?  Now that you know you need to form relationships, HOW do you form those relationships? HOW do you act professionally? This is the other part of this blog: teaching you how to pay the price.

Now that you know what the price is and how to pay it, the question is: do you WANT to pay it?  What if the price is giving up nights and weekends with your family? What if the price is delaying the start of making real money?  What if the price is mental anguish and frustration? My wife didn’t go into medicine partly because she knew the price (poor sleep, on call, grueling days)  and didn’t want to pay it. So she went into pharmacy and is very happy with it.

You need to figure out WHAT the price is for success, then HOW to pay it, then be WILLING to pay it.  You’ve taken the first step by reading this blog. If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.

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.

What Do You Say During Faculty Interviews?

Beyond just chit-chatting with people during your interview what, exactly, do you say?  How do you present yourself in the most realistic light? I don’t say ‘most positive’ light because I believe you need to be authentic during your interview.  If you present yourself as different than you are, you may lead to a bad decision about fit being made. So, you need to present yourself authentically, and discover if this place could be a good fit for you.  What do you say?

First, as always, be honest.  If you are looking for a faculty position because you enjoy research, but are not very enthusiastic about classroom teaching, you can communicate that in a positive way.  “What is your approach to teaching?” “I enjoy teaching small group and one-on-one settings so I can really engage with the students on a personal level.” If asked very specifically, be honest.  “How do you feel about teaching large lecture courses?” “Honestly, it’s not my preferred teaching setting,” and then you have two choices: “…but I enjoy a challenge and would be willing to tackle it with good mentoring,” or “…and I would rather not spend a large amount of my time with those types of courses.”

While being honest, be positive.  If you are looking for a new position because your current institution is terrible, put a positive spin on it.  “Why are you interested in our institution?” “I really like the way you approach teaching- encouraging different teaching strategies and elective classes.”  Contrast with, “You don’t micromanage the faculty constantly or overwork them.”

Second, ask all the questions about how the place works.  We will have a separate post with a list of questions, but try to plan out what you want to ask each person or group on your itinerary.  As an interviewer, it is incredibly frustrating to say, “What questions do you have?” and get nothing back. You need to ask questions to make sure the place is a good fit, to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm, and to demonstrate to them that you Know What You Are Getting Into.  If you don’t ask about on-call responsibilities for a clinical position, for example, they may wonder if you know that this is expected. Conversely, if you obsess over on-call responsibilities, they may assume you don’t actually want to do on-call. It can be a difficult line to walk. Spend time before the interview coming up with these questions and find ways to ask them in a positive light.

Finally, answer their questions in an honest but not necessarily exhaustive way.  If you find yourself talking for more than about 2 minutes, you are probably giving an excessively long answer.  Provide an answer to the question and no more- they will ask clarifying questions if they feel it is important. Don’t be evasive or coy or abrupt, but you don’t need to give a long, rambling answer to every question.  Identify what, exactly, is being asked, and answer that with enough detail to demonstrate you understand the issue at hand.

For example, if asked, “What are your concerns with coming here?” you might answer, “It seems like there aren’t a lot of systems and protocols in place, so we will be figuring things out as we go.  I have only been places with a lot of systems but, even there, I helped create some systems and processes so I look forward to helping to put those in place here.”

When answering questions, an effective strategy is “You do… I do.”  For example, if asked, “Do you think we need an MRI for a neuro service?” you could reply, “Well, an MRI is really essential for good neurologic imaging.  However, if that isn’t possible, I can see a service where medical neurology is the focus. I have spent the past 3 years focusing on neuromuscular diseases and could build a strong referral base on that experience, even without an MRI.”

Remember, the point is to find a good FIT.  If they want you to teach a lot of large lecture classes, and you just want to do research, will you really be happy there?  “But Vetducator, I just want ANY job!” Well, as a veterinary specialist, you generally have your pick of jobs, so you at least need to find one which won’t be terrible for you.  And, ideally, you will find a job which is a good fit, which will lead to career satisfaction and life happiness. Who wouldn’t want that?

How to be Successful: Give Timelines

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

I ask my wife to do a surprising number of projects.  Occasionally research projects, but more often household ones like, “Can you figure out if Arcadia Power covers us and how to sign up with them?” and “Can you book lodging for our next trip?”  Early in our relationship, I assumed these would be done immediately, even if I didn’t need the task completed for another two weeks. Once she made it clear that it was easier for her to complete these tasks if she knew when I expected her to finish it, everything was much easier for both of us.

I started applying this principle to co-workers and anyone whom I needed a response from and it translated into a significant improvement in response rate.  Since the way I work, I respond very quickly to asks for work, I assumed everyone else prioritized their work similarly. I came to understand that many people work on the basis of deadlines- they work on projects which have the earliest deadlines first.  I still don’t quite fully understand it, but I use the principle, and I recommend you do, too.

Providing deadlines tells the recipient a few things.  One, it tells them that their input is _required_. It is easy for people to read an email and think, “Ah, well, they are asking me, but maybe it is a courtesy or just to be complete.  I don’t need to reply.” Putting a deadline indicates you need a response from everyone involved. Two, it helps people prioritize their to-do list according to what is most pressing. Three, it gives some sense of the amount of work/effort is required.  If you give a deadline by the end of the week to most academics, it should be an _extremely_ time sensitive matter or something they can answer quickly. If you give a deadline 3-6 weeks away, that suggests you want them to actually contemplate and think about the response, and give a substantive one.

I use a variety of strategies when providing deadlines.  I have the opt-out deadline, which is usually framed as, “This is what I am going to do unless I hear from anyone by X date.”  This is usually when I don’t need input from others and am including them as a courtesy, and because if they DO have strong feelings, I want to know about it.

I have the opt-in with a specific solution short-term deadline, which is framed as, “Here is what I would like to send.  Please chime in with your feedback by X date.” This sends a message that I want and need their feedback. The feedback I expect to get, because of the short timeline (less than 1 week), is usually something like, “OK” or “No, I think we should make this minor change.”  This is often done at the end of a process, where I have already solicited more complex responses.

I have the opt-in with a specific solution long-term deadline, which is framed as, “Here is the current draft.  Please review and provide suggestions by X date.” This date is usually the end of the month or some similar 3-6 week window.  I want and need constructive, thoughtful, cognitively complex input for this, and know that it needs to fit into others’ schedules.  Nonetheless, providing a timeline is helpful so people can put it into their own to-do list framework.

Finally, I have the opt-in optional with a very long-term deadline, which is framed as, “I know you’re busy, and I am working on this project.  Please let me know if you want to participate by X date.” That date is usually 2-6 months into the future, as this is a placeholder for a project or an attempt to determine who may be interested in a novel project.  In this case, I am not expecting much thoughtful contribution, but providing the far deadline allows me to determine who is Actually Interested and who is not. Those who are interested will reply relatively early. Those who are not interested will never reply.

Giving deadlines can be useful at all levels of your veterinary career.  Undergraduate progressing to vet school, “Dear Dr. X, here-is-a-letter-asking-you-to-write-a-letter-of-recommendation-for-me.  Please let me know if you would be able and willing to write a letter for me by (some reasonable date at least 2 weeks away).”  Veterinary student interested in an internship, “Dear Internship Director, I would love the opportunity to speak with a current intern.  Please let me know if there is someone who can talk to me by (some reasonable date).” You can ask for deadlines from people who are higher “rank” than you as long as you are respectful and reasonable with the deadline.

There are many strategies to using deadlines.  Mine would not work in corporate America, where things are more time-sensitive.  Fortunately, in academia, we are usually working with relatively long timelines. Do you like getting deadlines or not? Do they help motivate you? How do you assign deadlines differently?

How to be Successful: Be an RFHB

The other day I popped my head into a faculty member’s office to talk with them about their current struggles with some students.  The faculty member mentioned one student who was being needy and dramatic and problematic, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if they just acted like a Reasonable Fucking Human Being?”  The faculty member laughed and loved that term, because it summarizes so many important but ineffable qualities.

I can’t remember which of my friends coined this term, but it has been one of the most useful terms in my life: Reasonable Fucking Human Being (RFHB).  This is not “an amazing person” or “an incompetent asshat.”  It is not “Spock-like emotionlessness” or “perfect in every way.”  This is the baseline level at which people should be functioning. It is not a high standard.  Yet, it is amazing how often people who should know better do not meet this simple qualification.

To be an RFHB, you need to not be dramatic.  If you can’t avoid being dramatic, you at least need to be able to calm down and speak rationally.  You need to have expectations which are fair and reasonable. You need to not expect people to read your mind.  You need to treat people with a basic level of respect, because they are also soft squishy smart monkeys trying to stimulate dopamine activity on a rocky ball hurtling through the cosmos.

To be an RFHB, you can be emotional, but you need to acknowledge your emotionality.  You need to listen. You need to not interrupt. If you do interrupt someone, you need to be aware of that and apologize.  You need to present solutions and not just gripe, unless all you want is sympathy, in which case you should make that clear.  You need to think about the future and be aware of the consequences of your decisions.

To be an RFHB, you need to be compassionate.  You need to care at least a little about your fellow human beings.  You need to try to minimize suffering- not just starving children in third world countries, but with the words you use and how you deal with the people around you.  You need to trust and accept the trust that progressively builds as you interact with others. You need to understand the rules and, if you don’t accept them, be willing to accept the consequences of breaking them.

To be an RFHB, you need to look out for the ‘little guy’.  You need to support individuals against the oppression of the majority.  You need to understand privilege and not expect others to do things the way you do them.  You need to understand the relationship between work, effort, and outcome. You need to be humble and accept responsibility for your actions and work to improve as a person.

In a word: just be cool.  OK, that’s three words. It seems really really simple to me.  Just be… reasonable. That’s it. That’s the baseline. From there, you can work on being a zero.

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.

Learn to Write an Email Asking for a Recommendation

You may feel this small when you ask for a letter. It’s OK. Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

As we’ve discussed before, people seem to have some anxiety around asking a potential mentor for a letter of recommendation.  I used to teach an undergraduate seminar course in clinical research, and one of the assignments was for the students to write an email asking for a letter of recommendation.  I was surprised at the range in quality of these emails, so I think the topic deserves some attention to make sure you all write excellent emails.

Here is the basic structure:

  • Email title
  • Salutation
  • Introduction (if necessary)
  • A description of the position to which you are applying
  • Your ask for help
  • A closer

Email title

This one is pretty simple.  You can’t go wrong with “Letter of Recommendation”.  It is straightforward and tells the reader exactly what the email is about.  “Inquiry” is more vague but could be used if you don’t want to prime the reader about what your ask is.


“Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. X,”  That’s it. Keep it simple.


If there is a chance the reader does not know you, this is recommended.  If you are a senior veterinary student and you just got off a clinic rotation with the person, this is not necessary.  I would suggest two lines. The first is giving your current professional role and the context of how you know each other.  “My name is John Smith and I am a senior majoring in Biology; I was a student in your research seminar course.”

The second line provides something memorable about you or your interaction.  “I did the research project comparing pricing of men and women’s beauty products.”

A description of the position

Provide enough information that they can write a specific letter.  If this is “vet school”, that’s fine. If it’s an aquarium externship in Florida, give them more details.  If there is a link to the position description, provide that. “I am applying for small animal rotating internships in academic and private practice institutions.”

Your ask for help

Just keep it simple and gracious.  Always attach your letter of intent and curriculum vitae.  “I was wondering if you would be able and willing to write a good letter of recommendation for me?  My letter of intent and CV are attached for your reference. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.”


These commonly include “Sincerely,” “Best Regards”, and “With Appreciation.”  I personally like “Respectfully,” but you can choose what you like. “Cheers,” “Take Care,” and similar too-personal closers should not be used.

So that’s it!  If you want to put some examples together and share them in the comments, I will comment on them!

How to be Successful: Aim for Zero Inbox

How do you know what is on your to-do list?  Do you keep checklists on your phone or on the fridge?  How do you update/check them during the day? What about tasks that require communicating with others, often over email?  

Managing your to-do list is essential so that you can be considered reliable and dependable. If there are two individuals: one who Gets Things Done and one who Does Not, which will have a better professional reputation and be able to progress through life more successfully?  There are dozens of task management systems, but I believe there is one which is easy, free, readily available, and highly functional: your email account.

Using your email as your to-do list makes it accessible.  You can access it via your phone, laptop, desktop computer.  When I am at work, I have a window with my inbox open at all times so I can see incoming messages and handle them appropriately.  I can see at a glance who is involved in the messages and what the last date on a task was. Gmail (and most other email systems) creates threads so I can keep track of all the messages related to that topic.

Some people use different folders to manage their to-do list, rather than their inbox.  This is fine; it’s the principle which matters. I keep a folder of ‘awaiting response’ messages, because it is shocking to me how often I send out an email and never hear back from someone who should have responded.  I also keep folders like ‘Personal’, ‘Professional’, and ‘Karate’ to hold important messages to which I need to refer back for long periods of time.

The goal is to achieve Zero Inbox because that means I have taken care of all the tasks I am currently responsible for.  Once I achieve that goal, then I know I can move on to starting new projects. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed and over-committing.

Be sure if you use this system to make an email account which is NOT the one you have at your institution.  You will move on one day (if a student) or you may not be there forever, and many institutions drop your email account once you leave

You don’t have to use this exact system, but I want you to engage in the principle.  You need to keep track of what you are responsible for and act to take care of things for which you are responsible.  Don’t be one of those people who just gets tasks and never takes care of them. You will not be well-regarded professionally- it will definitely adversely affect your professional progression.