Applying for jobs can be daunting, but there are simple ways for early-career scientists to ensure their applications stand out. Through the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative, Nobel Laureates have shared valuable insights for applications and interviews.
Like most laureates, Randy Schekman finds that very little effort has gone into most of the letters he receives. It’s rare to get a letter with a thoughtful description of his work, so these attract his attention. He is particularly impressed when the applicant has come up with an idea for what they would like to pursue, whether or not that idea is likely to work.
Joseph Goldstein and Michael Brown likewise find that a high proportion of applications are ‘cookie cutter’ letters that have clearly been sent to many laboratories. The pair therefore look for evidence that the applicant has read their work, perhaps identifying a particular aspect that excites them. This helps them find passionate scientists who are committed to their research.
Martin Chalfie also stresses the need for postdocs to read about the work of the laboratory they are applying to. He advises early-career scientists to take time out of their research to study the laboratory’s work in detail and to come up with their own ideas for experiments. This has the added bonus that it can form the basis of a fellowship application.
Laureates also look at the scientist’s publication record, but they never recruit people solely based on what they have published. In particular, they are critical of using journal impact factors as a way to judge people. Instead they take the time to get to know the candidate and learn what they can offer.
Interviews provide an ideal opportunity to do this, and it’s clear that laureates take these very seriously. As these videos reveal, laureates take time to get to know the candidate and engage them in discussion to get an idea of how they think.
Chemistry Laureate Martin Chalfie is looking for honesty, and gauges whether interviewees are willing to admit when they don’t know something. He also looks for the ability to collaborate, and will call up the candidate’s referees to discuss this.
Medicine Laureate May-Britt Moser asks questions about collaboration and dealing with conflict, and finds it particularly important to determine a candidate’s motivations. Are they truly interested in science, or just the prestige of high-impact publications?
Medicine Laureate Paul Nurse uses interviews to find out how people think. He doesn’t expect detailed knowledge about his work, but is looking for people who have thought about his research in an interesting way.
The Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative has been running in partnership with AstraZeneca since 2010, and in that time laureates have given advice on a wide range of topics. You can watch videos about writing an academic paper, motivation, communication and much more.