Three easy steps to market your research experience

UVA Career Center – April 28th, 2017

Academic research is one of the most effective ways to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world problems. However, sometimes we spend years of effort working with a faculty member or in a research lab, but only find ourselves overwhelmed with all the things we have done and not knowing what to do with the resume. Have you ever wondered what the best way to market your research experience is? Read this blog to find out!

Step 1: Know your audience: are you applying to graduate school? Job? Internship? Something else?

The first step you need to do is to identify your AUDIENCE. For instance, if you are applying for a job, pull out the job descriptions and underscore key skills they are looking for. If you are applying to a graduate school program, go to the admission page and see what qualifications are they seeking. Starting reading these requirements and create a list of keywords. These are the skills you want to highlight on your resume! Often, technical positions ask for good skills in programming languages, modeling, data analysis, technical writing etc. And don't forget soft skills such as communication and teamwork are as important! Now, prioritize these keywords and rank them in the order of importance. 

Step 2: Brainstorm and create a list of essential skills demonstrated through your research

After doing research for a year or more, we all feel like there are too many stories to tell and sometimes have hard times choosing which ones to list on the resume. Now, think about your own research experience and use the list of keywords you have created in Step 1 as guidance. Go to the most important skill on your list and think about if you have a story to demonstrate your strength in that area. For instance, if you have programming skill on your priority, think about one story that best showcases your programming skill. Don't feel like you have to tell everything all at once. Pick a story that best showcases your programming skill (maybe a time you have implemented a complicated machine learning algorithm? or a time you have crunched 10G of data? or something else that make you feel accomplished?). If you feel like you don't have the relevant story that matches the keyword, just move on! You don't have to hit them all to have an edge because employers expect you to learn!

Step 3: Write your research experience on your resume

Now, you should have two or three highlights of your research experience that match the key skills required by the company/graduate program. It's time to put them on the resume. When you talk about your experiences, always remember to include at least three aspects:

Things you have done, aka your story. Remember to use strong ACTION VERBS and use numbers to QUANTIFY your experience if possible. For instance, instead of saying "I analyzed the internet traffic data and predicted the potential security leak," make your bullet point stronger by using stronger verbs to lead the sentence and add more numbers: " Developed supervised ensemble learning models and achieved an accuracy of ~98% and an AUC score of 0.997"
Always remember to emphasize your SOFT SKILLS! You can easily do that through a bullet point like "Collaborated in a team of xxx people and conducted research on the xxx topic." You can always include other non-technical skills if needed using bullets like "Collaborate with a team of 3 research assistants, coordinate tasks, and present progress in weekly meetings."
Use a bullet to highlight the OUTCOME and IMPACT you have made. What did you accomplish? What's your end product (software? a model? a presentation? a report? a publication?)? Even something you have learned from experience counts if you feel like you have not created something concrete yet! 

A sample writing for research experience:

Research AssistantUVA School of Engineering and Applied Science CharlottesvilleVA | Aug. 2015–Apr. 2016

  • Cleaned and visualized data from psychological survey responses and GPS coordinates of student participants (tasks, your story, write more bullets if needed)
  • Presented research results biweekly to developers, analysts, and psychology experts in a cross-functional team (soft skills)
  • Constructed linear models using R to analyze correlations between college students’ anxiety levels and their movements (outcome)

Bonus step: Thank your professor/advisor and maintain long-term relationships with them

Remember your professor or advisor of the research project may be taking their own time to mentor you through the research experience. Even if many academic research projects are not paid, they are still valuable learning experiences for you to grow professionally! So definitely thank your professor or advisor for giving you the opportunity to learn. Remember to maintain the good relationship with them because they could be your future recommender/reference! But most importantly, work professionally and learn something new from your work!

For more resume writing tips and list of action verbs you can use, check out the Hoos Career Guide here