September 2010 Archives

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Who is your favorite science author? Better yet, can you think of any?

We don't know a lot of science authors because many scientists are unable to communicate effectively. By now, it is clear that communication barriers between scientists and the public exist. In July 2009, the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report titled, "Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media." It profiled America's scientific illiteracy. For example, only 54 percent of Americans responding to the survey knew antibiotics do not kill viruses; only 52 percent knew stem cells can develop into many types of cells, and only 46 percent knew electrons are smaller than atoms.

Additionally, the study revealed that the gap between scientists and the public with respect to controversial scientific issues is even more revealing. Scientists overwhelmingly (87 percent) say humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution is the result of natural processes such as natural selection. Only 32 percent of the public accepts this as true. On the question of global warming, 84 percent of scientists say the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, but just 49 percent of Americans think human emissions are causing global warming.

Also according to the report, despite the general agreement among scientists on the issues of evolution and climate change, substantial minorities of the public say scientists do not agree: 28 percent say that scientists do not agree on evolution and 35 percent say that scientists do not agree that the earth is warming because of human activity.  In other words, the public's perception of a lack of consensus among scientists is inaccurate. 

You are a student of the sciences. You know that the public needs to be informed to make educated policy decisions, participate in informed debates, and help direct resources toward promising scientific developments. Part of each scientist's professional responsibility is to promote the public's understanding of science. But just how can you do your part? The communication skills you develop while attending PSU are not just for classroom use. As a scientist you will need to build bridges for better communication between your general and specialist audiences. You will need to use your communication skills outside of the classroom. Tips for adapting to these audiences will be presented over the next few weeks. 

Did you have a difficult time coming up with popular science writers? Did Rachel Carson, Linus Pauling, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Stephen Jay Gould--or maybe a future YOU come to mind!


Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media (2009, July 9) In The Pew Research   Center for the People & the Press. Retrieved May 5, 2009, from

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Many of you are following up with the contacts you made at the Career Fair. After the Fair, I spoke with recruiters and asked them to share their observations about their interactions with EMS students. Overwhelmingly they were favorable, but when I asked them to suggest ways students could improve, here are their top four responses.

1. Know who you are and what you want to do. It sounds basic, but recruiters mentioned that many applicants are unable to articulate quickly and briefly these two key pieces of information. They suggest having a 30 second planned introduction (some call this the "elevator speech"). Above all else, don't let the recruiter try to figure out what you can do for the company; he/she doesn't have the time to help you define yourself. Give this thought and prepare before you arrive.

2. Do the research. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than walking up and saying, "so, what does your company do?" (Some recruiters saw this not only as a turn-off but also as an insult.) Select five or six companies you want to pursue, and then find out as much as you can. Websites are helpful, but lots of information is also available through the career resources at the PSU Libraries. My favorites are the Occupational Outlook Handbook and Hoover's.

3. Have a good handshake. I'll be honest; this suggestion was a surprise to me. I assumed this wasn't a problem. Yet time and again I heard otherwise. For example, Program Manager Scott Shaffer of United States Gypsum Company said, "Grab your recruiter's hand and define yourself with a firm, confident handshake." He also mentioned that within 10 seconds he knows whether or not he wants to listen further to the applicant--and a lot of this wanting to listen comes from the feel of the handshake.

4. Demonstrate confidence. Applicants that showed they were interviewing the recruiter as much as being interviewed by the recruiter were viewed more favorably. Use visual and verbal cues to illustrate your self-confidence. For example, stand up straight, walk up to the recruiter with purpose, put out your hand for the shake, engage him/her with eye contact, and speak in a clear and evenly modulated tone. Listen and respond, but also ask questions. Try to achieve a balance in your interchange instead of passively responding.

Other frequent suggestions included having appropriate dress, providing well-prepared employment documents, and relating your activities to your chosen career. Keep in mind that according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "Penn State Tops Recruiter Rankings," (September 13, 2010) companies are favoring places, and in particular Penn State, to complete their "one-stop" shopping for graduates with key skills. Use this to your advantage and continue to make the slogan, "We are PENN STATE" work for you in your job search.

Knowing the conventions of business communications is crucial to having your letters avoid the circular file. With so many of you heading to Career Fairs this week, many of you asked questions about letters and their proper formats. One of the most common formats is the Modified Block with Indented Paragraphs. Here's how to write and format one.

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Years ago, I had a friend who made the most wonderful soft, fully-chip loaded chocolate cookies. I wanted to be able to make these cookies, but she wanted to keep her recipe to herself. Finally after much coaxing, I convinced her to share her recipe, and now, I make the most wonderful chocolate chip cookies!

Today, I'm going to share with you an equally valuable recipe. Many of you are writing cover letters to go with your résumés for the EMS Career Fair Reception (held next week, September 14, from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. in the EMS Museum), and although each cover letter should be individually crafted depending on the specific audience, here is a general recipe for an effective cover letter.

Introduction (paragraph one)

Engage the audience
State the position you're applying for
State where you learned of the position

Body (paragraphs two and three)

Highlight a few of your key qualifications and relate them to the position
Address each of the requirements specified in the job description
Present evidence of your performance
Demonstrate a few significant job-related skills (time management, analytical, communications, problem solving, leadership, ability to learn quickly, meticulous attention to detail, lab research, etc.)
Do NOT repeat facts presented in your résumé
Refer the reader to your résumé at the end of the body

Conclusion (paragraphs three and four)
Ask the reader for an interview or a specific action
Give contact information and the best time to reach you
Sound confident, appreciative, and pleasant.

Keep in mind that it's best to follow standard business formats for professional communications (either a block or modified block letter format). It's also best to print your letter, sign it, scan it, and then save it as a pdf if you're sending it electronically. If you're sending it through the mail, use high quality paper and matching envelopes. Appearance does matter.

Now that I have shared with you the recipe for an effective cover letter, try your hand at mixing up a batch. We'll have Chef Ramsay give you a critique.

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The EMS Student Council is sponsoring The College of EMS Career Fair Reception on Tuesday, September 14, from 7:00 - 9:00 PM in the EMS Museum. And from September 13-17 the Fall Career Fair in the Bryce Jordan Center will be going on. Many of you have stopped by or attended one of my workshops to prepare your employment communications. I get a lot of questions about résumés, so this week I'm posting a "Checklist for the Killer Résumé." How many of these criteria does your current résumé meet?

•    One-page (preferably)
•    Attractive, well-balanced design
•    Eye-catching name and contact information
•    All headings parallel (grammar, layout, style)
•    Key points emphasized (visual hierarchy)
•    Concise, active, parallel wording (no full sentences; no "I")
•    Active verbs describing your accomplishments and duties
•    Schools and jobs in reverse order (reverse chronological order)
•    Truthful and ethical information
•    Confident tone
•    Job responsibilities results-oriented and developed
•    All required parts included (identifying information, education, experience, etc.)
•    Audience-centered

This last one, ensuring it is error-free, can't be overstated. Nothing will sink your chances of getting an interview faster than sloppy or poor proofreading. (Read these funny résumé bloopers for some laughs.) We know times are tough. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment was a whopping 9.5 percent in July.  On July 14, 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that many economists expect unemployment to rise to 11 percent this year. The economic times demand stellar employment communications to edge out your competition. Come see me if you want to make yours float through these rough waters.

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