MCW-Medical Education Building

Career Services

MCW Graduate School Career Services offers a diverse array of services to help MCW graduate students and postdoctoral fellows explore and achieve their career goals

Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are encouraged to begin using the services of the office early in their graduate career, which include individual career counseling, up-to-date and relevant career resources, workshops, and professional development programs

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  • Resources
  • Prof. Dev.


  • For: MCW Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows
  • Purpose: To help you take charge of your career, now and in the future.
  • Content: Self-help resources and links for developing your personal career plan, including practical tools for specific stages of the process.
  • Updates: Reviewed and updated based upon the needs of MCW Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows, changes in the job market, and continuing developments in communication technologies.



One of the most common mistakes made by young scientists is that they begin with a search for specific jobs in specific organizations, neglecting the foundational steps of self-assessment, exploring a variety of career options, and developing a focused plan for their careers before beginning the job search. That would be like running an experiment and trying to collect data before determining the research question and research context. For that reason we recommend that you explore the following topics beginning with self-assessment, keep records of what you discover, and build a solid foundation for your current job search and those that will very likely follow in the future.



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  Sample One Year* Plan

A high quality job search campaign results in truly desired job offers. Including preparation and implementation, it will take 200 – 400 hours or more. Some campaigns can be condensed to a couple of months; however, most active professionals find that a one-year plan is more realistic. Whatever time you can and do spend on the job search campaign, the process will be more effective and less stressful if you can break it into pieces and proceed by steps.

*Note: For the Academic Research/Teaching Sector start 18 months ahead; for Commercial/Industrial, Not-For-Profit, Government, Military, Hybrid Organizations, etc., 12 months is recommended.

Sample One-Year Job Search Campaign Plan (PDF)

Months 1 and 2

Spend an hour each week on Self-Assessment. Investigate the job search process. Schedule your time.

  • Use books, articles, checklists, written exercises, feedback from mentors, colleagues, friends, family members, counselors, advisors, etc.


  • List of personal strengths and preferences
  • Statement of desired Professional Role/Professional Objective

Months 3 through 8

Spend one to four hours each week doing research on career possibilities, including conducting informational interviews.

  • Define Target Area(s) of interest, and list specific targets with detailed contact and organizational information.
  • Draft communication materials (Core Message/Elevator Speech, CV/Resume, Research/Teaching Philosophy Statements, etc.).
  • Begin to practice your delivery, and get trusted feedback. Schedule your time.


  • Confirm and refine Professional Role/Professional Objective
  • General Target Area(s) defined, and specific target organizations identified
  • Communications Materials prepared

Spend one to four hours each week on Personal Networking, including practicing your delivery.

  • Connect with targets. Get curious about other professionals, and offer information and help to them as well.


  • Get the message out about you and your availability
  • Gather information about targets and potential targets
  • Meet organizational Insiders, gain information and referrals
  • Meet Hiring Officials, gain information and feedback
  • Refine and tailor communications materials to respond to targets’ needs and wants

Months 9 through 12

Spend at least one full day each week on actively seeking jobs and sending out applications.

  • Implement ≥ 2 appropriate job search strategies (e.g., postings, networking, agencies, direct contact, etc.).
  • Continue Networking.
  • Prepare for and conduct Interviews – Telephone, SKYPE, In-Person, etc. – and follow up.
  • Continue to develop and refine target information and communication materials.


  • Meet/Interview with Hiring Officials and Search Teams
  • Receive and Negotiate Offers

Now celebrate the new position you’ve landed, and prepare to start work!


A comprehensive statement that includes your academic background, teaching, and research experience.

Points to consider before you begin

  • Increases in length as you gain experience and establish a publication record
  • Lists information within each major section in reverse chronological order, listing the most recent first. Includes information going back to your undergraduate years
  • Lists your teaching experience first when applying to small liberal arts colleges or community colleges and add a section for community or academic service
  • Reports all pertinent information and be honest about your abilities
  • Consult with advisors, professors and others knowledgeable regarding your CV

Information to include


Name, address, telephone number, and email address. Be sure to include your departmental address and home address for academic application. Do not include information regarding age, marital status, race, gender identity, ethnicity, etc.


List all institutions, degrees and completion (or expected) dates in reverse chronological order - stating the most recent first. If you attended an institution but did not complete a degree, you do not need to list it unless you feel the training is beneficial to your career.


List title of dissertation beneath the information on your doctoral degree including the name of your adviser. Some fields require a description of the dissertation on your vitae. Consult with faculty members or a career counselor on this topic.

Postdoctoral Experience

As with your dissertation, provide the title and a brief description of your work and the name of your adviser. Your description needs to explain how your postdoc work differs from your dissertation.

Teaching Experience

Include all full-time, part-time and adjunct teaching experience in reverse chronological order. List your title, dates of employment, name of each course, and a brief description of your responsibilities. Be sure to include your involvement in course design, preparation of materials, weekly instruction and grading.

Awards, Fellowships, Honors & Grants

List applicable awards since you entered college in reverse chronological order. Include the date of receipt, name of the department and institution.


Include bibliographic citations of articles, pamphlets, patents and research reports you have published. Use the form of citation appropriate to your field. A signed contract and a firm sense of when the publication will appear in print are necessary for a "forthcoming" publication.

Research Interests & Teaching Competencies

Describe your current research interests and teaching competencies. List no more than four or five areas under each heading, in order of preference. Be sure to list general categories and specialized areas as well. This allows the employer to be aware that you are willing and capable to teach the undergraduate and general education requirements offered in their departments.

Professional Affiliations

List the major professional organizations to which you belong. Indicate the level of involvement if you have served in one or more of these organizations, as well. Committees are also worth mentioning as they demonstrate interests areas as well as applicable skills.

Other Possible Categories

Academic Service, Community Service, Foreign Study and Licensure

  CV to Resume

Begin to view your academic career in terms of skills and experiences.





Academic positions and research positions in government and industry For every other position outside of academia or research science


Flexible No more than 1-2 pages


A full list of your academic and professional history and accomplishments. Also focus on where you have been. A summary of your experience and skills that is most pertinent to the position you are applying. Also, focus on where you are going.


Education, training, publications - a full list of essential honors and grants Skills and experiences related to the position you seek


Activities unrelated to academia Titles of courses taught, list of publications and/or presentations


 Include Do not include


Style does not matter that much; content is much more important Style and content are both important. Bad style is very costly.

Points to consider as you develop your resume

  • Resumes need to be adapted to each specific job to which you are applying.
  • Writing a bad resume is easy. Writing a good resume is hard. Be aware that it will take time and many drafts. If you are targeting many different career paths simultaneously, be aware that it is important to have several different resumes that accent different skills and experiences as needed.
  • Keep the resume simple and concise which communicates professionalism and clarity.
  • Make it easy for the eye to scan- using capital letters, bold print, underlining, and spacing sparingly and for your strongest credentials.
  • Describe your accomplishments in a quantitative manner. State how many students were in a class that you had taught or graduate students mentored.
  • Use action verbs in an active past or present tense when describing experience. Instead of stating, "was responsible for operation, maintenance, student training of users for x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, 1992-1995," say "maintained and operated x-ray fluorescence spectrometer; trained and certified 44 students over 3 years."
  • Proofread several times and have others review as well.
  • Use white or cream inexpensive Bond Quality Paper (the watermarked paper that is slightly heavier in weight) if you can.
  • Present information in order of importance to highlight the skills and experience pertinent to the position in which you are applying.
  • In general avoid "Job Objective" statements. Summary or Highlights of Qualifications section is becoming more popular to clarify experience, credentials and skills.
  • Omit personal information such as age, marital status, race or ethnicity. Although, it may be wise to include a reference of U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status if your nationality is ambiguous.
  • References or the phrase "References available upon request" are usually omitted. It is important to determine a list of your references - preferably a mix of academic and non-academic individuals. Be sure to contact your potential references for permission and to prepare them with the skills and traits needed in this type of work. For the job interview, it is important to have a prepared list of references with contact information, in case employers ask.
  Cover Letter

Your cover letter and curriculum vita and/or resume may well be the most important documents you will ever write.

The structure of the cover letter

First Paragraph

  • Identify the title of the position in which you are applying.
  • Mention how you heard of the opening (journal, website, referral from individual, etc.).
  • State why you are interested in the position and/or organization.

Second and Third Paragraphs

  • Explain your qualifications for the position (educational background, work experience, etc.).
  • State one or two accomplishments to clarify your skills and abilities you bring to the job. Do your best to connect your qualifications to the needs of the department or corporation.

Final Paragraph

  • Express interest in meeting with the employer to further discuss your candidacy.
  • Offer to provide extra materials or additional information.
  • Thank the committee or individual for their consideration.
  • Provide your contact information - preferably a phone number to best reach you.

Other points to consider

  • Each letter should be printed on plain white or cream bond paper with a matching envelope. If you are enclosing a resume, the letter and resume should be on matching bond paper. Type size should be 10-12 point.
  • Address the letter to a specific individual using his or her correct title. (If the posting only states "Chair, Search Committee", call the department administrative assistant for the name of the chairperson).
  • Tailor your cover letter to the company or university to which you are writing. Research to help you determine your approach. Check the company's website and other resources on the internet.
  • Ideally, the cover letter will be one page in length.
  • Avoid using acronyms, contractions or abbreviations.
  • Highlight your strengths and qualifications as to why you are a good fit for the position. Do not mention weaknesses.
  • Have it proofread by at least one other individual. It is critical that it is free of errors.


  • It is very important to practice. You can practice with a friend, career counselor or whomever you trust. Be sure to have them ask you questions as if you were in the interview. You can also practice in front of the mirror, tape yourself or simply talk out loud.
  • Practice will give you a chance to think through your answer, visualize the process, clarify the points you would like to make, hopefully decrease some of your nervousness, and prevent some unnecessary mistakes.
  • Get an itinerary ahead of time that shows the names and titles of people you will meet with during the day.
  • Read as much as you can about the company or university, including the people who you will meet with.

What to Wear

  • Wear a suit. The more conservative and classic, the better.
  • Use simple, non-descript jewelry.
  • Do not wear perfume or cologne as it can distract or disturb your interviewers.

What to Bring With You

  • Several copies of your resume/CV. Use white or cream inexpensive bond quality paper (the watermarked paper that is slightly heavier in weight) as it is easier to read.
  • A copy of your references.
  • A list of at least five questions regarding the position. List them in order of importance in case there is only time for a few to be asked in the interview. The questions will help assist you to determine if the position will be a good fit and/or demonstrate your interest in the position.
  • A pad of paper and pen to take notes (optional).
  • Portfolio or briefcase to hold a pad of paper, a pen, directions, copy of your references and a list of questions for the interviewer(s).

Upon Arrival

  • Arrive early - about 10 to 15 minutes before your appointment.
  • Go to the restroom to check your appearance one last time.
  • Smile, make eye contact and check-in with the receptionist in a professional manner. If they are not formally part of the search committee, they are likely to be informally.
  • Stand and smile while greeting your interviewer(s) with a firm handshake. Make eye contact and use names when introduced.

In the Interview

  • Be yourself.
  • Remember to breathe and think through the questions that are being asked as well as ask for a moment to think, if a question is difficult.
  • Use eye contact and speak to the individual to whom is asking the question(s). Make sure to include the other interviewers with your eye contact as to not leave anyone out of your discussion.
  • Be aware of your body language for example crossed arms, foot tapping, playing with a pen, etc.
  • Think about what you are saying. Describe your strengths and assets as well as provide relevant examples. Be clear about what you can bring to the company or university.
  • Never say anything negative about a previous employer or a former colleague.
  • Raising salary questions in an interview will send the wrong signals. Let your interviewers bring up this subject first.
  • Thank the interviewer and determine what the next steps are in the interview process. Ask the interviewers for their business cards. It is important to obtain their contact information to send a follow-up letter as well as the correct spelling of their names and titles of the individuals with whom you met.

After the Interview

  • Take notes on your interview regarding your thoughts about the environment, information you learned, and any further questions you may have. These notes can assist you in preparation for a second interview as well as information on whether the position may or may not be a good fit for you.
  • Write a follow-up thank-you letter as soon as possible. Email is okay but a hard copy is best.
  Core Message / "Elevator Pitch"

A short spoken statement (30-second mini-abstract) about you that lets people know who you are, what you do well, and what you are looking for. In your own authentic voice, it is a well-prepared answer to the questions, "Tell me a little bit about yourself," or "So, what do you do?"

Core Message Statement / "Elevator Pitch" Template (PDF)

How and When to Use Your Core Message Statement ("Pitch")

  • In an informal social setting: A way to introduce yourself or to start a conversation, or to answer such a question as, “Now tell me again, what the heck is it that you do?”
  • At a networking meeting, conference, workshop, etc.: Approaching a referral, target author or presenter, target lab director, new potential colleague, etc.
  • In the job interview (on telephone or in person): “So, John, tell me a little bit about yourself.” If you have done your homework, you will know what kinds of things to highlight. If you haven’t done your homework, you can still try a basic statement, or you can attempt to ask them about their particular needs and interests before you launch your pitch, and then try to address their needs and interests. Think about what you want them to say about you when you are gone.
  • In your letter of introduction or cover letter: It can provide an excellent basis for your second paragraph.
  • As an introduction for a presentation, workshop, class, or speech that you are giving

Helpful Hints

Develop your core message statement / "pitch" quickly by writing it out first, and then talking it out. Make adjustments until it sounds and feels right for you.

You may develop several different pitches in order to address specific situations and specific targets.

Practice out loud in front of a mirror, in the shower, or in the car. Practice with friends and colleagues.

A positive core message statement (“pitch”) will enhance your professional presence and stature, boost your self-confidence, and reduce your anxiety. It helps you establish your identity as a professional, and it opens doors for connection and collaboration.

Take the initiative. Make eye contact. Smile. You belong here. You have much to contribute.

  Job Search Resources

Networking or personal connections with others is continually cited as the number one way to obtain a position. Plan on spending more of your job search time developing your contacts and relationships with potential employers versus applying for positions via the internet. It is the only way to learn about unadvertised positions as well as effectively distinguish your application from amongst the applicant pool. Get connected!

► Referrals and word of mouth

► Conferences in your field of interest

► Journals and publications in your field

► Career fairs

► Departmental postings

► The company or university/college website

Career Search

  • LinkedIn Jobs
  • LinkedIn Salary (Explore salaries by job title and location. See how years of experience, industry, location and more can impact your salary)

Industry Websites

Academia Websites

Government Websites



Handling Salary Conversations

Handling Salary ConversationsDon’t you just hate those conversations?

Most of us dread discussing the topic with current supervisors or potential new employers.



In fact, Massachusetts has just passed a law (effective July 2018) that will make it illegal for Massachusetts companies to ask about applicants’ present or past salaries prior to making a job offer. However, organizations in Massachusetts, and in all the other States, can and will ask about what salary you might expect, or the least that you would accept. Therefore, there is no way to avoid the discussion – so, prepare for it.

In general, it is best to delay salary discussions until an offer is on the table; however, salary requirement questions have become a standard part of the interviewing process. When asked about past salaries or salary requirements, it’s useful to delay the discussion with thoughtful responses.

A few options include:

  • “My requirements are flexible.”
  • “My salary is negotiable.”
  • “I want to learn more about the job scope before discussing salary.”
  • “The salary I made previously isn’t applicable to this position due to the different level of responsibility.”
  • “What is the range you normally pay for this position?”
  • “What do you consider the position to be worth?”

Sometimes these types of responses will help you delay salary discussions until later on in the interviewing process. At other times the interviewer (or the application system) will require a specific figure or range in order to proceed. Provide a reasonable figure or range, if you must. Remember that neither you nor the employer may be bound to that entry. Almost all potential employers will try to get an idea about your salary requirements fairly early in the process, if only to see that what salary they have budgeted for the position may be attractive to you. During the search process employers may find out they have to move the range to get the talent they need.

  • Negotiate the job: A job that is too low level for your skills and experience will pay less. Don’t waste time negotiating the salary; instead try to upgrade the job. Suggest working together with the employer to expand the scope of responsibilities so that you both get more. Know what extra value to can add to the organization.
  • Do Your Homework: Learn current market rates for the job. Use information from,,, or from relevant professional or industry associations. Use your professional and social contacts to ask about representative salary ranges for early career, intermediate career, and senior level professionals in your field. Remember that regional and sector norms can vary widely.

    Consider the whole package. Remember that Salary is just one part of the package. There may be annual or semi-annual review schedules, bonus opportunities, or early promotion opportunities available. Relocation assistance, interim living expenses, healthcare, child/elder care, professional development funds, etc. can also make a huge difference. Create a list of must-haves and nice-but-not-necessary benefits for yourself. Then negotiate each step, starting with base pay. Always let the employer make the first bid so you have a starting point. Stress you enthusiasm and desire to make things work for everyone.
  • Listen to the Offer: When you’re offered a position, it means that you have convinced the hiring team that you are the best candidate. Now it’s the hiring official’s job to convince you to join. This is the time to begin talking about salary.
  • Stay Calm, Persistent, and Resilient: It usually takes multiple meetings and interviews to land a job offer. Make sure each meeting shows progress and that your post-interview communications consistently support the value you will bring to the organization.



The Career Center has compiled a list of helpful books about career development, planning and management. All these books can be found in the Todd Wehr Library.


Individual Development Plan (IDP)

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll probably end up...someplace else."


Individual Development Plans (IDPs) (PDF) provide a planning process that identifies both professional development needs and career objectives. We suggest using the free website myIDP Science Careers as a guide.

There are three desirable outcomes from creating an IDP. First, the process aids in identifying long-term career options and helping establish milestones along the way. Second, it defines short-term goals which will focus current performance and give a clearer sense of expectations. Third, the IDP can also serve as a tool for communication between graduate students/postdoctoral fellows and their faculty mentors.

Adapted from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)'s Science Policy Committee.

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  Outline of the IDP Process

The development, implementation and revision of the IDP requires a series of steps to be conducted by the graduate student/postdoctoral fellow and their mentor. These steps are an interactive effort, so both the graduate student/postdoctoral fellow and the mentor must participate fully in the process.

Basic Steps

...for Graduate Students/Postdoctoral Fellows

...for Mentors

Step 1: Conduct a self-assessment Become familiar with available opportunities
Step 2: Survey opportunities Discuss opportunities with grad student/postdoc
Step 3: Write an IDP and share with mentor to revise Review IDP and help revise
Step 4: Implement the plan and revise IDP as needed Establish regular review of progress and help revise the IDP as needed


  Execution of the IDP Process

Following this step-by-step outline of the IDP process will guarantee successful and beneficial use of it. We highly recommend using the free website myIDP Science Careers.

Graduate Students/Postdoctoral Fellows

Step 1. Conduct a Self Assessment

  • Assess your skills, strengths and areas which need development. Formal assessment tools can be helpful.
  • Take a realistic look at your current abilities. This is a critical part of career planning. Ask your peers, mentors, family and friends what they see as your strengths and your development needs.
  • Outline your long-term career objectives. Ask yourself:
    • What type of work would I like to be doing?
    • Where would I like to be in an organization?
    • What is important to me in a career?

Step 2. Survey Opportunities with Mentor

  • Identify career opportunities and select from those that interest you.
  • Identify developmental needs by comparing current skills and strengths with those needed for your career choice.
  • Prioritize your developmental areas and discuss with your mentor how these should be addressed.

Step 3. Write an IDP

The IDP maps out the general path you want to take and helps match skills and strengths to your career choices. It is a changing document, since needs and goals will almost certainly evolve over time as a grad student/postdoc. The aim is to build upon current strengths and skills by identifying areas for development and providing a way to address these. The specific objectives of a typical IDP are to:

  • Establish effective dates for the duration of your grad school tenure/postdoctoral appointment.
  • Identify specific skills and strengths that you need to develop (based on discussions with your mentor).
  • Define the approaches to obtain the specific skills and strengths (e.g., courses, technical skills, teaching, and supervision) together with anticipated time frames.
  • Discuss your draft IDP with your mentor.
  • Revise the IDP as appropriate.

Step 4. Implement Your Plan

The plan is just the beginning of the career development process and serves as the road map. Now it's time to take action!

  • Put your plan into action.
  • Revise and modify the plan as necessary. The plan is not cast in concrete; it will need to be modified as circumstances and goals change. The challenge of implementation is to remain flexible and open to change.
  • Review the plan with your mentor regularly. Revise the plan on the basis of these discussions.


Step 1. Become Familiar with Available Opportunities

By virtue of your experience you should already have knowledge of some career opportunities, but you may want to familiarize yourself with other career opportunities and trends in job opportunities (refer to sources such as National Research Council reports and Science career reviews; see also Resources: Career Opportunities at the end of this document).

Step 2. Discuss Opportunities with Grad Student/Postdoc

This needs to be a private, scheduled meeting distinct from regular research-specific meetings. There should be adequate time set aside for an open and honest discussion.

Step 3. Review IDP and Help Revise

Provide honest feedback - both positive and negative - to help graduate students/postdoctoral fellows set realistic goals. Agree on a development plan that will allow graduate students/postdoctoral fellows to be productive in the laboratory and adequately prepare them for their chosen career.

Step 4. Establish Regular Review of Progress

The mentor should meet at regular intervals with the graduate student/postdoctoral fellow to assess progress, expectations and changing goals. On at least an annual basis, the mentor should conduct a performance review designed to analyze what has been accomplished and what needs to be done. A written review is most helpful in objectively documenting accomplishments.

  Annual Review Example

The IDP Process can be continuously used throughout your career by reviewing it annually.

► What progress has been made in implementing your plan?

► Has your plan changed? If so, provide details.

► What do you intend to accomplish in the coming year?

1:1 Career Counseling

30 – 60 minute sessions for career related questions:

  • Career exploration
  • Career goal-setting
  • Career decision making
  • Job search
  • Occupational Information
  • Networking via social media
  • Resume (CV), cover letter, teaching statement
  • Interview skills coaching
  • Mock interview
  • Negotiation


  • Career Development Brown Bag Workshops, such as:
    • Building Your CV
    • Career in Industry
    • Transferable Skills
    • Job Hunting

Professional development: Large and small group workshops designed to aid student development in professional competency areas (i.e., Spotlight on Sciences)

If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Nai-Fen Su

Nai-Fen SuNai-Fen Su
Career Counselor
(414) 955-4977

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences General CAMPUS CONTACT INFORMATION

Mailing Address:
MCW Graduate School
8701 Watertown Plank Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226

(414) 955-8218
(414) 955-6555 (fax)

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