Science, technology and math
Science, technology, engineering and math careers often cater to those who like to work independently and solve abstract problems, but with opportunities ranging from biotechnology and data analysis to environmental research and forensics, there is something in STEM for everyone. Explore these resources to learn what specific STEM careers may be a good fit for you.
Most hiring managers are trying to answer the following three questions while reviewing your documents:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Will you fit in?
Think of the resume and cover letter as your opportunity to answer these questions while showcasing your different skills and talents. These documents are your first impression to an employer and are crucial elements in securing an interview. While varied experiences (i.e. internships, volunteer work, clubs, etc..) are important, it is equally vital that those experiences are formatted in a way that best illustrates your career journey.
When applying for positions related to the STEM field, tailoring your resume is key. Highlight any research experience you have, both from inside and outside of class, as well as technical skills when crafting your resume. Consider including relevant coursework, especially if you have little experience in the field outside of class. This can demonstrate skills gained as well as interest and exposure to the industry.
Perhaps the most important tip for making your documents stand out is to use industry lingo. Review the position description, highlight keywords or phrases, and reflect that same terminology in your resume or cover letter. This shows you have done your research and are familiar with the culture of the industry.
Your cover letter is meant to achieve two goals: To demonstrate your genuine interest in the position and to explain why you are the MOST qualified person for the job. It’s tempting to fill your cover letter with clichés about work, commitment, etc. This will not help you set yourself apart. Instead, use your personality and tell your own story – honestly. Be specific about your skills and show them in action. Follow these general rules for writing a good cover letter:
- Keep the cover letter short (less than one page) and written in the tone of the organization
- Tell the organization why their mission connects with the work you hope to do
- Explain why you are the right person for the job and support it by discussing why you have some of the skills listed in the position description
- Offer contact information and outline a plan to follow up (if able)
- If you are sending your files digitally to an employer, make sure to include your name and the words “cover letter” in the file name, it will make it easy for employers to locate your file (i.e. Last Name, First Name Cover Letter)
Letters of recommendation are often required for graduate programs, scholarships or fellowships. While each program or school may have specific guidelines, most will require you to submit a number of letters of recommendation from professors, a supervisor or someone who can speak to your knowledge, skills, abilities and/or passion for the field.
When considering a person to ask to write a recommendation, make sure that the person:
- Knows you well enough to speak to your abilities
- Knows your work
- Is able to speak positively about you
- Is able to write a letter properly
When asking for a recommendation:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to ask. Your reference may have several other letters to write. Ask for a recommendation six to eight weeks prior to the deadline
- Find out if the program you’re applying to requires a form, a letter or both. If a form is required, make sure that you find it and give it to your recommender.
- Provide the recommender with everything they need to write a letter (e.g., forms, resumes or transcripts) at one time.
- Always write a thank-you note to the recommender.
The interview is your opportunity to share how your skills and experiences have prepared you to be successful in this role. Interviews take practice. If you’ve never interviewed before, explore the interviewing page to learn the basics of a successful interview. Nearly all interviews contain two parts, common questions about your experience and situation-based questions to gauge your fit for the position. Afterward, you’ll be given the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.
While you cannot control the interview format or timeline, you can be prepared to speak about your relevant skills and experiences. Take some time to reflect on what you’ve done and how you can fill this organization’s needs. Below are some sample interview questions that you might encounter.
Common interview questions
- Why are you a good scientist?
- Talk about a challenge you faced with your research and how overcame it
- What interests you about this type of research/work?
- Tell me about a suggestion you have made that was implemented in the science field
- What do you know about us?
- Why should we hire you?
- How do you handle criticism?
- Tell me about a time when your research did not go as you expected? How did you respond?
- How would your former supervisor describe you?
Many interviews in STEM fields involve a technical component. As a part of the interview process, you may be required to demonstrate your proficiency in a programming language or in operating a piece of laboratory equipment. Glassdoor is an excellent resource for understanding the specific interview process of a particular company or organization
While case interviews are extremely common in business, they have slowly made their way into STEM interviews, particularly for consulting jobs. A case interview is designed to test your ability to think critically and solve problems. You will be presented with a scenario or a “case” and then you will be given time to put together a detailed response.
The purpose of a case interview isn’t to arrive at the absolute correct answer, but to demonstrate your ability to think through a problem and provide a solution. The most important thing is to ensure that your response is structured and logical. Be prepared to defend your rationale for each element of your solution. Keep these tips in mind:
- Think before answering the question
- If given a pen and paper, take notes and write down key information. If you need to know something, ask clarifying questions
- Be creative in your thinking. There are often multiple correct answers in case interviews. The point is to demonstrate your ability to problem-solve
- Before answering, review your work to make sure that it makes sense, if it doesn’t make sense, you’ve likely made a false assumption
- Use a framework such as a SWOT analysis or a mind map to organize your thoughts and support your work
You’ll feel more comfortable during your interview with a little practice first. Big Interview is a web-based video platform that allows you to respond to a series of pre-recorded interview questions from your computer. Afterward, you will be able to review your recording to see how you did.
Have an interview coming up? Practice with one of our career advisors. Schedule a one-hour mock interview and we will show you how to answer likely interview questions and offer tips to help you make an excellent impression.
Our STEM advising team maintains a list of Summer Science Opportunities that you can search to find the best fit!
You will find information on how to prepare for your search, networking 101, a document addressing frequently asked questions, and more. Also, students who are eligible for federal work study may participate in The VCU Work-Study Research Assistant Program.
Joining a professional association opens doors to numerous opportunities. Professional associations allow you to connect with experienced professionals who can help you explore career options, alert you to internship or job opportunities and provide insight into current industry trends and practices. Many professional associations offer reduced or discounted membership fees to students.
- American Society for Microbiology
- American Mathematical Society
- American Chemical Society
- American Statistical Association
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- Association for Women in Science
- Biotechnology Industry Organization
- National Association of Environmental Professionals
- Sigma Xi – Scientific Research Society
- Society for Conservation Biology
- Society for Mathematical Biology
- The American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- The American Institute of Biological Science
- Virginia Bio
Joining organizations relevant to your industry is a sure way to gain more insight and knowledge in your relative field. Check out RamsConnect to explore on-campus organizations.
Practical, hands-on experience is an important component of a successful career in a STEM field. There are many ways to gain experience outside of a traditional internship. Our STEM advising team maintains a list of Summer Science Opportunities that you can search to find the best fit! You will also find information on how to prepare for your search, networking 101, and more.
Develop practical skills
Practical skills are an essential part of positioning yourself as a highly-sought-after candidate. VCU has a partnership with LinkedIn Learning, formally Lynda.vcu.edu, to provide free skills training. Consider taking some of these recommended courses as a part of your training. Supplemental training can also be found on websites such as Code Academy when learning and improving these skill sets. As you continue to gain new technical skills, it may be helpful to document your work online to easily share with future employers, through websites such as GitHub or even a personal portfolio website.
- 3D printing
- Mobile app development
- Web development
- 3D drawing
- Database Fundamentals
- Microsoft Excel
- ChatGPT and other AI systems
Use these and our other job search tools to explore opportunities:
- National Institutes of Health
- People Solutions
- Math Internships
- Aerotek Scientific
- Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services
- Homeland Security Summer Internship Program
- Field Studies Internships
- Food and Drug Administration
- CIA jobs and internships
- ResearchGate job board
- Commonwealth STEM Industry Internship Program
- American Statistical Association JobWeb
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