Cold calling academics?
November 28, 2012 12:04 AM   Subscribe

Is it appropriate to cold call a professor with a cover letter and resume when looking for lab tech/research assistant positions?

Starting to look for work as a protein chemist (MSc biochem, 5 years protein purification and characterization work, 2 years misc biochem work) in Vancouver and while there are a LOT of biotech companies, I thought it would also be worthwhile to send off resumes to PI's in the academic world.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Is it considered rude to snail mail/email the prof directly or is that the preferred way? Any experience with cold calling as a biotechie in general?
posted by Slackermagee to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Cold email is standard; don't expect a response.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:29 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Profs and PIs get a _lot_ of cold emails froms people looking for PhD positions, postdocs, work, etc. My feeling is that it is generally regarded as a bit of a nuisance, but every once in a while you can be lucky and it results in something.

So, in summary:
- not rude, very common
- don't expect anything out of it, not even a reply

Note: this refers to the academic end of things, can't speak for the commercial.
posted by outlier at 1:16 AM on November 28, 2012

I'm not in biotech specifically, but unsolicited resumes of this sort are common. If a professor is looking for help, and there are no grad students appropriate for the gig, then you can definitely get hired this way.
posted by Crotalus at 1:33 AM on November 28, 2012

One person working with me as an RA in my lab got his job this way. He emailed my boss and offered to volunteer. (His girlfriend was finishing up college locally, so he was here anyway.) He started out at $12/hour with no benefits and was full-time within six months.

Plus, most PIs are used to it, given that it's the usual was for undergrads to get research positions (unless the school has an established system). Hype your qualifications and experience, and you shouldn't have much trouble if they need someone with your skills.

Also be sure to check out the universities' centralized jobs sites. (That's how the other RAs here got their jobs.)
posted by supercres at 5:18 AM on November 28, 2012

Like with any method of distributing your resume, the cover letter is absolutely crucial. I'd argue that it's even more so in this case. "Dear Professor, I am a protein chemist and I'd like a job." will not get you anywhere - as already mentioned, they get a lot of this type of email. Even as a post-doc I got this kind of email, usually from a foreign grad who appeared to be mailing entire department directories looking for a way to stay in the country. Your goal in these emails is to make the PI feel special, like you know his/her work and would much rather work for him/her than for anyone else in town.

Dear Dr. Soandso,
I was reading on your website about your work in X. I remember your [paper in Journal of Y][seeing your talk at conference Y][name] from my graduate work at U of Z studying Xx. [feel free to name-drop any advisors who might know this guy] Since then I have [had a job doing ABC]. I now live in the Vancouver area and am very interested in talking with you about possible [jobs, assistantships, etc]. While I find your work in X1 most interesting my skills n, m are applicable to most areas of your research, particularly X2 and X3.
posted by aimedwander at 6:35 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

If it's more than a couple (very short) paragraphs, I likely won't read it. Unless I'm very interested, I likely won't do more than glance at your CV. Sorry.

If your message is not on point, I will stop reading very quickly (1. Who you are, 2. What are you looking for, 3. Why I should consider you).

Mentioning a connection is great. It helps place context. A student of someone I know or better, have collaborated with, a paper of mine that you read and caught your interest, a talk at a conference (works best 1-2 weeks following the conference). This tells me what your interests are and shows that you are keen, not just resume flooding all the addresses you can find.

Linked-in can be a great resource. Look at the contacts of your contacts.

We've taken on people as volunteers in the past, on a short-term basis. You want to be careful though: define clearly how much effort you are willing to do, how long this relationship will last. 3-6 mo is the longest I'd want to contemplate. This is the science version of an internship.
posted by bonehead at 9:51 AM on November 28, 2012

Don't cold-call; cold-visit. Dress for the interview, drop by the professor's office during posted hours, and act pleasantly surprised, as you were simply going to leave the letter and resume with their group secretary.

I've gotten a job interview in exactly this way (albeit in engineering).
posted by IAmBroom at 12:56 PM on November 28, 2012

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