10 Tips to Boost your CV at Undergraduate Level
As a dental student I never really knew what to do to build and improve my CV. I felt as though most things (such as research, conferences and shadowing) had to wait until I qualified and I found it challenging to know where to start. As a qualified dentist, I’ve come to realise there were in fact plenty of ways I could get involved in interesting projects and activities as a student, to give my CV the boost it needed to stand out when applying for jobs and training posts in the future.
Now I’m not saying my CV is perfect, what I am saying is that there have been gaps on there which could have been filled an awful lot sooner if I had known as a student what I know now.
A lot of person specifications for jobs as associate dentists and for training pathways within the hospital service have similar essential and desirable criteria. As a student, you definitely don’t need to know what you want to do with your career as a dentist and if anything, a variety of interests and experiences will stand you in good stead when you qualify and start to focus your CV more towards what you are enjoying and what you think you might want to do for your future.
I have broken down the key areas of a CV or portfolio in to 10 categories and given some tips on how to tick these boxes as an undergraduate or young dentist.
Posters and presentations
Posters are a great way to present audits, case reports and research you may have been doing. Conferences often have allocated time or space for posters, where delegates can stand by their poster and answer questions about the content. Presentations are often more difficult to achieve, as the standard can be very high and usually fewer people have the opportunity to do this. The first step would be to speak to an educational supervisor, tutor or approachable clinician and ask them whether they have any interesting case reports they think would make a good poster. In my opinion, it is sensible to look at what conferences are taking place that may be appropriate to attend and that way you can tailor your work towards that. Cases that are different, have an interesting learning point or use a novel technique/approach are usually best, as they are engaging and bring more to the table than a straightforward report of a common situation.
Alternatively, it may be possible to do a poster or presentation on an audit you have done (see the audit section below). It is essential you have full consent for any patient information you plan to use. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get to present the first thing you submit, there will always be more opportunities and it is worth going along to listen to those who were successful in order to learn from them and see what you could have done differently.
Papers and publications
Getting your name on a paper as an undergraduate is certainly challenging, but not impossible. As with the posters and presentations, speak to your seniors and get advice on who might have a project that you can get involved with. This may involve data analysis and sorting, distributing questionnaires or other potentially tedious activities, however it is highly likely someone will have something for you to do. Don’t be put off if the first person you ask doesn’t have anything to offer. Keep trying and ask around until you get to where you need to be. In my opinion it is important to avoid setting the bar too high with this one and be grateful for opportunities you may get.
Whilst research you can help with may not (or may!!!) be ground-breaking or revolutionary, it is great to get a foot in the door and begin developing valuable research skills. If you do manage to get involved with a project (which in my opinion anyone who sets their mind to it and keeps working at it will be able to), consider carefully where this is going to end up. It is ideal if papers are published on PubMed so they can be accessed by future employers and make sure you have a copy of the details of the paper and a print out for your portfolio.
Audits look fantastic on your CV in particular if you have managed to improve a service in some way. Have a think about something that doesn’t run smoothly day to day and work out why this may be happening. Ideally, an audit should have a gold standard, which you can compare current practice to. For example, student appointments running late. The gold standard would be to finish on time, so a simple form could be made to record how late students finish and what the reason for this was. The results may show that on average students finish 15 minutes late due to writing notes, therefore to improve this perhaps a note template could be introduced, or appointment lengths be increased.
The essential feature of an audit is that the cycle is ‘closed’. By this I mean a second audit is done to measure the change or the service improvement. The repeat audit for this example may show that students stop running late when they have less writing to do. The great thing about audits is that they can be presented locally (to the department) or even regionally or nationally if they are interesting and could influence services elsewhere. Audits can occasionally be published and are great for posters, so have a think about a service you might be able to improve and speak to your supervisor about the best way to do the audit yourself.
Teaching experience can be achieved at ANY level of training. You don’t have to be super experienced or even qualified to provide some level of teaching. Arranging study clubs for peers or those in younger years not only shows management and leadership skills, it also gives you an opportunity to help others develop. Tutoring students at GCSE and A-level can help you develop personal skills and some universities offer PASS training to allow for peer assisted teaching to take place with structured topics and session plans. Again, if you show initiative and speak to a more senior member of staff or supervisor, it is likely they will be able to help you find a way to get some experience in an area you are interested in.
Clinical experience is difficult to improve as a student as the treatment you are allowed to provide is often limited to certain activities under supervision. However, there is nothing to stop you shadowing colleagues and gaining knowledge and experience this way. Most experienced dentists are happy to share their knowledge with students and would welcome you into their clinic or even theatre. Spending time in the operating room is a great way to develop your knowledge of anatomy and to see something different. Ultimately as a dentist you will be expected to suture, drill bone, cut gum (in certain circumstances!!) and manage medically compromised patients. Therefore, the more exposure to this you can get the better.
Most universities with medical schools have surgical societies and teaching in suturing is available. If this is available to you I’d strongly recommend making the most of this opportunity and develop your surgical skills as early as possible. Whilst it may seem dull spending a portion of your free time shadowing and watching other dentists work, this is a great way to learn, show enthusiasm and make some great contacts.
Prizes and awards
Whilst there is no way to guarantee winning awards or prizes there is certainly nothing to stop you trying. Most dental societies (British Society of Endodontics, British Society of Restorative Dentistry etc) often have competitions for undergraduates which are either based around a case report or an essay. As a student I don’t think I was very organised when it came to this sort of thing, as I always found out about the competition as soon as the deadline had passed, then forgot to try the year after! My advice would be to look in advance at the deadlines for these competitions. Even searching ‘dentistry student competition’ or something along these lines on Google will bring up a whole bunch of websites with competitions you may be eligible to enter. Winning an award or prize with one of the main societies will look fantastic on your CV and they often come with free membership to the society for a year, giving you even more opportunities to attend conferences and events.
Showing a commitment to dentistry above and beyond the minimum requirement is great when it comes to job applications and your CV. Attending courses and events shows you are prepared to go the extra mile to improve yourself clinically and reflects very well on you as a dentist or student. There are loads of online learning resources available for dental professionals and as long as you record everything you have done (preferably with evidence or a certificate) this can go in your portfolio under the continued professional development section.
Societies and events
Most students are involved in some societies and attend events arranged by these, but it is important to choose ones that work for you. Societies which provide skills workshops, talks and lectures are great as they tick multiple boxes and some will lead to opportunities to present or submit a poster. Conferences such as the Dental Show and BDA Conference (free this year!) are fantastic opportunities to meet people/network and attend talks on interesting topics.
Management and leadership
Societies are a great way to develop management and leadership skills. Ideally, apply for a position on committees of societies you feel will be worthy of your time and develop your skills, as these give you something to talk about at a later date at interviews. In my opinion it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference as a student if you are on committees for dental societies or others such as sports because ultimately you will develop similar skills regardless. However, something to consider is how much time you have to invest in this role and whether ultimately you may get more opportunities being involved with a committee in the dental specialty. Other ways to demonstrate management and leadership skills include involvement in school events such as open days and interviews or arranging talks/events or teaching sessions for your peers.
Interests outside of dentistry
It is important to maintain interests outside of dentistry throughout the time you are completing your degree. Whilst it is easy to focus entirely on the course and related commitments, it is also essential you are able to demonstrate you can take time to relax and have other enjoyments in life. For Dental Core Training there is a specific part of the application focused on interests outside dentistry, so make sure you squeeze in an activity to enjoy.
Finally, some general tips:
Record everything you do which may contribute to your CV. The date you did it and save any evidence you have
Say ‘no’, when its appropriate. It is really easy to get in to the habit of saying yes to everything when you’re trying to build your CV, however it is important to make sure you leave enough time to socialise, do things you enjoy and work on projects or activities which may be more beneficial and rewarding long term
Take some time for you. It is important to take care of yourself especially with the stresses dental school can involve. Allow yourself time to rest and reward yourself by doing things you enjoy. Whilst its important to have a good portfolio, it is also important you don’t burn out…5 years is a long time to stay committed and motivated whilst working at an intense level
Don’t worry about focusing your interests too soon. In my opinion, as a student you don’t need to be preparing your CV for a specific specialty. No-one would expect you to know what you want to do with your whole career as a student and it is important to keep an open mind and gather a broad range of experiences and skills
I hope this was useful to you and appreciate any feedback good or bad that could help me develop my articles! Good luck CV building!