#STEMSaturdays: Tips on Receiving Grants




In an ideal world, all scientists would be adequately funded to carry out their research and not have to stress about grant writing. Sadly, we don’t live in that world and many scientists have to worry about where their next round of money will come from. FemSTEM cannot guarantee these tips will get your grant application funded, but this article is a good starting point.


First, ask yourself the big question:


Are you eligible for this grant?


No point in writing up a funding proposal if you don’t qualify for the money! Read the application pre-requisites and follow the application guidelines exactly. Make sure you keep an eye on deadlines, giving yourself plenty of time to write... and rewrite... and rewrite... and...


You get the point! This means that it’s not always about how many funding grants you churn out. In fact, the saying “it’s not about quantity, but quality” rings true here.  That means having others read it to make sure clarity reigns supreme. I like to have a trusted colleague look over my grant — and then pass it to a friend outside of my field to make sure jargon is minimal and defined! When you have friends read it, make sure they can take away why your research is needed and how your research project fills the gaps in the field. 


Before you send it out, make sure your have checked your grammar, spelling, and math. The first two may be a given, but math?! Yup! You have to make sure your costs are justified and correctly add up. There’s nothing worse than asking for money and the amount not being right!


#Protip: Another way to make sure your grant stands out is to include a cover letter with your application, addressed to the correct people (or persons).  


So what should be in your proposal? Here are the basics:


  • A Summary – you usually write this last.
  • An Introduction that quickly covers why your area of study is important.
  • A section that discusses what work has been previously done, emphasizing research gaps.
  • An explanation of how your research would advance knowledge in that field.
  • A section explaining what your research will cover and how you will carry it out.
  • A budget that explains the need for the funding amount requested.
  • A justification of the budget (i.e. why the amount you are asking for is reasonable).
  • A timeline of when certain parts of the research will get accomplished.
  • A bibliography of the references cited throughout the proposal.


Once you have everything turned in, all we can do is wish you luck! Make sure you interpret the referees’ feedback carefully and don’t take rejection personally. Just revise and try applying again!


So where do you even start looking for money? At the end of a rainbow? Nah. Here are my favourite funding body starts: - lists all current discretionary funding opportunities from 26 agencies of the United States government, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and many others -- in other words, all the most important public funders of research in the United States. is free and does not require a subscription.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) - An independent federal agency, the U.S. National Science Foundation funds approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted at America's colleges and universities. This is the place to search for NSF funding programs. The NSF Web site is free and does not require a subscription.


For more information on writing funding grants:


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here.

#STEMSaturdays: How to Market Yourself


You may be doing fantastic things in your field, but it won’t help your career advance (which leads to better funding) is nobody knows that you exist. This is where marketing yourself becomes key. But before you start dialing for a publicist, we discuss a number of ways to do this in a cheap way, so put the phone away.




The main goal isn’t to push yourselves to audiences, but to give them reasons to want to continue listening to what you have to say. That means being an influencer who has something interesting to say and that what you have to say is scientifically sound (i.e. don’t make things up - you’ll get caught in the lie and be known for the wrong reason). I don’t know about you, but I want to eventually receive unsolicited calls for guest interview opportunities and collaborations with other influencers I otherwise wouldn’t even know about.




Many people take matters into their own hands and create their own content. It’s easy to do this- you can make videos/podcasts and write blogs from your phone if you choose to. This allows you the opportunity to relay your knowledge through the platform of your choosing.


For me, written word and audio are my strongest suit, which is why I love writing blog posts and doing podcasts. From there, you can easily disseminate your work via social media (we talked about the power of Twitter last #STEMSaturdays) to a new audience. I also share the articles I’ve written on LinkedIn and on my Facebook, allowing my existing friends to like, comment, and share it. If you don’t have your own blog, identify a blog you really like and submit yourself as a guest contributor. This is a great way to build credibility! 


#Protip: Another quick and easy way to give people information about yourself is make a personal website! 


Companies like Weebly and Wix make it easy to create your own website, without every making one before.* My own website is by Weebly and the simplest thing to do! 


On that website, you will want to list your: 


  • Achievements
  • Projects you’re a part of
  • Published works 
  • Interviews you’ve been a part of
  • You Educational background
  • Your contact information
  • Etc.


Consider this a living website that is constantly updating with each new achievement you unlock. 


The internet allows for you to make connections which can blossom into friendships and makes going to professional evens and meeting people so much fun. The internet is not a substitute for meeting in person, but merely a bridge to make and grow connections until you can meet face-to-face. 


A little low-key but useful way to helpful way to step up your leadership skills (and get noticed in the long run) is working with non-profits, schools, community organizations, chambers, and professional organizations in your industry. In these capacities you may be able to host a workshop or webinar- find a free local or online space to do so and promote it throughout your social media marketing channels! One space to keep in mind is, which makes it easy for locals to organize groups and can be a networking powerhouse.


You can continue your reach through media attention. This can be done in a number of ways, like having a reporter write a story about you, your expertise, etc. You can also reach out to journalists from your local and regional news outlets to get you and your work featured. This will require a few cold emails, so check out our tips here


Another way to be featured in the media is by giving a comment or statement regarding a topic. I recently learned about HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which allows you receive emails about stories journalists are currently working on. If your expertise matches up with what a journalist needs, your comments could be featured in the publication! Don’t underestimate what makes something newsworthy, as news sources are always searching for potential content.


There are a number of smart and purposeful ways to authentically market yourself. What ways do you market yourself?


*This article is not sponsored.



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: What Women Need in the Field


Gum boots, check. 

Water waders, check. 

Waterproof notebook, check. 

Prepping for field work can be time-consuming… especially when it’s your first time! The reality is that women sometimes have to take extra precautions for their health and safety while out on the field, especially when it’s in the middle of nowhere. We asked some #womeninSTEM what common things they brought to the field when they were doing work… and what things they brought that wasn’t on the ordinary packing list. For privacy, we have made everyone’s responses anonymous:


A rape whistle. Pretty self-explanatory, but many women carry whistles in case they are about to get attacked. These whistles can also come in handy if you think a large predator may attack you- but be careful! Not all defensive tactics include loud noises – some animals do not appreciate lots of loud noise.


Breast pump (and replacements). Are you a #womeninSTEM who is also a mother? Sometimes our fieldwork takes us away from our families, but that doesn’t mean Mother Nature stops in its tracks. Replacements are essential, as you never know what will happen in the field.


Personal mini freezer. Unless you want to pump-and-dump, having a personal mini freezer to store all that breast milk is needed. Or, have superb labelling skills so no one mistakes your milk for… well, who knows what. 


Extra hair ties. Unless you have short hair, you know how annoying your hair constantly being in your face is. If you’re like me, you carry extra hair ties during every day so why not bring a ton during the field work?? I usually bring another packet, just in case. They make good rubber band substitutes as well, and vice versa.


Diva Cup*. I don’t use a diva cup, but I’ve heard rave reviews from friends who have taken them out to the field. I can understand the appeal: having to hang on to tampons can be a bit gross, especially in confined places and when you’re the only female in your group. Diva cups are a brand of menstrual cups, which are flexible and designed for use inside the vagina during your period to collect menstrual blood. On top of less landfill waste, depending on flow you can go up to 12 hours before emptying the cup. The cons are that it can be pretty messy, not helping with the “ick” factor that comes with a period.


Extra menstrual necessities. For those who use tampons and pads, don’t forget to bring extras just in case your flow is heavier than normal or something else happens. A waterproof case comes in handy, too, to store everything!


Birth control. Also to have handy? Extra birth control! You never know if you may stay a little bit over on your field work, so having extra is always good to have. Better to be safe than sorry.


A clothes line. This was something I didn’t even think of, but is smart! In some regions, it’s disrespectful for women to hang their delicate laundry to dry. That’s why a clothes line inside your tent is brilliant- you get dry undergarments and don’t offend anyone. Just make sure not to hang the line above where you sleep, as constant dripping is not fun.


Antibiotics. UTI’s are no fun- but they are especially no fun when out in the field. I take multivitamins and some preventative medications with me into the field in case anything crops up. Discuss this with your doctor beforehand.


Anti-yeast medicine. As above, talk to your doctor before getting this type of medicine. I also take Gold Bond powder to keep myself dry… well, everywhere!


Hair conditioner. I tend to take little bottles of shampoo and conditioner with me, but usually bring those little traveling samples. I bring two conditioners to one shampoo, since I tend to fly through a conditioner bottle.


Moisturizer. If you’re gonna condition your hair, you can’t forget your skin! In harsh weather conditions, it can really zap your skin and leave you feeling quite dry. For my sensitive skin, I use Nivea and Aveeno.


Fake wedding ring. Many women can feel unsafe in an environment that doesn’t see women as equal members of society. This means that ‘hiding’ behind a fake wedding ring may bring some women safety and comfort. I have a cheap band that I take with me when I go to foreign countries, just in case.


What uncommon/common things do YOU take with you on the field?

*this article is not sponsored


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays - The Informational Interview


Unless you’ve been an interviewer, informational interviews can seem pretty awkward. But when done right, they are powerful interactions that can leave you with a better sense of the industry/career path you are interested in and possibly lead to new networking connections!


Send the person a friendly cold email (September 23)- remember to keep it concise! Let the person know why you are interested in talking to them specifically, and ask if they would be willing to communicate via email, phone, or meet up for a coffee.  


Protip: Make the effort to do your research on the person you want to interview- being unprepared is not the best first impression!


If your email goes over two weeks unnoticed, send a follow up along the lines of, “Hi [x], Just following up to see if you had seen my previous email about…” I usually forward the original email to jog their memory. Many have flooded inboxes and may have not even seen your email, or seen it and forgotten to reply!


If the person declines, be courteous. Many have hectic schedules they just can’t step away from at the time. Thank them for the consideration and move on to someone else. Insulting them or continuing to pester them after getting a “no,” is not a great impression, especially if you end up working together down the road!


If the person replies and agrees, great! Set up a time to chat or meet up. From there, you will want to do research on what your candidate has been involved in. What have they written? What interviews have they done? What research have they been a part of? Find similarities to discuss.


Although called an “informational interview,” you don’t want to bombard your person with a ton of questions. Let the conversation flow naturally, including basic questions within the discussion. Some of my favorite questions include:


  • “What is the most challenging aspect of your job?”
  • “What skills have you picked up in your job?”
  • “What does a typical day look like for you?”
  • “What has been the most fascinating thing you’ve learned?”


If you guys end up meshing really well together, that’s fantastic! But don’t forget to glance at the clock every now and then and be respectful of their time! I keep my informational interviews at no more than an hour long. At the hour I reminder myself to do a body language check- are they fidgeting? Constantly looking at their watch? That means it’s time to wrap it up! If I don’t see that body language, I still say the following:


“Well, I want to be respectful of your schedule, and I can’t thank you enough for carving out some time to talk to me about [x]. I would love to keep in touch and possibly do this again in the future, if that’s okay with you!”


Once home, send a follow up email after the informational interview! This is usually in the form of a thank you note, telling them how much I appreciate their time. Again, always be respectful. The conversation can then continue from there and lead to possible meet ups or collaborations. Informational interviews are a base platform from where you can start a working relationship. My most recent informational interview led to me and a scientist I look up to working together every week and discussing the fishes of New Zealand! 


So how do you find the ways to reach out to your interviewees? Try LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and your network of friends and family. Don’t be shy about reaching out to anyone who looks interesting – reaching out to a stranger can be nerve-wracking but can end up being so rewarding. I believe in you… now go get some interviews lined up! Good luck!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSATURDAYS: Cold Emails - What They Are and How to Write Them


In the ideal world, we would know everybody in our industry. This isn’t an ideal world, however, and sometimes you’ll want to reach out to people who you have no mutual connections with. This process of reaching out is called either “cold emailing” or “cold calling” depending if you choose to communicate via email or phone. We’ll be talking about a cold email is and why you need to perfect yours today in this #STEMSaturdays post.


First, a definition: cold emails are basically where you introduce yourself to someone and sometimes ask them for information. They’re called “cold” because your addressee doesn't know you. The goal? To get it read.


Sometimes your addressee gets hundreds of emails a day. For example, my e-mail address gets anywhere from 50-130 emails a day. Many times I’ll do a quick cursory glance and mass delete things I see as spam, as many others do.


That’s where you need to make your cold email stand out: the subject line. 


Make me want to read your email by writing a catchy subject line. This can either be by the cursory, “Attention: Melissa Marquez” or by something that includes my interests like, “Melissa Marquez- Shark Inquiry.” 


Do your research on the person you are reaching out and find out what their interests, strengths, etc. are. From there, pick a few key words and add them to your subject line and fiddle around with it until you have something cohesive written. For example, here are a few cold email subject lines that caught my attention:


“Melissa- loved you on Femmes of STEM… can I ask you a Q?”

“Sharks: a Q&A”

“Melissa- Guest Writer Opportunity”


On to the body of the email! 


Keep it short, blunt and simple. Very rarely does someone answer back to a five-paragraph long email from a person they don’t know. Your email is ultimately something else they (may) add to their to-do list and shorter emails tend to result in faster response times. 


Here is a sample template:


Dear [name of person you are reaching out],

Hello! [Introduce yourself in 1-2 sentences]

  • [Explain how you know them in 1-2 sentences] 
  • [Explain why you are reaching out to them specifically in 1-2 sentences] 
  • [Close with a question - makes it easy for the reader to respond with answer and increases chances of a response]

[Signing off],

[Your name]


Right off the bat, introduce yourself (here’s a great place to insert your 15-second science pitch), and then make it clear why you are reaching out to that person (i.e. what drew you to them). This will, again, show that you put time, effort and thought into reaching out. 


While these emails tend to be short, it doesn’t mean they can’t be conversational. A tip I was taught and still use to this day is to pretend you are having a conversation with the person face-to-face in public and you just walked up to them and said hi. Now what? And so goes the rest of your email, making it so when you leave the conversation you both want to continue it later. 


So perhaps your conversation (in your head) goes a little something like this:


“Hi David. I’m Melissa. I am a big fan of your shark conservation work and love following you on twitter! I also am on twitter, promoting my program The Fins United Initiative which just happens to focus on shark conservation and education amongst other things…”


This technique has yet to fail me, as it makes the cold email feel much more approachable and warmer. So give cold emailing a try… you’ll be surprised at who you can connect with!


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Speed Networking


Networking is one of the most productive things a person can do to help out their career (besides, you know, putting lots of work and studying into your craft). Building a diverse, yet cohesive, group of relationships is vital to tap into for information, advice, opportunities and more while giving the same in return. #STEMSaturdays discusses what networking is at large in a previous post (May 20), how networking is not always done in a conference setting (June 3) and what’s the ONE THING you should ALWAYS bring with you when networking (May 6). Today, we’ll be covering another type of networking that is starting to become popular: speed networking.


While you might not have heard of speed networking, you may have hear of speed dating. Speed networking operates on a similar idea: a structured and fast paced event that allows people to interact one at a time for a short amount of time (usually a minute or two) and then leaves it up to participants who they want to provide their contact information to. In speed dating, when sparks fly it usually leads to a date while in speed networking, it usually leads to some networking opportunities. 


Many see pros and cons to this type of networking. While you will get to meet a lot of people in a short amount of time, you don’t get to delve into much of a deep conversation given the time constraints. Typically, these events have a “round robin” format, which is where the leader of the event will alert that you time has begun/ended by some sort of noise (think buzzer, whistle, bell, gong, etc.). To begin, one of you (or both) will introduce yourself, why you’ve come, and perhaps exchange business cards right off the bat. From there, you start to ask questions of each other to see if you really want to get to know this person more after that buzzer goes off. Once the time is up, you move on to the next person and so on and so forth until the event is over.


These types of events can last anywhere from one hour to two (usually no longer as one’s voice can go quickly after talking so much), and usually ends with some time to openly network (i.e. without a buzzer) so you can either reconnect with interesting people or talk to individuals you weren’t paired up with. 




Remember that science pitch! You’ll want to have that statement polished for events just like this. Make sure it includes your name, your occupation (or degree), your field of interest, and why you are here (are you looking for exchange of information, jobs, internships, etc?). For example, my quick introduction would go something along the lines of: 


“Hi, my name is Melissa Marquez, a marine biologist based out of Wellington, New Zealand who focuses on sharks and their relatives. My interests include studying habitat use further in these animals, and I’m looking for PhD or job opportunities that allow such research. I’m also open to marine biology jobs that focus on science communication, outreach and education.”


Done in sixty seconds and is straight to the point. 


Remember those business cards! Bring them. A lot of them. You won’t have an idea of how many people you’ll meet, so I usually bring 50 just in case. How do I carry so many? I have a small purse dedicated to just business cards, so I don’t forget! Some event coordinators will suggest a number depending RSVP count, so keep an eye on that!


Bring a few copies of your resume. Some people will ask you if you have a resume or CV with you. I bring 10 copies and keep them in a folder that I keep in my purse for just these occasions. It’ll be impressive to see how prepared you are!


Be prepared. That means you’ll want to bring a writing utensil (pen is best as it doesn’t smudge as easily), notepad, and a small planner so you can pencil in a meet-up date if necessary. Dress to impress by checking the dress code; these events are usually business or business casual, but if no guidelines are given ask the organisers! 


Don’t forget to follow up with those you want to connect with within a day or two; this can be either via e-mail or a phone call, whatever you feel more comfortable with!  


These types of events are starting to crop up at conferences, universities, clubs and more. See where your nearest event is and show up—after all, practice makes perfect! Good luck!


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Your Guide to Conferences




Conferences are a great way to learn in a unique setting and take advantage of possible career building opportunities you just wouldn’t find outside of conferences. I always come back from conferences absolutely knackered because I take full advantage of these events, but also completely excited, rejuvenated and ready to tackle on some new collaborations. Conferences allow you to share ideas and conversations with many people you normally don’t get to interact with, making you think outside of the box. 


To really get the most out of conferences, I always encourage people to present their research—even if it’s “just” a poster—and to attend as many talks and events as possible. Take advantage of live tweeting the talks you attend and reading the tweets of other talks that you may have missed out on. Protip: I have found that the best place to sit at in a room during talk(s) is at the way back, by an aisle seat so you can enter/leave in between talks without causing too much of a distraction. You’ll also want to capitalize on networking during the tea breaks! I talk about how to network (May 20) in any setting (June 3) and what you should have with you (May 6) to make the most out of these interactions in previous #STEMSaturdays posts. Give them a read before you head out to your next conference or socializing event so you can be prepared for any situation!





Often times with conferences, you can opt for field trips, dinners, banquets, etc. Depending on your financial situation, you may be wondering if these extra events are worth the extra dollar signs. I’ve never been one to say no to a dinner party as I find it’s easier to connect with others when their “professional” side has been turned on and it’s just a room full of people who are passionate about [insert conference topic here]. It’s also just nice to let loose with people who are usually close friends or colleagues without having to worry about… well, much of anything else. Some of my favorite memories have been of trying to make my advisor dance (he didn’t—said he didn’t have enough wine), telling a whole crowd my most embarrassing field story (ask me about it some time), having delicious food on a British Harbour, watching a haka in the Te Papa museum to welcome us to the banquet, and riding the night away in a giant Tasmanian camouflaged boat while toasting to a good life with champagne. 


My personal rule is to not pay more than $200 on “extras,” unless the university/advisor is paying for me as a student and doesn’t mind me going on extra events. Otherwise, with my limited budget, I try to spend wisely. You’ll find some peers skip the extras and hold their own events that you can join (for free)!





Conferences are expensive and there’s no way around that. While the price tag is overwhelming for many, there are some ways to cut a few dollars here and there while not dampening the experience as a whole. As mentioned above, you could skip the pre-arranged extra events (which usually mean extra dollar signs) and instead invite peers for a dinner or drink later. That way you can still reconnect or network without going broke. 


Students, you’re in luck! Many organizations have reduced prices (membership, registration, hotel prices, etc.) for students. This also includes scholarships and travel reimbursement through either the organization holding the conference or your university itself to ease the financial burden a little bit (which can add up to a few hundred or a few thousand dollars). Check in with your school and the organizations involved in the conference to see what can be done!


For those who do not qualify for those types of price deals, think about cutting costs by sharing a room with other attendees. Many will post on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter about seeking roommates—reach out to them and cut your lodge costs up to 75% if you share a room with three other attendees. Some conferences have group rates going for the hotel of their choice for attendees to reside in—check the conference website for these types of deals or inquire with an organizer. Or, instead of staying at the hotel the venue is at, look at cheaper options like a motel or a nearby AirBnB. 


Airfare deals can be hard to find when you’re constricted to a certain time frame! Here are some of my tips that help me land the cheapest flights:


  • Always compare airfare prices. No one airline service will have the best price every time so shop around!


  • Clear your cookies. Some airlines may track your searches and hike the prices up each time you look at a specific air path! Clear your internet browser cookies so this doesn’t happen to you.


  • Set airfare alerts. Some sites can alert you when flights to your designation are around or below the price limit you’ve set. 


  • Know the cheapest and most expensive days to fly. Many airlines release weekly sales late Monday or early Tuesday. Cheapest are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays. The most expensive days tend to be Fridays and Sundays. 


  • Know the cheapest times to fly. Most people don’t want to fly at dawn, overnight (red-eyes), lunch or dinner time. Keep your eyes peeled for these flights for cheaper flight prices.


  • Know when to shop for your tickets. For domestic flights in the US, try to get your tickets anywhere from 90-30 days before you leave, otherwise you may get a price hike the closer your trip gets. For international fares, shop between six months to 2 months ahead of your departure date. 


  • Remember peak travel seasons. These include June, July, August and around the holidays. Try to purchase your tickets up to two months in advance so you don’t miss out on a seat and do miss out on a nasty price hike!





Check into your hotel (or motel, AirBnB, etc) and head towards the conference venue. Find out where registration is to pick up your name tag, any goodie bag you might receive, and the itinerary. ProTip: Put your twitter handle on your name tag so people can see you are on social media!


Conferences are a lot of fun to attend and I hope you get the opportunity to go to one (or more) this conference season!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Presentation Tips For Posters


I strongly suggest going to a conference as many times as possible during your academic career. Not only will this allow you to work on those networking skills, but you can also show off your latest research via poster or oral presentation. In this post, we’ll give you tips to help you nail your poster presentation. 


Before we delve into what makes a poster great, we first need to get your poster to the conference! While some decide to print their poster at the location, many students can print theirs for a reduced fee or for free at their university. If that’s the case, take advantage of that as posters are pretty expensive (I had to pay $58 for mine, once). Here are some tips to transporting your poster from Point A to Point B:


  • The poster case. This is usually a white colored, hard cardboard roll with plastic ends that you can put your poster in for safe keeping. Your advisor/university might have one that they would be happy to loan to you. If not, invest in one. I travelled from the US to the UK without a poster case and I was a bit embarrassed by how wrinkled mine ended up being. 


  • Protect the poster case. A step further is a case around the cardboard poster case to protect it from the elements. I’ve seen these be mostly of leather or some synthetic fabric with a strap so you can easily fling it around your shoulder. If you’re going somewhere where there is rain, wind, etc. it’s well worth the investment!



You’ve made it to the conference with your poster intact, hooray! So what should this poster have had on it? Essentials include your name, your university/affiliations, a way to contact you (always put your e-mail; feel free to put your twitter handle as well), and the title of your project. With a poster you want to focus on just one aspect of your research and expand on that.


The next question I get a lot is, “What should my poster look like?”


There’s no cookie cutter formula that all academics follow (trust me, I’ve looked and asked around) because everyone presents data in a different way. Much like how your oral presentation shows your personality via PowerPoint, this poster allows your “design personality” to come through. Here are some tips I’ve seen replicated by many posters:


  • Background. This varies person to person, but the majority seem to go for a plain background of either white or a dark blue/black. Some put a picture that is almost transparent but doesn’t detract from the important bit of the poster — the WORDS. 


  • Font. I was taught that font size should be minimum size 14 for a poster. Stick to traditional and easy-to-read fonts such as Verdana, Times New Roman, Arial, and Garamond as a few examples. Try not to use more than three different fonts on a PPT; think of one as a “title” font, another as a “subtitle” font, and a “body” font.


  • Pictures. With pictures, make sure the resolution is big enough that it doesn’t get extremely blurry when blown up on the poster (dimensions vary by conference). Don’t forget to give credit to whoever took the picture!


  • Tables and graphs. Make sure they are easy to read- may or may not have background depending the overall poster background.


These are a few “templates” that you can follow for your poster from previous conferences I’ve been to:



Once you have given your pitch (tips for creating your own pitch can be found here), encourage your audience to ask you questions! If you don’t know the answer, don’t make something up. Instead, admit you don’t know the answer to their question (which is perfectly okay) and that you’ll look into the subject more in detail and would be happy to get back to them at a later time. 


Make sure you exchange contact information (e.g. give them your business card) to keep in touch! Include a stack of business cards by your poster so you can be contacted if not by your poster. Follow up with people you’ve met either during the conference or shortly after.


With all eyes already on you, you also want to make sure you are following the professional dress code. I usually go for either a simple dress (the attention should be on your poster, not you) or nice pants and a shirt. Flats or heels work; remember, you will be on your feet a lot during these conferences so comfort is key!


Practice your pitch in front of family and friends and see if they can give you any constructive criticism about it.  I usually get my group to also look at my poster and rate it on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) by how easy it is to read, how attractive it looks, and if it is a memorable poster. This helps me tailor my poster to not only professionals, but also those who are outside of my field and may happen to come across my work; be prepared and be confident! You’ve got this!


Do you have any tips on poster presentations that I haven’t mentioned? Share them with us in the comments below or tweet us at @mcmsharksxx or @OfficialFemSTEM!


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Presentation Tips -- The Oral Presentation


I strongly suggest going to a conference as many times as possible during your academic career. Not only will this allow you to work on those networking skills, but you can also show off your latest research via poster or oral presentation. In this post, we’ll give you tips to help you nail your oral presentation. 


Out of all the conferences I’ve gone to (which is a fair share), the majority of oral presentations are done via PowerPoint (PPT). One or two have been via Prezi, but you may not always have internet access in order to make this work. You can choose whichever medium, but the majority of my tips will be for PPT since that is what I use.


Powerpoint is great in that it has a bunch of templates that one can customize to their heart’s content. I usually go for a dark blue theme (ocean theme) and go for simple, clean lines. Make sure your color scheme isn’t harsh on the eyes (e.g. bright red and bright yellow font/background) and that those who are color-blind can enjoy it as well (no red/green)! 


While the design is a minor factor, you want your audience to focus on the content, not the designs of your PTT. The take-home message should be, “Wow! I learned a lot! I should meet up with them afterwards…” rather than “Wow! It was such a pretty PowerPoint!” 


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The first slide should include your title, your name, any affiliations you have, and a way to get in contact with you! This can include your e-mail, twitter handle, or both! Let your audience know if you are okay with your presentation being tweeted and if there are any slides that you do not want tweeted/taken pictures of (e.g. data that has not yet been published). I try to have my twitter handle on every slide of my PPT in case people want to tweet my presentation while I give it (in a future blog post, I’ll discuss how you can live-tweet your own presentation), and will have the twitter icon with a bright red strike across it on the slides I do not want publicized.


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As you go from one slide to the next, don’t get too crazy with transitions and sound effects as it can be distracting. Instead, focus on your quality content and no one will notice if your next slide opens up in a star-shape or not! I was taught that font size should be minimum size 18 in a classroom setting, size 24 in anything bigger! Stick to traditional and easy-to-read fonts such as Verdana, Helvetica, Century Gothic, Times New Roman, Arial, and Garamond as a few examples. Try not to use more than three different fonts on a PPT; think of one as a “title” font, another as a “subtitle” font, and a “body” font. 


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With pictures, make sure the resolution is big enough that it doesn’t get extremely blurry when blown up on a projector. Always, always, always give credit to whoever took the picture! 


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Even a lot of senior scientists forget to do this, so don’t feel bad if you’ve forgotten to do this already (I’m guilty, too). If your visuals are instead gifs or videos, make sure they work before your presentation. Do alert your audience members if the pictures are of a particularly gory nature, or if they have flashing lights as they may be a problem with those who are epileptic. This can be done via a “warning” slide before said pictures, videos, or gifs.


A presentation will usually start with the presenter introducing themselves and giving a little background on the project, what the research questions are, the methods, and then delving into the results. Make sure your results section caters to what conference you’re at; you don’t want to focus on isotopes if the conference is about telemetry (unless it ties in somehow). From there, you can discuss what you found/did not find, and any questions you are hoping to answer in the future with more research. At the very end, your last slide should be a thank you to all who helped you with your project (it takes a community; acknowledge your university, advisor(s), funding sponsor(s), etc.). This last slide should also have your contact information again, so people can write it down if they didn’t at the beginning. You should take some time out of your allotted time to thank them all, and your audience who came to your talk out of everyone else’s!


Allow time for your audience to ask you questions! If you don’t know the answer, don’t make something up. Instead, admit you don’t know the answer to their question (which is perfectly okay) and that you’ll look into [x] more in detail and would be happy to get back to them at a later time. The point of audience members asking you questions is to make you look at your data in different ways, and some of these ways are not ones we’ve thought of before! These moments are what breed collaborations, which is (or should be) the backbone of science. Don’t despair if you don’t know all the answers, be happy you get to learn more!



If there is one thing I learned very quickly about giving presentations is that not all things will go according to plan. I live by the rule to have multiple copies of my presentation on my person. Usually conferences will ask you to upload your presentation before your “slot” so you can see if everything is working (i.e. videos, sound, animations). You can do this by either USB or e-mail (they’ll let you know their preferred method). In case one copy doesn’t work or something happens, I always have an extra copy of my presentation on my USB and sent to my own e-mail. Rarely has my presentation not worked, but I did have a time when my presentation went missing from the slot time and I avoided a potentially embarrassing moment by having a backup presentation on my USB!


With all eyes already on you, you also want to make sure you are following the professional dress code. I usually go for either a black dress (the attention should be on your presentation, not you) or nice pants and a shirt. Flats or heels work; remember, you will be on your feet a lot during these conferences so comfort is key! If you’re struggling to find something to wear, always try a few pieces on and ask yourself if this is how you want to make the first impression to potential new connections. I tend to go more conservative with my dress code because of this, but this is what makes me feel comfortable; you do you!


Practice your presentation in front of family and friends—they can give you constructive criticism and call out your bad behaviors (i.e. filling in empty space with “um”). If you can’t do that, record and time yourself! Soon you’ll be up on stage giving the real thing, so be prepared and be confident! ProTip: Don’t forget to look at your audience and not your slide. You’ve got this!


Do you have any tips on oral presentations that I haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: How to Write Your Abstract


Conference season is upon us and many are asking for your submissions to be sent already! 


Conferences are an excellent opportunity to share your research with peers in a professional (and sometimes large) setting. Not everyone gets a coveted oral presentation (or poster presentation) spot, so you want to have the best chance of securing one by presenting the committee with a fantastic abstract.


In this post, #STEMSaturdays will be discussing what an abstract is and how to write a good one when preparing for a scientific journal, your own thesis or conference presentation.


What is an abstract?


Good question!


An abstract is a small statement (usually no more than 250 words) that describes your work as a whole. What makes up an abstract varies according to discipline, but they all have to answer the following questions:


  • What was done?
  • Why was it done?
  • How was it done?
  • What were the results?
  • Why should anybody care?


Basically, it contains the scope, purpose, results and contents of the larger work.  


In essence, the abstract is a self-contained mini thesis, and should be able to stand alone and understood separately. The job of an abstract is basically to “sell” your work; that is to say, it’s to make your research enticing enough to go see your talk (or publish it/read it) instead of others. 



Why do I need to even write an abstract?


If your abstract is done well, it will make conference attendees, publishers, and readers want to learn more about your research. Usually for conference proceedings and online search databases, the abstract is usually the only part of the paper that is published.  Abstracts are also a great way to interest funders and have them turn the page and keep reading your proposal!


Writing your abstract: the checklist


I’m a checklist kind of gal. I write checklists for everything to make sure I haven’t missed a single thing; so, of course I have a checklist for writing my abstract. This checklist includes the motivation, problem statement, approach, results, conclusions, and the greater implications. 


Each of these sections is usually one or two sentences long, as you want to keep your abstract concise and to the point. Some parts (i.e. results and conclusions or conclusions and implications) may be merged and therefore spread out to be longer. Here are the breakdowns of each section: 




In this section, one discusses why anyone should care about the problem you present and its results. Is your research going to fill in a practical, scientific gap in your industry? This section can be often merged with the problem statement and it varies on topic whether the problem statement or the motivation should go first. For example, my research is on by-catch numbers in fisheries, but I specifically focus on a small section of that: Chondrichthyan (sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras) by-catch. For this reason, my problem statement often comes first to indicate the “piece” of the overall larger problem that I’m working on. 


In summary, this section should discuss how important your work is in your field, the problem, and the impact the results may have if successful. 





What problem are you researching? In this section, try not to go overkill on the jargon. If your research is not well known, put your problem statement after your motivation section.




What steps did you take to solve this problem you previously stated? This section is basically a condensed version of your “methods” section, and it must be included in your abstract. 


Questions that must be answered in this section: What did you look at (does your work look at bycatch numbers worldwide or just in the New Zealand region)? How did you collect your data (did you go out and collect it yourself or was it a pre-existing dataset)? How did you streamline your data (did you account for x, y, z)? What was the extent of your research (did you solely use R programming or did you run other statistical models)? What important variables did you control, ignore, or measure? 


Leave nothing out!




What answer(s) did you research yield?  This section usually includes numbers (percentages, proportions, etc.) or statistical analysis figures. Be as precise as you can when it comes to writing about the outcome. This means that one should provide numbers or stats that cannot be easily misinterpreted. What if you submit this abstract to a conference before you are completely done analyzing results? I usually write down what I already have, and conclude with something along the lines of, “Further result analysis will be discussed at the conference.” 





This section and “results” can be merged together; it can also be merged with the implications section as you are basically answering what are the implications of your results here.  


As a result of your research, what did you learn, and what are the larger implications of your results, especially for the problem you identified earlier? While not all research will change the world, make sure that this section shows whether or not your results were significant or an indicator that the path you went on yielded nothing substantial (these results are just as important as “winning” results, I promise you). And finally, can your results be generalizable or specific to just your industry?


Important things to also remember


  • Meet the word count limitation. Some publications have longer word counts than others, but an abstract word count is typically 200–250 words.


  • Major restrictions or limitations on the results should be stated. Use words like “might,” “could,” “may,” and “seem” to explain them. This is especially important when you ended up getting unfavorable results.


  • Use keywords that people looking for your work might use. Be sure that those words (or phrases) are in your abstract, so that they will immediately pop up near the top of any search result.


  • Another use for keywords: assigning your committee. Keywords are great for search results, but may also play a role in assigning the committee or editors who look over your paper. Make sure that your keywords match exactly to the audience you want to be reading/reviewing this. For example, my research that focuses on by-catch will have the words “by-catch,” “elasmobranch,” and “Chondrichthyans” to make sure I get the best reviewers for this specific topic.


For examples of what your abstract should look like, try to models in the fields that are most similar to your research. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few abstracts of my own to write!


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Networking During Happy Hour


Networking comes in many forms—from coffee shops to conference halls—so is it any surprise that one can often network during a happy hour mixer?


“Alcohol” and “professionalism” can co-exist, and in this post we help you navigate these sometimes tricky networking events.


We start with a disclaimer: we do not endorse nor condone these types of networking events. If you do not feel comfortable in this environment, do not feel like you have to drink any alcoholic beverages or attend these types of events.


First, before you go to this event, let somebody trustworthy know where you are going and how long you plan to be out. This person can be a family member, significant other, roommate, best friend, etc. If you’re driving, let them know when you’re arriving and leaving the establishment. Make sure you have sobered up before getting behind the wheel— DO NOT drink and drive. Better to be safe and sorry; have someone pick you up or designate a DD (designated driver). None available? Use UberLyft, or a taxi.


Like many others, you may be scratching your head in front of your closet wondering, “What do I wear?”


Remember you are still in “work mode,” as you are attending these events with the intent to network. Feel free to let your hair down a bit, but keep it professional. These are my wardrobe essentials, where I can pick and choose a myriad of casual-ish, yet professional, outfits:



Before attending a mixer event, make sure you have fed yourself!


I usually eat a filling meal, which has two purposes: there’s plenty of food in my stomach which leaves less room for alcohol, and I’m less tempted to spend money.


Unlike a social night with friends, you do not want to pre-game. Instead, drink water before your night out. Once at the event, no harm in buying a bowl or two of hot fries for the group—good for absorbing the alcohol!


During the event, continue to drink water between alcoholic drinks. Hate tasteless H20? Spruce it up with some lemon slices!


Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks during the event so you do not become impaired in front of colleagues and potential collaborators or and/or employers. Talk about an embarrassing first impression.


If at any moment you don’t feel safe, tell a bartender. Or, have your trustworthy individual on speed dial or a text away. Some people have a safe word they text to their friend (“Red”) or a phrase (“Is Becky okay?”) while others are more direct (“911! Help!”). Whatever you choose, make sure both you and your contact are aware of what the phrases mean.


Do not ever walk home alone at night. If you have no choice, stay on the phone with your contact until you are home safe. I used to call my now-husband and talk to him while walking home in the dark, constantly being vigilant of my surroundings. Stay aware of the people around you and where you are—that means NO HEADPHONES.



(in the US—please chime in with security apps you use worldwide)


  • WATCHME 911: One of the best security apps available for the iPhone. There are four main features: a panic alarm and flashlight, an automatic 911 emergency dial, a panic mode and a monitor me mode. The panic mode will send SMS messages – along with your GPS location – to a predefined contact in your address book so that they can help you.


  • CIRCLE OF 6: The White House has endorsed this security app. Circle of 6 is an app which sends pre-set messages to a circle of 6 people who you have chosen to in an emergency situation. You can customize the message to contain your location or address, and there is even an option to request that the person calls you as soon as they can.


  • GUARDLY: This app allows you to set specific people to call in specific situations. You do have to pay a subscription fee every month of $1.99 if you want to be able to call 911 directly from the app.


  • HOLLABACK!: A security app available on Android and iPhone which will take a photo of anyone who you deem to be harassing you, which it then automatically uploads to a harassment website to warn others of this person in the area.


  • STREETSAFE: Your Facebook account will list your current location so that all of your friends can see it, and SMS and phone messages will be sent to people who you have listed to #contact in an emergency.


*this post is not sponsored


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know -- NETWORKING 101


At some point in your career, you will hear this: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” 


You’ve probably seen this in action- I’ve had colleagues exposed to so many great opportunities because of who they knew, regardless of their degree. So it’s important to not only meet professionals in your industry, but to keep in touch with the professionals you meet.


But in order to keep in touch, you first need to meet some people. 


Meet networking, the key to success in any industry. At its core, networking isn’t about how other people can help you… it is how you can help other people. 


As a big time proponent of collaboration, once someone described networking in this way to me, it changed how I viewed these events. I was no longer viewing myself as “just” a graduate student, but a young professional who was skilled in social media, data analysis, and more. This allowed me to view everyone on even playing fields, regardless of their title. 


The finest networking is done when people are enjoying one another’s company, discussing passions and connecting over that shared mutual love for said passion. Two recent conferences I went to both held phenomenal networking events. One was a poster session where scientists got together to learn about each other’s work while chatting over good food and drinks; the other was where we all got assigned an ocean species and given prompts to talk about with our fellow ocean critters. We discussed our favorite foods, our most embarrassing field moments, what we were studying, etc. I still keep in contact with many of the friends made, and it made for a more enjoyable conference experience when I knew others outside of my “group.”


One particular chat I had was about how a fellow scientist and I were both interested in Aboriginal/Māori takes on ocean science. We listened, figured out how we could help one another, and have continued building bridges by connecting one another with other people we think could help. Another one of my connections studies stingrays in New Zealand, and we regularly bounce writing samples off each other. Many others in my network are also genuine friendships, going past just professional boundaries.


Before attending a networking event, think about what strengths, skill sets, and connections you bring. How can you help others (both now and in the future)? Once at the networking event, help connect colleagues you feel may be able to help each other.


I try to be open and friendly during these networking events. It’s sometimes hard for this introvert, as I can be very shy—especially with “celebrities” in the sciences. In those instances I try to have a mutual friend introduce us, or a friend in general come up with me. 


If you get star struck, don’t be embarrassed! 


Easier said than done, I know, but hear me out: it shows that you follow the person’s career, are interested in their work, and shows your passion. (If it makes you feel better, I once told a major shark scientist, “I’M YOUR BIGGEST FAN!” Awkward. We ended up talking about seal carcasses though, so it turned out okay!)


The science pitch comes into play a lot during networking events. It usually will be what you first say to a new connection; follow this up by listening to their pitch and asking questions. Say the person’s name multiple times if you aren’t the best at remembering names, and ask them for their card in order to follow up (we talked about this in a previous post)! Always close your conversation by saying something like, “If I can help you in any way, please reach out to me or let’s connect via LinkedIn” and present your business card.


Fun fact: networking isn’t always done in conferences! 


You can network practically anywhere: your local coffee shop, your gym, the grocery store, at a friend’s party, a bar, and more. That’s why I always carry at least five business cards with me, just in case. I also recommend joining clubs and attend events that relate to an interest you have (for example, NerdNite and TEDx are great for connecting with like-minded people). Networking isn’t always done face-to-face, either. One can network by making calls and emails to strangers (call cold calling and emailing), too; this is hit-or-miss depending the tactic used. We’ll cover cold-calling and emailing in a future post, too. 


In any ideal world, every person we meet would be kind, considerate, mindful, generous, and more. However, this isn’t a perfect world. Like any profession, you will encounter people you don’t mesh well with. You either will not want them to help you or can’t help them yourself—and that’s okay. Accept that you are not going to like everyone you meet, and that not everyone will like you. It is those who challenge us that allow us to see things differently and, sometimes, propel you to success.  


Always remain fair, impartial, and composed when dealing with those you do not see eye-to-eye with. Word gets around quickly amongst science peers and you want to make sure the gossip about you isn’t that you are rude!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Scientific Buisness Cards! Who Knew!

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Some people choose to write their information on a napkin or scrap of paper that is easily lost; the majority choose business cards.


Yes, science business cards are a thing! And just like “regular” business cards (that you get from a banker, realtor, lawyer, etc.), they’re the best way to keep in touch.


I’ve always gotten my business cards done by Vistaprint or Moo as they tend to have good deals for reduced prices or free shipping. Both have templates you can follow but also allow you to design your own business card.




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The above is an example of what my science business card looks like. All business cards should be simple, easy-to-read, and look professional. Mine is on a standard weight card stock and is full color; you should make sure your business card is at least standard weight card stock, so as it doesn’t easily bend, tear, or wear. Some people choose to have both sides of their business card have some sort of writing, but I’ve personally found that all my information could be said on one side, allowing a cool picture (with picture credit, if it is not your own) to adorn the other side.


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Once you have finished designing your business card, it’s time to start plugging information in. Start off with your name in big, bold lettering  (you want it to be the biggest font on the card). Underneath, put your degree or specialty. For my card, I put “marine biology, ecology and conservation,” as I was between degrees when creating my most recent business card. You can put “MSc” or “PhD” after your name (or “Dr.” before your name for those who have a PhD), along with your degree title below. Are you still in university? Put down your university’s logo or laboratory name somewhere on your card (usually beneath your degree).


Next, you will want to include a phone number and permanent email address (or institutional e-mail address if you will be there for a while). A phone number can be your personal cell or your university line; if it’s your personal cell phone, remember to have a professional voicemail! A quick scan over the hundreds of cards I’ve gotten, the majority of contact e-mail addresses are GMAIL accounts, as it is more permanent than an organization e-mail.


Below my contact information, I have added my social media handle (Twitter) and my LinkedIn, allowing for my new connect to follow me on Twitter or send a friend request on LinkedIn. I find the logos to be the easiest way to depict what handle belongs to what medium, as sometimes cards can get too wordy. I’ve also added the address to my professional website that includes my work, my updated CV, and more!


You can network anytime and anyplace, so make it a habit to carry around your business cards! You’ll never know when you will meet someone you can help out, and in turn, help you out. I’ve even exchanged professional contact information during a wedding! It’s never too early to start building your network, so keep some copies of your card in all locations. I have some in my wallet, my purse pockets, jacket pockets, my car, my desk, etc.


Card courtesy dictates that if someone hands you a business card, you give one in return. Don’t be caught empty handed and scrambling for a pen—design your science business card today!


*This article is not sponsored.


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: LinkedIn Decoded: What it is and How to Curate a Strong Profile


Chances are that you’ve been Googled. If not by yourself (admit it, we’ve all done it), then by job recruiters. Is what they’re seeing what you want your first professional impression to be?


LinkedIn profiles tend appear high on Google searches (mine was #2 when searching my name). It’s a way to market your unique, personal brand, while showing off your achievements, skills, and experience. It’s not only the place recruiters look to for headhunting, but it’s a great networking tool to have as a young scientist trying to expand their network. Not to mention it allows you to share your latest research, publications, and stances on matters of importance with your connections.


By engaging in conversation with your network — and joining “Groups” where similar-minded people discuss topics — LinkedIn has become another place of learning, allowing for you to be on the forefront of knowledge in your respective industry.


In order to get the most of out this, you need to have a strong profile set up. Whether you are actively looking for a job or not, making sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and regularly used is vital to helping you make a memorable first impression. These tips will help take your profile to the next level.




Have you ever had that friend who posts way too many things on Facebook?  Don’t be that friend. While you revamp your online profile, turn off your activity broadcasts so you don’t become that friend. You can do this by going to Settings >  Privacy Controls > Turn on/off your activity broadcasts. Don’t forget to turn it back on once you are done so your network can be aware of any new developments in your career (e.g. new job, new project, looking for employment).




When you sign up with LinkedIn, you are automatically given a profile URL consisting of letters and numbers. You can customize your profile URL by going to Settings > Edit Public Profile > Customize Your Public Profile URL. You want yours to be a URL that is easy to share. For example, mine consists of my initials + my program’s name.


Next is tackling your profile picture. This may be the first time a person is seeing your face, so you want to make a good impression! Treat this picture as a headshot: you want to come off as approachable, confident, and mature. In my profile picture, I have natural looking makeup, simple jewelry, my hair is straightened and neat, and I’m wearing my best accessory: a smile!


While some people say you should get a professional photographer to take this headshot photo, the same can be achieved with having a friend volunteer to take this picture or even a self-timed camera.



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LinkedIn now has “header photos,” similar to a cover photo on Facebook. My photo is usually ocean-themed (relevant to my industry) and I try to keep it simple. The focus should be on you and your accomplishments, not the header photo.


When it comes to personalization, many people don’t think that you can edit the byline (the line directly underneath your name) but you can! LinkedIn automatically fills it in with your most recent job is, but it can be changed to how you want to market yourself. Mine reads, “Founder of The Fins United Initiative” while a friend’s reads, “A political science and historian major with strong organizational, leadership, and interpersonal skills.” Changing your byline can be useful when searching for new opportunities, by adding keywords to ensure that your profile will be found by your intended audience. Keywords in this instance means focusing on job titles, skills, programs you know, etc.




When writing your summary, try to keep it under 300 words; it should be written in first person and should be conversational in tone. You’ll want to keep your target audience in mind when writing this and, when writing, ask yourself what you want them to learn about you.




Some discuss accomplishments (stats and figures), while others talk about their professional interests. I like to keep mine short and to the point, so my summary reads as such: My educational and professional career paths are based on the behaviour, ecology and conservation of Chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras). My future goals are to ensure the conservation of elasmobranch fishes through open communication, reliable data/research, sustainable fisheries and community outreach. Special interests: GIS, underwater photography, satellite tagging, shark movements, behaviour, sustainable fisheries.




There are some sections of LinkedIn that you’ll want to expand upon more than others. These sections are “Awards” and “Experiences,” since your resume usually has you condense these areas. Experiences aren’t just limited to what put money in your bank, but includes internships or volunteering. There is a also a specific section for “Projects,” where you can talk in length about any committees you led, student projects you were a part of/completed, or your thesis!


The “Skills” section allows your connections to endorse you for specific qualifications (of their choosing). For reference, some of the skills listed in my section include “ecology,” “conservation issues,” “data analysis,” “public speaking,” “scuba diving,” “research,” and “GIS.” These skills happen to be keywords pertinent to my industry, and allow potential employers to find my profile when they look up certain words.


Protip: Don’t forget to endorse your friends, too!


You won’t want to talk continuously about your education. Put your degree, the years you attended, your university’s name, and any other relevant information. I included a small blurb about my time at each university (no more than two paragraphs). LinkedIn gives you the option of listing the classes you took, but I found most people don’t care about classes unless they are unique.


For languages, just write your level of proficiency and leave it at that. If an employer wants to know more, they’ll ask. Also, cut down on the talk about your non-industry related volunteering/causes. While it’s admirable if you volunteer at a soup kitchen, animal shelter or building houses, it doesn’t need to be talked about at length on your LinkedIn profile.




You can either search for your friends, family, and colleges by name on LinkedIn to start making connections or you can let it happen organically (e.g. someone asks for your contact info). Once you start making connections, you’ll be able to see their network and be able to reach out to anyone you would like to start a conversation with. This has allowed me to connect with others in my industry I wouldn’t otherwise have known!


Beware; LinkedIn does have a limit to how many people you reach out to that you don’t personally know so perhaps get a mutual connection to make an introduction.


I advertise my LinkedIn by tweeting out my profile link various times throughout the month, adding it my LinkedIn profile link to my e-mail signature, and having the LinkedIn icon on my business card. Once you have your LinkedIn updated, you’ll want to make sure your other personal brand tools (your pitch, your resume/CV, your cover letter) are top-notch as well.


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here

#STEMSaturdays: Tips and Tricks to Creating Your Science Pitch


“So what’s your Master’s about?”


This is probably one of the most dreaded questions a scientist hears because in the span of a few seconds they have to formulate what they’re going to say to adequately answer that inquiry. That is, it’s one of the most dreaded questions if you aren’t prepared with your “pitch.”


This question isn’t just asked by professionals, but by family, friends, and the person who overheard your conversation in a coffee shop and now wants to know your life story. In fact, “What do you do?” and “What’s your research about?” are the most asked questions of all time when being introduced or catching up with a friend. So it only makes sense to have a prepared and well-rehearsed “elevator pitch.” If these two terms- “pitch” and “elevator pitch” – are foreign to you, it’s time to be introduced.




A pitch is where you state your name and what you do to an audience (usually just one or two people). An elevator pitch is the idea of you relaying that information in the time it takes to ride an elevator (think 30-60 seconds).


When I was taught what a pitch was, I was told to have multiple versions of your pitch- a five minute one, a minute one, a 15 second one. The reason for this being that sometimes you have a little bit more time to delve into your research, while other times you don’t.


The five minute pitch would be geared towards longer conversations with members of the science community that study similar things as you. The one minute pitch would be what you would say if you were standing in front of your poster at a conference. A 15 second pitch example is you introducing yourself before asking a question at a Q&A session (frequent at conferences).




Science is all about funding and networking, in my opinion. To get funding, you need to be able to communicate why your research is important to other people. The purpose of a pitch is to get the listeners interested in learning more about your work.




I usually start out with “Hi, my name is Melissa Marquez and I work on x.” When I was working on my MSc the x = “deep sea fishery bycatch in regards to chimaeras.”


I next ask a question: “Have you heard of x?” This answer will allow me to gauge their level of understanding of my research area. How I proceed with my elevator pitch depends on their answer.


If the answer is “YES,” then I go on explaining my research. If they answer “NO,” I describe the on-going problem (with some statistics), and summarize what my research covers (broadly). I finish my pitch by describing how my research will bring the marine science world closer to an understanding x.


I’m a big proponent of using as little jargon terminology as possible in my presentations, and especially my pitches. And while these pitches seem like I came up with them rather quickly, I actually have spent years perfecting them. Like most of my work, I usually write things down and the pitches are no exception. From there, I edit and tweak until I feel confident enough to practice the pitch out on unsuspecting family and friends (thanks for listening about habitat use in sharks for what seems like forever, guys).


As mentioned above, it is good to have multiple versions of your pitch. One would rather be over prepared than underprepared and lose your listeners because you went off on a tangent. My advice? Start with a one minute pitch geared towards a more professional audience (the more common of all pitches delivered). Once that is complete, you can modify it for a more general audience and then get it down to a 15-second introduction.


The following are some good resources for getting started:

“Grab Your Audience’s Attention: First Impressions Set the Presentation On – or Off – Course” by Mark Magnacca.’s “Communication: Two minutes to impress” is a good resource on how to prepare a science pitch.</li>

Jeffrey Aguirre Lab’s The Elevator Pitch for Scientists has examples of a 15-second introduction and a 30-second poster pitch.

Forbe’s “The Perfect Elevator Pitch to Land a Job” by Nancy Collamer outlined 9 basic tips to keep in mind.


About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here