What goes in the Work Experience, Research Experience and Academic Projects sections?

Work Experience, Research Experience and Academic Projects all follow the Education section. These three sections are all related and they don’t all have to exist in the resume. I am going to talk about them together. As a recruiter, I usually value these three sections as follows:

  1. Work Experience
  2. Research Experience
  3. Academic Projects

What is the difference between Work Experience and Research Experience?

Work Experience is usually set aside for paid or unpaid work at a real company. The work can be an internship, coop or fulltime position. The work can also be a paid position at the university. Research Experience is a position you take assisting a professor with his research. It can be a paid position and it is usually a valuable and rewarding opportunity to work on new research in the professor’s field.  A position on a Research project can be a very good alternative for an international student who finds it difficult to get a paid or unpaid position with a company. The Research position is also good for any student interested in working closely with a professor and it can also lead to work through contacts the professor has with specific companies. An Academic Project is an assignment that is completed in the classroom. For an Academic Project to go on the resume, it must be already completed or currently underway. It can not be in the future. On the resume, it is important to organize your work items according to whether they are Work Experience, Research Projects or Academic Projects.


Is it a good idea to go year-round to school and skip working for a company ?

I have seen several students who decided to go to school year-round without getting any work experience. For most recruiters, this is not a desirable approach to college. Work Experience is very important because the skills learned working for a company are the same skills needed when you get a fulltime position following graduation. It is very difficult to find a position for a student with a hiring manager when they have no work experience or research assignments. The balanced approach involving both academics and work experience is usually the best approach for students. All bullets under Work Experience, Research Experience and Academic Projects should be concise and able to fit on one line. They should also not extend into the far right column which is reserved for dates.


What should I show about my Work Experience?

For each position under Work Experience, you show the name of the company, the location, and the dates that you worked there. You also show your title and you can list the name of the department if it is meaningful. It is also good to provide a few bullets to describe your work at the company. As a recruiter, I like to see work experience for a company because it tells me the student has gained some experience working on a real business problem. It also can indicate that the student has developed some experiences working on a team and working for a team leader and manager. The bullets under each position can show these same points. They can give a description of the assignment and any results. For example, if the project saved money, that would be considered a positive result. If the project developed something that is now being used at the company, that would be a good result. If you can show that there was good teaming involved in the project, that also would be a good idea. Finally, if you had to give a presentation on your project, you should include that in the bullet list.


What should I show about my Research Experience?

For each Research project, you show the name of the Institution (ex. University), the location, and the dates of the research. You should give the name of the professor and your title on the research project. If the research assignment has a specific title, then it should be listed, too. If the research is sponsored by a specific company or group of companies and this information is not confidential, then you can list the companies to give the research project even more credibility. If the research assignment results in any published works, patents, or presentations that you did yourself or participated in, you can highlight these as bullets.


What should I show about my Academic Projects?

The Academic Projects you list should be assignments that are both interesting and exciting to you. They could be projects that are in an area of your Major that you think you might want to work in. Or, they could be difficult projects that you did well on or where you demonstrated good teamwork. In other words, there can be many reasons why you choose to list a particular assignment in your Academic Projects section. Each Academic Project should show the university name and location and the specific course where it was assigned. It is also good to list the name of the project and a few bullets describing the project, your approach to solving it, and your solution. The recruiter is very likely to ask you about the projects you list. Be prepared to talk about  them and why you included it on your resume.


When should I show Work Experience, Research Experience and Academic Projects?

There are no hard and fast rules to determine when you should show Work Experience, Research Experience, and Academic Projects. However, I do have some guidelines that can help you determine what you should do in your own situation. I have separated these rules by your year in school.


Guidelines for Freshman…

Recruiters know that students in their Freshman year usually do not have much Work Experience. They may have work experience from High School and it may or may not be related to their current field of study in college. For the Freshman resume, it is okay to list work experience that was done in High School whether it was related to the major or not, along with at least one Academic Project. An example of this is shown in High School Work Experience and Academic Projects.


Guidelines for Sophomores…

Recruiters also know that it is difficult for Freshman to get internships or coops in companies as they are still taking their prerequisite courses. However, Sophomores have had many more Academic Projects than Freshman. My recommendation for Sophomores is to list Work Experience from the summer of the  Freshman year (if there was an internship or coop) or list Work Experience from High School if it was related to the current field of study. If there is no Work Experience like this, then use one or more Academic Projects in place of the Work Experience. An example of this is shown in Academic Projects only.


Guidelines for Juniors and Seniors…

By the time you are a Junior or Senior, it is good to emphasize Work Experience on your resume and it should not be from your High School years. If you have only one internship or coop and no Research Experience, then it is a good idea to show one or two Academic Projects. An example of this is shown in Work Experience and Academic Projects.

In some universities, there is a major project during the senior year. At the University of Michigan this is called the “Major Design Project”. This is a very good project to list under Academic Projects as it usually involves teamwork, creativity, and a lot of effort to complete. For international students who are unable to get any Work Experience in undergraduate school, it is good to apply for a Research position with a Professor and to also list a couple of Academic Projects in your field as a replacement for Work Experience. An example of this is shown in Research Experience and Academic Projects.

Some universities have special student group projects (ex. Solar Car, Concrete Canoe, and others) and these can be listed under Academic Projects.


Guidelines for Masters students…

For students in the Graduate School getting Master’s degrees, it is good to show one or more internships or coops in the Work Experience section. If you have Research Projects, you can list them too, but they are not needed if you have multiple Work Experience assignments. It is also unnecessary to list any Academic Projects if you have had multiple work assignments. On the other hand, if you are working on one of the student group activities (ex. Solar Car) that requires a lot of work both in and outside the university, or you completed a Major Design Project, then it is good to list these activities in the Academic Projects section. If you have a Research assignment related to your field of study, you can describe this as in Work Experience and Research Experience.

Recruiters understand that it is difficult for international students seeking Master degrees to have any Work Experience. It would be advisable for these students to describe Research Experience along with Academic Projects.

Leave a Reply