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I am a soon to be fourth year doctoral student with an already finished Master's degree in the same field (Experimental Psychology). I interviewed for a consulting company a few weeks ago and the interviewer noted that they did not have a good sense of my work due to a lack of publications. They asked about talks and I could think of none at the time, even though I technically did one (three minute thesis competition, albeit I was not a finalist).

I recently went through my Master's and Ph.D work history to see if there was anything else I could list under different sections to showcase my work. I could only find one other presentation I could list, which was a three minute thesis competition for Master's students who had ongoing and/or completed research back in October 2019. I intended to submit my follow up study at this presentation to various conferences scheduled for March or April of 2020, but they were cancelled back in February 2020 in the middle of my Ph.D interviews and did not take submissions on top of that. So far, I have only found advice online for those who had their presentations, talks, etc. accepted, but nothing on those who were in a situation like mine where I intended on submitting and enrolling as a poster presenting attendee before submission and registration closed (and any ongoing reviews were stopped entirely). I want to list that I had every intention, but I am not sure how that would look to those who read the CV. If it is better to leave those conferences off since I not even submit anything, then it is what it is there.

In addition, my Master's and Ph.D advisors did an extremely poor job of advising me. My Master's advisor never read any of the end of semester progress reports with comments from the program director that highlighted things that were a potential concern after meeting with me and my advisor respectively (I did not know he did not read them until my second-to-last semester of my Master's program). I always assumed he read those since he was copied in them and thought if there were any concerns about my academic and professional development in the program, he would tell me. After all, advisors "advise" students. Instead, I focused a lot of my additional time on trying to make up for my deficiencies that were noted as major issues my first year in the program and were apparently expected skills (e.g., poor presentation skills, making up for my low first year GPA, etc.)

Thus, any issues that emerged were ones I often did not know about until it was too late (2019-2020). I did a follow-up study that was going to be study 2 of my Master's thesis. Although I technically did not need it, I had every intent of using it to try and get my Master's thesis published. March 2020 was when I was supposed to collect participants in person, but I could not at all. Thankfully, I used my pilot study data to defend my Master's thesis and still graduate.

My Ph.D advisor, on the other hand, wanted me to be engaged in coursework for the first year of my Ph.D program (2020-2021). Quals in my current program was like another thesis, so I was told to dedicate a full day's worth of work to just that project alone (2021-2022). I heard stories about how engaging in other projects outside of main projects lead to threats of her dumping her advisees (she eventually dumped me as well) and not signing paperwork, which deterred me from engaging in any more projects.

Although I was apparently supposed to be involved with multiple research projects (as in 2+, rather than the 1 extra project) outside of my thesis (something I did not know until after the fact) at the Master's level and definitely at the Ph.D level, I really do not have anything to show for it since my professional development was either overlooked or potential opportunities were indirectly taken away altogether from my capricious Ph.D advisor. I did one other study that, like my second study for my Master's thesis, was meant to be a follow up study for my quals project where I collected data as I was about to defend the data I already collected for my quals project.

Thankfully, I got a poster presentation earlier this year, a fellowship, and one small grant (a few hundred dollars) this year. However, the gap for 2020-2022 is still noticeable.

How can I address my lack of presentations, publications, and other CV credentials within 2020-2022?

Edit: Removed the term "CV gap" since it meant something different than what I intended the whole time.

Edit 2: I added some more context regarding other projects I did or have done. I also added a key detail regarding my first Ph.D advisor and how her behavior deterred me from engaging in more projects.

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  • I think this is not really about talks/papers. For industry, they want to see a portfolio of work of any kind. Can you put together 3-4 samples (writeups, PowerPoint decks, etc) that show your good work to bring to an interview or send along after?
    – Dawn
    Jul 31, 2023 at 17:44
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    A CV gap is when you are out of work for an extended period of time. This is not a CV gap, it's a problem of low or non-existing research output. I would suggest editing the title of your question. Jul 31, 2023 at 17:46
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    Basically, I am confused because the question is about addressing conference/publication gaps, but the interviewer was asking about work samples, which is not exactly the same thing.
    – Dawn
    Jul 31, 2023 at 17:46
  • @AdamPřenosil Thank you for the clarification. I edited my question to better showcase my intent.
    – zzmondo1
    Jul 31, 2023 at 18:24
  • @Dawn They did not ask for work samples though. They said they did not have a good sense of my work.
    – zzmondo1
    Jul 31, 2023 at 18:25

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You can explain this to a potential employer the same way you explained it here i.e., "due to delays during Covid, my research output during that time was low (or non-existent)". I would leave out complaints about your PI but other than that, it's a fine explanation. Now I'm not sure how much leeway that will actually get you, but you can't change anything about it now and Covid did cause a ton of issues.

However, I think that the only way this explanation would be accepted is to have solid research output now. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't sound like you do. We're halfway through 2023 and, realistically, if it was just Covid related delays, you should have been back producing once the initial wave cooled off (we've had the vaccines since late 2020 in the US and Europe and obviously masks and social distancing were always an option).

It sounds like your actual problem is a general lack of productivity not a Covid related delay outside of your control. Basically, this doesn't sound like a case of having a bunch of projects that got delayed and so you have a gap in publication history followed by an unusually productive year. It sounds like you really never had much to start with and Covid also happened to be going on at the same time.

My best advice would be to start looking for as many projects as you can - preferably ones that are already chugging along - in addition to your own thesis work. You absolutely should have been and should be on several projects at a time. There are a whole bunch of reasons for this but practically it boils down to having a constant stream of publications or presentations even if one project gets delayed or another doesn't work out. You can't expect good productivity working on one thing at a time...

I don't know exactly what people normally publish in your field, but reviews are usually reasonably low hanging fruit (albeit time consuming) and projects at any stage can usually be turned into a poster. And small grants and awards are valuable. At this point I think it is a numbers game. You need stuff to point to on your CV so you're best option is to go out and get that stuff.

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    I edited my original post, but I had a follow up study to my Master's thesis I did during my second year in my Master's program before I could not collect data For my Ph.D program, it was a follow up study to my quals project before my advisor left my university. I think it all goes back to your statement about productivity though. In both of those examples, I was working on two projects at a time, rather than three or more. Edit: I should note that I put a ton of energy into building skills that many peers already had prior to entering the program, mainly public speaking.
    – zzmondo1
    Jul 31, 2023 at 20:11

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