I read a lot of cvs. This is because a big part of my job involves looking at applications for studentships, postdoctoral awards and bids for funding.
Many of the bids I see have cvs which do not do their writers/owners any favours. A poor cv is one where key information is hard to find. A poor cv often doesn’t differentiate between different types of activities – say for argument’s sake between teaching and community service – and/or between different types of the same activity – say for argument’s sake all texts are listed together and presented as if they are all the same.
Part of these cv problems seem to stem from the fact that the cv writer hasn’t thought about their reader and what they are looking for. It is also as if the cv writer thinks that there is one thing – a singular cv – rather than thinking of the cv as multiple texts produced at different times for different purposes and different audiences.
I’m here to tell you that there is no maxim which says a cv is a cv is a cv.
There is first of all a Foundation CV. This lists everything you’ve ever done – and the most important thing about it is that it is almost never used in its entirety. It is a personal data-base from which other cvs are constructed for specific purposes. The Foundation cv always has:
• schooling (place and dates)
• university education (awards and place including titles of dissertations)
• employment history (place and dates)
• reviewing and editorial experience and responsibilities
• current research and research completed with details of funders, grant total, co-researchers, completion and link to final report; references to reports of research in media; references to public engagement resulting from research
• publications by book, chapter, refereed journal article, refereed conference paper, professional and other non refereed papers, media writing, conference papers; references to reviews of publications
• awards and prizes
• other esteem factors such as reviewing for research councils (type, place dates)
• doctoral examinations, doctoral completions and supervisions (names of doctoral research and titles of thesis)
• teaching responsibilities (name of course, dates, link to online materials)
• institutional duties (type, place and dates)
• scholarly community involvement (e.g. professional associations, external examiner responsibilities for institutions other than your own)
• community service (type, place and dates).
You might want to add some other things to this list – it’s a minimalist heuristic. The point is that this is now the raw material with which you can work up different cvs of various lengths for different purposes.
There are basic default cvs available on the web (eg VITAE) and these aren’t a bad starting point. However like all defaults, these might be enough to get the job done, but potentially not as well as if the cv had with some bespoke shaping. The cv does often need to be tailored for specific tasks.
Let me explain. And let me note that I am writing here from an Arts, Humanities and Social Science perspective.
Imagine that you are applying for a post-doctoral award. Cv readers in this instance are looking for indicators of the quality of your research and that you can turn your research into ‘good’ publications in a timely fashion. They also want to know about any other signs of ‘quality’ – such as research funding, prizes and awards, reviews of books, engagement with key figures in the field.
Cv readers will be impressed by a differentiated publications and research list combined with a short narrative which describes your research agenda and how these fit. And if citations are relevant in your discipline, and your’s are impressive, put them in. If they aren’t yet up to much, leave them out. However, cv readers will be absolutely and irrevocably un-impressed by:
• a list of publications which does not separate out refereed from un-refereed publications. This shows you don’t know the importance attributed (rightly or wrongly) to peer reviewing
• a list of publications which does not differentiate between papers written for very very minor and obscure journals and those in more ‘respectable’ journals
• a long list of conference papers which have not been turned into publications
• a long list of conference papers and no other publications.
Readers will also worry if there are no publications from the thesis or if it’s taken a very long time to get them done.
In any circumstances, I find an unexplained list of conference papers pretty difficult. I think these are mostly a waste of space unless they are presented strategically. Do the conference papers show acceptance via peer reviewed abstract into a particular scholarly community? If that is the case, then the papers should be listed as peer reviewed abstract conference papers. Is the point that internal or external funding was obtained to go to the conference? If so then that needs to be said. Is the point that the conference papers show membership of a particular and advantageous network – in which case this is what needs to be said.
If you are applying for a position outside the academy then you can most probably leave out the conference papers altogether and instead focus on adding in details of public engagement, partnership activities, media and social media, professional and other publications. These details show that you can mix it with people outside the academy. Depending on the position you are going for, you may want to put this ahead of scholarly publications. Note that evidence of this wider scholarly activity is also now something which discriminates between applicants in the post-doctoral and researching funding competitions, a sign that the emphasis on communicating and working with partners continues to grow in importance.
Applying for a teaching position in a university means making the teaching work that you have done more prominent and extended than if you are applying for a research fellow position. The cv reader seeking a researcher to work with them on their project generally doesn’t want extended details of the modules you’ve developed, they are more likely to be looking for information about the breadth and depth of your research experience, as well as your proficiency in writing. They also want indications that you can happily be self-organised, motivated and work in a team. They also may want evidence that you can communicate with a range of people and in different fora.
The final thing to say about cvs is that, if they accompany a research funding bid, it is generally helpful to highlight research, publications and experiences that are most relevant to the project. You don’t need to jam everything into a page with wide margins and 8 point Times. You can say selected publications and provide a URL to the full list. You can also extend the publications list by using your own work in the actual bid through highlighted relevant citations and thus references.
And I reckon that the cv can adopt an innovative form. Some narrative to kick it off, combined with groupings of activities, is perfectly acceptable to many funders (do check) – and this kind of cv tinkering can re-present your academic self in a very persuasive way.
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