38 tips on writing an academic CV
As appearing on Nature Jobs Blog | 09.27.11
by Rachel Bowden
Many academic job vacancies have fairly basic application forms, so the main way you will get an interview is by having a very good academic CV, says Emma Baker, careers advisor for the graduate school at King’s College London. Baker outlined a number of tips for writing academic CVs at the 2011 Naturejobs Career Expo, held last week in London. Have a read and let us know what you think – if you have any to add, please leave a comment below.
You may have heard that your CV shouldn’t be more than two pages long, but Baker says that doesn’t apply to academic CVs. “[Academia] seems to be the only field where you can make it as long as you want it to be,” she says. However, you’ll need to think carefully about the structure you use to make sure the length doesn’t put a potential employer off reading it.
The most important information should be on the first half of the first page, says Baker, and the very first thing should be your name, not the words ‘curriculum vitae’. Your contact details should be at the top of the first page and should include a professional-looking email address – avoid using an inappropriately worded personal account. Also be aware that your current work email address will most likely expire once you leave, so it may not be the best one to use. Baker adds that it’s no longer necessary to list your postal address on your CV, as most applications are done by email and the job application form probably asks for that information.
Baker says she sees a lot of CVs that start by saying something like: “I’m a passionate, hard-working individual with a PhD and I’m good at working in teams.” Avoid generic terms like this – you want to stand out from the crowd. Concentrate on your ‘unique selling points’.
Consider the use of appendices for lists of publications and other large sections.
Content: the basics
The three main sections that should form the bulk of your academic CV are:
Generally speaking, content in each section should be in reverse chronological order, with the most recent thing first.
Baker recommends including the following in your section about research:
A description of your PhD or postdoc – this could be a brief overview with a more detailed account listed in the appendices
Consider writing a research statement about your current area of research or the area you want to move into
Your publications – you can include papers that aren’t published yet if you indicate what stage they are at
You may also want to include a concise list of the specific lab techniques that you have used.
In the research section, include details of any funding you have received – if you haven’t secured a research grant or fellowship yet, consider including travel or conference grants. “Academics want to know that you have the capability of attracting funding and going through the process involved in creating a funding bid,” says Baker. Give details of the process that you went through and the amount you received.
Don’t forget to include details of any conferences you’ve presented at, and make it clear whether you did a poster or oral presentation.
Baker says people often overlook information about teaching on their CV and don’t give enough detail. Explain what level of teaching you have done, for example undergraduate or postgraduate, and what kind of teaching it was, for example a lecture or a seminar.
“However you look at going into an academic post, [admin] will probably form part of an academic career,” says Baker. Examples of admin experience you could mention include organising symposiums or mini-conferences.
Tailoring your content
The best way to customise the content of your CV for each job vacancy is to make it match the person specification. “Make sure you’ve got evidence for every single point on the person specification in your CV, because it should be the criteria that [the employer uses] when deciding who they want to interview,” says Baker.
Check the department’s website to see what kind of research they are currently involved in and what techniques you need to be aware of. Use your network of contacts to get information about the department to help tailor your CV.
“Don’t be afraid to use bullet points,” says Baker. If you do use them, try to limit the number of bullet points to five per section, and order them so the most relevant point is at the top. If you have more than five points to include, consider breaking the section down into sub-sections.
Use a consistent style for headings and subheadings so it’s clear which content belongs together. Getting this wrong is “a really common mistake”, says Baker, and it’s one of the first things she looks at in a CV. Employers also place great importance on spelling and grammar, so make sure you ask someone to proofread your CV.
Finally, if you’re not sure which international format you should use for your CV, ask the employer. “Universities are global now, so a lot of them will be used to receiving CVs in different formats,” says Baker, adding that the difference between CVs across countries is becoming less pronounced.