Academia 101: Writing a CV

20 March 2012, 1501 EDT

A twitter discussion got me thinking about this.  We end up reading tons of CVs, developing opinions and pondering what people are thinking.

First, there are no real rules for writing a CV except these:

  • Read other people’s cv’s to get a sense of what looks normal (don’t be strange).
  • Take care so that it is not messy, has no typos (twitterfightclub pressure has killed my typing skills), and so on.
  • Unless your audience is just a bunch of dim-witted bureaucrats, do not pad the CV.  Most profs have been there, done that, so they can see stuff that is just crap used to make the CV longer.  It has the opposite effect, making one discount what is in the CV.  Just as sucking up too much is probably worse most of the time than sucking up too little, padding is usually a mistake.  Better to be clearer about what you have done and not done.  [If you disagree with this one, let me know]

That’s it for hard and fast rules.  And rule 1 really applies to everything you write–read what other folks have done not just for content but for style to get a sense of how people write publishable articles, chapters, books, etc.   

Keep in mind the audience.  If you are using it for academic jobs in North America, do not, do not, do not bury the publications section.  This is obvious, but amazing what people will do.  The tips below are entirely aimed at academic folks looking for academic jobs, and my only experience with that is in North America.  They may do things differently in other places.

Indeed, I am going to go through my cv (here) as I talk this through.  My CV may not be perfect, but it is the one I have thought the most about (yes, I am a narcissist).  And no, I am not including it to impress folks.  My CV is better (longer, more pubs, etc) than some, worse than others (as the wise sage Qui-Gon Jin said, there is always a bigger fish).  Younger folks should have pretty short CVs since they have not accrued that many publications, grants, conference experience, and all the rest. 

After your address, usually folks list their education.  Year, school, maybe major.  Keep the education part simple (we don’t care about your MA thesis’s title if you have a PhD or are completing your PhD).  If the MA thesis is super-swell, mention it in the cover letter.

Professional experience: for newbies, this is quite short (not long, please not long): where have you been employed.  If all you have done is be a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant, you can list the years and maybe the profs but no more than that–don’t describe or summarize the research. You want to have at least a pub or two on the first page.  Yes, if you have no publications at all, your cv is going to be short indeed.  You can probably jump to research in progress or conference papers.  If you have peace corps experience or something like that, it can go here.  And, yes, I am padding by including my Joint Staff here and the fellowship that facilitated it in the grants section. 

Publications:  First, and, most importantly, separate refereed publications from others.  Refereed stuff goes first as that is what academics care most about.  If you have actually written a book, put that first (especially at places that value books–those departments not run by Americanists or economists).  If you have one book, it is ok to have a sub-category of Book and then another sub-category of Articles (some people, amazingly enough, bury their book in the middle of their cv).  You can put a volume you edit in this category of Book or Books, but make it clear that it is an edited volume (which count for far less at many places).  Again, the lesson here is to be clear–being dishonest or deceptive will bite you big-time.
Second, if you have both refereed articles and book chapters, you probably should separate those as the former usually get more respect than the latter.  Note: conference presentations is not in this category of publications–more on that in a minute.
Third, if you have other stuff published, put it into a separate category.  For instance, book reviews do not belong in the reviewed articles section.  I have written a few policy pieces so I have a section for that, but such stuff could go in Other Pubs.  Depends on where you are applying and how much you have done.

Awards and Grants: This can go before or after pubs depending on your record and how greedy the places to which you are applying, but immediately after makes sense to me.  Some people list the $ (or Euros or pounds or yen or whatever), some don’t.  I do.  Again, simple: year, role (Principal Investigator, Co-PI, consultant, whatever), source.

Research in progress: Ah, here is the category du pad.  People like to stuff any idea they have ever had and hope to research here.  I am as guilty as Jar Jar Binks on this one (you should see his CV).  I have tried to be better about this to only put stuff here that really is in progress–data that is collecting, stuff that is being written, circulated, revised, submitted.  Do not lie.  Do not mention where stuff is submitted unless you have a revise and resubmit.  Again, to be clear, if something is under review, it goes here and not under publications.

I have invited presentations next.  I only list the past five years (and I mention that in the CV) as it can get long if you have enough of these.  I have had far more of these recently since my current topic is much hotter (NATO, Afghanistan) and I have a better network than I did long ago in a galaxy far away (Lubbock, Texas).  I think invited presentations have a bit more heft to them then an average conference presentation since somebody thought you were worth spending money on.

Conference presentations is next for me–a bit less impressive than invited presentations but shows a stream of research.  Some folks just list years they show up at the APSA, for instance.  But since I am only showing five years, I include the basic info–title of paper, co-author(s), meeting, dates, sites.  I prefer this way so that I can show the evolution of the work, the variety of ideas (which may not always work if I am presenting the same thing over and over again–something to minimize).

Next is a new category for me.  I now include a list of all the PhD students I have supervised and where they are now.  It just go to the point that I had done enough here that it became a significant contribution of mine to the business.

Then service to dept, editorial boards, profession, etc.  Keep each entry brief as most folks do not care that much about such stuff, other than to see that you are not a free-rider but a contributor to the collective goods.

I have conference participation after this since being a discussant or chair is doing someone a favor most of the time–you are not being selected for your brilliance but to fill a spot in the program most of the time.  Again, most recent five years or so.

I list last research and teaching interests.  Obviously, if you are applying to a school that values teaching, this goes up front.   Be specific about the courses you want to teach and do not exaggerate too much or you might find yourself teaching something you don’t want to teach (methods!).

Again, these are just my ideas.  Some represent the conventional wisdom, some perhaps less so.  What are your thoughts?