How to Build Your C.V.

(Wednesday Post Category:  Landing Your Tenure-Track Job)

Today’s post is another Special Request post, this time for Ana, who had a question about c.v.s.   What is the best way to organize and write an academic c.v? she wonders. She also asks if I know of any special tech tools for create a kind of “master” c.v. that could then be tailored to jobs, grants, etc.

I have to admit that I do not know of any such tools. But what about you, my readers? Have you found an app or some fabulous geeked out system for collecting and organizing your c.v. material? Kind of like a c.v. Endnotes? Please comment below if you do. We would all like to know.

What i do know is that lo, so many years ago, when I was a young assistant professor, I received a piece of wisdom from a respected senior colleague. That colleague was a model of productivity, and she liked me, and wanted to see me succeed.  This piece of advice was not a trick for organizing c.v. s but rather a trick for thinking about them.

She told me, early in my first year in the department, “make sure that each month you add another line to your c.v.”

Each month I add another line to my c.v.? Yikes. Really?

That sounded impossible. But she did it, sure enough, and her c.v. was a thing to behold.

She said, “this is not going to be hard for you.”

And she was right.

By the time I added on the national conferences I attended every year, and the talks on campus, and the guest lectures, and my new classes taught, and small campus grants, and new graduate students, and article manuscripts, and local and national committees, and the reviewing I did for journals and presses, I did have 9 new items a year (she didn’t count summers). Heck, sometimes I had a lot more than 9 new items a year.

It wasn’t that hard.

The key was, to keep my c.v. in mind at all times. When I had to make choices about how to spend my time, which requests to accept, when to say no, and so on, I thought about my c.v., and thought about the line. Did I want the line? Did I need the line? Was it a good line? Was there a better line? It was an amazingly clarifying exercise.

Sure I did things to be collegial, things that didn’t translate into c.v. lines. I helped out colleagues. I went the extra mile for students (sometimes). I was a good department citizen. But I was focused. I knew what my goal was. And that goal was tenure.

As my career went on, I had the opportunity to see many c.v.s of many peers from my own and other institutions. And I realized that few of those peers had received this kind of advice. They most definitely had not been adding a c.v. line each month.

And a lot of those peers were struggling. They weren’t getting the jobs they wanted. They weren’t getting the grants. They weren’t getting tenure.

They didn’t seem to put two and two together.

C.V.s are not just records that passively reflect the things that you “happen to do.” They are records that you actively, consciously, and conscientiously build. You watch your c.v., you think about it, you nurture it. You ask, is it where it should be right now, this month, related to the goals I want to reach this year? If not, take action that very day to change it. Finish that half-done article. Submit for a grant. Apply to a conference. Volunteer for a talk.

Take charge of your c.v. To me it matters less how well-tailored it is to this application or that. What matters is that it is a document that shows your pride in your work, your passion, and your motivation.

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How to Build Your C.V. — 32 Comments

  1. Good advice – I have been doing this since finishing my PhD and it certainly does mount up!
    I would add two things:
    1) Save a new version each time. Huge waste of computer memory – but VERY rewarding when it comes to appraisal and you reflect on what you have achieved each year
    2) If you are trying to set yourself up for a particular post in the future – layout your CV according to the headings in the criteria for similar posts. This way you can instantly see where the gaps are. Then take it to some kind colleague independent of you research team and ask them would they give you the job, and if not, why not! Humbling and illuminating but a useful exercise.

    • Fantastic advice, mark! I agree completely about saving the new version. I actually kept a physical file and put my new c.v. in that file every few months. it saved my butt many times when I had to make a case for productivity! And indeed, for tailoring. Because I did tailor c.v.s on occasion, and then I would print those versions out with a note on top about which version it was and store it for later reference. Of course files on your computer are fine. But I’m a pretty paper-centric material girl, and the printed out versions really helped me to keep track of what exactly I had done and when.

  2. Re: tools

    My CV is written and maintained using LaTeX markup. Using typesetting software with this markup, rather than a simple word processor, gives the document a very clean and polished look. Also, I’m able to comment out sections and move them around with great ease. Using this markup means that you can export your CV to different formats (pdf, .doc, html) pretty easily. A bit of a learning curve, but very much worth the effort!

  3. Great post and comments. I Tweeted it. And what a great idea for a way to start learning LaTeX / great idea for use of it, for those of use (me!) who eye it, yet are uninitiated. Karen – there’s also Lyx which is apparently an “easier” version of LaTeX.

    I used to keep a master version of vita with all info on it. It was a vita understood as a record. Then, every once in a while, I’d edit things out for a more streamlined version relevant to the present moment: what seemed to be too old either got cut or got condensed / collapsed.

    (Then I stopped working on it in any sense, so now it is chaotic, and I am trying to fix it, and in between lines I am posting obsessively on this blog.)

  4. Great advice! I have had this mindset since my first year in grad school and I’m hoping it will serve me well as I go on the job/post-doc market. One question: a commenter on another post mentioned issues with the CV looking “padded,” noting that guest-lectures for example gave the impression that one is padding the CV. Any suggestions for finding a balance here? How do you feel about guest-lectures? I’m ABD and have only taught two courses.

    Also, you mentioned in a previous post that grad students should not put anything under “Professional appointments” as adjuncts or TA’s. What if I’m the project manager for a big research project? The competition was only with my fellow grad students in the department, but it’s multi-phases and funded by the National Science Foundation so I’d like to highlight it somehow.

    • Marci,
      If you have taught your own courses, then doing a guest lecture in someone else’s class is not padding, but it is sort of mickey mouse looking.
      If you have not yet taught your own course, then a guest lecture is absolutely not padding your cv. It shows A. that you have the gumption to go the extra mile instead of turning the opportunity down B. that you have given it a try and got some practice C. that you will probably be a good instructor in your own right.

      Karen is right, the Professional Appointments category is for faculty-type positions, whether adjunct limited term contracts or tenure track. I would put your big research job into the “Research Experience” category, if you have one. There you could also explain your own Masters and PhD research, even if those degrees aren’t in hand just yet.

      • this is an excellent distinction. I’ve advised people never to list guest lectures on their cv, but as you say, if they have no other teaching experience, then leaving them on does show some resourcefulness and experience.

  5. I have been invited to give several book talks and signings at bookstores and museums since the publication of my first book. Should I list these on my c.v. and, if so, under what heading (i.e. invited talks)?

  6. One question I have is how to convey the information that I both co-organized a panel at my associations national conference and presented on it. Even when looking at others (my fellow grad students, faculty members) CV’s I haven’t seen any lines that list both. Does that mean one is more important than the other? Any thoughts would be helpful.

    • the organizing goes under hte “panels organized” subheading, while the presenting goes under the “papers presented” subheading.

  7. Quick question–I am an Assistant Professor at University X, but simultaneously taught a course at University Y last fall. I’m not sure how to indicate this in my timeline of Professional Appointments. Any thoughts?

    • that’s an individual level question in which I’d have to know more about what that status was at the second university. I’d be inclined to leave it out of Prof. Appointments entirely, and have it reflected only in Teaching. But that is not a final answer, just a first one.

  8. I’m just starting a dual MPH/MS program in two weeks, and I’m marking up a CV per your advice… and dammit, I WILL add something every month!

    My question is this:
    I won 11 scholarships as an undergrad, some national, adding up to a chunk of money. (The total is ~$71,000.) I’m on a #prestigious_international_scholarship_named_after_a_senator this academic year, and also won full graduate tuition from a different source. At what point do these kinds of things rotate off the CV as I move on to and through my PhD?

    I’m proud of my accomplishments, but I don’t want to be Mickey Mouse-ing my CV!
    Second question: when applying for NSF-type fellowships next fall, do I keep them ON to show a rising record of successful grant applications (per your post on grants)?

  9. When I was pursing my undergraduate degree and master degree in Canada, my status was international student. Because of this, I was not eligible for any provincial-level and federal-level scholarships. During these years, I was discriminated by my citizenship status and could barely finance my education by part-time jobs and some university-level private scholarships. Could I indicate this factor in my c.v. or somewhere?
    Also, when I was doing my phd and later post-doctoral studies, my mom got cancer. I had to take a leave to take care of my mom for more than a year. Now I am applying for academic jobs. Should I/ Where could I explain this challenge to my academic career development in the job application? Many thanks in advance.

  10. Hi Karen,
    Thanks so much for this post – it’s so so helpful.

    My question is a little specific: would you advise against including the names of keynote speakers for the conferences organized? I recently co-organized a conference that brought a rather celebrated name to campus (and it was a lot of work!) so I am tempted to put in the name of the keynote but I don’t want it to look like padding. Any thoughts?

    Many thanks!

  11. Hi Karen,
    I have found this site so incredible helpful! I recently completed my doctorate and am now starting to apply for jobs at the university level. I am currently teaching high school and writing a CV with no teaching experience at the university level is daunting. The position I am applying for is in the field of Educational Leadership, which is what my doctorate is in as well. I have led, organized and created many different things where I work. I have seen some examples of CVs, but all of the ones I have seen, have university experience. Any advice??

  12. Pingback: Trailer Park Professor: On R1 Success and Learning to Value Yourself (A Guest Post) | The Professor Is In

  13. Hi Karen,if one is an assistant professor and they gave a guest lecture for a PhD level course (assume they are not currently involved in graduate teaching) would you also recommend leaving this off the vita? Even if said scholar is one of the most recognized scholars in the entire discipline?

  14. I teach in Japan, where, since finishing my Ph.D. four years ago, I have gotten many one-year or one-semester “part-time lecturer” positions but no permanent positions yet. I have taught about 15 or so different courses at a variety of universities. Do I leave out a “Professional Appointments” section entirely, and put all of the part-time positions under “Teaching”, “Teaching Experience”, or some other appropriately named section?

  15. I have tenure-track position but I’m also a clinical social worker. My practice informs my teaching and research. Is there a place on the CV to include grants received for my practice? I’ve received multiple competitive grants from different foundations and am unsure if I should include this and where.

  16. I have been advised differently on the same matter pertaining to my CV. I have had two ‘gaps’ in my postgraduate work and since being awarded my PhD. One involved having a baby. The second involved caring for that same baby, now a toddler, after a cancer diagnosis. It was recommended by one to put this in my CV as a means of addressing what might be considered a lack of publications. She felt if she was reviewing a CV such as mine she would take this into consideration. The other opinion was that it just didn’t belong. I’m interested, Karen, in what you would suggest?

  17. I’m a doctoral student and have received the advice of adding 1 line to your CV per month. I’m curious about your take on culling opportunities for doctoral students to add to their cv. The only things that come to my mind are research projects that result in papers, but am I thinking to narrowly?

  18. I’m a Postdoctoral fellow at a SLAC and I’m organizing a two-day event entailing bringing a notable professor to campus. Once here, the professor will give a lecture; do a workshop on diversity issues with students, faculty and staff; and meet informally with students. Is this the kind of thing I could list under conference organization on my CV?

  19. I recently accepted a position adjuncting an online master’s class with a prestigious university. The other courses that I have taught have all been undergraduate courses. How I do I list this course so that I can A) high light that I am teaching graduate students and B) show that I now have experience with online teaching.

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