Entry 2 – What is a CV? And when should I start creating mine?

Time needed to read entry: 8 minutes

ME is a 2nd Year Graduate Student who had worked in Industry for numerous years.
ME TOO is a 2nd Year Postdoctoral Research Fellow who began graduate school directly after her undergraduate studies.

ME: How should I get started on my CV? In fact, what is a CV? I only know what a resume is from my work experience, but CVs look SO different from resumes.
ME TOO: Yeah, the two are very different. My understanding is that a CV is the academic version of a resume… it is a diary of all of your academic achievements, big or small, that you have made in the most recent years. It’s something you regularly add to over the years and so it grows and grows and grows. Ultimately, you will use it when you apply for faculty positions and grants. While a graduate student, you will use it regularly when applying to workshops, fellowships, postdoc positions, and more.
ME: Huh. Sounds quite different from a resume. I remember I would tweak my resume every time I applied to a different job to tailor the information towards the industry position I was trying to get. And, it was always such an effort to squeeze all of my experiences into a single page.
ME TOO: Yeah. If I ever have to reduce my CV down to a 1 or 2 page resume, I expect that that would be quite the challenge.
MESo how do I get started with creating my CV? I noticed that all the CVs on line look so different. What is a CV supposed to look like? Are there examples you would recommend I start from? Since I am a computer science student, are there examples relevant for my field?
ME TOO: There is no correct recipe for how a CV should look. I began making my CV by talking with my colleagues who were several years ahead of me. I also asked my mentors for advice. And now I am looking at the CVs of my colleagues who I respect. To start, I would suggest asking your advisor for examples of graduate students who are presenting at conferences who are good examples of what a researcher should look like at your stage. Looking at the CV of someone in a similar career stage will provide good insight into how your CV can be strengthened, whereas looking at the CV of someone who is 10-years ahead of you will give feedback that may not be as relevant to the creation of your CV now (although it is useful to understand possible career paths). Also, when presenting at conferences you can look at the CVs of the graduate students who you think presented good work to get inspiration for how they are ‘marketing’ themselves. And it never hurts to get feedback from your friends and family as well. At the end of the day, the more feedback, the better. I guess my motto at this point is follow by example, while still trying to be unique and create your own path.

One week later…

ME: Thanks for the CV template Me Too. But after trying to fill it in over the past week, I don’t feel like I have anything to write about… especially in comparison to my peers.
ME TOO: Aha, the good ol’ imposter syndrome of nearly every graduate student I know. All the same, you do have accomplishments that are impressive. Let’s look at whether you are aware of all your accomplishments. For example, if you have ever presented your work or your field to others, this should be included on your CV. If you have received any honorable mentions or awards, no matter how big or small, these should be included as well. All of these ‘steps’ show that you are trying, are learning and growing, and that you have the potential to become a rockstar researcher. You may not succeed right away, but at this stage in your career what is interesting to see is whether you have the potential and the drive, and not to see whether you have the achievements. With the potential and the drive, you can be molded into a great researcher/teacher/entrepreneur/you name it. So your CV at this stage should list anything and everything that help demonstrate these traits.
ME: I am still not sure how to get my feet on the ground and running.
ME TOO: I would recommend filling in any and all of the categories listed below in your CV that fit with your experience. And the ordering of the items should be based on your personal strengths and weaknesses, with your strengths coming first:

Recommended CV Topics and Why To Include Them

Degree and Thesis Information:
Why: indicates your level of academic training and your interests; may also be useful if your school and/or thesis advisor are known
Honors & Awards:
Why: shows you’re self motivated to find funding, develop ideas, and stand out amongst your peers
Research/Research Interest:
Why: shows your ability to think critically about challenging problems; in your earlier years when you still have only a limited number of publications, you can use this section to describe projects you have worked on, whether in a course or in a research group; in your later years, if you know the research problem you would like to tackle over the upcoming decade/career, you can state explicitly your research goals
Professional Experience (if you have government/industry experience):
Why: demonstrates your ability to conduct research, think critically, manage your time, mentor others, and/or assist a research group; these are all important traits to have in a career in which you will be conducting research, teaching, and managing
Why: indicates your research interest and community, the quality of your papers as implied by the conferences and journals in which they are published, your area of skilled specialty, and your ability to communicate information
Why: shows your experience level in teaching in a classroom setting, and it implies that you are capable of teaching a course and developing curriculum material
Talks and/or Poster Presentations (outreach, technical, etc):
Why: demonstrates your experience level in presenting to a larger community — this can include presentations of your research motivating why your work is important/interesting or outreach presentations demonstrating your desire to balance the inequalities faced in a research community (e.g., attracting more females to the STEM areas)
Technical Peer Reviews:
Why: demonstrates your desire to think more critically about the research done in your field and to contribute to the review process that is needed by the research community
Professional Activities (Membership & Leadership):
Why: indicates a desire to contribute to the research community as well as a skillset if in a leadership role
Why: shows your interest and experience in training others
Extracurricular Activities (especially if the hobbies are relevant to your research, e.g., carpentry if you are a roboticist):
Why: this is an optional section, but can help by showing some personality and other skills such as perseverance, public speaking, and leadership.

Three weeks and several drafts later…

ME: Thanks for your help! Updating my CV made me feel like I have ‘achieved’ something. Also, last week I applied to an academic workshop, and because I had an up-to-date CV, it was SO easy to prepare my application. Rather than digging through my records to remember my achievements, I had my accomplishments in final form ready for submission.
ME TOO: That’s great! Just so you know, looking at your peers’ CVs may continue to feel intimidating. I still look at the CVs of my peers and cringe. For me, it took baby steps to get my CV to where it is now. Developing my CV has been a continuous feedback process that helps me to identify my strengths and weaknesses, and which helps me to create my future goals to address those holes/weaknesses in my CV.

Nature versus Nurture – Reflections on our CV writing experiences

For Me Too who went straight from undergraduate to graduate school, once in graduate school she continued building her CV based on the CV she had submitted when applying for graduate school. Her content was focused more on honors and awards, as well as describing her research projects. She had not yet developed skills outside of her school-related achievements.

For Me who took time off from school, when applying to graduate school her strengths were more in her professional experiences and less in her academic achievements. So the bulk of her information for her first version of her CV described her professionally developed skills.

Me and Me Too have significantly different CVs despite their identical genes. The conclusion made was that ultimately, a CV should borrow ideas from other CVs to determine what information to share, but how the skills are shared and the focus of the CV should be catered to the individual and his/her strengths. Many iterations of feedback from many people have allowed both Me and Me Too to identify what document formatting tools to use, what information to present in their CVs, as well as what makes each of the them unique (“stand out”) from their peers so that they can focus their CV message on their strengths.

Our Recommendations to Other CV Writing Folk:

CV Creation Timeline:

1st year of graduate school – Learn what is a CV
2nd year of graduate school – Obtain a template and input all your relevant skills
4 years to graduation – Update your template, identify weaknesses, and make goals to address those weaknesses
3 years to graduation – Update your template, identify weaknesses, and make goals to address those weaknesses
2 years to graduation – Update your template, identify weaknesses, and make goals to address those weaknesses
1 year to graduation – Prepare your CV for your job search
0 years to graduation – Tweak your CV for your job and this stage of your career

Example CVs

Obtain CVs of your peers, your advisor(s), and other professors for inspiration on how to create your CV.

Me Too CV – Year 0 — September 1, 2004  
Me Too CV – Year 1.5 — December 30, 2006
Me Too CV – Year 2.5 —December 31, 2007
Me Too CV – Year 3.5 — August 11, 2008
Me Too CV – Year 4.5 — November 16, 2009
Me Too CV – Year 5.5 — October 11, 2010
Me Too CV – Year 6.5 — November 25, 2011
Me CV – Year 0 — January 29, 2012

General Resources

The career center at your school is a great place to start. Some schools have employees whose sole job is to help you create your CV and find funding opportunities.

Text Editing Tools

Me and Me Too both originally used Microsoft Word and then moved to Latex to simplify the process of making formatting changes as well as to make the overall document appear cleaner.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s