I’ve been reading a lot of academic curricula vita (CVs) recently. By “CV” I mean the academic-everything-you’ve-ever-done document, not the one or two page please-hire-me document that is called a resume in North America but a CV elsewhere. (This page from UBC covers the differences nicely. See also my earlier post on converting a CV to a resume.)

I’ve been reading CVs because I’m on committees involved in faculty searches and scientist awards. This means that the CVs I’m looking at are mostly from outside physics or astronomy; they provide a bit of a window into another field. Some neat things I’ve seen:

  • outdoor skills, like scuba diving or snowmobile driving. For fieldwork disciplines, this makes lots of sense: these could be an important component of doing research. I wouldn’t recommend including them if they’re not relevant to your field, though.
  • software repositories, such as on GitHub. These are an interesting way to see what someone is really doing in their research, not just what gets reported in a paper. They can also be part of contributing to the scientific community.
  • numbered lists of papers and conference contributions. Saves me a lot of work counting: I don’t use the exact number of papers to make decisions, but I do want some general idea of productivity.
  • explanations of author order for papers. This can vary greatly between fields: for example, math order is almost always alphabetical, while astronomy doesn’t generally use the “last author is the lab head” convention common in biomedicine.

I have also seen some things that I wouldn’t recommend anyone do. The first two in particular are common in some parts of the world but are very much frowned upon in North America:

  • include personal information such as birthdate, national origin, marital status, number and age of children. These are irrelevant to the ability to carry out an academic position, and it’s also illegal to take them into account when hiring, so they are a distraction to the reader.
  • include a photograph. In North American academia, this just Isn’t Done, probably in part because of discrimination concerns.
  • discuss hobbies. Career-related skills notwithstanding, your international darts ranking or chinchilla farming or national violin championship are irrelevant to an academic position. As a CV reader, I already do my best to keep in mind that the CV writer is a human being with a life.
  • mention anything about pre-university education, especially if it involves the use of the word “prodigy”. I doubt that where you went to high school strongly affects your ability to perform an academic job now, so it’s just one more thing I as a reader have to skip over.
  • submit a CV that hasn’t been proofread! Spelling and grammar mistakes make you look sloppy.

Here is a nice list of more CV mistakes.

Finally, some things I am on the fence about including:

  • publication metrics (h-index, journal impact factors, etc). These aren’t easily comparable between fields, and some people argue that they are a poor measure of scientific quality.
  • pithy quotes about your approach to science. While these can be amusing, they are another distraction, and I think you run the risk of being seen as too flippant or smart-alecky.
  • exact dollar/Euro/etc amounts for grants. These are difficult to compare between fields and between countries. For soft-money researchers, grant amounts can imply personal information about salaries, which are generally not discussed on academic CVs.

It’s interesting that this document we use for so much in academia has so many unwritten rules: no exact format, no precise content list, but we know what we don’t like. The best advice I can give is to have someone senior in your field and someone junior outside your field look at your CV. The senior person could scan it quickly (as senior people do) and the junior person could go over it carefully (for their own enlightenment as well as yours). If all goes well, people who read the CV will remember you and your work and not the CV at all.