A treatment plan for academic researchers on how to create a fabulous CV.
Contributor Carol Spencely
In my roles in researcher support and development at the University of Surrey and Imperial College London, I have seen hundreds of CVs. I have met amazing researchers with brains the size of planets working on fabulous projects, but when it comes to preparing a CV, all brain activity seems to freeze and panic sets in. From working with researchers at the Naturejobs Careers Expo and from other institutions, this condition is not confined to Surrey and Imperial; so, here are my suggestions for a treatment plan:
1- “Don’t panic!” As per Douglas Adams’ words from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
2- Communicate clearly. There is no big secret; to produce an effective CV you need to communicate clearly and concisely (with evidence) about your skills, achievements, qualifications and experience. This means that your CV is not just about the details of your research project.
This is where many researchers struggle. Writing about their qualifications and research project is easy, but they are simply unaware of the vast wealth of skills, achievements and experience they possess; therefore, when someone suggests including these things on a CV, the brain freeze and panic sets in (please refer back to Step 1). One way to tackle this is to get yourself a big sheet of paper and a pen, and write down all the things that you do as a researcher. This might include:
- day-to-day supervision of students
- organising a journal club or reading group
- health and safety responsibilities
- reviewing papers for journals
- presenting at conferences
- summarising information
- managing a budget
- negotiating resources
- organising events
- membership of committees
- writing reports for funders
- writing policy documents
- working in a team
- working independently
- reviewing the literature
- setting up collaborations
- developing an argument
- preparing funding proposals
- finding creative approaches to teaching / budget limitations / lack of coffee
- setting deadlines
- designing experiments
- carrying out experiments
- trouble-shooting experiments
- re-designing experiments
- statistical analyses …
The list goes on and on and on. As you write this list, also include any awards you have received, feedback scores for teaching, and any measures of your success as a researcher.
Most researchers surprise themselves with the amount of “stuff” they do. Indeed, sitting down with someone else to do this exercise can prompt you to think more widely. My coffee fund would be swelling if I had £1 for every time someone suddenly remembered something extraordinary they have done that they completely missed off their CV…
…which leads me onto…
3- Provide evidence based on the list you have generated in Step 2. Consider your skills (e.g. working as a member of a large team). For example, don’t just say “Excellent team worker”, say “Excellent team worker – worked as part of a large multi-disciplinary research team on the “WITI-AcroNiM project” and liaised with collaborators across Europe.” Examples and evidence will give weight to your claims.
Bear in mind that the same example or evidence can be used in different ways depending on what you are trying to demonstrate. For example, designing and delivering classes, seminars, or lectures to school children, undergraduates and postgraduates can be used as evidence of teaching skills OR as evidence of communicating effectively with a range of audiences. (Anyone who can communicate with a classroom full of teenagers immediately ticks the “communication skills box” in my book!)
4- Tailor your CV. Your CV is unique to you, but you will also produce a different CV for each job you apply for. Why? Firstly, because you should follow any “rules” they provide, e.g. “please provide a CV that includes details of your international experience”; secondly, because every job has different requirements, and you should only include content that is relevant to the job you are applying for, which means that you leave out things that are not relevant (this bit can be hard); thirdly, because the expected format of CVs may be different between industries, e.g. the format (and content) of a CV for a medical writing job is quite different from that for a research position, and formats also differ between countries.
This all takes a lot of time and energy.
5- Get feedback – give your CV to someone for 30 seconds; take it back – what do they remember? Have you achieved the aims of the above steps? Get feedback from several sources and then decide for yourself which of the comments to use and which to ignore. If you have trouble with spelling and grammar then ensure that you give it to someone who is able to check this for you. Use your network of contacts to find out about CVs in different industries or countries. Use your research skills to investigate the on-line resources and information, and don’t forget your Careers Service or Researcher Development teams – we’ve seen hundreds of CVs and can prescribe a tailored treatment plan for you if you wish.