The Basics of Science C.V.'s.

March 31, 2000

The cover letter and curriculum vitae may well be the two most important documents you will ever write, since they are the first things most academic search committees see. Although both your cover letter (the subject of last month's column) and C.V. must be able to stand alone, they are clearly linked and should be developed in tandem.

As with your cover letter, the visual impact of your C.V. sends an important message about your thoroughness and attention to detail. You want to present your experiences, accomplishments, and professional qualities in the most positive light.

One of the first questions often asked in preparing a C.V. is, "What is the difference between such a document and the more familiar résumé?"

The curriculum vitae is a summary of your educational background and experiences. It is used when applying for teaching and administrative positions in academe or for a fellowship or grant. In contrast, a résumé is used to summarize your education and experience for a specific career objective in the public or private sector.

Margaret Newhouse's Beyond the Ivory Tower column, From C.V. to Résumé gives some additional insights on the differences between these two documents and how to convert one into the other.

The major difference between a science C.V. and those in other fields is the prevalence of postdoc experience among science Ph.D.s. Indeed, the answer to the question "Under whom did you postdoc?" is often as important if not more so than the answer to "Where did you get your Ph.D.?" For this reason, it is important to make clear how the work you did during your postdoc differs from what you did while working on your Ph.D.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when putting together your C.V.:

  • Is it well-designed, organized, and attractively laid out, with appropriate use of bold and italic text?

  • Are categories -- such as education, teaching, and research -- clearly labeled?

  • Is it easy to find sections of interest to search committee members, such as publications, postdoctoral experience, and professional associations?

  • Has your adviser and at least one other person reviewed and critiqued it?

  • Have you avoided using acronyms?

  • Has it been proofread several times to eliminate typographical errors?

Most science and engineering C.V.'s will contain several key elements:

  • Name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address.

  • Education, beginning with your most recent or expected degree. List degrees, majors, institutions, and dates of completion (or expected date) in reverse chronological order. Also list minors, subfields, and honors.

  • Your dissertation or thesis, including the date it will be finished. Provide the title and a brief description of your work, its framework, and your conclusions, as well as your adviser and committee members. Also include dates describing your current status ("Completed coursework, June 2000," or "Passed qualifying exam, March 2000").

  • Postdoctoral experience. As with your dissertation, provide the title and a brief description of your work and the name of your adviser. Your description should explain how your postdoc work differs from your dissertation.

  • Awards. Examples include National Science Foundation Fellowship, IBM Dissertation Fellowship, and Phi Beta Kappa.

  • Experience. Some scientists and engineers like to include their research and dissertation in this section. If you have work experience, include your job title, the name of the employer or institution, dates, your responsibilities, and accomplishments. Use a consistent format. "Experience" works best but you may want to divide things up by "Research" and "Teaching." Stress what you contributed and accomplished by using active verbs ("Delivered eight class lectures on composite materials and developed five supporting problem sets and a midterm examination" is better than "Responsibilities included preparing class lectures, homework assignments, and exams").

  • Publications and presentations. Put these last if you have more than four or five entries. List items in standard bibliographic form, classified by type (journal or conference). While it is acceptable to list articles as "submitted," or "in preparation," be selective about doing so. You will want to balance these with articles that are either published, or in press.

  • Other possible categories you could use are Academic Service, Research Interests, Teaching Competencies, Community Service, Professional Associations, Foreign Study, and Licensure.

Your C.V. can be arranged to fit different positions and different institutions. Here are two versions of the same C.V., one written for an academic position at a research university and the other for a position at a university that emphasizes teaching.

In the C.V. with a research emphasis, the author makes evident his success in acquiring grants and is also sure to include his scholarly awards, one of which is a substantial postdoctoral fellowship. His teaching experience is secondary in this case and so is not given the same emphasis. In addition, he may also compose a statement outlining his research interests, as well as a short research proposal to accompany his C.V.

The C.V. with a teaching emphasis is designed to impress those institutions that are more oriented toward experiential or applied education. Highlighted here is classroom and informal teaching experience. Also included is his interest and experience in other forms of teaching, such as outdoor or nature education. Because he still wants to be active in research, he also provides his research experience and some of his future interests, even though he knows that at these particular institutions, research opportunities might be more limited.

Additional examples of C.V.'s, with annotated comments, can be found in Mary Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick's Career Talk column, The CV Doctor.

By following these suggestions on writing a C.V., you should significantly increase your chances of getting to the next phase, the academic job interview.

Richard M. Reis is director for academic partnerships at the Stanford University Learning Laboratory, and author of Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, available from IEEE Press or the booksellers below. He is also the moderator of the biweekly Tomorrow's Professor Listserve, which anyone can subscribe to by sending the message [subscribe tomorrows-professor] to

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