Am I the only one who sits down to write my CV thinking it’ll take like 30 minutes, only to get up 2 hours later with nothing to show for it except a really nice format? Summarizing your entire life into bullet points that start with action verbs is hard. Start early and have friends and mentors read over it and give you pointers.
See below for protips about finding CV fodder in unexpected places, and presenting your best self to the world (’s citizens who read your CV).
- Break things into sections. I like to use reverse chronological order for items (newest thing first) within each section, but that’s just me.
- When to start? If you did “real life” things in high school, go ahead and include things like jobs, student government, major (national) awards, and research. At the same time, I have a hunch that grad school admissions officers don’t really care that you were captain of your high school Math Team (so sad, I know).
- When you cold email a professor you’re interested in, definitely include your CV. Also include it when you ask someone for a letter of recommendation.
- Presentations: This doesn’t just mean posters at conferences, poster fairs, etc. Have you served as a panelist? Given a guest lecture for a class? Presented your group project/senior capstone at a public-ish forum? Basically, did someone invite you to talk about science/your field to a group of people? This may be a CV-worthy presentation!
- Honors and Awards: Congrats! You won! Keep an eye out for H&A in weird places. If you get paid for lab work, ask about the funding source. If it’s from somewhere other than your lab’s budget, it’s probably an H&A (grant from university, department, etc). Also, if your industry/government summer job is called a fellowship, it’s probably an H&A. If you are in a Greek Organization or other student group, ask to be nominated for chapter/university/national award. Your friends will probably help you out. Honors societies are also clutch – so apply for them!
- Professional membership: There are tons of professional organizations for scientists and engineers: American Chemical Society, Society of Women Engineers, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, American Academy of Science, etc etc etc etc. Profs always put this info on their CVs because it’s impressive, and if you’re a member, you could include it too. Not everyone includes this info, but if you had to be invited/chosen to join or if you were an active leader in the organization at your school, go for it.
- Personal info: Name, also past/legal/nick/maiden names, email, phone, address, the usual.
- Education: School, degree, GPA, repeat. Yes, put your GPA. If it’s not as good as you’d hope, still put it; if you put nothing, people will assume it’s worse than it actually is.
- Publications: If you have a publication, put it here! Yay! If you’re still writing the manuscript, or if it’s been accepted but not published, etc. you can still put an in-progress title along with the authors and an appropriate phrase like manuscript in preparation, under review, or accepted. If your work is suuuuper secret, you may want to ask your boss first, lest you have put the title out there and ruin everything. (“String Cheese: The secret to all of science, a quantitative approach” Darn it, we got scooped, you fool!!) If you’re doing research that will one day lead to a paper but not for a while, then say that in your essay. Also, if you don’t have any publications, don’t sweat it. You’re still a star. Besides, in most fields, whether or not you get a publication in undergrad is a matter of luck – right place, right time, right mentor, right star sign.
- Outreach and Leadership: Try to put a career-relevant spin on things. Emphasize organization, mentorship, and science, rather than planning
- For some reason, academics tend to call it a CV (curriculum vitae) but in the real world they just use resume (in the US, at least). Change the heading accordingly if you’re also applying to jobs. Also, resumes tend to be 1 page-ish, but CVs can be as long as they need to be (but don’t go crazy, you guys). Find your favorite professor’s CV online and use it as a formatting guide. My CV looks almost exactly my undergrad PI’s CV (I mean, the fonts and spacing are similar… Hers is about 15x longer).
Also, check out these CV and resume writing resources:
More about the difference between CVs and resumes and what to put in them
Similar to above, but with useful formatting deets at the end
Has links to example academic CVs