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Academic CVs for PhD Applications

As part of a PhD application, or applying for any other position in research, you may be required to write an academic CV. A CV for a PhD student has several differences to a standard CV. This guide explains how to write a CV for academia.

What is an academic CV?

An academic CV is similar to a standard CV, and the same general guidelines and advice apply.

Keep it professional, up-to-date, relevant, clear and concise. All information should be presented in reverse-chronological order (most recent first).

Any CV should always be tailored to the specific application, directly referencing the job / project specification if possible. So, the most important, most relevant or best aspects of your CV should be at the top.

However, there are some key differences.

An academic CV focusses on academic experience and accomplishments. Anything not relevant to this should be considered for omission.

There can be more pages in an academic CV compared to a general CV. This is due to the additional sections and information that may be required for academia. For late career researchers, CVs can cover lots of pages. But, for an early career researcher such as a PhD student, an academic CV should last no more than four pages. However, effort should still be made to keep the CV relevant and concise – in most cases two pages should still be enough.

Academic CV sections

An academic CV differs in that there are some additional sections to a standard CV.

Research interests

This section is often found at the top of an academic CV. It is usually a short summary of your research experience and your specific interests. This should directly address the job or project application. This could be in the form of bullet points, short sentences, or a short paragraph.

As with all aspects of a CV, it is better to show, not tell. Give evidence of skills, interest and enthusiasm where possible rather than just stating it outright.

If you are deeper into your academic career, and have lots of publications and research experience, you may not need to have a research interests section – it should be fairly clear from your research experience.

Good example:
  • I have spent four years of study in the field of 18th Century History following my research interest
  • I’ve developed a particular interest in the French Revolution, on which I have published several popular history articles
  • I would love to advance my understanding of the period further, through PhD study with an expert at a remarkable institution
Bad example:

I’m enthusiastic about Science and I really like learning. My research interest is Physics. I’ve got undergraduate and Masters degrees in Physics, so I want to do a PhD next.

Publications

This should include any journal articles, books (or chapters), reports and patents. Again, these should be in reverse chronological order. Ensure the referencing style is consistent and embolden your name where there are several authors.

You can include works in progress if necessary – just ensure this is clearly labelled.

If this is a long list, it may be better suited as an appendix.

Research experience

This includes invited research projects, talks, conference attendance / participation, and other presentations.

This could be arranged by project (in reverse chronological order) or by experience (i.e. laboratory experience, presentations etc., in order of relevance). You can include your current research – this could be worthy of greater detail.

It may be useful to focus on the expert and technical skills involved in this experience, especially if they are relevant to the application.

Include the names of supervisors for each research project / experience, plus a brief summary of each (highlighting relevant or impressive aspects).

Research experience is arguably the most important part of an academic CV. It’s what many employers / project supervisors will look for and could be a deciding factor in the application process.

List by project:

2017-present: Investigation into Viral Capsid Protein Self-Assembly

Masters degree research project, supervised by Prof J. Bloggs. Developed in-depth knowledge of literature searching, basic molecular biology techniques, and in vitro protein analysis. Presented research at several academic conferences through posters and oral presentations.

2016: Redox Sensors of Bacillus subtilis

Undergraduate research project under the supervision of Dr S. Smyth. Gained experience of protein crystallisation and bioinformatic analysis. My research report for this project was awarded a First Class mark.

List by skills:

Laboratory research. I have research experience in Molecular Biology laboratories at the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee, developing relevant skills such as PCR, genetic cloning, protein purification, and protein crystallisation.

Presenting. I have presented research using a variety of techniques, including talks, posters, and workshops. These have been presented to academic experts at national conferences.

Academic writing. I have written many pieces of assessed research writing. These include literature reviews, research reports, and meta-analyses. All marks shown in Education section.

Teaching experience

Teaching is an increasingly important part of academia, and teaching skills or experience are useful to have on an academic CV (provided they are relevant to the application).

Show any teaching, training, demonstrating, mentoring and supervision experience. Include the level of the students (i.e. undergraduate, postgraduate), and any additional work you did to accompany this such as marking, planning or organisation.

Funding and awards

Here you can list any grants, awards, bursaries, scholarships, and fellowships you may have.

This may be for things such as:

  • research projects
  • conferences
  • presentations
  • academic posters
  • travel
  • anything else appropriate

Funding and awards are competitive and demonstrating an ability to succeed with them is an important skill in academia.

Again, list these in reverse chronological order, and include the award or funding monetary amount if it’s the convention in the particular research field.

Professional society membership

Being a member of a professional society (for example the Biochemical Society) is a good way to show enthusiasm and commitment for a research area. Always include the dates of your membership.

What if I don’t have publications / experience?

As a PhD applicant, it is unlikely that you will already have lots of publications, research experience or academic funding / awards.

If you do, this will go a long way to building a successful application.

However, as an undergraduate or new postgraduate student you will not be expected to have lots of this.

It is important to include any experience you have (for example, a research project at Masters level) and show an enthusiasm for research.

It could be worth changing your academic CV to a more skills-based format. In this way, you can put more focus on transferable skills that are useful in academia, and less focus on research experience.

If your CV still seems bare, it may be beneficial for your academic CV if you can find ways to get research experience or develop research skills.

Academic CV flexibility

There is some flexibility in writing a CV - you can change the sections included to better suit you or better suit the application.

General CV sections

Some of the same sections as a general CV should be included in an academic CV. However, these may need to be adjusted to be appropriate for a position in academia.

Title

This should be your name, fairly large and clear, at the top of the page. It is not necessary to write “CV” or “Curriculum Vitae” – this should be obvious to the reader.

Include your contact information below this, such as your address, phone number and email.

Education

For an academic CV, this is an important section and usually is found near the top of the CV. List by degree, plus titles, with the most advanced first (i.e. PhD, Masters, Bachelors etc.). It is acceptable to include your current degree, clearly noted.

This section is vital to show the hard skills necessary to be eligible for the position. For example, if a PhD project description states that applicants require a Masters degree, then your relevant Masters degree should be prominent here.

If useful to the application, you can include individual courses on a degree with their marks. But, give course titles and do not include course codes – these are usually just for internal administration purposes.

Results pending

A student applicant may not have received exam / dissertation results at the time of applying. This is acceptable – just include any results or marks you have already.

Other skills

Research and teaching skills may already be included in specific sections, but this section may serve for any other relevant skills.

This can include things like administrative experience, professional development, additional training, and languages (with proficiency noted).

Good example:
  • Administration experience: treasurer for University English Literature Society, management of local business’ social media accounts
  • Technology skills: Diploma of Graphic Design & Desktop Publishing (awarded by International Career Institute)
  • Languages: French (fluent), German (conversational)
Bad example:

I like reading books. I have experience of working in a local shop. Good with animals. Can do 46 keepie-uppies in a row. . .

Discussion of CV content at the interview

If you are shortlisted for a PhD interview, you may be asked to discuss the contents of your CV. Therefore, you can keep the CV concise and clear, and expand later at the interview if it is relevant.

Referees

For an academic CV, you will have referees, not references. This section will be at the bottom of your CV.

Check the application information regarding the number and nature of referees to include. There are usually two or three referees, at least two of which are academic. Non-academic referees may be included if specified or required, particularly if you’ve taken some time out of education before applying for the programme in question.

Keep the referencing style consistent.

Check that your referees are aware of their inclusion on your CV and have given you permission.

Should I include a photo of myself?

In the UK, USA and Canada, a photo should not be included. In some professions, this will cause the CV to immediately be discarded due to anti-discrimination laws.

However, in some countries, for example in continental Europe, photos are often included at the top of a CV. Always check the conventions of the country you are applying to.

Layout and formatting

Most of the same rules apply for a general CV as for an academic CV. However, it may be useful to check the common CV formatting conventions for a specific academic field – these can sometimes vary.

UK and Canada CV vs. USA CV

There can be differences in the layout and formatting of CVs in different countries. UK / Canadian CVs tend to be shorter and more condensed than their American counterparts. Always check the conventions of the country you are applying to.

Organisation

For all CVs, the most important parts for the application are placed at the top. For academic CVs, these are:

  • research interests
  • education
  • publications
  • research experience
  • funding and awards
  • teaching experience

The exact order of these can be adjusted to better suit the application and the applicant.

Formatting

There is some flexibility in the formatting used in an academic CV. You may choose a style that you like, but it should follow the following rules.

The format of the CV should always be clear, with a readable, normal-sized font and line-spacing where possible. Make sure the format is consistent throughout.

Headings and subheadings can be larger and / or emboldened. There should be clear spaces or definitions between each section.

Final checks

Finally, there are many checks you can make to your academic CV.

Make sure that your CV is clear, reads well and is scannable. This means no jargon or abbreviations, too.

Ensure there are no typos and no sections split across pages. It is OK to use bold font and sometimes italic font, but make sure it is not overdone.

Check that the CV is specific to the job or project description, and that there is no irrelevant information carried over from another CV application.

Verify that the appropriate sections are in reverse chronological order.

Finally, always get additional advice and opinions. Not all advice is good, but you should always get help to find any mistakes or opportunities for improvement. The advice from someone who is experienced in the research field can offer discipline-specific help on the academic CV.

Last updated 31/10/2018

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