Writing a Curriculum Vitae for graduate school (and beyond!)

Let’s first review what a curriculum vitae (CV) is. A CV in its literal translation means “course of (one’s) life”. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that a CV will be long in length and can be anywhere from 2-20 pages long! CVs are typically used in an academic setting. If you are thinking about going to graduate school and becoming a professor one day, a CV is what you will most likely use. Don’t fret if your CV is only two pages early on in your career. The longer your life, the longer your CV.

Elements of a CV

Name and contact information-include things such as current address, email address, phone number, and LinkedIn URL. 

Summary statement/professional summary-depending on where you are in your career, you may or may not need this section. When applying to graduate schools this section may not be as crucial. However, if you decide to eventually apply for a faculty position, this section becomes more relevant.

Education-this includes degrees you have attained from college/graduate school. Remember to include the institution you attained your degree, degree level, and date of graduation.

Work experience-unlike a resume which asks for just a few relevant work experiences, with a CV it is ok to have a more exhaustive list of relevant experiences.

Fellowships/grants-this includes internships, fellowships, and any sort of grant money you may have received. It is perfectly normal not to have these things going into graduate school, but keep in mind that it is something that you will most likely add on in graduate school or during a post-doc.

Honors/Awards-depending on where you are in your career dictates how exhaustive this list is. If you are in undergrad applying for graduate school, go ahead and list all the awards you achieved during undergrad. However, keep in mind the further you are in your career, the more you can pick and choose which awards to include. By the time you transition into a faculty position, you don’t need all of the awards you received as a freshman in college.

Professional presentations-conference talks (including poster presentations) you have given at conferences. Most undergrads don’t have experience giving a professional presentation, but once you enter graduate school, add this section to your CV.

Publications-this includes peer reviewed journal articles you’ve contributed to as well as book chapters/reviews you have contributed to. Don’t forget to use appropriate citations for listing publications.

Professional affiliations-professional organizations you are a member of. If you are a board member of any of these organizations, list that as well.

Community service/volunteer work-include activities that showcases the soft skills required in graduate school such as project management and leadership.

References-list anywhere between 1-3 people who know you well in a professional/academic capacity. Make sure to include their name, title, and contact information. This section is more relevant early on in your career. By the time you are a faculty member and are well-established in your career you won’t need this section.

Describe your work experience

Unlike a resume which wants you to quantify your accomplishments, a CV also asks that you describe your job. For example, if I were an undergraduate student applying for graduate school and I spent some time working in a lab, I would say something such as, “conducted daily lab management tasks such as autoclaving, washing dishes, and refilling pipette boxes.” If I had gone on to do research in that same lab, I would add an additional point that could say, “became familiar with basic molecular biology techniques such as qRT-PCR, Western blotting, and immortalized cell culture.” That doesn’t mean that you don’t list any of your accomplishments but be sure to also include what your job entailed.

Do your due diligence

Just because a CV is a fairly exhaustive list of your academic history, doesn’t mean that you don’t need to tailor your CV. Some academic jobs you apply for will be more research based while others are more teaching based. Make sure that your professional summary highlights your qualifications that best showcase why you are a suitable candidate for a particular position. Also, whether you are applying for a position that is more research or more teaching focused dictates the format of your CV as well. Find examples and templates of successful CVs people have used to apply for the position that you want. As you go further into your career, the format of your CV will likely change. If you look at the format of an undergrad applying for graduate school, it will be completely different from the CV of professor.

Proofread! This one cannot be emphasized enough. Better yet, if you know someone in academia who is willing to read over your CV for you, do so. It never hurts to have a second opinion.

Formatting tips

Keep your CV organized and easy to read. Because CVs are so much longer than resumes, they can also become more difficult to process. Be sure to keep your formatting choices constant and use bullet points to your advantage. Use bolding, underlining, and italics to highlight key information. 

Be honest

Don’t lie on your CV and say that you’ve contributed to publications that you haven’t or been on committees that you haven’t. As you go higher in your education, the world gets that much smaller. Publications are extremely easy to access online and if a potential mentor/employer looks up your publications list and sees that you are not listed, they will most likely reject you on the spot.

Adrienne has her PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Wisconsin and her MPH in Toxicology from the University of Michigan. In her spare time, she enjoys playing cello, reading, attempting photography, and volunteering at the humane society.

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