Academic CVs are always lengthy but it's important to know where to put the detail and what to miss out, says Caroline Tolond

Academic CVs are always lengthy but it’s important to know where to put the detail and what to miss out, says Caroline Tolond

Q  I’m about to start applying for my first postdoctoral position and, as I don’t have a CV, need to put one together from scratch. In February 2009 you wrote a column about CVs but said that academic CVs were different. Can you elaborate on this and give me some guidelines on getting it right? 


In the UK the most fundamental difference between an academic and non-academic CV is the length. Non-academic CVs as a rule of thumb should only be two pages long, whereas academic CVs have no maximum length. What they have in common though is the need to be tailored to the position and be as readable as possible. If you are competing against a stack of other applications, no matter what the sector, then you want yours to stand out for all the right reasons. 

When starting to put together an academic CV, remember that it needs to cover more that just scientific achievements. Most research groups will look for other skills such as collaborative working, management, communication (can you give the talks required and produce the proposals/papers that are needed?) and being able to network with others. Finding out more about each position you are applying to and understanding what would be required will provide valuable insights to strengthen your application and make it stand out from the crowd. 

Your personal details are a good place to start your CV. Then, for a postdoc position, start with a section on ’research experience’ rather than education, as this reflects the type of positions you’re applying for. You should put your PhD at the top of this, making sure you have included an expected end date so a recruiter can gauge when you might be able to start. Include the name (or names) of your supervisor, as well as any industrial supervisors. Sometimes who you know is as important as what you know - something I have become aware of when talking to employers about how they select candidates for interview. 

Include your masters underneath your PhD and highlight your research project and any other research experience you have, which could include university summer projects or industrial placements. These should also be dated and fleshed out as they would be for a full time job. 

Attention grabbing 

How much detail should you include about each position? Well, you’ll need to include enough information about your most recent research to grab the reader’s attention, but not so much that it becomes an abstract, although it is useful to include one of these at the end of your CV in an appendix. After your PhD the amount you include will depend on how recent the experience was and how relevant it is. As a rule of thumb, the description lengths should decline the further down the page you get. You could also add information on any specialist technical skills you have gained.  

You’ll also need to mention any papers you’ve had published or which are in preparation, although where you place these will depend on a number of factors including the quality, number of publications and how relevant they are for the application. Options include adding them to the same section as your PhD, on the second page next to your conference attendance list or in the appendix with your research abstract.  

Underneath the section on research experience I would include a section on ’teaching experience’. Be specific. Mention the number of students, as well as any demonstrating experience, spelling out the number of sessions and students involved each year.  

What else should you include? Sections on conferences attended and spoken at, poster presentations, information on your initial education (ie a summary of your GCSEs, A-levels and first degree if something pre-dates a masters) along with any additional skills you have (languages, IT packages) and a line or two about hobbies or interests are all good.  

More information 

For example PhD CVs have a look at the Vitae website or discuss further on the RSC’s careers adviser blog.