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Graduate Matters

Building an academic CV that does more for you

Whether you are certain you want to pursue non-academic employment, or are perhaps on the fence, there are great benefits to thinking about your academic CV as a record of all you do.


In a recent LinkedIn post, I reflected on different ways to think about the academic CV, your record of achievement, contribution, and productivity within the context of your academic “course of life.” Besides job prospects, a strong and well-organized academic CV can also help you self-explore and support a range of career development and experiential learning strategies both within and outside the academy.

As you add to, review, and recontextualize your involvements using creative and descriptive subcategories, your academic CV can help you plot out an enriching graduate school experience of teaching, research, and service. In allowing you to track, plan, ideate, and experiment, your academic CV can also play a vital role in preparing you to envision, explore, and build toward academic employment, non-academic careers, and the growing and exciting world of work in between.

Here are a few different ways to imagine your academic CV as you design, build, or rework it, whether it be on day one of your master’s degree or weeks out from your doctoral defense.

The planning partner

The academic CV is formulaic in its format across disciplines, and should include the basic research, teaching, and service components, or “pillars.” Creating meaningful categories and useful subcategories can also help you place your own unique experiences within these pillars, such as highlighting the diversity of your awards and recognitions by separating your merit-based fellowships from research funding and travel grants. Most importantly, your academic CV can encourage you to think about deepening certain types of engagement (teaching pillar), productivity (research pillar), and community contributions (service pillar) over defined periods of time, such as a semester or year. Peruse your CV and reflect on these probing questions: Where are you light on entries? What would you want to try next? What areas of practice and what bodies of skill would you like to focus on building up this year?

The idea-generator

Publications and presentations are only two large categories of your contributions to the field as a researcher. Including more creative or targeted groups can also be useful tools for generating new and exciting ideas for research or knowledge mobilization. Think about how you have shared your research findings lately, and if you see patterns in these entries, in their audiences, or contexts. For example, if they are mostly academic, or mostly within the context of a specific organization, branch out by sharing your research with audiences less specialized in your area, or within different research or policy organizations. Would you like to try something new, bring your research to different publics, use new methods and tools, or connect with new researchers and collaborators? Your CV can help you imagine, manifest, and celebrate these experiences and the skills they illuminate.

The teaching (and learning) diary

While teaching is an important part of an academic profile, not every graduate student will have an opportunity to lead their own course. Keeping an updated list of your engagements with students (such as mentorship, supervising, or tutoring) can help you track the ways you interact with and contribute to student learning on campus. Get comfortable with this aspect of your academic profile, and use your CV to brainstorm different ways to experiment with teaching; whether by seeking teaching assistantships, opportunities to build and/or deliver a course lecture in your department, or creating teaching and learning occasions (e.g., organizing a grad student teach-in for undergrads to learn more about your research, or to facilitate skills workshops or panels). What about teaching beyond the academy? The possibilities may very well be endless, and your CV can help you think about the transferability of these skills beyond academia.

The profile builder

Grad students can fall into the trap of thinking about their time in their degree as simply “education.” Think again; your profile as a grad student is so much more than “studying.” Getting involved in academic communities and departmental organizations are one way to build service into your CV. This is an important measure of your ability to collaborate on and manage projects, design plans, lead teams, and sit on committees as a potential postdoc or faculty member. These are all hyper-transferable experiences and skills too, offering insight into your own preferences, interests, and strengths. Under the moniker of experiential learning, building a robust service pillar can also help you track your involvements outside academia. Think about creating subcategories of service to the community, and imagine new ways to engage and build new skillsets, foster networks, and explore potential paths beyond the academic faculty.

Whether you are certain you want to pursue non-academic employment, or are perhaps on the fence, there are great benefits to thinking about your academic CV as a record of all you do on a regular basis. Look at it as a document that will help you describe your experience and strengths, and will act as a compass for moving forward in academia. With the right categories and approach, it can also serve as an important tool in building your profile beyond academia, and in constructing an industry or non-academic resume focused on making a unique argument about your skillset and value to a new role beyond academia. Perhaps most importantly, keeping an academic CV can help you explore the myriad ways you can contribute your expertise, skillset, and bodies of interest in creative ways for emerging roles in an ever-evolving world of work.

Erin Corber
Erin Corber is a graduate and postdoctoral career advisor at the McGill University Career Planning Service (CaPS) and a freelance artist and illustrator. She earned her PhD in modern European history at Indiana University.
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  1. Candace / July 6, 2022 at 15:22

    One point – not all academic CVs are for regular teaching faculty. Librarians are often faculty, and required to create academic CVs. I’m a Dean of Libraries at a research institution, and my CV does NOT fit neatly into the teaching/research/service slots, or even librarianship/research/service. I have lots of all of them, but they’re not nearly so neat and tidy as “What courses did you teach?”