How to Write a Scientific Curriculum Vitae (CV) that Stands Out
A curriculum vitae (CV) is key to landing your next job as a scientist. The academic and scientific job markets have changed considerably since the pandemic began. Now, it is more important than ever to stand out with your technical expertise to land the interview. Here is what you need to know to build a CV that stands out.
A CV is Not a Resume
A resume is a marketing document to position you for the job that you are applying for. A resume includes basic experience and educational details with some information about your experience. Most people's resumes are 1 - 2 pages.
However, a CV is a historical report of all of your professional accomplishments. This means that CVs are generally longer than resumes, often many more pages than a resume. The CV includes all of the information on your resume as well as supplemental information that reflects your scientific expertise. These works are not removed over time, instead, on a CV, you will simply keep adding your professional accomplishments and scientific knowledge.
The following is what you should include in your scientific CV to stand out for your applications.
The start of every strong scientific curriculum vitae is the ability to contact the candidate. Make sure to include all of the relevant details in the header of your CV so that the hiring committee can reach you. This includes the following:
- Name. List your complete name at the top of your resume. This should be listed in a way that is consistent with your preferred name and how it is reflected on your degrees.
- Credential or Degree. Your degrees or additional credentials can make you stand out in the scientific or academic community. Include your highest or top degrees or credentials behind your name to make your CV stand out.
- City, State, Zip. This is important to show up in the geography-based searches. It can also help the hiring committee to see that you are local or in the region when they are evaluating applications. Your street address is not relevant to your CV.
- Phone. The hiring committee or recruiting team may want to call you. So, make sure that you have a good phone number at the top of your CV. For most people, this means their mobile number and/or a WhatsApp number.
- Email. This should be a professional-looking address or your school email. Do not include any email addresses with nicknames, funny commentary, or birth years.
- Online Profiles. This could be your LinkedIn profile, ResearchGate, University profiles, and any other places where you have professional profiles that advance your message.
- Work Authorization / Citizenship. For some people, it makes sense to include their US citizenship or lack of need for work authorization at the top of their CV. However, this is less of an issue for University/Academic institutions because most of them will sponsor candidates.
The next section on your scientific CV should be a summary that conveys a high-level overview of you as a professional. Your summary should be around 3- 5 sentences. It will include an overview of your skills, expertise, and motivations. This is not the time to include degrees or certifications. Instead, think about how you can position yourself as an expert in your field.
The education section on the scientific curriculum vitae should include all of your degrees, credentials, and how you earned them. It is important to note how you obtained these degrees as well as where they were awarded. This means listing the following:
- Degree name (i.e., Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science, etc.)
- Major (i.e. Biology, Chemistry, etc.)
- Minor (if any)
- The school name
- The location where the degree was awarded (i.e., University of California, Berkeley)
- Relevant courses (if you are a recent graduate)
It is also important to include how you earned these degrees and credentials. Did you earn them through a traditional program or an alternative path such as earning your Bachelor's degree while enrolled in medical school? Was it part of a dual-degree program?
You should list this information in order to make it clear how you obtained your credentials.
Grants and Awards
The next section on your scientific CV should be a dedicated area for all of the awards, fellowships, grants, and scholarships that you have received. You will want to list out each item separately, include a description of why it was received, who issued the award/grant, and the amount.
A few additional details can also strategically make your CV stand out. For example, you could include information about your competition for the award (was it national, global, research-based, etc.). And, you should include reference to the names or titles of the people that nominated you for the award if applicable. These additional details provide important context to the hiring committee that may not be familiar with the particular award but can appreciate its value and prestige if given the appropriate context.
If you have been the principal investigator of a grant, it is important to include this information in your CV. This shows that you have the experience and knowledge needed to be successful as an independent researcher. If you are applying for a position where grants or funding are not relevant (i.e., technician), then you may choose to exclude this section.
Next up on your scientific CV should be a list of all of the technical skills that you have. This could include software programs, laboratory techniques, specific instruments, and foreign languages.
You will want to list each skill separately and provide a brief description of how you acquired it (did you take a course, did you self-teach, how long have you been using it, etc.). You can also include the methods you have used or particular assessments that are relevant for your field.
The names of particular software or tools can be particularly important as they can hiring requirements. This means that you will want to list the specific names of software, equipment, and programming on your CV.
For example, if you have used or are familiar with Python (a computer language), it is important to note how advanced your skillset is. The same goes for foreign languages. It is also a good idea to include how fluent you are in reading and speaking the language(s).
The professional experience section of the scientific CV should list all of your previous jobs in reverse chronological order. This will include the following information for each experience:
- Job title. You may have to select a title if there wasn't one officially given for the position. Make sure to select a job title that is accurate, but that also advances your current message.
- Organization / Company name. This would be the name of the organization that paid you officially.
- Name of Laboratory / Group / Department. You would include this in an explanation of the role so that the person at another organization understands where you worked.
- Location of the company. Include the city, state, zip, and /or country.
- Supervising Professor / Head Researcher (if applicable). The name of your professor or head researcher should be included if it is helpful to your overall message and that person will give you a good reference.
- Dates you worked there. This would be months and year. It is ok to leave off the months and simply to say "Summer 2020" if you were there for an internship. The key is to avoid any gaps in your CV if possible.
- Achievements. These are the most important part of each entry in the professional experience section. Include all of your results in separate bullets.
- Responsibilities. Be as specific as possible when including these functional things. Make sure to say what you did and how you did them. Include separate skills or experiences in their own bullets.
You should also use this area to list how you played a role in the research, how many people were on your team and how much responsibility you had for each job.
You can also use bullet points to add further context to how you contributed at each position (i.e., "conducted X number of experiments that led to Y results").
The expectation is that all teaching experience is broken out separately on the CV. These entries will also be in reverse chronology format and follow the same style as the entries in the professional experience section. However, the additional items to include for this section include:
- Supervising Professors. Include the names of the professors that you worked with if applicable for the particular role. This is most common for TA or Post-Doc positions.
- Departments. This would be the name of the particular department or group that you were teaching under if applicable.
- Course Names. List out the actual names of the courses in the entries or in the bullets as this will help the hiring committee to understand exactly what you can and have taught.
- Course Numbers. The number of the course can reflect complexity of the material. So, including it with the course name can also help your CV to stand out.
- Level of Students. Include this if you were teaching a variety of students including international, undergraduate, graduate, etc.
- Method of Delivery. Was this a lab? Or, was it an online or e-Learning course? Experience with non-traditional course delivery methods is increasingly sought after and should be articulated clearly on your scientific CV.
A great scientific CV includes a section that is dedicated to the professional memberships and leadership roles that you have held in the field. This demonstrates your commitment to the community and recognition as a thought leader. The information in this section of your CV will be listed in reverse chronology order or it could be in the order of prestige/title. You should include the following for entry in this section:
- Your role. This could be member or a title with the organization or its committees.
- Name of the Organization. Include the full name of the organization and avoid abbreviations. If you were a member of the student chapter, make sure that information is also included in the name of the organization.
- Location of the Organization. Include the city, state, or country information if applicable to understanding the particular organization.
- Years. Include the timeframe for your involvement with years. Ongoing items can be listed as "2017 - Present" or similar to reflect that you are still involved.
Including a list of your scientific publications is an expectation for any CV. However, how this section is formatted and what information to include can vary depending on the level of position you are applying for.
For those in more senior positions (i.e., PI, Post-Doc), it is common to have a "Publications" section with the list of publications and then a separate "Recent Publications" or similar. This format allows you to highlight your most important works without overwhelming the reader.
For those in more junior positions, including all of your relevant publications can be useful as it shows how committed you are to research and how active you have been in publishing during your career.
Here are a few tips on how to format your publication entries:
- Title of article or book chapter
- Name(s) of co-authors, including yourself. If you have multiple publications with the same co-authors, only list the most recent one.
- Journal name, book publisher, conference proceedings, etc.
- Date of publication
- If you have a link to an online version of the article or chapter, include it in the entry.
- Use the citation format that is expected for your profession (i.e. Chicago Style, AP Style, etc.)
Including a section on presentations is important as it shows that you are an active participant in the scientific community. As with the publications, how this information is formatted and what to include can vary based on your level of experience and the position you are applying for.
For those in more senior positions, including a list of all conference presentations may be more appropriate. This demonstrates your breadth of knowledge and how you have been able to share your work with the community.
For those in more junior positions, it may be more beneficial to list only selected presentations that are the most relevant to the position you are applying for.
Here are a few tips on how to format presentation entries:
- Title of presentation
- Include details if you were an invited speaker or keynote
- Name(s) of co-presenters, including yourself
- Date and location of the conference or meeting
- If you have a link to an online version of the presentation, include it in the entry.
- Use the expected citation style for your profession or mirror that in the publications section.
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