What Our CV’s Say About Our Profession

As mentioned on Twitter, I spent much of yesterday reading and rating a huge number of grant proposals. As such, I’ve looked at a lot of CV’s and resumes, and the contrast is striking. People who work in industry tend to use a resume format that is mostly just a list of jobs and degrees, while academics… well, we do go on.

“CV” stands for “curriculum vitae” which is Latin for “every damn thing I’ve done in my life.” It’s a much more comprehensive listing than you find on a corporate resume, including not just the important events and publications of a person’s career, but everything. Where a resume usually strives to be concise, an academic CV seems to strain to be as long as possible.

By way of illustration, here’s a reasonably up-to-date version of my CV, which runs to eight pages, and includes sections on things like committee service and community outreach. And I’m fairly moderate in what I include– I’ve seen some CV’s that I think include a citation for every blog post the person has ever written.

Even as an academic, this strikes me as kind of odd. Several times as I found myself paging down through a couple dozen pages of contributed abstract listings, I wondered what it says about academics that we feel compelled to list every tiny little product of our entire careers. Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s terribly flattering.

(My CV could be considerably longer than it is. I simply list courses that I’ve taught by title, where I’ve seen plenty of CVs where people give individual descriptions of every class. I also have a relatively small number of contributed abstracts and posters, which is a result of my slightly odd situation in graduate school. I did my thesis research at NIST, and the local culture didn’t really go in for progress-report posters and the like. If we had results to report, we would submit a talk or poster abstract for the major conferences, but when we were just plugging along with no real results, we didn’t bother (and I didn’t go to the meeting).

(Of course, the flip side of that is that I have a longer-than-typical list of invited presentations, thanks to working for groups at NIST and Yale where the PIs would pass invited talks on to their subordinates. It’s a little unusual to see a CV with more invited than contributed presentations.)