Bad academic CVs have two major problems; unnecessary visual effects and unnecessary information.
In my opinion, an academic CV is the easiest kind of CV to draft because you know that if you lie, it’ll bite you in the ass so hard. So, your only option is pure honesty.
Despite the simplicity, some people still complicate matters by going online, filling out some forms, and downloading an already-made design-embedded PDF CV.
What’s the big deal? I’ll tell you.
Your academic CV for November 2022 is unlikely to be the same as that of March 2023. That means every time you take an online course or attend a relevant academic workshop, you have to go back to the website, fill out the form, and re-download.
And worst of all, you have zero control over the final appearance of the CV. That’s a recipe for disaster, and here’s your solution.
In this article, I’ll tell you exactly what you need in your academic CV, including the right content for each section. The icing on the cake is that you’ll have access to editable templates in two formats: Google Docs and Word.
What is an Academic CV?
If you’re here, I’m 90% sure that you’re interested in either a Master’s, PhD, or postdoctoral program or all of the above. This is somehow cliche, but here it goes, your WHY is very important in creating an academic CV.
Your academic CV is usually your first impression to graduate school recruiters, or sometimes the second after your statement of purpose. It’s your one chance to tell them that you know exactly what you’re getting into and have what it takes not to break when the going gets tough. And it will get tough.
It should have all your professional achievements as far as that program is concerned. That’s the only condition – relevance. If you’re a fantastic drummer applying for a law program, nobody cares how many years you’ve been drumming. Nobody wants to know how old you are, how many kids you have, your gender, religion, or your full home address. Not at the initial stage.
Sections and Components of an Academic CV
Before you start adding sections, there’s something you should know and hold on to. Nobody expects you to know everything or be a genius. Yes, your CV is supposed to paint you in the brightest light possible, but you should not exaggerate or use unnecessarily big words to prove a point.
The academic committee wants to know that you bring something to the table instead of waiting to be spoon-fed. That’s all.
A simple, honest summary of your professional activities will do the trick. No more. No less.
Now the Sections and Components that make up a good Academic CV are;
Your name should be the first and most conspicuous part of your CV. Give it the power to confidently stretch its hand and say, “Hello, I’m Halimat Chisom Atanda.” I use a slightly larger font – not more than 16 – for my name and put it in bold. It should stand alone on one line and not exceed what’s on your official documents.
Other parts of your identity section are your email address, phone number, ORCID profile (if you have one), portfolio (like for a design program), LinkedIn profile (if relevant), and GitHub profile (if applicable). I prefer to embed the links into the words instead of writing the email: email@example.com, but either way is acceptable.
This section should be at most three lines. You are wrong if it’s longer, and you should fix it.
Professional summary/career objective
In case you’re wondering, yes, they’re different.
A professional summary tells the reader what you’ve done and achieved in your field of interest and possibly a short sentence about your work ethic. An example will be “Talented writer and editor with over 3 years experience improving communication for businesses in the health, scientific, and marketing industry. Ability to work 60 hours a week under immense pressure.”
A career objective is more fitting for an academic CV because it focuses on your current skills, research interests, and what you’re looking forward to. For example, “talented individual passionate about contributing to biomedical research using computational tools. Can work individually and take the initiative to achieve set goals.”
These sentences are not grammatically complete. There’s no subject, verb, or object rule when writing this section. It’s not an essay; it’s a pitch. So, forget “I” and focus on the “what.”
Also, this section shouldn’t exceed three lines. If it is, you’re most likely overdoing it.
NB: In the real world, it doesn’t matter what header you put here. Some people don’t even bother to use a header. As long as it clearly states your professional status, you’re good.
This section is a no-brainer. You need the name of your school, year attended, degree received, and CGPA only if you had second class upper and above. Don’t give me that look; I don’t make the rules.
Remember, it’s a first impression thing, and sadly, people do judge a book by its cover. So, if it’s not an impressive CGPA, don’t ruin your chances by putting it there.
Some people like adding a line to list relevant coursework, but that’s only necessary if you’re applying to a program different from your undergraduate course. For instance, applying for biostatistics as a chemistry graduate. You may want to highlight three courses that are specifically about biology or statistics.
This section shouldn’t exceed four lines, and if it does; you know the drill. Fix it.
I prefer research experience over publication because even if you have a published paper, there’s a high chance that you’re not the first author and didn’t do up to half of the research.
So, instead of just listing publications, if you have any, write the publication details with a two-line summary of how you contributed to the study and what you learned. Also, always put your name in bold when listing a publication. Don’t worry; you’ll see it in the template.
If you don’t have a publication, write the title of any project you’ve worked on, like your final year project or something you did during industrial training (IT), and then give a summary of what you did.
Packaging is critical here. If you can defend it, it’s valid.
This section aims to inform the committee that you understand the importance of tangible research outputs in your field, and if the need arises during your program, you can handle it.
In my academic CV, I used work experience instead of employment because, honestly, I’ve never been paid for any of the professional work I did (industrial training and NYSC). So, whichever best describes your situation is fine.
The format here is your title, work duration, company name and location, and about 4-6 bullet points of relevant tasks you handled or goals you accomplished. Goals trump tasks every time, but if you don’t achieve many noteworthy goals, your tasks are also valuable.
Use past tense to describe each bullet point unless you’re currently working there. No complete sentences here either, only phrases that emphasise your skills and knowledge.
The function of this section is to tell the recruiters that you have experience working in a professional environment apart from school and that you’re indeed ready for the next step in your career. If you lack work experience, you better have the next section.
Training, conferences, and workshops
You can split this into two, as I did in the shared template, or combine them. I split mine because I took many online courses and virtual internships as an undergrad and after graduation. I learned a lot of relevant stuff that I needed to highlight (brag about).
Conferences are precisely what they sound like. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or physical; if a recognised professional body organises it, then it’s worth mentioning. Just try not to overdo it. If it’s more than seven, it’s time to hit the brakes.
This section tells the committee that you’re proactive and genuinely interested in research that’s happening in your field of interest. It tells them that conversing with you about industry trends won’t be difficult.
Here, you want to make a list of the professional, technical, and soft skills you have. This section is where you’ll prove that you’re indeed ready.
If you’re applying for a pure bioinformatics course and your skills section lacks programming language, you’re not ready.
If you’re applying for a marketing or project management course and your skills section doesn’t have at least three relevant industry tools, you’re playing.
You’re applying for software development, and there’s nothing about GitHub or whatever other tool you use; you’re joking. I believe I’ve made my point.
Even if you only used the tool once and you’re sure you got some results, add it. Your academic CV is not the place to explain or defend. Put it there first, and be ready to talk about it when the interview comes up.
This is especially important if you’re applying for a scholarship. You need to tell the admission committee that they won’t be the first to invest in you. Listing your awards, both monetary and recognition awards, is the easiest way to do that. It’s hard proof that you’ve got substance, and people have believed that in the past.
Leadership and volunteer
This section isn’t compulsory, but it has weight for international applications. Most foreign nations value contributions to the community, and this is where you can show that you understand the value of giving back. Also, it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to academics, so political offices, clubs, sports, etc., would fit in well.
If you’re a Google lover like me, here’s the Google Doc template for the academic CV. If you’re on a desktop, use the file menu to make a copy of the document you can edit whenever you want. If you’re on mobile, click the three dots in front of the file name and make a copy.
If you prefer MS Word, this is a downloadable Word template. You don’t need to make any copies.
Note: Please take your time to edit the file thoroughly. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting some of the random stuff I’ve added there as explanations.
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Common Problems with Creating Academic CVs
Alignment: Many people find it difficult to put the date section on the right side of their document. It’s pretty easy, but since this isn’t an MS Word feature description, get the template and edit. The dates are fixed on the right.
Justification: The industry standard is NOT to justify your CV unless the school explicitly states it. Leave it left aligned. The only things that should be on the right are dates.
Font style and size: Use Calibri or Times New Roman, and never go beyond sizes 11 & 12 except for your name on top.
Lines and text formatting: Remove lines. Trust me; they can be very annoying and bend awkwardly. Only use bold where necessary, like in the publication name or section headers. If you’re using bold, try not to CAPITALISE at the same time.
References: If you’re an undergrad or a recent graduate, here’s my take: don’t add a reference section. Most grad school applications have a different section for reference details anyway, so use that. Why? Well, because it might be too early to completely trust one or two people as your sole academic referees.
Read also: How to Write a Reference Letter (For Supervisors to Use as Template)
FAQs About Academic CV
Q: How many pages should an academic CV have, and should it have page numbers?
A: Generally, academic CVs don’t have a page limit. But I often tell people not to go beyond two pages. That’s for two reasons. One, the people I talk to are often undergrads or recent graduates, and unless you have plenty of publications, I don’t understand why you’ll have more than two pages. Two, when you tell people there’s no page limit, there’s a weird spirit of extravagance that makes them go unnecessarily overboard.
Page numbers are not compulsory and have no penalties, so you can add or omit them.
Q: Can I put industry experience in an academic CV?
A: Sure, you can, as long as it’s relevant to the program of interest. I’m a professional writer and an executive of insight.ng, but you won’t see that in my academic CV because it carries little weight for my bioinformatics career.
Q: Can I have sports activities in my academic CV?
A: I’ll say NO. If it’s something you’re very proud of, find a way to make it relevant under the leadership and volunteer section. You’re not applying for a PhD in basketball, so if you must, talk about the soft skills you learned from the game.
Q: Can I add other languages?
A: Only if it’s relevant. I’ve seen people add “Yoruba” to a CV that’s going to Florida. Who cares if you speak a Nigerian language in Florida? If you speak Chinese and are applying to China, by all means, brag about it. If you’re applying to the US and you’re certain your supervisor is Chinese, you can add it.
Bottom line: Make it make sense.
Academic CVs are straightforward. They shouldn’t remain the same for up to 6 months, so having an editable file to document your growth is crucial. Stop stressing about colours, design, and pazazz, and get rid of those PDFs that come out as four pages of excessively spaced content. Always remember, less is more.
Good luck with your higher-degree dreams!
More questions? Drop them here, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
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An experienced freelance SEO content writer and editor. She helps individuals and businesses communicate effectively with their audience and also improve their organic reach with relevant content.
She's an author of several short stories and a devoted lover of the paranormal and fantasy world. Asides business and lifestyle, she also writes about life science and technology.
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