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.)


  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    October 21, 2009

    One basic rule in industry is that your resume should be two pages max. Considering that I know people who couldn’t fit their patents onto two pages, this is a bit severe.

    None the less, a fair number of HR departments will simply toss any resume longer than two pages.

  2. #2 Isis the Scientist
    October 21, 2009

    There’s a difference between a CV and a resume, DC. Also, the amount of content you include in a CV certainly depends on where you are in your career and what the CV is intended for. It seems that this is the advantage of the NIH biosketch in our grants world. There must not be something similar in physics?

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    October 21, 2009

    Isis: Yes, there are similar rules for NSF and NASA. NSF requires a two-page biosketch and limits you to listing ten publications: five which are most directly relevant to the proposal plus five others. NASA also has a page limit, currently two pages for PIs (it has been higher in the past) and one for co-Is, but doesn’t otherwise limit how many publications you can list.

    I don’t know what agency Chad was reviewing for. I’ve only reviewed for NSF and NASA.

  4. #4 H
    October 21, 2009

    The solution to the first poster’s issue is as follows:

    CV: list them all or just the important ones

    resume: write “originator of 114 patents” and, if extremely applicable to the job for which you’re applying, list one or two if you have room

  5. #5 reesei
    October 21, 2009

    I have several versions of my CV that I send out for various purposes.

    There is the Biosketch 2-page version with limited pubs.

    There is the standard CV – 5 dense pages, listing funded/completed grants, publications, abstracts, talks, posters, service and committees, teaching, students.

    And then there is the crazy version, which includes that plus descriptions of classes/committee roles, nonfunded grant applications, awards won by my students, etc. That one is huge! And only submitted on request.

  6. #6 Todd
    October 21, 2009

    The DOE Office of Science grants I’ve applied for ask for very brief bio sketches of the PIs along with resumes for everyone. The resumes are only 1-2 pages, though. Most people included education, the more significant/relevant awards, and selected publications that were closely related to the grant. I think the 2-page limit is a good idea; maybe you should suggest it to the funding agency you’re reviewing for!

  7. #7 katydid13
    October 21, 2009

    As a grad student I had to edit a pile of CVs down to some reasonable page length for some application for something. One that I had to do was for someone pretty distinguished. He had done a stint at president at one of the big ten schools. So you can imagine I had lots of editing to do. However, even by CV standards it was excessive. This guy led with that fact that he was in National Honor Society in high school. In publications he included letters to the editor and fairly random non-scholarly articles in the local free alternative paper. It seemed really weird to me.

  8. #8 Chad Orzel
    October 21, 2009

    The biographical sketch thing gets around the problem of having to wade through piles of the things, but it sort of sidesteps the most interesting point, which is the fact that the long-form CV exists at all. Why is it that professional academics default to a personal presentation in which it’s appropriate to refer to National Honor Society membership back in high school?

  9. #9 Eric Lund
    October 21, 2009

    Why is it that professional academics default to a personal presentation in which it’s appropriate to refer to National Honor Society membership back in high school?

    I would say that Katydid’s example is somebody who definitely went too far. There needs to be a format for listing all of one’s publications. That some fields (notably computer science) place an emphasis on conference presentations means that having a list of such presentations is not completely unreasonable. But unless you’re Emily Rosa, listing something you did in your K-12 years is probably inappropriate. There’s nothing special about an academic having been in the National Honor Society; in fact, I’d be more surprised if an academic who attended a US high school had not been in the National Honor Society.

  10. #10 ecologist
    October 21, 2009

    Well, here’s another way to look at it. It’s data. You may not think it’s relevant; the person reading it may. So you put it all in. Then, when the agencies request it, you edit down to the NSF 2-page format, or the NIH format, etc.

    Don’t forget, two top issues when looking at most CVs (especially in hiring/promotion situations) are development and consistency. Development as in, how does your amount and mix of contributions change as you go from grad student to postdoc to asst. prof. to …. There are things that should change along that trajectory and the person[s] reading your CV will be looking for them. Consistency, as in have you been a regular contributor of important things to your field over time, or does it look like you are slowing down …

    Neither of these things, important considerations in evaluating someone in academia, can be deduced from a short-form CV. Nor, I suspect, are they as important in most business-world hires, where resumes are much shorter.

    Different situations, different documents.

  11. #11 onymous
    October 21, 2009

    You know how a lot of universities have first-year fellowships that all grad students receive? I know someone who listed those under “Awards” for every place he was admitted to grad school, even those he did not attend (with a little asterisk saying “declined”). So “Harvard University First-Year Student Fellowship*”, etc. This, I think, is ridiculous.

  12. #12 katydid13
    October 21, 2009

    I think it’s our way of keeping score, and it’s kind of warped. Unlike business, dollars brought in doesn’t work well in a cross discipline fashion because some kinds of research require more expensive toys than others.

    Every group has their performance measures and they can get kind of strange if you look too closely. CVs are the academic version.

    Some traditions like including information about spouses and children on CVs are oddly unique to academia (which I’ve seen). I find that sexist and annoying. I can’t even begin to explain that other than outdated notions about what a stable employee is.

    I think there is kind of a CV arms race. I was at a conference last spring where so many people were presenting, they weren’t actually presenting to more than a couple of people.

  13. #13 agm
    October 22, 2009

    It seems weird, but only in US context. From what people have told me over the years, no one outside knows what a resume is, everyone uses a purpose-edited CV.

  14. #14 Hugh Miller
    October 23, 2009

    It seems to me with the Internet, we should move toward the 2 page format for general use and simply keep our web pages upto date with all the other information! That would mean less trees being used and would allow everyone to have a standard simple format. All the other stuff can be on your web page (

  15. #15 antipodean
    October 26, 2009

    Padding out your CV with conference abstracts/uninvited talks just makes it look like you haven’t done anything properly. As for putting in your highschool academic achievements…

    Too long a CV is a snow job. You’re going to look like you’re trying to hide something.

  16. #16 Dave Munger
    October 27, 2009

    I agree, some CVs are absolutely ridiculous. I saw one once that listed a membership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the kind they try to get every tourist to purchase when they visit).

    But as long as it’s well organized, a long CV can make a lot of sense. Paper (or pixels) is cheap, and it’s nice to see someone’s entire publication record. Yeah, you can omit the letters the the local newspaper, but I say if it’s academically relevant, from college or beyond, leave it in.

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