Showcase your skills in this fail-safe guide, “An academic CV: how to write it”
As an academic, you're constantly learning and improving yourself. It's in your nature… you just can't help it. And you're an expert in your field of choice.
But now you're keen to break out, seek new challenges and adventures. How are you going to collate all the academic expertise you have, along with any extra detail, into a comprehensive and informative academic CV? Whether you're a lecturer at a sixth form college, an academic researcher with countless PhDs to your name, or a candidate ripe for tackling a Master's, your CV for a postgraduate application, your CV for a Master's application, or your CV for research funding needs to be up to scratch. You want it to be easy on the eye, completely readable, and to stand out from the crowd. With your academic CV, writing it is a project in itself. Viewing it as such will enable you to attack it head on.
There are certain rules when it comes to compiling any CV - keep it succinct, choose compelling and active verbs, and engage the reader at all times. Of course, lots of the same rules apply with your academic CV and how to write it. But who says you need to play by the rules all of the time? Sometimes those pesky rules need to be broken, and for good reason. An academic CV has specific needs. Inevitably, you'll have a lot to present and trying to cram it all into two pages could be problematic. Our guide below, “An academic CV: how to write it” will make sure you have a document you'll be proud of sending off.
How to write an academic CV
Writing an academic CV takes a great deal of thought and grey matter - something you almost certainly have in spades. It requires attention to detail, focus, and the collation of all relevant information, while keeping it tightly written and highlighting your key assets to give you the best chance of nailing that new role.
Academic CV format
Presentation is key. You wouldn't expect anything less from your students or research associates when they hand in an essay or research project, so think about your academic CV format carefully. Generally, an academic CV template is similar to a standard CV - there are just more sections to add so that all your efforts, publications, and research papers are included.
Keep it simple, avoid complicated tables and boxes so that your academic CV format remains ATS-friendly, and control the amount of white areas effectively to provide breathing space for the reader.
It may seem obvious to include your name, mobile number, and email address, but it's surprising how many CVs don't. Set these out clearly at the top of the CV, along with your location (there is no need for a full address), and a link to your LinkedIn profile - but only if you have an up-to-date page.
The professional summary is next. This needs to highlight your key skills and show the reader what you're capable of, alongside an indication of what you have to offer the post. Even though this comes at the top of academic CVs, under your contact details, it's often best to write this last as you'll have a clearer understanding of how to sum up your professional prowess once you've tackled the rest of your academic CV. Take the time to compile an extensive list of your key attributes, match them to the job advert you're applying for, then tailor this section each time you apply for a different role.
See the two examples below of professional profiles suitable for academic CVs:
A structured, organised, and proactive Researcher, specialising in immunology, with an extensive portfolio of published work, an outstanding academic background, and an impeccable employment record. Possesses excellent team work, project management, and leadership skills along with a strong research record.
Thrives when faced with any professional challenge
Well equipped to work either within a dedicated team or under own initiative
Collaborative and reliable, always takes responsibility for any task undertaken
An enthusiastic, committed, and conscientious Chemistry Teacher with a passion for helping learners to unlock their own individual strengths within an educational setting. Develops a trusting rapport with students of all age groups, across multiple syllabi, and differentiates activities to meet diverse needs.
Possesses over 15 years of teaching experience across the globe and PGCE / QTS qualifications
Displays a robust knowledge of course content in order to deliver outstanding lessons
Consistently creates new opportunities for school and community participation
The heftiest part of most CVs is the career summary, the section that details your work experience, along with key achievements. With an academic CV, you need to detail your most recent role first and work your way back, setting it out in reverse chronological order. This means that your prospective employee can see your current skills straight away and pinpoint at what level you're at in your career. Clearly state your job title, where you work, and the dates you've worked there.
Try to include key achievements - those stand-out moments when you've gone above and beyond your pay grade to make a real difference. Make sure to incorporate any tangible data or figures, so they really pop off the page.
Education and qualifications
You're in academia, so this section is rather important! Normally, the education section follows the career summary, but we've talked about those rules and bending them to suit your own purposes, haven't we? So if you have a recent academic qualification that's relevant, such as a PhD in the sector you want to enter, it's feasible to shift the education section higher up the CV to just below the professional profile.
Structure this section as a list, with the qualification level and subject, the name of the educational establishment, and the year, if less than 10 years ago. Where appropriate, use bullet points underneath to add in theses and research titles.
Those extra sections
Now let's focus on those extra sections we've been talking about with regards to an academic CV. These can include Research, Presentations, Funding, Conferences, Keynote Speaker Posts, Professional Affiliations, and Publications, among others.
Readers of your academic CV are on the lookout for standout information, something that makes them sit up and take notice. Make these sections count by formatting consistently and summarising precisely. Avoid excessive jargon, but if you do have to use specialist terminology, it's perfectly acceptable to add a brief explanation in brackets afterwards.
Along with any awards or achievements you've picked up along the way, these are the areas that could really make the difference as they'll highlight your unique skill set and set you apart from the rest of the crowd.
But what order should you choose for these bolt-on sections? Approach this by figuring out which sections are more recent or most relevant to the job being applied for. You can always change the order around to prioritise whichever best fits each new role.
As for references on your academic CV, leave those for the interview stage. While high quality references are laudable and vital, there's no need to add them onto your CV. They take up valuable space and aren't required until you get through the first part of the process.
How long is an academic CV?
There's constant debate within the CV community on the optimum length of CVs. Is one page too short? Is two too long? Obviously it depends. When it comes to your academic CV, the simplest way to approach this conundrum is by looking at the length of your career.
If you've just completed your PGCE and are looking for graduate teaching roles, a one page CV will suffice - especially if you've little or no work experience.
For more seasoned academics with five to 10 years of experience behind them, two pages should be enough to include all relevant detail. When it comes to detailing research projects, publications, and the like, this is when being concise will work in your favour.
It's not unusual for academic CVs to be longer than the standard two pages. Don't panic if your research section, publications, and countless presentations means that your CV warrants a third or even a fourth page. This is accepted within academia. You don't want to sell yourself short by not including vital detail, especially if it's relevant.
Does your academic CV need to include academic documents?
Bear in mind that your academic CV is the means by which to get your foot in the door of whichever educational institution you've set your heart on. It's not your life story.
Titles of research papers, conference presentations, publications, grants, and such should be included, but titles only. There is no need to over share with finely detailed explanations of all your research.
If you're in the fortunate position where your research or list of publications is longer than your arm and leg put together, compile an appendix. You can give a flavour of your accolades with the most recent and relevant publications on your actual CV, and at the end, you can add a phrase such as “Please see appendix for more publications and research details.” But don't forget to include the appendix as part of the application process if this is required!
What is the difference between an academic CV and a professional CV?
In short, the difference is in the added sections and the length, as well as the potential position of the education section. Note how in the academic CV example shown below, the education section is just below the professional profile. This is because the candidate has just been awarded her PhD and wants to highlight this fact by bringing it right to the top of the CV. If your qualifications are older, and your career section is more recent, move your education to below your career details.