The Do’s & Don’ts of Writing a CV

CVToday, we are going to go over the basics of writing a CV, based on my experience with Principal Investigators (PIs). I hope this guide will help you with your scholarly endeavours in STEM.

What is a CV?

A CV or Curriculum Vitae is a summary of your academic and professional achievements, qualifications and accomplishments. Similar to a resume, it is intended to best summarize your professional self; however, it delves deeper in length and detail. The format, length and style of a CV can vary from person-to-person so we will go through a general format and layout to consider.

Academic Components

The header or top portion of the CV is where one can find the document title (“Curriculum Vitae”), full name, address, and contact information (email, phone number). Again, formats can differ, but typically the education portion of the CV will follow. This should include your current education, high school diploma(s), GPA, and any academic certificates (International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, etc.).

Some people choose to put their awards/achievements after their education section. Sometimes putting them closer to the beginning is beneficial especially if you have received significant recognition and scholarships that you want people to notice when looking at your CV. IB (International Baccalaureate) and AP (Advanced Placement) diplomas are especially useful here when applying to educational institutions, as most universities and professors are already extremely familiar with them. The acceptance rate of IB students into Ivy League schools per an IBO study is 18% higher than the norm!

The awards section usually includes the most recent and relevant awards. It is important to include the date and the issuer of the award. A brief description of award criteria may also be included, sometimes the award amount (if applicable) is also included.

Afterward, a list of scientific/scholarly experiences (for instance research experience) can be included. Here, you want to specify dates, supervisor, institution, project title, and responsibilities/skills required for the position. Emphasizing your relevant lab skills is especially important here, as it shows your professor/research institution what you can bring to the table and the amount of training you need.

Extracurricular Components

Next, you want to include a list of volunteer/community experiences that are geared towards professional life. This means to include activities in which you gained or practiced particularly useful skills within a professional setting. The STAR model is a good way to construct this section. List the valuable skills and experiences you gained in these positions, when you did them, and how the organization benefited from your help!

Sometimes the volunteer/community involvement section can become quite lengthy and hard to follow for the reader. Your relevant experience will then not stand out as nicely. A great piece of advice I learned from one of my mentors is to separate this section a bit further. For example, I have a heading called Leadership Experience and then leadership-related activities to follow, then I have a heading called Project Management, and then any big projects I led to follow etc. I also have a specific heading for volunteer activities. These headings will differ depending on the nature of your activities, but they help to separate everything in a structured way.

You may also choose to include a “Recent Media” section within the CV which features televised, radio or written interviews or articles you are involved in. The final sections of a CV may outline ‘Publications,’ ‘Presentations and Conferences’ as well as the ‘Awards’ section.

Publications include manuscripts published in scholarly journals and/or article collections as well as abstracts published in conference programs. It is important to include the date, site of publication, and the proper ordering of authors who have collaborated to create the piece. Presentations and conferences may include any conferences that you have attended as a poster or oral presenter. These are generally scholarly conferences.

Finally, many people have sections on training and seminars they have attended. If you have specific and applicable certifications, include them here. This may include training on how to handle animals, operating an MR scanner, or holding a WHMIS or ethics certificate.

Ending Notes

Overall, a CV may range from 2-3 pages to greater than 10 pages, dependent upon the sections one chooses to include as well as the progression of your career. Be mindful that a CV is intended to showcase the professional self, making ‘Hobbies’ or ‘Special skills and interests’ sections less pertinent.

CV’s are a great way to introduce yourself to PI’s, and help you stand out amongst your peers who may be applying for the same positions. Show them the skills you offer, how you have used them, and how you can potentially use it in your new position. Lastly, don’t be discouraged if you do not hear back from labs immediately – most PIs receive several emails each day and have very busy schedules. It is not uncommon for students to email several professors before getting a reply.

If you have not heard back within a week or two, consider sending a polite follow-up email further expressing your interest in the lab’s work.

Check out an example of what an outstanding CV looks like here.

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