Monday, August 01, 2005

Is that my CV on that toilet paper roll?

I finished my CV which means I can start applying for postdoctoral positions. If you've never made one before, a CV is an extended resume listing everything you've ever done that is worth anything (or, sometimes, things that aren't worth anything). It's basically a multipage report on all the things you didn't do masked by the things you did manage to accomplish. People think that they are being really tricky when they construct their CVs. "Maybe no one will notice that I didn't have a Nature or Science paper if I throw in the 20 abstracts I wrote". Come on, people, we all know the truth. Just as no one will ever go back and actually read your dissertation, no one is fooled by the padding you squeeze into your CV as a new PhD. Maybe I'll throw in my last bank statement and go for the pity vote.

On a different yet related note, another student from my class is defending this summer--that makes 2 with one more coming up in September. While I'm happy to see them finishing, it's bittersweet to realize that another part of my life is coming to a close. There were 10 of us that started this program together. We were all very close right from the start even though few of us had anything in common other than a bizarre fascination with the brain. It hasn't really felt like the end until now. It's really starting to feel like those last few pages...

17 Comments:

At 5:31 PM, Blogger James said...

While being substantively different from resumes, CVs suffer from the same bull manure factor --- people hype resumes every bit as much as an academic hypes a resume. To some degree that's fine, it's expected, and what separates the wheat from the chaff is the interview process where you need to be on your toes and close to scintilating to get hard-to-get positions. The resume/cv gets you in the door, and if there's not too much of a bull manure factor, which invariably those in the know can smell, but it otherwise looks good, you're likely good to go. Note: Looking good means no grammatical errors, God forbid there be any spelling errors, and the whole thing is done in neat, consistent font and in some standardized way. I've been told many times from HR people that they'll throw a resume out that has spelling errors --- you can be scintillating in everyway conceivable but if your main advertisement for yourself has a spelling error you're more apt to be round filed than called in for a follow-up.

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Are you making fun of my spelling;) I have brain damage in my spelling areas, or at least, that's what I tell people.

 
At 9:46 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

You are a far better person than I. Today a diss announcement was made for someone a year behind me (ugh), and it said he had already gotten a tenure-track position. Double ugh. This inspires envy, jeaousy, and major competitiveness (he and I were up against each other in a research competition by a science honor society, and I beat him!).

And, erm, my cv is pretty padded. I have one pub that was published as a journal article and then in a boo, and I have it listed as separate pubs. My profs say it's ok for us young'uns (aka students) to pad a little. But, I dunno.

 
At 2:23 AM, Blogger 21st Century Mom said...

The problem with writing a first CV or resume is that you really don't have much of anything to contribute to the 'experience' section. You just don't and everyone knows that and yet the standard practice is to put anything and everything in there. So go ahead! Talk yourself up - that's what 'they' expect you to do. You are pretty much damned if you do and damned worse if you don't.

 
At 9:53 AM, Blogger James said...

21st Century Mom has an excellent point for those just starting out. Oldsters like me are expected to have experience, and to fit that experience into no more than 2 pages. Big difference there.

That said, many times people don't quite see where they may indeed have some experience that would merit inclusion in a resume or CV. That's why it's always a good idea to talk to the counseling department at the local school, or whatever it may be called where you're at that helps students find jobs. People there tend to have a great deal of experience with resumes/CVs and can often times find things that you've done that would indeed fit into the CV/resume. One of the hardest things many of us have to do is talk about ourselves in such a way that we highlight ourselves and our accomplishments as often times we tend to underplay what we or our accomplishments are worth or how they may be rendered to give more insight into what we're capable of (I know the latter sounds like I'm encouraging BSing on a resume/CV, but honestly that's not where I'm going.)

I'm inclined to think that anyone who has made it through a minimum of 4 years of college has a plethora of things they can refer to that says important things about them that a future employer/PI may find interesting or important. Often times figuring out how to say it is the challenge.

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

I hadn't thought of going to the university's career center. The simple things are always most frequently overlooked. Thanks:)

I can dissect out a hippocampus in under 30 sec (starting with an intact skull). Maybe they'll be really impressed with that;)

 
At 12:53 PM, Blogger trisha said...

Yeah, I don't know what the hell you people are talking about.

Hi.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Neither do we.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger trisha said...

Ha! I know you really do, but thanks for trying to make me feel better!

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger sue said...

But I really don't. :( Ah, well... I already have a job. Mwwaaa haaa haa. (Sorry, it just came out - the Evil Twin has appeared today out of nowhere. I'll go now and be quiet.)

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

In academia, CV's don't tend to be limited page-wise. In fact it seems like the longer the better. I don't know how long mine is now, but I know of people whose CV's are over 15 pages long.

Our school requires that cv's be put at the end of dissertations. So, I have pulled out others' diss's and used their cv's as models, which has been helpful in making mine.

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger James said...

Shrinkykitten is right, and that constitutes, to my understanding, the biggest difference between a CV and a resume. The rule for resumes is is say it in two pages, that's it. I've heard HR types spout off with some pride about how they'd round file anything over two pages. In certain venues more than two pages may make sense or be appropriate, but if you talk to any career center person or someone who tries to place people, they'll tell you the thing should be no more than two pages in length.

CVs are very much driven by how much work the owner has had published. If you've been prolific in your career then 15 pages is likely entirely possible. That said, what point it makes escapes me. The rule for resumes has to do with: 1. Volume - if you have a lot of them coming in you don't want them to be too long, and 2. what you did over five years ago doesn't say much about you. Frankly I can't see that being very different in academia, though admittedly universities are not likely to see nearly the run of CVs that some companies will see with resumes. But what difference does it make if you did something ten years ago? Great, you have 20 publications from ten years ago, but nothing for the last 3. What's that tell you? Hmmm, you're not likely to get the job in the front running institution, maybe? So while CVs are inclined to be long, they're overblown and a bit fatuous when they're much past a few pages, or so I'm inclined to think.

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Thanks Shrinky Kitten and James. We don't put our CVs at the end of our dissertations, but I've found a lot of people who post their CVs online. I have a feeling that it's going to come down to my interviews. My mentor will probably do a pretty good job at getting me in the door by editing my CV and stalking the PIs of labs I'm interested in; I just need to not look like a crazy person in the interview. I usually get stuck on the "what do you want to do?" question. I really need to spend some serious time outlining my interests and goals--they don't like it when you answer "everything" or "I don't know" to that question.

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger James said...

Talk to the career center, they'll have recommendations for how to prep yourself for interviews. You're right, the CV merely gets you in the door, the interview is the make or break.

Another recommendation to consider, ask your PI to set up a murder board for you. I don't know that they do this in academia (I've heard of it being done prior to a presentation, not to help out prospective job applicants), but the idea is to treat you as if you're a candidate for a job in your own department. You can have your PI, possibly other PIs if they're nice enough to do this, and certainly some postdocs who've been through this already, sit the board and treat you like you're applying for a postdoc job where you're at. Grilling you and putting you on the defensive here, in a benign environment, will allow you to gauge yourself and prep for what you'll encounter when you're out there on your own.

Bottom line, when going into an interview you need to be as relaxed as you possibly can be and confident of your communication skills (I can't over emphasize the latter enough, honestly). You need to be able to talk freely and comfortably, and to give yourself the time to answer what is thrown at you. That also means you deliberately slow yourself down when responding - giving yourself those few extra seconds to think about what you're going to say, but not too much.

Jesus, I'm writing about this and realizing how not very easy this all is, but it's definitely the process and you need to get accustomed to it as you'll be going through the same exact thing after your postdoc position. I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, I think on some level this is more for me than anything else.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger trisha said...

I apologize if this is answered somewhere, here, already, but what does CV stand for?

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger James said...

Trisha,

Oh dear, apologize??? With all that I was writing about resumes/CVs I just made assumptions about the people reading this stuff just knowing what I was talking about, and the fact is that most people never encounter CVs or have any reason to know what they are. So it should be I apologizing to you for not writing to a broader audience given my verbosity on this one.

Curriculum vitae --- in the Latin it literally translates "the course of one's life". In academia it's used in place of the resume (which is French in origin and pretty much translates into "summary", and is therefore a summary of your work history), which is what's used in the business world. Resumes are rarely EVER over 2 pages, mostly because no one in the non-academic arena is interested in what you did in course of your life but rather what you can do for them and if you can't show having done something similiar for someone else in the space of two pages they don't really want to read about it, and they're really not interested in anyone's overall professional history unless it in some way bears directly on the job under consideration.

 
At 1:28 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

CV--curriculum vitae, although I can think of more interesting terms for CV...

 

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