Writing your first academic C.V.

Today – the first installment in my series on academic C.V.’s. Buckle up, friends!

Near the start of my grad school journey in 2013, I needed to make my first academic C.V. I was submitting an abstract for an academic conference, and the organizers requested a C.V. as well. Being a second year Masters student, I didn’t have one, and my experience was bare enough that I didn’t think I needed one. To be honest, I didn’t fully understand what a C.V. was! This post summarizes the advice I wish someone had given me then.

There are plenty of useful resources out there for writing academic C.V.’s. Karen Kelskey and Raul Pacheco-Vega each have useful posts on their blogs, for example. There are also numerous articles on sites like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. When you have some time, I recommend checking them out.

But back in 2013, I didn’t find most available resources on academic C.V.’s very helpful. (Granted, most of the ones I linked above didn’t even exist yet.) When I looked online at blog posts, articles, and C.V. examples, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information they contained. I also felt like my own experience seemed pretty pitiful by comparison. I was, after all, just into my second year of a Masters degree. I hadn’t given dozens of conference talks, taught classes, or published in any academic journals. At the time, making a C.V. seemed pointless, given my lack of experience.

What I didn’t realize then is that, for beginning scholars, C.V.’s can serve a different purpose than when you are going on the job market five or seven years later. Even if you feel like your C.V. is pretty bare now, creating and maintaining one can be a useful exercise for planning your research trajectory – and ultimately, your career. In the coming weeks, I will expand on how your C.V. can do this – but first, you need to have a document to work with.

The Six Building Blocks of Your Academic C.V.

Just about any academic C.V. will have the following six basic building blocks: Heading, Education, Research, Teaching, Service, and References. Some of these sections will be longer (maybe MUCH longer) than others. Depending on the purpose of your C.V., you might move pieces around to highlight their importance. Generally speaking, the sooner you see an item or section on the C.V., the more important it is. Your first page is the most important real estate of the entire document, and is often reserved for work and educational history, then publications (again, depending on the C.V.’s audience).

When you begin your first draft, I recommend keeping everything together under the broad sections I describe here, creating subsections if needed. As you begin accumulating more experience, each of these sections will begin to start to splinter into additional subsections – but more on that below.

One quick note: there can be disciplinary differences in terms of what to include (or to not include) on a C.V. For example, some might include works in progress. Others won’t. My suggestions below are guidelines only – you should talk to a trusted adviser or mentor about discipline-specific expectations.

1. Heading: Name and Contact Information

Your name is the first thing on your C.V. – front and center on page one. Also include your institutional address, telephone number, and email address.

2. Appointments & Education

The second section summarizes your work and educational history. If you are early in your grad school career, you likely don’t need to include appointments (i.e. what jobs you have had). Later on, you will populate an Appointments section with your Postdoctoral and Visiting/Adjunct/Assistant/etc. Professor positions.

Your Education section should include, in reverse chronological order, your higher education experience: Bachelors, Masters, PhD, etc. At the very least, you should include:

  1. Your degree (e.g. Bachelors of Arts)
  2. Your major area of study (e.g. Music Performance)
  3. The name and location of the college or university where you attended
  4. The year you graduated, or plan to graduate, that program

If applicable, you can also include notes about your study concentrations and accolades. For a Masters or PhD, include the name of your major adviser and, if you know it, the finished or working title of your thesis/dissertation.

3. Research Activity

Generally speaking, you will not actually have a section labeled “Research Activity.” Instead, this broad section contains the following three subsections: A) Publications, B) Grants/Awards, and C) Presentations. In my field, these sections are all presented in reverse chronological order, with the most recent event appearing first in each section.


This section will contain a list of all your publications. As you begin to publish more, you will eventually start breaking this out into smaller sections, such as Peer-reviewed Articles, Book Reviews, Book Chapters, Grey/Non-Academic Literature, and Manuscripts Under Review, among others. (Please note, these are not universally used titles. I recommend talking to a mentor and/or looking at examples of early-career scholars in your field for more specific ideas of what to include.)

A good rule of thumb is to not start a new subsection until you can populate it with three items – so, don’t start a “Book Reviews” subsection unless you have at least three book reviews. One exception to this rule would be peer-reviewed articles. Even if you only have one, feature it separately from other publication activities so it doesn’t get buried among the book reviews, white papers, or blog posts you are listing.

Grants and Awards

This section includes any awards, grant funding, or accolades you have received. As with publications, I would start by including everything together, and eventually separating out subsections as you receive more awards. For example, you could separate between funding (e.g. research grants) and honors (e.g. Best Teaching Assistant award), and later between external and internal funding.


By and large, this section will contain your academic conference activity, by which I mean conferences where you have presented something and not just attended. Eventually, subsections may come to include poster sessions, paper/panel sessions, roundtable discussions, public/non-academic presentations, invited talks at other universities, and so on.

4. Teaching Activity

This section summarizes your teaching experience. If you have taught previously, that will go here. If you are a Teaching Assistant at your college or university, you will include that here as well. Depending on how much teaching you have done, you might include subsections like: courses as instructor-of-record, lab instructor, discussion leader, or teaching assistant; guest lectures; a list of courses you have designed and/or taught; teaching-related workshops you have coordinated; etc.

5. Service Activity

Your service may include academic service (which can be further divided into departmental, university, or disciplinary service) as well as community service more broadly. At present, my C.V. lists all academic service together, with separate sections for community service, peer review activity, and professional organization affiliations. Again, check with your adviser/mentors and examine representative C.V.’s from your field for insight into what you should include.

6. References

This section will include the names, titles, university affiliations, and contact information for your references. Generally, you will include three references. In my “master C.V.” document that I use as a dumping ground for everything I’m working on, I list up to six or eight potential references, but select who to include depending on the purposes of the C.V.

And that, my friends, is the end of this introduction to writing your first academic C.V., the first in my academic C.V. series! Stay tuned for more installments in the weeks to come.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, you can email me (gsneegas@tamu.edu) or find me on Twitter (@GretchenSneegas). Looking forward to hearing from you!

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