Tips for Preparing a CV for Scientists

Whether you're a student on the verge of getting your Bachelor's Degree or you're a graduating PhD student, eventually you'll have to prepare your curriculum vitae (CV). Since the CV is the document by which first selection is performed by employees (industry and academia) it is of great importance to give much time, thought and meticulous attention to this short document, tailoring it for every pursued job application. In this post I will give tips that will apply to any candidate with major focus on the life sciences niche. I am attaching the CV of a fictional-Jack Miller, second year graduate student (as of 2013), for the purpose of demonstration alone.

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A CV is a brief description of your professional and personal history. As such, writing style should be succinct and to the point. The common layout of a CV is vertical (although you can also experiment with other layouts), with comfortable and even spacing, and font type large enough for easy reading. Restrict yourself to one or two font colors, preferably black only (remember this is an official document and not a glossy marketing brochure). Make sure you reserve sufficient margins on either side so employers can add notes and place it in a binder if needed. In general, a CV should be constructed in a descending chronological order style, starting from the most recent to the oldest.

Some ponder whether to place a photo: this is controversial conduct, and in general I would NOT recommend adding a photo unless asked for one. Employers going through a pile of CVs can be VERY judgmental so sometimes a bad photo can make things go from bad to worse, even if subconsciously. If you choose to add one, make sure you add a respectable head-shot type.  

What should be included?

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Name and Contact Information

It is common to give full name, a cellular number, email and physical address (so employers can assess the potential home-to-work distance). This information should be the first thing to appear on the CV.

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Education

This section should be presented right after your name and contact info, with the most recent degree showing first and in descending order. In addition to giving detailed information about the university you've conducted your studies and the type of degree (BA, BSc, MD, etc.), it's important to give details with regards to your supervisor and title of your thesis (where applicable for advanced degrees), major techniques used and every other skill which you have acquired while conducting your studies and which you expect to be of importance to the job for which you're applying. This part can be elaborated even further in case you are aiming for an academia/post-doc position.

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Research and Work Experience

This should come right after the education section and should give details of paid (and relevant) positions whether in academia or outside, with emphasis given about the position held (in bold) and details regarding the position's responsibilities. Highlight a selection of acquired skills which are relevant also for current job application.

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Honors and Awards

Every future employer will take note of excellence, especially in the fiercely competitive field of academic positions. List any prize or achievement which involved competing with other colleagues, whether if it is a travel grant or a scholarship (of course if you have lot of these, then highlight the most prestigous awards).

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Methods/qualifications/techniques

Give full technical name in case the method is rare. Do not use abbreviations. Remember that human resource personnel are not proficient with all the techniques terminology and will possible be familiar only with common ones. Name only methods and techniques for which you have knowledge and experience and not those that are listed in job requirements but for which you have no experience. Courses and workshops related to methodological aspects should be also entered here.

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IT Skills

We are in the era of information and technology, and this means knowledge of computer software. List software that are relevant to your studies and/or relevant to the position at hand. I would not state Word or Excel, since these are assumed to be mastered by science-oriented undergraduate and graduate students. MATLAB and computer programming and scripting, on the other hand, are examples of skills which can make the difference of getting the first interview or not invited at all. You might also consider mentioning relevant research and lab management software.

Positions of Responsibility

Employers want to hire employees who take initiative and have demonstrated leadership skills. Thus, mentioning you were the head of the student council can make such impression. Of course, it is worth mentioning if you had responsibilities outside the scope of your research such as equipment responsibility, coordinator of lab orders and inventory etc.

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Publications & Presentations

The key outcome of scientific pursuits is publication of peer-review articles and discussing your research in scientific meetings and conferences.  State your published papers, oral presentation and poster presentation, in this order. You can also note publications which are not yet published under the sub-title of "soon-to-be published" papers. These can be either "manuscript in preparation" (meaning you're in the process of writing the paper), "under review" (meaning the manuscript is under review at the editor/referees) or "JOURNAL NAME, accepted" (meaning the article was accepted for publication by the journal but not yet published). One more important note about equal author contribution. In our days, science is more and more complex, more and more global, necessitating the cooperation of several scientists, labs or even several research centers altogether. Make sure you put an asterisk next to the names (while keeping the accepted and published order!).

You can also add languages (beyond English) and hobbies (briefly) – it will tell the reader something about you beyond the science focus.

Know Your Audience – What to Mention and in What Order

You will need to fit your CV to the application at hand (even though the core of your CV is the same). Play with the order of sections according to the application and don't forget to add a cover letter that specifically addresses the job application at hand.

Academic – Focus on your academic achievements including publications, meeting participation, teaching and mentoring. Elaborate on your studies and achievements and give details about your research interests.

Industry – Focus on your work experience and your transferable skills such as techniques, software knowledge, managerial capabilities, meeting deadlines and collaborations with colleagues and other labs. Make sure the most important professional aspects are on page one (which most probably will be the most read page and in some cases the only page that the HR/recruiters will read). For industry the most important is your education, experience, and techniques (keywords).

Looking for a job? Care to share your experiences? Join the conversation in the comments below!