Writing Academic CV’s

An academic CV is a marketing tool that needs to have relevant content that appeals to an employer. It needs to help you stand out in a tough market (by presenting key information first). As with any CV it doesn’t get you the job it gets you to the next stage of the process “the interview”. This means that before you even start writing you need to do your homework – research the department and the wider University strategy to figure of where you fit in and can add value.

As with any CV the most important point to address is the MATCH between you and the employer. Does your CV evidence the skills and experience requested in the job description? If not you need to start by tailoring it to that particular vacancy. Think of your CV as your body of evidence that covers your achievements and experiences, relevant to the role. Use appropriate section headings that will catch the recruiter’s eye. For example, Research Roles / Employment, Technical Skills, Funding, Training and Academic Service. You could also include a Collaborations section if you have several that are your own independent connections (not those of your supervisor).

It is also important to think about the format of the CV and if it will have a strong impact on the recruiter reading it. If the CV looks professional, has easy to follow sections and good use of bold to draw the eye to key points, then the recruiter will easily be able to pick out the relevant experience. If your CV is squashed or has very long sections with no clear breaks then it is much harder for the recruiter to see how your experience fits together.

Academic CV’s focus on academic achievements. There is no limit to the length of the CV but it is important to be concise with the information included (bullet points) and think about presenting your most relevant experience first. As an early career researcher an average length is about 4 pages (don’t worry if yours is more or less) make sure that you have highlighted the most relevant experience on the first couple of sides. If you choose to have a personal profile at the beginning of your CV aim to provide a summary of your skills and experience as well as highlighting your career ambition. It may also be helpful to think of the profile as a key point’s box and use bullet points to highlight those crucial experiences that the recruiter needs to know about you.

Within an academic CV more detail is found within the Education section than in other types of CV. Education is very often presented as the first section on a CV. Don’t be afraid to give the details of projects undertaken during your PhD. Other sections that are specific to academic CVs are Research experience / skills, publications and teaching experience. If you don’t have enough teaching experience to create a separate section you can combine this in another section such as ‘Professional Experience’. Make sure you include any tutoring and demonstration work and any guest lectures or talks that you have given.

Other key sections include Publications, Awards & Professional Memberships and Administration experience. For publications you could choose to highlight your most recent work or the papers that have had the most impact within the body of the CV and then attach an Appendix with your full list of papers. Always consider the circumstances and what presents the best picture to the recruiter reading your CV. For example, if the role is a research one it may make more sense to include your full publication list within the body of the CV. Awards can be separate to Professional Memberships if you have many things to include. List any prizes for academic merit in reverse chronological order (if you feel that it is not clear what the award is for then include a brief explanation). Administration Experience is a broad section that can cover many things. For example, it could include Positions of Responsibility (things like serving on a committee or undertaking a lead role in an organisation or society), outreach activities or public engagement experience. The key aim of this section is to demonstrate the wider contribution that you can make to University life.

Remember to end the CV with a References section for completeness. The same way that you always start a CV with your name and personal details you should finish with a References section even if you just write “references available upon request”. It is also advisable to brief your referees about the application that you are making. The more they know about what position you are targeting the more specific and noteworthy things they will be able to highlight in their reference.

Lastly, proof read your CV before sending it out. Nothing suggests lack of time and care like several typos and spelling mistakes. Remember, first impressions count!

For further information see the Careers Resources page on the IAD website. Have a look at the Quick Guide to  Academic CV’s, the Academic CV checklist, Covering Letter checklist and lastly the career advice section on jobs.ac.uk.


This blog was written by Eleanor Hennige.  Eleanor is the IAD’s Research Staff Careers Consultant, supporting fixed-term research staff at the University with their career planning and options.  In addition to running our 1:1 appointments, she also delivers our suite of career workshops, career discussion groups and works with Schools/Research Staff Societies on career specific events and workshops.  Eleanor works on a part-time basis (5 mornings a week) and can be contacted at ResearchStaff.Careers@ed.ac.uk

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