And why you should too
I have a 37-page version of my CV, and it’s the most boring document in the world.
Why “boring”? Well, my CV hasn’t reached 37 pages because I’m impressive. I’m not. Instead, my CV has reached 37 pages because I put everything on it – and oh boy, do I mean everything.
You should have a 37-page version of your CV, too.
Once, on Twitter, someone asked which details she should keep track of on her CV – in particular, with respect to multi-authored conference presentations. All the details, I replied; but this suggestion was promptly and roundly derided. Why, a bunch of people asked, should anyone care about the 13th of 17 authors on a conference presentation, the month or date of the conference, or the city it was held in? Why bother tracking these trivial details?
I couldn’t convince those who were deriding my record-every-detail suggestion, and to be fair, they had a considerable advantage in the argument: common sense and logic were entirely on their side. But here’s the thing: they were all early-career folks, who likely had less extensive experience than I do with paperwork and with the administrative hunger for information.
I have a 37-page version of my CV, and it isn’t too detailed; in fact, it has proven time and again to be not detailed enough. Take my advice: record all that detail, because if you stick around in academia long enough, somebody sometime will make you fill out a form that asks for details you could never have imagined mattering. I’m routinely asked for CVs (or asked to fill out forms full of CV-equivalent data) by multiple organizations and for multiple reasons. I submit CVs to several different granting agencies to accompany proposals; to my university’s Vice President every year for HR-records purposes; to a different part of my university every second year for a rather silly process called the Research Ranking Exercise; to publishers to whom I send book proposals; and more. You wouldn’t believe some of the strange details some of these CVs need to include. The Research Ranking process, for instance, uses a form that wants the city of publication for each journal paper I’ve published and the exact date of each conference presentation and invited seminar I’ve given. (I can’t even leave those blank; they’re required fields in the form-fillable PDF.). Yes, asking for these details is pointless; but the pointlessness doesn’t seem to prevent the demand. I can’t even learn which details my set of CV requestors want, and track only those – because there’s always a new requestor, with a new and unpredictable thirst for detail of a sort nobody else has ever cared about. Administrators love information, you see; and often, they love it completely independently of its value.
So what’s the solution?
The 37-page CV. I keep a master CV, a grotesquely bloated document that includes everything I can think of. Exact date of an invited talk? Check. City in which a conference happened? Check. Air time of a four-minute radio interview answering exactly the same questions that the other station asked last week? Yup. Peer review for a journal or a granting agency (and the date I submitted it)? Absolutely. Peer review I was asked to do, but declined? You better believe it. Number of students enrolled in a colleague’s course when I gave a guest lecture? It’s on there. Name of an undergraduate student spending a week in my lab to use my super-duper microgram balance? By now, you can guess. It all goes on there – and it goes on the moment it happens, because I know I won’t remember the most trivial bits if I wait to update my CV six months later.
Now, nobody actually gets a copy of my 37 page “master” CV (well, except for my university’s Vice President, and that’s only because I know she has absolutely no intention of ever reading it). Instead, I use it in two ways. First, it’s a reference document in which I can look up all those details – a week later, a year later, or a decade later. Second, it’s a starting place from which I can generate a “real” CV with any level of detail anybody wants. It takes me anywhere from a few minutes to perhaps half an hour to produce a custom shorter version. That shorter version might stress teaching, or research, or writing, or community service – all depending on who, and what, I’m producing it for.
Is this unwieldy? Yes! It would much easier to decide which information could reasonably be asked for, and not bother recording the rest – my CV could be a lot slimmer and I’d waste a lot fewer electrons. But I’ve discovered that what information I think could reasonably be asked for doesn’t matter. Various and sundry third parties have their own ideas about that, and it’s what they think that matters. Their madness may have method in it, or it may just be madness, but it doesn’t really make much difference. If they want detail, I need to provide it.
So keep that 37-page CV, and update it every time anything – no matter how minor – happens. It’s easier by far to delete the stuff you don’t need than it is to recover the stuff you didn’t record. Take it from an old hand.
© 2021 Stephen Heard. An earlier version of this essay appeared on Scientist Sees Squirrel