Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Write an Outstanding Curriculum Vitae (CV) for Engineering Academic and Research Positions

If you are an engineering PhD student / candidate, you need to understand how to write an outstanding Curriculum Vitae (CV) if you intend to get a job in academia whether teaching or performing research. The CV like a resume, but it has more details that faculty hiring committees care about such as publications and teaching experiences (see Figure 1 below). I will explain what a CV entails and how you can write an outstanding CV in this post. I've organized my post per the different sections shown in Figure 1, and I give guidelines pertinent for each CV section.

Figure 1: Components of a Curriculum Vitae or CV for short (Copyright Jonathan Becker)

Name and Contact Information

As the header for each page, include you name, school address, home address, contact email, and contact phone number. As a student, you might move at the end of the academic calendar year, so it's important that you give a stable address in case potential employers want to mail you paperwork. Your email is important for follow-ups including details on potential phone interviews and on-campus interviews. It's best that you use an academic email, not a personal email address like Hotmail or Gmail. You should also provide the potential employer with a contact phone number. This number should be a cell phone number, as most people carry cell phones wherever they go, and it's easier to be in contact.


The summary should only be a few bullet points. The first bullet point is always a one or two sentence that summarizes what you can offer as a candidate. You can add a few bullet points on academic honors, PhD course work, and teaching assistant assignments you had.


This section lists your academic degrees in chronological order from most recent to first degree earned. Each bullet starts with a summarized name of the degree (i.e., PhD ECE) in bold faced font followed by your research specialty, University name, University city/state, graduation date, and GPA. If you are currently pursuing your PhD degree, list an expected graduation date. If you haven't finalized your graduation date, specify that the degree is in progress and list your current GPA. Do not list any degrees less than a Bachelor of Science Degree (i.e., Associate degrees or professional certificates), as they do not carry significant weight in academia.

Professional and Academic Research Experience

This is one of the most important sections of your CV, and it will make or break the interview decision. Like a resume, you subdivide this section according to each professional and academic position you held. For each subsection, list the relevant information for the position (title, University/Company, location, and time frame) in bold faced font followed by a one line summary of your position. You add bullets for each task that you completed on the following lines.

Tip: Incorporate action verbs into each bullet.

Tip: Focus on industry research experiences instead of professional accomplishments if including industry positions in your CV.

For each bullet point, always speak in the active voice, and use action verbs (i.e., evaluated, proved, investigated) whenever you can. Action verbs garner attention and make your results clear. Like my undergraduate technical writing professor said, "the boy kicked the ball" sounds much better than "the ball was kicked by the boy."

If you worked in industry, you made worthwhile contributions and had multiple contributions in bringing products to market. Unfortunately, professional experiences do not carry as much weight compared to research experiences in the academic world. You can handle this by focusing on any industry research experiences you had, but make sure that your academic research experiences outnumber your industry experiences. After all, if you're applying for professorial positions, you should have four or five years of PhD research experiences.

Teaching Experiences

This section gives more details on any teaching experiences you had as a PhD student or before you began your PhD. If you're a PhD student, this section will be small because you haven't had much teaching experiences. However, you can add a subsection for each class that you TA'ed including bullet point summaries of lectures that you gave.

Selected Presentations

Academic employers (and sometimes industry research employers) ask for a list of talks that you gave. They want to know that you are adept at giving conference presentation or other kinds of talks whether it's an academic seminar or presenting your industry research in front of company executives. You want to give a bullet for each presentation that you gave. The eHow website includes a good article on formatting conference presentations on a resume, and I believe that formatting would apply to a CV too. In addition to conference and symposium presentations, I would include your qualifier exam presentation, presentations given in industry research positions, and poster presentations. Make sure that all of your presentations are related to your research.

Selected Publications

There's an old saying in academia: Publish or die. University department faculty selection committees want candidates who have plenty of publications, as they expect faculty to publish papers and books. List relevant publications in reverse chronological order from latest published to first published.

Tip: Only include conference papers, transaction papers, and books. Blogs, etc. do not count!
Tip: Use the bibliography format applicable to your academic field (i.e. IEEE for electrical and computer engineering).

Your publication list should only be peer-reviewed publications like conference papers, transaction papers, and books related to your field. If you published a paper outside your field, don't include it because out of field papers do not carry weight in your current research field. Don't include any research websites or personal blogs, as they do not carry the same weight as peer reviewed papers. Websites and personal blogs will likely distract from the message you want to convey with your CV: I will bring great value to XYZ University because I have done outstanding research in ABC. Besides, the faculty hiring committee will ask you for your research website if they are interested.

In addition, use a consistent formatting method when listing your publications. My suggestion is that you use the format that is commonly used in your field of research. If your research is in electrical and computer engineering, follow the IEEE bibliography guidelines. If you are a computer scientist, follow the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) guidelines.

Question: I've decided that I hate academia and I'd rather go into industry. What do I do?

If you've decided that you'd rather go into industry after you finish your PhD, you can modify your CV and make it into a professional PhD resume (i.e., short CV) by removing the Teaching Experience and Selected Presentation sections. Typical CVs can be anywhere from three to seven pages (or more), so make sure that you limit your short CV to two pages. It might be tempting for you to remove your publications section, but I would advice against this because your publications will distinquish you from other job candidates. I would also bet that other job candidates with PhDs include their publications lists in their short CVs, so don't yourself in the foot by removing your publication list.

Tip: Make sure that you include your name and contact information on both pages in case your resume gets separated.

Tip: You can use your short CV for industry internship positions.

Of course, I would still write and maintain a separate long CV that includes your teaching experiences and selected presentations. Sometimes hiring managers in industry or government research companies will ask you for a long CV that includes a list of talks, so it would help if you have your long CV ready and available. After all, you neer know when you'll need need it.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University