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How to write a resume for graduate school

28 FEB 2022

Of all the components of a graduate school application, the resume may be the most confusing. This is partly because an academic resume isn’t a “resume” at all--it’s a Curriculum Vitae, or CV. A CV is a comprehensive record of your education, research, accolades, teaching experience, publications, conferences, and related work to date in your academic field. For older academics, it can be a long document. A resume, in contrast, is a concise record of your education, your most important work experiences, a couple (if any) awards, and most importantly, your skills. Coming out of your undergraduate degree, you’ve probably written a resume. But, as an early career researcher with few publications and little teaching experience (if any), how can you write a CV? This blog will help you write a resume for graduate school by adopting a format that I found helpful in my own applications: a hybrid resume / CV.

Why Bother to Make your Resume Resemble a CV?

The rationale behind writing a CV is the same logic involved in resume writing. At its best, your resume should be an attempt to communicate with a specific audience: conveying that you are qualified for a particular position, whether that’s a graduate degree or a job opening. When you’re applying to graduate school, you’re trying to communicate specifically with professors, who have very little contact with resumes (versus CVs). Even if you can’t technically fill a CV with publications and conferences, you still should make sure that it is legible to your readers as a fledgling CV. Your hybrid resume/CV will be an aspirational document, signaling that you are ready to become an academic.

Reorganizing Your Resume into CV Sections

Your resume/CV should begin with your contact information and a record of your higher education. For every degree that you’ve earned (beginning with the most recent), list your school class year, GPA, major[s], minor[s], study abroad experiences, languages learned, and university-issued certifications. You should also to name and briefly describe any honors theses, dissertations, or capstone projects that you’ve completed, offering slightly more detail than you would on a resume. Last, you may wish to identify your specific areas of scholarly interest within your broader field.

To transition from your academic record into a list of your work experiences, list any honors, awards, scholarships, or fellowships that you have won. Since there’s no guarantee that your reader will have heard of your awards, include a link to each scholarship’s website (if one exists) and offer a few words (a sentence max) of the criteria for selection and purpose of the award. As you would on any other resume, list the year and duration of each award.

Next comes the section that really sets a CV apart from a resume: your publications, or lack thereof. If you have yet to publish any articles, skip this section—and remember that many grad school applicants don’t have publications yet. If you have published papers, list their titles, journals, co-authors, year published, and links. If you cannot provide a link to an article, consider offering a 1-2 sentence abstract. Begin with your academic papers, then mention any public-facing articles or curatorial projects. If you wrote for your alma mater’s newspaper, students, journal, etc., state that you were a staff writer and offer one or two examples of your best work. Do not list every article that you have written if you had a weekly column, for example, and if you were an editor, save that information for the next section on your resume.

Following your publications, list your relevant professional experiences. In a CV, this section would solely consist of your teaching and advising record, but as a grad school applicant, you may not have any of these activities to list. Instead, include any internships related to your area of academic interest, paid employment that equipped you with relevant skills (e.g., research assistant or lab positions), and research projects. Emphasize any service work that you have done to make your field more accessible (e.g., tutoring, teaching, advising, or nonprofit work). You should briefly describe each experience, emphasizing the skills and research interests that they have helped you develop.

Your record of conference presentations and lectures should come next, if you have any. Try to be generous with yourself when considering what to include. Have you given a presentation at an undergraduate career day? Assisted a professor in delivering a lecture? Offered a talk about your undergraduate thesis or a project at work? Include these experiences, beginning with any presentations, round-tables, workshops, or seminar experiences at well-known academic conferences.

Last, since you are a student, you briefly describe your extracurricular activities—a part of your life that would not appear on a true CV. Sometimes, it is helpful for professors to see how you are going to balance your academic work with your contributions to the university community more broadly. If you were a varsity student athlete, a musician, an artist of any sort, an activist, a part-time professional, etc, you should let your readers know about these dimensions of your life. Choose three or four of your most exciting achievements or long-term activities to date to give your reader a snapshot of your personality and passions.

Looking for further resources?

If you feel as though you could use some further guidance about how to write your resume for graduate school, reach out to a Crimson Strategist to schedule a session! You can also review this guide from Harvard’s Office of Career Services for example resumes and CVs.