Your Academic Credentials Are Better Than You Think

I used to look at samples of academic CVs and sigh wistfully, thinking mine could never look so bountiful.

As a mid-project PhD student, my academic CV contained abstracts for my Honours and Masters level dissertations, plus a tentative abstract for my doctoral research… and that was pretty much it. I hadn’t yet published papers or presented at international conferences, so I thought I didn’t really have any academic credentials.

I figured: I’m new at this. I haven’t yet done anything important enough to write about in an academic CV.


I sat down with a senior academic mentor one day and talked about what I’d done over the past few years – university jobs, committees, clubs, academic competitions, and so on. She stopped me and said: I hope you’ve got all this in your academic CV. I didn’t. I’d never even thought of including those sorts of things. I suddenly realised that there was plenty to put in my academic CV; but my standards for inclusion had been too high. It was one of those great brain-exploding, eye-opening, quick-where’s-my-pen epiphany moments.


I could include things like:

  • volunteering for students’ associations
  • presenting at local symposia in my school / faculty / university
  • taking part-time / temp work in university offices, even in non-academic roles
  • writing or co-writing reports on academic issues through my part-time work (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this is a form of authorship!)
  • assisting with organising conferences
  • receiving scholarships (this can be very prestigious)
  • taking part in academic training programmes
  • contributing to student clubs or publications
  • being the student rep on university committees
  • tutoring undergrad students
  • giving the occasional lecture or public talk (an “invited talk” is particularly prestigious)
  • competing in postgraduate competitions such as the 3MT
  • speaking or presenting posters at national conferences – even attending can be relevant
  • “publications” in non-traditional media, e.g. blog posts like this one
  • planning or contributing to university events
  • volunteering in community events & initiatives related to my research
  • being highly regarded by senior colleagues, as evidenced in formal references, or even (with the colleague’s permission) examples of praise or recognition from emails

Not all of these experiences have to go in my academic CV – sometimes I want to tailor my CV for a particular purpose, or highlight certain aspects of my experience. And these types of experience won’t always remain CV-relevant as I progress in my career. But it’s important to realise that they do qualify as accomplishments, and to keep a record of them.

This isn’t just good practice for building an academic CV. It’s also wise because, if I become eligible for the PBRF, some of these forms of experience may count towards my PBRF portfolio. What’s that, you ask? Every eligible researcher in New Zealand must compile a portfolio for the Performance-Based Research Fund assessment. That portfolio should contain not only research outputs (papers, book chapters, theses, conference presentations, etc) but also “contributions to the research environment” and evidence of “peer esteem.” All these little incidental things we do as members of a university can count, and can improve our standing as researchers.

Immediately after my epiphany, I had a panicked moment when I realised that I’d possibly forgotten much of what I’d done over my years at university. I had, as it happened, but fortunately my email account had not. An afternoon of sifting through old emails dredged up reminders of numerous achievements that I’d never otherwise have thought to write down.

My academic CV went from a paltry page-and-a-half to an impressive four pages, and reading over it, I realised I was reading the CV of a real academic. It was validating but also slightly strange to read a full account of my work, especially knowing that I performed a fair amount of it in my pyjamas, fuelled by coffee and stale corn chips, getting occasionally distracted by shiny objects on my desk. But hey, nobody else has to know that!

Want to start your academic CV now?

Read more on constructing a strong academic CV in this great guide from Vitae in the UK. Check out The Guardian’s “don’t” list of common CV mistakes here. Find a more senior academic to review your draft CV; try one of your supervisors if you’re comfortable with that. AUT students: you can also talk to the folks at the Employability and Careers.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

One thought on “Your Academic Credentials Are Better Than You Think

  1. I would add – collect as much documentation as you can – so if tutoring see if you can get formal student feedback, if building software or whatever, keep any documentation or reviews, if exhibiting, paper cuttings from the newspaper about your work or whatever. Even if there is nothing forma arranged, you can always ask people to email you and get permission to use it. “xx is a great tutor, the best we had” is really useful. Almost all interviews include a “what is a challenge to you” type of question- if you have had negative feedback outline how you responded to it. Make sure you tailor your CV to what you are applying for and make the important stuff obvious — put yourself in the interviewers shoes. Citation counts are also useful and don’t ignore Google scholar for this.

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