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A Practical Guide to Writing an Effective Academic CV

Writing an academic CV (Curriculum Vitae) is both a science and an art. There is a scientific method to structuring your CV as much as an artistic tune to how you build your profile. More importantly, an academic CV helps (in most parts) define you—and your research.

Since my postgraduate days at Delhi University, I have drafted and re-drafted academic CVs multiple times and continue to do so. As a student and an academic, it presents your work to a broader audience without them having to really talk with you.

Before proceeding further, I want to caveat that this blog reflects my biases and academic interests. I am a student of politics. As a result, this blog may reflect that element. However, these general comments will help you build a CV even if you are a student of sciences, even if you are studying business administration, or even if you are doing engineering.

Although you may not be a politics student, your CV will follow the same format.

What is an academic CV?

An academic CV summarises an individual’s education, research experience, skills, publications, and conferences. This document is typically used when applying for a fellowship, grant, scholarship, academic position, and job.

An outstanding academic CV should emphasize credentials and competence in a particular field. It should be brief and easy to read. A typical Academic CV comprises academic degrees, research activities, papers, commentaries, teaching experience, affiliations with professional bodies, competencies, languages, and references. More importantly, it should be clean and easily readable.

Some things to understand before writing an academic CV

1. It takes time to master your skills in building a good CV.

While writing an academic CV may seem straightforward. It isn’t all that easy. One aspect is doing things (like writing papers and presenting at conferences), and the other is knowing how to present them.

Both of them matter. Let’s say your CV presentation is good, but if there is nothing in it, there is a problem. If you have done things, and your CV is haphazard, there is a problem.

2. When creating your academic CV, always remember its purpose.

Ask yourself: What do you intend to achieve out of it? It means you need to know why you want this CV. If you are applying for an academic position, your CV should reflect that.

If you are applying for a research position, your CV should reflect that. It means your formatting should allow people to make sense of your competency. Therefore, constantly tailor your CV for its purpose.

3. Never include your biodata.

When I first began writing my resume and CV in 2018, many people I knew used to include whether they were married. I say, nobody cares. Some even add all the details about their family, brothers, sisters, and everyone else they know.

We should avoid this. More importantly, we should refrain from using these details as they seem unprofessional. This information does not serve any purpose. 

4. Understand the difference between a resume and an academic CV.

At the outset, both these documents are requested by organisations for different purposes. When I was working in a data firm, briefly, I used to maintain a resume.

But there are differences between a resume and a CV:

  1. Length: A resume is about one (or at max two) pages long, whereas a CV is substantially long.
  2. Scope: A resume broadly works to fit the company one is applying, but a CV is broad in scope.  
  3. Format: A resume formats everything in reverse chronological order, while a CV is formatted in detail.
  4. Purpose: A resume is typically for landing a job, whereas a CV can be for various academic positions, grants and fellowships.

5. Your CV should speak for itself.

As a student, you should list all your academic qualifications properly. Ideally, you should include all your degrees, institutions, and graduation dates in reverse chronological order.

You should highlight all your research experiences. It may be your RA positions, internships, or writings. You must make sure that you know things in your field. Detail all your research papers, projects, and publications.

If you have any teaching experience, it is a big add-on. You should add them all. Detail all the courses you have taught so far, in what institutions, and in what capacity. You should all flaunt your research skills. If you know STATA, R, and other statistical tools, FLAUNT IT! (In my case, I don’t have any!).

REMEMBER: as students, it is difficult to list all this at graduation. And it’s OK. But, if you intend to start an academic career, you must contribute to these elements.

6. Use a good formatting style.

You should always use a suitable format for your CV. You must use a good font. There are many out there. You should look at other people and their CVs. They can be a good source for formatting. More importantly, your headings and subheading should all follow the same format.

One pro-pro tip for academic CV: Visit Oxford or Cambridge University, graduate student listing. Many would have their CVs listed in their profiles. If you don’t find them there, you can always Google those students’ names and see if they have a personal website. And trust me, many do have their websites. You should look at their CVs listed on their sites. Download them, and use those CV formats for your own CV.

7. Keep Your academic CV concise.

There are many elements in a CV. Each of these elements requires you to explain parts of it but, at the same time, skip parts of it. Therefore, you need to be concise. You should not detail too much when writing about your educational qualification and professional experience. Instead, you must briefly summarise your degrees, roles and responsibilities, achievements, etc.

8. Make sure that you proofread your academic CV.

It can be embarrassing not to finish well. Your CV must be proofread. Trust me, you can never really be sure about using terms the first time. It gets even more complicated the second time, and so on… But that is about making a CV. It requires you to be careful. Therefore, your CV should always be proofread carefully.

Nine Steps to Writing an Exceptional Academic CV

You may often wonder what you put on an academic CV. Many of us require an academic CV to go abroad. We may have to apply for conferences and workshops. And we don’t want to sound silly, right?

The best way to approach writing an excellent academic CV is to follow a format. I have a specific format, which I have redone again and again. And I will continue to do so.

My CV ideally includes a brief title and some personal information, then educational details, then academic interests, professional experience (include here: teaching, research, and volunteering), publications, conferences and workshops, professional memberships, skills (in here: training, languages, software), and references.

Now, I will discuss how to format individual template sections.

1. add your personal information

When adding personal information to your academic CV, it is essential to include relevant details such as name, address (maybe even your college departmental name), professional email, website (if you have one), and some other details (like LinkedIn, or Twitter handle if you want to add—but this is not necessary).

Add ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor IDentifier) if you have it. Here is mine:, if you need any reference.

Personal information in your CV

  1. Full name
  2. Professional address
  3. Email/Phone
  4. ORCID
  5. Website

Once you have added all this information, you must format it now. There are various ways to format it. You may format all these details to the left or keep them all at the centre. When satisfied with your personal details, you must now add information about your education details.

2. include your educational details

When including your educational details on your academic CV, it is essential to concisely summarise all the academic qualifications. CVs have a specific format for this. Here are some tips:

List all your educational qualifications in reverse chronological order.

For instance, start with your most recent degree and work backwards. Let’s say you are a PhD student. Then, add your PhD details at the start, then your Master’s (if you have any), and then your bachelor’s degree details.

Include all relevant degrees.

You should not add everything that you have done. For instance, you may have gotten a certificate from Udemy. I don’t particularly add it here. I don’t think you should too. Instead, you should add degrees, diplomas, the institutions you have attended, the title of the degree, and the year of graduation.

Add awards and honours.

This is important. You not only tell your audience that you have completed these courses but have certain honours to present. In many universities in the UK, getting your name on the “dean’s list” is the highest-level scholarship for a student in a college.

Similarly, in North America, if you have achieved “cum laude”, “magna cum laude”, or “summa cum laude”, then you may add it all. In India, too, there are various institutional awards for the highest academic achievers. Recognising that these awards come with their own problems is essential.

But they still are a mechanism for institutions to recognise one’s abilities (however flawed they may be).

If you are in PhD, mention your dissertation title.

As a PhD student, it is essential to note your PhD title if your synopsis is passed—otherwise, you may leave it as it is. I tend to mention the kind of coursework that I undertook during my PhD. If you have completed your master’s, try to add some courses you enrolled in. It may give an edge. But, sometimes, crowding your CV too much may backfire.

Keep it concise.

Don’t overcrowd your CV. Going into details here may be a good idea if you have nothing substantial to add. But, if you have done too many things, you may keep it simple.

Once you have added your academic records, you must venture into your research interests.

3. add your research interests

While not many tend to do this, I find this section helpful for beginners. It gives a sense of what it is that you research and what it is that your audience can know about you in advance.

It is also the most straightforward section of your CV. All you have to do is to enlist all your research interests. Let’s say you are someone interested in the Indo-Pacific. Some of the research interests could be the things that revolve around it, the debates you may contribute to, and maybe some areas (and countries) you may find fascinating.

Once you have added your interests, you must make a case for your professional experience.

4. add your professional experience

The format for professional experience should begin with a clear section title, either “Professional Experience” or “Work History”. After that, you must list all your work experiences in reverse chronological order, from the most recent job to the oldest.

  1. Each job should then be added with a job title, company/organisation name, date of employment, a brief description of your roles and responsibilities, and key achievements (if you have any).
  2. Use bullet points to make your information easily accessible to all.
  3. Highlight also parts of sentences that you want your audience to focus on.
  4. You should be able to demonstrate the impact of your role on a broader organisational goal, wherever possible.
  5. Use the same font and formatting style as you would in your earlier sections.
  6. Align each subsection with equally consistent formatting.

There are two to three elements within the section on professional experience. Although I follow the two-element format, a broad three-element format is as helpful. The three elements are teaching experience, research experience, volunteering, and internships.

Teaching Experience:

This subsection should ideally include all the teaching roles that you have undertaken at various settings. This may include you teaching in schools, colleges, and universities. You may need to add the kinds of courses you dealt with. You also must make sure to add other broader formatting styles referenced above.

Research Experience:

This subsection deals with all the research roles you were involved with. This may include you working as a “Research Assistant” for a professor at your university. It may also be related to you working in a company, a think-tank, or a non-profit organisation, in some research role.

It should give a sense of what your work entailed, what kind of projects you worked on, your contributions to it, and how you benefited from it. But you must make sure to keep it crisp.

Volunteering and Internship Experience:

This is another essential subsection within the professional experience. It deals with all your internships and volunteering roles you undertook during your college and professional lives. This may include you working for an NGO as a volunteer. It may also include you joining a company as an intern—paid or unpaid (if unpaid, demand your pay!).

You need to make a brief mention of all that. As students, this is an essential space for us. We would have volunteered and interned much more than working at a place.

After you add your section on professional experience, you need to move on to publications.

5. add your academic publications

To add your publications to your CV, you need to create a dedicated section titled “Publications” and list them out.

Here are some pro tips on how to add your publications to your CV:

  1. Make a separate section for your publications, usually after your educational background, research interests and work history.
  2. List all publications in this section in reverse chronological order. Starting with the most recent one, you must add all the articles.
  3. Follow a specific formatting style (usually a bibliographic format), which includes publication title, journal title, volume, issue number, pages, DOI (Digital Object Identifier), date, and co-authors, if any.
  4. Highlight your role: if you are the primary author, co-author, editor, etc.
  5. It would be best if you also created subsections. This section should include journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and select commentary.

After adding your publications, you need to focus on conferences and workshops.

6. add conferences and workshops you have attended

As a part of academic life, we are constantly involved in engaging with the academic world around us through conferences and workshops. It is one of the most critical elements of an academic’s life.

You have to follow most of the generic comments presented above. However, you need to keep in mind to mention conferences and workshops, along with dates and their locations.

You must mention your contribution to the conference, such as presenting or organising the conference. You must also highlight your role if you were the chair, panellist, or moderator. This is pretty straightforward.

By this time, most of the formatting on your CV is complete. You have covered all the essential sections of your CV. Now, you are left with adding other details, such as professional memberships.

7. add professional membership affiliations

Joining a professional membership makes an academic’s life easier. It helps you connect and collaborate with others in similar fields and interests, participate in conferences, socialise, and discuss your academic interests.

For instance, as an IR student, you may avail yourself of a free ISA (International Studies Association) membership if you are from Global South. Adding this section is relatively simple. Create a new section with all the details about which organisation you are a member of and since when. That is enough.

8. add your skills, languages, and software training

You must create a separate section titled Skills, list all your skills in bullet points, and organise them by category—like language, software, and others.

Then, you need to mention your proficiency in each software skill, such as basic, intermediate, or advanced. Similarly, for languages, you need to add your language proficiency: native, fluent, conversational, or basic.

In the section on others, you need to add if you know something other than your known skills.

9. add academic/professional references

Including references on your CV is unnecessary, as they can be provided separately upon request from potential employers. However, you must remember some essential things if you choose to add.

  1. You must always choose someone as your referee you can testify on your behalf. It could be your course instructor. It may also be your supervisor. It may be someone you worked with, interned with, or have engaged with.
  2. You must ask their permission before you enlist them as your referee. You must make sure to tell them that you are using them as your referees.
  3. There is a specific standard format to add their information. You must add their name, title, workplace, and email address.

These are some of the tips for adding references to your CV. By now, you may have completed working on your CV.

How to format your academic CV so it looks great?

As much as a website, which functions based on backend technicalities and frontend designs, an excellent academic CV requires a good design. It should look pleasant for the audience. Against that backdrop, I suggest here, three critical elements for CV formatting: templates, fonts, and styling.

1. Choose a good template for academic CV

When choosing a good template for your CV, you must never forget that it should be clean. It should be readable. It should follow a certain logical structure.

There are various websites to look for a good CV template. For instance, you may refer to Zety, Canva, or other CV-making sites. Some of these require you to purchase a good template. Others, you don’t need to do anything.

You may take a look at them!

2. Choose a good font for academic CV

Some fonts are ideally best for CVs than others. I have experimented enough with font styling for CVs. Ideally, you need two font styles—one for the headings and the other for content. The best font styling will include one sans-serif font and the other serif font.

Here are some font styles you may use:

  1. Times New Roman + Arial
  2. Georgia + Helvetica
  3. Garamond + Verdana
  4. Cambria + Calibri
  5. Book Antiqua + Trebuchet MS
  6. Didot + Lato

3. Choosing a good style for your CV

Each CV should have its style. Again, several online resume builders offer templates to help you create a professional-looking resume. Zety, for instance, provides tips on building different CV styles. It offers several resume styles you can use to create your resume. Big companies may refer to Zety for enabling their employees to build their CVs. It can also be helpful for colleges to allow students to build their CVs without much hassle quickly.

How do you format your academic CV if you plan your Master’s or PhD abroad?

Students planning to pursue their study abroad must have an excellent CV. It should be able to reflect your personality as a whole. Making a good CV is essential because it gives the first impression of you as an individual and an academic. Academic committees reject many of the applications based on their CVs. Therefore, one must be extra careful while making their CV for colleges abroad.

You may follow the advice and tips above while making your academic CV. But along with that, here are some pro tips:

  • You must restrict your CV to a maximum of 2 pages—but always follow the guidelines provided on the application website.
  • Your CV has to be crisp.
  • You need to use bullet points and avoid writing lengthy sentences.
  • It should feel interesting. If you have done the same things as thousand others, then your CV does not serve the limelight.
  • It should not look haphazard. It must be formatted appropriately and chronologically arranged, and accomplishments and awards must be meticulously highlighted.
  • You may bold some text within the CV to ensure readers can directly sift through them.
  • Try to use active voice. It is important to remember that passive voice is generally difficult to read. In all your writings, you must learn to use active voice.
  • It has to be grammatically sound. Use or other services that you may deem fit.
  • Format your CV according to the guidelines provided by the applying university. This is most important. When preparing a generic CV, we tend to use it everywhere without reading the guidelines. You should avoid doing that.

Generic tips from above and these pro tips will be able to help you create a good CV.

Refer to my CV here.

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