The usefulness of the academic CV
Over the past decade I have seen and have had to consider hundreds of CVs submitted for one reason or another by academic faculty. The curriculum vitae is still the standard document in which an academic sets out her or his achievements, but over the years these documents have tended to grow longer and longer. As certain types of activity in teaching, research and administration have become more important in considering promotion, the typical CV has devoted more and more space to setting out the relevant details. This also includes as a matter of course a full list of the individual’s publications and conference presentations. It is not unusual nowadays for a CV to stretch over 30 or more pages.
The extent of this was made clear to me recently when I was assisting a voluntary organisation in making an appointment to a senior post. One of the five shortlisted candidates was a university lecturer. The four others presented applications with supporting documentation of between two and four pages; the lecturer’s application and CV covered 36 pages. My fellow interviewers, none of whom had an academic background, were completely baffled by his materials and concluded, before I intervened, that he was completely unable to marshall his thoughts and that he would be out of his depth outside the university. I explained to them that this kind of presentation was simply what was normally required of him and that this should not be held against him. They were very sceptical about the whole approach.
So I began to wonder whether academic CVs are still useful even in the university. A recent report from Canada disclosed that a senior researcher there was padding his CV with details of publications that simply did not exist, and I suspect that at least in certain contexts, if the list of publications was long enough or if those considering the CV were not from that particular academic area, this would not be uncovered. Of course only a tiny number of academics would deliberately do this, but it is worth asking whether the avalanche of details makes it easy to assess even an honest CV, or whether it tempts those making a judgement to assume that volume indicates excellence without attempting a really detailed analysis.
Perhaps we should ask academics to submit CVs of two pages only; and that might usefully concentrate the mind.