What the fuck is a CV? Good question. CV stands for curriculum vitae and basically it’s a just a resume that is focused on things that you’ve done in school. So instead of listing jobs you’ve had over the years you’ll be listing skills you’ve gained, awards you’ve won, research you’ve done and papers you’ve written as an undergrad. “But I haven’t done any research or won any awards!” Of course you haven’t, most of us as first gen students were concentrating on one thing, passing our damn classes and working enough hours to make sure we had food to eat.
The reality is that doing research projects, writing papers for conferences or applying for scholarships take a lot of time, energy and confidence. All of these are things that we often lack as first gen students. Our time and energy is usually eaten up by jobs, family responsibilities and generally trying to handle the stress of our regular classes. Fancier universities often have the resources to help their students avoid these types of situations, either through scholarships or grants, or just by the fact that their students can rely on family resources to support them through their college years. If those things don’t apply to you then it’s no wonder you didn’t have the time to do EXTRA work on top of the work you already have to do all the time.
BUT, that doesn’t meant that you don’t have things that can and SHOULD go on a CV. You’re damn near a college graduate, you’ve learned things, you’ve done things, you’ve written things and ALL that work counts for something. Did you take a research methods class or laboratory class? Then you have research and lab experience. Did you take some kind of theory courses? Then you have a “theoretical perspective” that you prefer. In other words, it’s not the things that you’ve done, it’s how you talk about the things you’ve done that counts.
For our purposes, the goal of the CV is to give some evidence to the program that you are applying to that you have some experience doing the type of work that they will be asking you to do. You don’t have to be an expert in these areas, or have an enormous amount of experience, that’s what you are trying to go to grad school for, to be an expert and get experience. You aren’t supposed to have those things yet.
First things first, go find free a CV template on-line for MS Word or google docs or whatever it is you use to do your typing. Fill out the basic information, your name, your school, your GPA.
Tip: If your overall GPA is not where you would like it, then look to see if there are other ways to calculate your GPA that are more favorable to you. What was your GPA in your major classes? What was your GPA over your last 60 units (typically your last 4 to 5 semesters)? If your transcript doesn’t list either of these you can use one of the online GPA calculators to figure it out. Isn’t this cheating? Not at all, in fact these forms of your GPA might be a lot more helpful to the place you are applying, and more indicative of who you are now and the work you are capable of doing. In fact many programs are really only interested in your GPA over the last 60 units or your major GPA. They aren’t too worried about how you did in English 101 in your freshman year. They are more concerned about how you did when the going got tough and you started taking those big heavy classes in your major. If your major GPA looks better than your overall GPA, then list it alongside your overall GPA. Don’t hide your overall GPA, but be sure to point out the more favorable interpretations.
Research: Many programs will want to know about the substantive academic work you’ve done as an undergrad. Whether you know it or not, you’ve done plenty. You’ve taken a lot of classes that have asked you to write, think, research and problem solve using a variety of methods. All of these things count as experience! You don’t have to have been a formal research assistant or co-author of a paper for your work to be considered research. For instance, if you’re a history major and you’ve written a paper on the Vietnam war using original sources, you’ve done an historical research project. Remember, don’t downplay the experience that you have, it counts!
Training: Any methods classes that you may have taken as part of your major count as training in those methods. If you’ve taken a stats class, then you have training in statistics. The key here is being confident in the work that you’ve done as an undergrad. You shouldn’t claim you’ve done things you haven’t done, but you should absolutely not discount the real experience and training that you received as an undergrad.
CV Padding: One temptation that you will have will be take on some project or internship or paper at the last minute in hopes of padding your CV. My best advice is that most likely you have all the experience you need for your application and that you should really think about what would be the best use of your time. If you only have a month or two until your application is due, then taking on some new project is not a great idea. Better to use the time to work on your essay, your letter, your classes that are already stressing you out! However, if you’ve planned ahead and you have some time then fitting in another project or internship can be useful.
Most academic majors have regional conferences that you can apply to as an undergrad. You can work with one of your professors to turn a paper into a short research project that you can submit. These regional conferences can be pretty small and very welcoming if you give them a chance, and many of them have specific sections for undergraduate research. The spring or summer before you graduate can be a great time to work with a professor to put a small project together and apply. Once you’re in, it becomes a nice line on your CV.
Another goal might be to pursue an internship. These can be great introductions to the type of work you will be doing as a graduate student, or as an employee once you graduate. Starting early in your search and finding something that can fit your schedule and your stress level is a huge key here.
Remember, by graduating you most likely have everything you need to apply and be admitted to a grad school. Trying to pile up last minute accomplishments is going to be stressful and your time would most likely be better used in other ways. The goal of your application is to make you seem like a REAL PERSON to the people reading your application. It’s hard to do that through a list of awards, papers or internships. Your goal is not to rack up accomplishments, it’s to present the things you have done in their best possible light and in a way that shows that you can do the work that you will be asked to do in the graduate program. Maybe an internship or a paper is the way to show that, but those are not the only ways. Your CV is only one part of your application, and most likely, it’s a part that the admissions committee will not spend a ton of time on. Your CV is a list, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a tool to tell a story about you to the admissions committee. If you’re relying on your list, or your GPA to convince the committee, then your running a big risk. Your CV is the bare bones of who you are and what you’ve done. It’s your job to flesh these experiences out in your personal statement, that’s where the real work of selling yourself is done.
CV Examples and Resources: