Writing an academic CV

DPhil in English Literature alum Ellen Brewster on how to approach your CV/résumé for grad applications.

As a Graduate Teaching and Careers Officer for our English Faculty, Ellen has organised academic training events at Oxford including workshops on academic CVs and applying for PhD | Photograph via Ellen Brewster (_ellenbrewster on Instagram)

You probably won’t see a lot of other academic CVs before you have to write your own when you apply for graduate courses. It can be difficult to decide what’s relevant for this kind of CV and how you want to structure it, especially if you’re used to professional CVs for job applications.

If you’re not sure where to start, DPhil student blogger Ellen has great ideas on what to think about.

Before we get started: an important note for 2022–23 entry

Some of our graduate courses in the sciences now use a standardised CV form for 2022–23 entry. Check out the website to see which courses in Medical Sciences and Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences are taking part, and instructions for submitting the standardised CV.

“If you’re thinking about postgraduate study, you’re going to have to write an academic CV for your applications. But what is an academic CV, and how is it different from the CV that you’d use to apply for jobs?

Get focused

What you should be trying to do is give the people who look at applications an understanding of the work you have done in the past, and how this relates to your application for your chosen course.

Your academic CV should support your research proposal or personal statement. Make sure you tailor it to the course you’re applying to, as far as possible. However, it’s less important than your proposal or statement, so don’t stress too much!

How long does it need to be?

There’s no specific page limit for academic CVs. That said, that shouldn’t be an excuse to put anything and everything on there. A page is enough, especially at master’s level.

Organising under sections can give the best possible presentation of your skills and experience | Photograph via Ellen Brewster (_ellenbrewster on Instagram)

Organising your CV

It’s really up to you how you organise your academic CV, but you might find these section headings useful in thinking beyond your grades and looking at how you can display your work to its best advantage:

Education

Your grades and predicted grades to date.

Funding and awards

Make sure you list any prizes or scholarships you have won (this can include means-tested awards as well), with brief information on what they were for.

Publications

You might not have any publications in academic journals yet — most people don’t when applying for PhD — but make sure you give details if you do.

You could also mention newspaper articles or other kinds of published work, either here or under a ‘Public engagement’ heading. It’s fine to leave this section out entirely if you don’t have anything relevant, though.

Academic experience (or Research experience)

Describe research you have done and contributed to, including things like extended essays or dissertations. If you’re applying during your last year of study, remember that you’ve still got a whole year of the course and developing your research skills to go; you can also write about works in progress (say ‘This forthcoming essay will consider…’).

Try to focus on the research skills that you’ve used, or will use, in your work: if you’re studying the humanities, for example, will you have to look at manuscripts and/or visit an archive, or have you done this in the past?

If you’ve used an archive or a lab for researching a piece of work, that’s a research skill you’ve got right there | Photograph via Ellen Brewster (_ellenbrewster on Instagram)

Other relevant experience

Think about other things you’ve done which would be relevant to your research or course. What jobs have you had? Have you done any volunteering or internships? Have you done any tutoring or mentoring? What skills did these experiences help you to develop? I worked for a publishing house, for example, which relates to my DPhil research area.

Public engagement

I’ve recently started to add this heading to my academic CV as I’ve gone on with my DPhil. If you write a blog or have a public social media channel with academic content, for example, this would be a great thing to mention quickly.

You may want to change the ordering or headings depending on the course or uni that you’re sending your application to.

Best of luck with your application!”

Get advice from Oxford students and staff

We’ll be bringing you more help and advice from the Oxford community on preparing your grad application all the way through to the January deadlines.

Read more about the supporting documents you’ll need and how to apply on the University of Oxford website:

For more advice from Ellen, take a look at her author page over at That Oxford Girl blog, her Instagram channel or her Tumblr blog on student life.

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