Building the CV: Getting a headstart on the next school year

It’s summer, and for the most part there’s still lots of time before the big scholarship and funding award deadlines start looming. This means that now is an ideal time to think about strengthening your CV, meeting with mentors and potential supervisors or future colleagues, and formulating your plans. Keep in mind that many will likely have research trips planned, but they’ll also have more free time as classes are out and exams marks have been submitted. Why not send out an email or two to see if someone in your field at a nearby university would be free for a coffee as you ask a few questions about their work and projects. You find find yourself with some new leads, new ideas, and new connections.

Now is also an ideal time to write out a list of all of the award programmes you’ve been thinking of applying for and note their official deadlines. Next, check with the university you’re planning (hoping?) to take up the award at to see if they have their own internal deadlines and work from those. Go over the description of your future project to see what areas you can expand upon or clarify. The clearer and more specific you can be about your proposed project, including your timeline, your objectives, and your planned output, the better. Be sure to note where you’ll be doing your research, what archives (and specific archival sources) you’ll be utilising, and in what format(s) you plan on sharing your findings.

For example, are you planning a website, journal article, conference, public lecture, an essay in a published collection, or even an academic monograph to come out of your project? Then show and prove that you’ll be able to accomplish this. For example, past publications with reputable publishers demonstrates that you can write and get published. Technical skills in web design show that you can put together a website. Evidence of event planning in previous employment or having helped out with past conferences might help convince a funding body that you’ll be able to plan and run a successful conference withe their money.

You’ve probably noticed that I specified that past publications are an indication that you’re likely to be able to get published in the future, and the same goes for events such as conferences and workshops. In fact, it’s also true for funding. One of the best ways to support a funding application is to have already had successful funding applications. This is one of the (many) reasons postgraduate students who are self-funded struggle to continue in academia beyond the PhD. Not only do they often graduate with crippling debt (or end up ABD — all but dissertation — because they’ve often had to take up paid work and run out of time or motivation to finish their own research and thesis), but they can’t show that they’ve been considered a worthy investment by funders.

So how do you build a strong academic CV? Keep your CV in mind as you make daily choices about what you’re going to do. Could you be doing some additional research to strengthen that article you’ve been writing? Could you ask someone in your department about possible funding for student-run conferences? Past funding doesn’t have to mean scholarships and studentships. You could volunteer to help organise a series of postgraduate work-in-progress workshops at your school, or email a friend who’s organising a conference to offer to give a talk. Become a member of an organisation that is connected to your field. Not only will your membership go on your CV, but you’ll suddenly be getting insider information about upcoming events and opportunities for ‘service’.

Have you taken note of publishers who have been publishing on topics related to your field recently and looked up how to contact the editorial team? You may find that your preferred publisher appreciates early contact with authors in order to discuss a potential book idea instead of waiting until you have a fully-formed book ready to go. Who knows? You might suddenly have a book deal with two years to go before you feel the book will be ready (just be completely honest and up front about the stage at which your research and ‘book’ is at — you don’t want to miss publishing deadlines).

It’s worth looking into their instructions for authors from an early date. You can gain a lot of insight from a few webpages and an email or two; not only could this save you a lot of time in restructuring work or chasing down editors at a publishing company that may no longer be interested in your field or in adapted PhD theses, but you might also find just the right person at the right company who wants to work with you now to create an exciting book in the not-so-distant future.

My plan is to revisit this topic later this year with some clearer points to help with building and refining the CV, but for now I want to wrap up with some advice one of my PhD supervisors always gave at his postgraduate skills seminar on publishing: finish the degree. The most important thing to do is to finish the degree. There’s a reason why ‘Education’ is listed at the start of the CV. Completing your degree shows that you have commitment, drive, and ability. You stick to the task. You can be trusted to finish what you start, and you’re worth investing in. So enjoy the relaxed pace of summer, but consider using some of this time to get ready for a better, more productive year in the next school year, one that you can document and utilise to do even more in the future.