Academic CVs and Combatting Imposter Syndrome

Ellen Grace Lesser is a PGR in the Department of Theology and Religion. Her current research concerns the relationship between nonhuman animals and the Christian God.

My first exposure to the concept of an academic CV was when I applied for my Masters by Research and needed to include one as a supporting document. At the time, I didn’t have an up-to-date non-academic CV. What was more, I didn’t know what the difference was.

After some research, I finally felt like I had looked at enough examples to give it a go. Particularly helpful were the resources on the University of Exeter Career Zone and the University of Oxford careers website. I separated out my research experience and went into lots of detail about my Bachelor’s Degree. I teased out all the society committee positions I had held over the previous three years and stuck them all under ‘Positions of Responsibility’. Then I wrote a little about myself at the top and put my interests at the bottom. There was much less emphasis on my previous work experience than there was on my non-academic CV – more important was my experiences of teaching and leading group sessions, something which I had been lucky enough to have the opportunity to do as part of being on various society committees.

Since my Masters application, the only time I’ve needed my academic CV was for my PhD funding application, and then only so my referees could have as much information as possible while writing my references. I was told that my CV was ‘impressive’, which was heartening to know.

Even though I have not formally needed my academic CV for over two years now, I keep it up to date. I have all my conference papers on it, detailing paper titles, conference titles, conference locations, and conference dates. I have a publications section – only one entry so far, but it’ll grow. Every time I do something, I make a point of putting it on my CV.

One of the beautiful things about academic CVs as opposed to non-academic CVs is that they don’t follow the same rules with regards to length. Non-academic CVs cannot be longer than two sides of A4 – no arguments. Academic CVs, on the other hand, can be three or four sides of A4. I add things to my CV as soon as they happen, partly so that I don’t forget to add it later, but also because having an up-to-date CV does wonders for combating Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is a blight on the academic community to which no researcher is immune. PGRs and ECRs, however, are just getting their first taste of Imposter Syndrome, which can make it even more difficult to overcome. I know I have experienced terrible bouts of feeling that I wasn’t good enough to be doing what I’m doing, or that I might somehow get ‘found out’.

What I have found, however, is that when I am having those thoughts, reading my CV really helps. The horror of Imposter Syndrome comes from feeling that you are unqualified, and a CV shows you in no uncertain terms that that is not the case. Look at all this stuff you’ve done! You’re doing fine. Now go get that degree!

Written by: Ellen Grace Lesser. You can find out more about Ellen’s research on ORCID and read her poetry and fiction writing on her blog