The Hard Way #9: Be the CV You Want to See

I couldn’t have come up with a sillier title to this post, I realize, but it is an important point, so I figured I’d dedicate a post to it. The last thing that you want to happen to you is to be caught by surprise by a contrast between what your professional record looks like and what you want it to look like or need it to look like for a particular professional goal.

What do you want your CV to look like when you go on the job market the first time? What do you want it to look like when you have a probationary review? Or a tenure review? What do you want it to look like when merit raises are considered? What positions (in your department, in the field, or in professional organizations) do you see yourself occupying, and what do you need your CV to look like to make that happen? What does your CV need to look like to give you the mobility you want? The promotion ability that you want? The income that you want? The opportunities that you want? The free time that you want?

Its not going to magically look like that. And you can’t answer those questions a month before you need particular things on your CV, wish for it, and make it happen. Instead, these things are planned. A note on what I don’t mean by planned: I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be flexible, open to new projects and grant opportunities, willing to leave behind things that do not work, and willing to adapt to a changing field and a changing profession. What I do mean is getting a sense of what you want your career to look like, and trying to make that happen actively and while you still have enough time to do it. For example … 

If a fictional “Janet” wanted to go on the job market two years from now with a CV that showed teaching her own class, two peer reviewed journal articles, work in progress, at least three conference presentations, and clear training in both her research area (call it IR) and the methods that she uses to do it (perhaps statistical techniques), she should start planning for that CV now. She should look into how one teaches one’s own class in her Department as a graduate student (and, if one can’t, and she thinks it is important, she should look into other local and semi-local opportunities to do that. She should identify local (university course) methods training, as well as field training (e.g., ICPSR), and look into ways to get into, finance, and complete that training. She should find the most appropriate conferences for her research, combining field-specific ones (like Peace Science), generalist conferences (like ISA and APSA), and conferences where one would like to live and work (for example, if Janet wanted to live and work in the UK, she should think about BISA). Janet should ask professors for example conference abstracts, make friends on conference selection committees, and identify the three ideas for papers that would be good for her to present. Ideally, she should identify two of them out of her dissertation project and another that is a side project developing some of the ideas. She should think about the order in which it would be good to write those papers, and submit the abstracts to conferences that occur in that order. She should realize that the peer-review process, from submission to publication, often takes two years or more – so she should start writing the papers that she would like accepted for publication two years from now right now – sometimes even before she has made a lot of progress on her dissertation. She should work with mentors to identify the right publication outlets for her work. She should be careful about accepting professional duties and responsibilities that will not benefit her CV looking like she would like it to two years from now – because that is surprisingly little time.

The advice above is negotiable – I’m not arguing that the CV plan I randomly assigned “Janet” is the right one for anyone, much less everyone. And I’m not suggesting that the advice about planning for one’s career only happens in Ph.D. school. Instead, I make plans for what I want my CV to look like still, and I suppose I can be considered mid-career. Different people in different locations or at different sorts of institutions have different incentive structures, and different professional needs. My point is just that identifying what you want and planning backwards makes the process significantly less painful than it otherwise would be. While it cannot take all of the randomness out of the professional process, or even most of the heartache, it can make it significantly more manageable. So, plan, and be the CV that you want to see.