Creating a Professional Vita 

This page was created by Professor Frank Pajares

So you want to create a professional vita. Since you are in need of such a document, I will take the risk of assuming that you are relatively new what some like to call "the academy." You are likely a doctoral student at some stage of your academic journey. Perhaps you are just starting your program and you realize, wisely may I say, that if you create this animal now you'll not need to scour your long-term memory several years from now to recover just what it was you did during this now lost time and when precisely it was that you did it. Perhaps you are at the end of your program, failed to create the animal early on, and now find yourself preparing your "credentials" so as to be short-listed by every search committee fortunate enough to receive your application packet. Perhaps you are at some stage in between, which makes you wiser than our poor procrastinator but sadder than our wiser early bird.

In any case, let me first welcome you to our world of academe. Depending on the world from which you have come, you will discover that in our world we view both the creation and substance of our self-presentations quite differently from the manner in which you may have viewed them in your previous life. You will need to rearrange some of your mental furniture. Let's deal with some things up front.

  1. First the name of the animal. Academicians like to call a vita what the rest of the civilized world refers to as a resumé. Vita, from the Latin for "life," actually means "a biographical sketch," so an academic resumé is often more accurately referred to as a curriculum vitae (or "cv"), which Webster defines as "a short account of one's career and qualifications prepared typically by an applicant for a position." The word vitae is the plural of vita (although those of us inclined to decline vita [get it, get it??] know that, in curriculum vitae, the vitae is not a plural). Vitae is the genitive, or possessive, form, the translation being "the course of life." The genitive and plural forms are identical in this case, and it makes no sense to use the term vitae either as a plural or in the genitive case to refer to an academic resumé. I like vita because it's the correct term to use in this context, because nobody really cares what it's called, and because it's one letter shorter.

  2. Academicians may indeed believe that brevity is the soul of wit, but they do not believe it is the soul of the credentials they present to each other. In your previous world, you learned that a good resumé should consist of one page (two at the most, and then only front/back of one sheet of paper). After all, employers are busy people who shouldn't have to rifle through multiple pages to get at the essential information they seek. Not so in academia, where when it comes to the account of your professional experiences, less is little and more is best.

  3. Albert Einstein once said that "not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." That's nice. Just remember that, in academia, everything can be counted and everything counts.

So let's create a vita. Before we begin, however, let's deal with mundane details. What font should you use? Can it be on chartreuse paper if that's your favorite color? Where should you number the pages? What margins should you set? Here are some guidelines.

  • You can't go wrong with Times New Roman. Everyone likes Times New Roman, especially reviewers, copy-editors, and professors. Courier is functional but ugly. Arial and Helvetica hurt people's eyes. Comic sans looks like you're writing the credits for a Simpsons episode. And remember, Times New Roman, not Times.
  • Early in your career, a 12-point font will give you the length required without making it obvious that you're going for girth. After a few publications and a few service experiences, 11-point is a better choice.
  • 1-inch margins all around.
  • Page numbering at the bottom works just fine. Some like the top-right hand corner with a running head of their last name on each page. Some like a footer with the name and page number. Nobody really pays attention to this. Just be sure to number the pages. And use the same font type and size for the page number, header or footer, and document text.
  • White paper only. It should be of reasonable quality, but no need to go out and buy an expensive bond of heavy weight. Borrow some copier paper from your department office. It will do just fine.
  • If possible, print the original copy of your vita using a laser printer. You want your text to be crisp and sharp.
  • And since you want the text crisp and sharp, take care that the photocopies are crisp and sharp. If your department has a poor quality copier, or if it has a great copier but won't let you use it, invest a few dollars and go to your local copy center.
  • But don't make too many copies at any one time. Make just enough copies to meet your needs at the time. Keep in mind that you will be frequently updating your vita. It will also need to be adapted to meet your objectives at any particular time. A little more on this point at the bottom of this page.
  • Staple your vita on the top left-hand corner. If your copy machine will do it for you, all the better. Paperclips are cumbersome and easily come undone. Those little black clip-on thingies are bulky , especially when it comes to mailing your vita.
  • No fancy cover page. In fact, no cover page. The first page of your vita should be the first page of your vita. Although you can't read the text, here is a nice first page. Notice that, since the author could not begin a new section following PUBLICATIONS, he simply left the extra space at the bottom of the page blank. And it works fine. A first page with the most essential information—contact information, education, and publications. He must have had a fine adviser.

ORGANIZATION OF AN ACADEMIC VITA

As you prepare to begin page 1 of your vita, you realize that you need to make decisions regarding what to include and how to include it. First, you will need to decide what categories to use, the order in which to use them, and what information to include (and, just as important, what information to leave out). As regards categories, I suggest the following in the following order. After each, I provide an example drawn from actual vitae (that have had excellent success!). The examples are .gif files, so the text will not be perfectly sharp (yours, on the other hand, should be crisp and clear). If you are using a slow modem, be patient, as the graphics may take a bit to load. At the end of this page, I offer links to a couple of complete doctoral student vitaes that you may view or download.

Name. Right at the top, nicely centered and in bold. Perhaps even a couple of font points larger than the document text. I think it looks nice to put Vita to the left of the page and the current term and year on the right. Lets people know you're keeping up with yourself.

Contact Information. Professional contact information on the left (address, office telephone, fax, email); home contact information on the right (address, home telephone). If you have a home page on the Internet, be sure to include the URL. If you choose not to provide your home contact information (I don't), you may prefer to put address on the right and tel/fax/email on the left. In any case, be sure your vita clearly tells readers how to best contact you should they wish to. Here are samples of each.

This one with the home address and personal contact information.

And this one without the home address. Note, nonetheless, that the home phone number is included. Again, that is up to you. I don't even like the phone company having my home phone number.

Education. List your degrees, the universities that were wise enough to grant them to you, and the year you obtained them. Include your academic major(s) and major areas of study. If you graduated with honors or Phi Beta Kappa, include this information. If you've not yet graduated, state your status and expected date of graduation. If you are this far into the game, include the title of your dissertation and your committee chair. Don't outline. Simply include the information in a nice tight paragraph. Most recent degrees first.

Publications. Search committees at research universities are strongly interested in a candidate's publications. Consequently, this section should follow the Education section. If you are just starting out, place all your publications in one section—refereed articles, nonrefereed articles, chapters, book reviews. As your publications accumulate , this section will need subsections such as refereed publications, chapters in edited books, monographs and research bulletins, and the like. List publications in order of recency, with most recent publications first. Don't worry about alphabetical disorder—readers are most interested in what you've done for them lately.

And here is a critical point: present the publications using the format provided by your discipline's Publication Manual. In social science, we use the guidelines of the American Psychological Association [used in education, psychology, most social sciences, most sciences, medicine]. Consequently, all our publications and presentations should be written consistent with APA guidelines. If you fall under the auspices of the Modern Language Association (MLA) [used in the humanities, English, foreign language studies] or The Chicago Manual of Style [used in history, anthropology], or perhaps you need to use the American Sociological Association Style Guide. And take care to follow their guidelines. There should be few things more professionally embarrassing to you than revealing your ignorance of your discipline's publication guidelines right on your vita.

Presentations. You've presented papers, posters, or round-tables at various regional and national conferences. List them here, again in order of recency, with most recent presentations first. Perhaps you've done invited talks at professional meetings or have been asked to be a chair or discussant of a particular session. If so, these should be included. Again, take care to follow your discipline's referencing format.

Additional Research Experience. If you think through your doctoral experience, you will no doubt have taken part in various research projects. List them here. Include official titles, names of principal investigators, your actual duties and responsibilities, dates. Order of recency again.

Honors and Awards. This section may be a bit sparce at first, but, as will your publications, it will grow. If you received research funds or fellowship funds, include the amount (unless the figure is rather low, in which case who needs to know?). Think back to your Masters and Bachelors programs—you got stuff. We all get stuff. We love stuff. Put the stuff down.

Professional Development. Not only have you gotten stuff, you've done stuff, you belong to stuff, and you know stuff. Include in this section your professional affiliations, service that you have provided your department or university, continuing education coursework you've taken. Think back to all those wonderful committees you've suffered ... I mean, served on. Perhaps you have reviewed manuscripts for journals or conference proposals for professional organizations, in which case be sure to include this information. You may want also to include proficiency in statistical or other software programs that a prospective employer may value.

College Teaching Experience. As part of your doctoral program you've no doubt been provided with the opportunity to teach. At the very least you've TA'd for one of your professors. Perhaps you've been able to teach your own class. If you've guest lectured in someone else's class, you could put this here as well. Of course, if you've done this often, it would better go in its own section.

Previous Work Experience. You had a life before you came to academia. Remember? Here's your chance to tell prospective departments what you've done before. Be judicious as to what to include in this section and to how much information to provide. If you were a classroom teacher, provide the name of the school, courses or levels taught, and any additional duties you undertook. Be brief. There is no need to include the numerous part-time jobs that got you through college, or the pizza deliveryt job you had throughout high school. Ask yourself, what does my prospective employer need to know about me.

References. This should be the last section of your vita. Provide at least three referees, but, again, more is more. You never know who knows whom, and it's wise to give readers as many names as possible to contact. Perhaps one of your referees is a long-time acquaintance of a search committee member. Who can predict these things? Be sure to include the referee's title, mail address, office phone number, and email address. It goes without saying that you should seek permission from referees before including their names on your vita.

What else should you keep in mind as you begin the process of creating your vita?
Here are some closing thoughts.

  1. A vita is your face to a crowd who can't see or hear your face. It speaks for you and about you. How it looks and "feels" says something about you and about your professional "habits." If it has numerous errors, omissions, and typos, it says that you are careless, inattentive to detail, and have little regard for the audience who is taking the time to examine it (and you), to whatever end. Think about this for a moment: When you apply for your first position, the search committee who receives your application packet may receive over 200 application packets similar to yours. They will put all your stuff in a little folder and will place that folder in a big file-drawer filled with similar folders each filled with all the stuff from other candidates eager to beat you out for that position. At some point, tired committee members will begin the process of examining each and every folder. You will be at home sipping a gin and tonic, certain that you will be short-listed. You will not be inside your folder. All that will be there are pieces of paper. They'd best be good pieces of paper.

  2. A vita should be adapted and tailored to meet your objective. For example, if you will be applying to a teaching college, it's wise to put the teaching sections first, and you may even want to include information about your teaching experience that you would not include if you were applying to a research university. Similarly, if you've worked hard and garnered many awards and recognitions for your labors, you may want to move that section a leeetle tiny bit closer to the front.

  3. Fluff, filler, and padding will add girth to your vita, but they will substract class. Respect both the integrity and the shrewdness of your audience. A search committee can spot a padded vita immediately. Moreover, it makes you look silly and desperate. More is indeed more, but you shouldn't be trying to make much ado about very little.

  4. There are many types of effective vitaes. And you have a personality. Tailor your vita to your personality. Ask your Chair and other members of your department to see their vitaes. Who knows, perhaps one of them is on chartreuse paper. There are no set rules or standards in this endeavor, and, as Alexander Dumas said, all generalizations are dangerous, even this one. Or at least they should be.

  5. Stay real. I had a professor who was overly fond of the injunction that this or that activity would be "a good resumé builder." That got on my nerves as a student. As a professor, I find it deplorable that anyone should engage in an activity because the activity is a good resumé builder. Because, as some are prone to say, "it looks good on your vita." Of course some things look nice on a vita. Fine. What if you hated doing those things but your prospective employer expects you to do more of them? Follow your muse and your interests. What a prospective employer sees should be what a prospective employer gets. And that should be the real you. Let others worry about building their resumés. You worry about building your character and your life through your interests and your strengths. And ... dare I use such an abused word ... through your passions.

  6. Revisit your vita often! Given enough time, it's easy to forget what you've done and when.

Well, I hope this was helpful. All that remains is for me to provide you with samples of vitaes that are good exemplars and with links to sites on the web that provide information about creating academic vitaes. First the sample vitaes. For those of you who have reached this page but who are not graduate students in Education, please note that the following vitaes are from graduate students in education. All are PDF files. If you do not have it, click here to download the free Acrobat PDF Reader.

It may be helpful also for you to have a look at the vitaes of some established scholars. Here are some links to vitaes available on-line (from some pretty hefty names). In some cases, the scholar has placed the vita on-line as an html document, which means that you shouldn't pay attention to the "format" of the vita. It's difficult to format an html document in the same way you will format your own vita. The more important thing to pay attention to in these vitaes are the categories that the scholars have created and what they typically include in these categories. Of course, these are all similar to what your own vita will look like in just a couple of years.

Prof. Albert Bandura, Stanford University (PDF file)
Prof. Steven Pinker, Harvard University
Prof. Tim Urdan, Santa Clara University (PDF file)
Prof. Anita Woolfolk Hoy, The Ohio State University (PDF file)
Prof. Robert Sternberg, Yale University (html file and Word document)
Prof. Gary Natriello, Teachers College, Columbia University (html file)

And last but not least, here are a few sites on the Web that provide information on creating a vita. Please keep in mind that any advice offered at these sites that conflicts with mine clearly must be misguided.

Tips on Creating an Academic Vita, from the Social Psychology Network. Includes a template.
Resume and Vita Resources, from Quentessential Careers.

 MFP   Copyright 2001, Frank Pajares, Emory University. All rights reserved. You may link to this page for noncommercial, educational purposes, but its contents, in whole or in part, must not be copied or distributed electronically without appropriate citation.