Career Minded

The Path to Becoming a Research Psychologist

Writing Your Curriculum Vitae

It's time to create (or update) your vita.

Woman with CV First time authors of a Curriculum Vitae (CV or Vita) can easily be intimidated by the task. If you've never created a resume' or even if you have, knowing what to write, and how to write, and even in which order to write your vita is a challenge. Hopefully this post can point you in the right direction and by the time you submit your graduate school applications you can have a polished looking vita. Or if you are already in graduate school, dig out the vita you sent with your application and update it with all you've been doing; someday you'll be applying for post-doctoral fellowships or faculty positions and you'll want your vita to look its best.

Absolutely everything goes in your vita and as your academic career unfolds you'll increasingly add to this document. But as an undergraduate (and even as a graduate student), your vita might be a little sparse. Don't worry we can beef it up a bit by including some info that you will eventually prune away. There are many sites about vita-writing, and I'm not sure I could do any better than them. But I can share with you the Vita I enclosed with my grad school applications. This is it. I'm not saying it is the paragon vita that you should strive for; it is more of a cautionary tale, but let's walk through the document and I'll try to explain why it is what it is.

Education: I put this upfront because it seemed the most relevant. In retrospect I think it might've been pointless to list the A.S. I got along the way to my bachelor's (I got it because my job gave me education credit if I got a degree), and it really wasn't an important milestone. But I did want to list a lot of experiences that I had as a student, like founding an organization. Other vitas might put this information in a separate section, but I thought including it here would show my performance as a student (aside from my GPA). Which is another point: I see a lot of vitas with GPA or Psychology GPA listen in this section. That seems like a good idea, even if it is also reported on your transcripts. My GPA wasn't stellar and I discussed that in my statement of purpose so it was redundant (in a bad way) to put it here.

Academic Experience: This header is out of place and all of its sub-headers ought have been headers. I think. Nevertheless this section is out of control. The title actually sounds like where I should have put the items listed under education. Oh well, hindsight.

The next four sections look like a bibliography because it is. Publications are huge for grad school applications so I listed everything in APA 5th (more or less) format, including a paper that was in submission and a conference I was planning to attend (and did). All of that shows that you are active in research. Try to present your work as often as you can; that is the only way to get better at it. There are lots of undergraduate research conferences that you can attend and present a poster or talk, and you best take every chance you get.

Research Experience: This is another important section, in that it shows that you can work in a lab. You are familiar not only with learning science, but also with doing science. Goodness of fit is incredibly important to the faculty looking at your application and by showing that you have the knowhow and the elbow grease to gather data is a big step in showing that you could be a valuable addition to their lab as well.

I was out of things to say at this point so I threw in some jazz about my work history, thinking that Information Technology experience would be valuable no matter in which lab I work as there are a lot of computers in science.

Professional memberships seems out of place now that I look back; I could probably have included it with the other “academic experiences” I listed in the education section. But including this information also shows you are involved in the scientific community, which is good.

You can compare this with my current vita which is here. It looks a lot the same with a few things added a few things cut. But a vita is a living document and will be updated and changed many times throughout your academic career, so show it around to people and keep working on it from time to time. That way when you need it (and you will need it), it is ready for you.

Lastly I'll link you to a handful of vitas from some other research scientists. I'm not sure how useful these are if you are applying to graduate school, as these are quite long and may be intimidating. But keep in mind, this is what your vita will one day become.

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David Diamond, PhD

Joshua D. Greene, PhD

Ken Carter, PhD

Mark Zervas, PhD


Mitch Harden is a third year doctoral student in the behavioral neuroscience program at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.


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