How To Write a CV for a PhD Application

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Most UK universities ask PhD candidates to submit a curriculum vitae (CV) with the rest of the application materials, which typically include a cover letter, a completed application form, a personal statement and a research proposal.

An academic CV differs from the CVs you would ordinarily submit to potential employers; the education section should form the bulk of your CV; a PhD CV should predominantly focus on your academic achievements and qualifications; there should also be room to outline your relationship with your research interests. 

Of course, if you have relevant work experience within the field you will be researching, outlining this information in relation to how the experience has made you a prime PhD candidate for the program you have applied for will also win plenty of favour with the admissions team in charge of reviewing your application.

This page will discuss how your PhD should be formatted, which information should be provided and how to make the best impression with the admissions team. 

Why Are PhD CVs Important?

Applying for a PhD position or program is not worlds apart from applying for a professional job in academia. In addition to revealing a list of your qualifications and achievements, you will also want to establish yourself as a candidate with resilience, research skills, critical thinking ability, initiative, and dedication. 

While you will have plenty of room for this in your other application materials, such as personal statements and cover letters, alluding to your commitment and perseverance on your PhD CV can increase your chances of being invited to an initial interview. After all, many experienced PhD supervisors and admissions tutors can attest to how perseverance and commitment are even more important qualities than raw intelligence. 

Doctoral research projects can take anywhere from three to seven years, depending on if you choose to complete your doctoral research as a full-time or part-time student. Universities will want to be assured you have the determination, tenacity and resilience to see the project through. Even if you are a self-funded PhD candidate, universities will scrutinise potential candidates due to the time, support and resources they will require from the university; there is a limited number of placements per intake, and the demand for UK postgraduate research degrees is increasing rapidly. 

In addition to proving you have what it takes to research independently, you may also want to sell yourself as a candidate who will win over the room at seminars and conferences while you represent the university. You will also want to customise your CV around any additional requirements for studentships, such as teaching and mentoring.

Should You Have a PhD CV Professionally Made?

By following a step-by-step guide to an academic cv for PhD applications and reviewing samples, you can write an effective and impressive one covering all the appropriate and essential bases. 

However, if writing CVs is not your strong suit and you are worried that your CV writing skills could get in the way of your admission, paying for professionals to write your PhD CV is a small price to pay when you consider the benefits of being accepted as a candidate.

Alternatively, you could use and purchase a pre-made CV template designed for PhD students; then ask one of your academic contacts or peers to give it the once over, check the spelling and grammar and suggest better ways to highlight your knowledge, skills, and problem-solving capacities, amongst other things.

CV Templates for PhD Candidates

A typical CV used to impress hiring consultants and recruitment agencies will highlight your career achievements, from your most recent position to the earliest. Reverse chronological CVs are recommended for PhD applicants as they spotlight your relevant skills and suitability for PhD programs. 

Before you start formatting your CV, pay close attention to the application specifications provided by the admissions team; this will allow you to review the information and insights they are looking for when shortlisting applicants. Usually, application specifications will include competencies, skills and experiences. Use these three requirements to decide how to write a CV for a PhD application. For more specialist programs, such as STEM programs, admissions committees may ask you to include sections in your CV which aren’t typically found in the average CV.

For postgraduate students who have spent the majority of their working/adult lives in higher education, don’t worry about not having many full-time positions to detail; part-time work, volunteering positions, apprenticeships, internships and temporary contracts can still be discussed to share the skills and experiences you acquired. 

PhD CV Writing Tips

  1. Your CV should be between one and two pages long. If there is additional information you need to cover, consider how it can become part of your cover letter or personal statement.
  2. Even though university admissions committees typically take longer to review a CV than the average employer, you still need to ensure it is readable by using headings, bold lettering, sections and bullet points, where necessary.
  3. Keep the fonts neat and classic; using quirky fonts on your PhD CV isn’t the best way to inject personality into your CV; always opt for Calibri, Arial or Times New Roman.
  4. Never use colours or images if you want your CV to look professional and be taken seriously. 
  5. Unless asked otherwise, always send your PhD CV as a PDF or a Microsoft Word document.
Laptop with a CV laying on top

Necessary Information for a PhD CV

Name & Contact Details 

Your contact details should always be at the top of the first page, preferably in a bolder or larger font. You need to include your full name, the city you currently reside in, phone number and email address. Ensure your email address is work appropriate and your phone number is the number you are primarily available on. 

Personal Statement 

Writing a concise yet punchy and intriguing personal statement that piques the interest is by far the most difficult part of the PhD CV writing process. 

In the statement, directly under your contact information, you need to prove why you are the best candidate by using your unique achievements, skills, and qualifications to back up your claim you are the perfect candidate. Ideally, this needs to be done within three to four sentences. 

Your statement may need to be redrafted multiple times, but as long as you include a brief statement about yourself, number your years of academic and field experience, provide an impressive fact or figure, and finish with your key strengths, you are on to a winner. You can always conclude the statement with a sentence on your research proposal to keep it fresh in the minds of the admissions committee. 

For extra points, write in the third person, utilise positive adjectives, refrain from exaggerating, and construct your statement around the specification guidelines. 

Work History

The work history section of your PhD should say a lot about your work ethic and professional personality. Never stop at outlining your job title, the name of the company and your time working for them; outline 3 – 6 responsibilities; if appropriate, also detail what you brought to the role and any relevant career achievements. 

Always be specific in your career outcomes using statistics and appear confident by using positive and authoritative adjectives which indicate how you took initiative and overcame challenges. To make this section of your PhD concise and easier to read, consider using bullet points to outline your achievements and responsibilities. 

Skills to Highlight in Your PhD CV 

If you don’t have the strongest academic or work track record, you can turn the tide by mentioning the skills you will bring to the program and university. Your talents and accomplishments can give you a fighting chance against more experienced candidates. 

While you shouldn’t be overly boastful in the skills section of your CV, modesty won’t get you very far either. The skills you highlight should always be included per the candidate’s requirements. However, you will also want to be mindful that you are not simply rehashing them on your CV; the admissions team will spot this inauthenticity a mile off.

You should briefly reference up to twelve skills, which will ideally be split between soft and hard skills. Soft skills are more character-focused and can be transferable from any vocation. For example, soft skills could include resourcefulness, enthusiasm or adaptability. In contrast, hard skills are more technical and field-specific. They could include molecular research, writing critical literature reviews or project management. 

Even though hard skills seem more desirable, without the soft skills to back them up, they are essentially worthless. You could be the greatest intellectual mind since Einstein, but if you don’t have the determination and motivation, you wouldn’t get far as a PhD candidate.

Attributes you may also want to mention include time management skills, research abilities, confident written and verbal communication skills, and your ability to independently identify gaps in fields of knowledge and find innovative ways to fill those gaps. 

Desirable aptitudes can also help you to get shortlisted. For example, are you a member of any relevant societies? Have you completed any informal courses? Do you have a valid DBS check? Do you have experience with data analysis or thinking critically without prejudice or bias? 

Education

The education section of your PhD CV should be one of the easiest to write. However, that doesn’t mean you should rush through it without being mindful of how your educational track record reads. 

If you are applying for doctoral research in a different field from the one you completed your bachelor’s or master’s in, allude to transferable skills and potentially how it led you to an interest in a new field. Otherwise, you name the educational institution, start and end dates, subject title, qualification level and result. Note that it is not necessary to include the details of your high school education or A-levels in a PhD CV unless otherwise stated. 

Dos and Don’ts for PhD CVs

Do 

  • Spotlight core qualifications and achievements at the top of your CV in the personal statement. 
  • Reassure the admissions team you have the soft and hard skills to succeed. 
  • Mention your research topic briefly in your CV and in more depth in your cover letter. 

Don’t

  • Submit a CV without a cover letter which introduces you as a PhD candidate, covers your most valuable skills and talents and expresses your interest and enthusiasm for the academic venture. A cover letter can also be a place where you share your career ambitions beyond acquiring a PhD. 
  • Rush your CV or submit it to the admissions team without spell-checking. Run your CV through a spellchecker, such as Grammarly, which will also be able to make suggestions on how to make sentences clearer and more impactful. Services such as these aren’t 100% fool-proof; always get someone you trust to give you feedback afterwards.

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