Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

The Graduate Student and Post-Graduate Resume


Undergraduates often tell me they are amazed at how long it takes to compose a resume (part of this is mere perception, I think, due to the weighty nature of the document’s importance). I tell them they should plan to spend between a few hours and a day every year revising their resume for the rest of their professional lives, and that an undergraduate resume with a strong foundation is their best preparation. Obviously, post-graduate and graduate student resumes are grounded in the same principles as undergraduate resumes, but new rules emerge with the new circumstances.

Differences Between Post-Graduate and Undergraduate Resumes

  • Length. Beyond your undergraduate education, you are no longer fettered by the one-page limit. Unless otherwise specified by an employer or selection committee, two pages and more are expected so that you can fully describe your background and list your accomplishments. However, seek visual balance on each page, and try to make each work independently, including your name on each page and a page number beyond page 1.
  • Organization. Unless you are writing a curriculum vitae (see below), education is less stressed than it is on an undergraduate resume. Often, this section is moved beyond the first page of the resume, and some writers even put it last. Also, an "Objective" section is not necessarily included, and if you are seeking a professional job outside of academia, you typically open your resume with a "Qualifications Summary"—an "in-a-nutshell" articulation of your relevant skills. You can think of this section as a "mini-cover letter," summarizing for an employer everything you have to offer.
  • Detail. On the graduate student and post-graduate resume, you are expected to expand in particular on work-related experience. Comment on the specifics of your work and interpret how it was useful to your employer. Especially in research-oriented fields, do not shy away from jargon, nomenclature, or specialized detail. Your goal is to portray yourself as an insider to those who have a technical, specialized understanding matching or surpassing yours.

Writing a Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Unfortunately, many use the terms "curriculum vitae" and "resume" interchangeably, so writers are confused about whether there’s actually a distinction between them. Strictly speaking, a curriculum vitae (which translates to "course of life") is different from a resume in that it is aimed squarely at working within academia. Therefore, academic history—especially where it includes teaching, research, publications, and service—is fleshed out in much more detail than it would be in a resume. If you’re chasing an academic post with your CV, you need to stress the same "three-legged-stool" criteria by which tenure judgments are made: Teaching, Research, and Service. Some writers use these criteria within their CV headings, and all find ways to stress them within their descriptions. A section for publications—which helps reflect on both your teaching potential and research—is expected in a CV, and those who have not published might still provide a list of papers submitted, talks given, theses written, or conferences attended. The goal is to demonstrate professional involvement and the potential to serve a host university as a productive teacher, valuable researcher, and a person of service. Some schools and professional organizations provide sample CVs, and I urge ambitious graduate students to browse the web and model their CVs on those published by faculty in the program to which they are applying.


These websites from institutions of higher learning are tailored to grad students writing resumes and CVs:

"Graduate Students' Resume Writing Guide," from Dartmouth

"Curriculum Vitae Tips and Samples," from the Career Services Office at the University of Illinois