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Writing an Academic CV for Your PhD Application


  • The aim of a CV for a PhD application is to get across the skills and experience from your education, work and research activities that make you a suitable PhD candidate.
  • Your academic CV can be longer than a normal CV (2 pages max) but should be no more than 4 pages; it should be clearly laid out and easy to read.
  • You should get feedback on your CV by showing it to others, in particular current/past academic supervisors.

The two documents crucial to get right when applying to a PhD are your CV and cover letter (or personal statement depending on which you prefer to send).

In this article, we’ll set out the core guidelines you should follow to create an effective CV for a PhD application.

What Is the Purpose of an Academic CV?

When you come to apply for any PhD position, you’ll be asked to submit an accompanying up-to-date curriculum vitae (CV). This is similar to how you would be asked for a CV when applying for a job (which many consider a PhD to be!) but this needs to be an academic CV with an emphasis on the qualifications, knowledge and research mind that make you suitable to take on a PhD project.

An academic CV will concisely get across your academic skills and successes and you can use your separate accompanying cover letter to elaborate on and emphasise key sections.

What Should I Include in my CV?

As you write your CV, think about the following headings to structure your content around:

1. Personal Details

As with any CV, start off by including your relevant personal details:
Name, current address, date of birth, contact details etc. Some people also include a profile photo (think more like a passport photo style rather than an Instagram profile!) but this is not essential.

2. Your Academic Interests

Start off with a brief paragraph summarising your research interests and try to support this with some level of evidence of how you’ve actively been involved in the area. At this stage you’re unlikely to have published many (or any) papers so you may need to describe extra-curricular work or study: have you attended any conferences in your field of interest or any other events? Be specific in the detail you give here – for example, you may write “I have an interest in better understanding and improving battery technology” rather than “I have an interest in physics”.

3. Your Education

Here, you’ll need to outline your academic background. Starting with your most recent degree first (i.e. in reverse chronological order), list your previous qualifications and corresponding results. For most of you, this will be your undergraduate degree plus or minus a postgraduate masters. It’s a good idea to list out the specific modules you covered in each year and describe the work of your final year projects and dissertations. Also, list any university prizes you have won or any other academic achievement that helps you stand out.

4. Your Research Experience

You’re likely to have gained some level of research experience during your undergraduate and/or masters projects so definitely include this in your PhD CV. It’s a bonus if you’ve been able to gain some experience of working within a lab or alongside other academic researchers so include this if you have it. An even bigger bonus is if you have any publications from your previous research or at least if you can articulate an understanding of the process for publishing at your interview.

5. Your Skills

Include a section where you list the skills you’ve developed that would be relevant for PhD research, including the use of computational software packages, time management, etc.

6. Attendance at Conferences

If you’ve attended any conferences or seminars (or even presented at one of these!), include detail on these in your CV. If you haven’t yet, then consider looking into any that could be relevant to the PhD research area that you’re considering. These could be one way you learn more about the latest research knowledge in the field and where the gaps are.

7. Other Details

Also include details on any teaching experience you have, list any professional bodies that you’re a member of and any other work experience that you have that may have given you transferable skills relevant to working as a PhD student.

8. Your References

Avoid using the phrase ‘references available on request’ and provide two academic referees in your CV.

How Should I Format my CV?

There are many ways that an academic CV can be formatted and laid out and sometimes this comes down to personal preference. Generally, the things that we would recommend are:

  • Limit the length of your CV to a maximum of four pages if absolutely needed, however, two pages is ideal.
  • Keep it well-structured and clear – don’t try to work around the page limit by reducing the font size and maxing out the margins. This is about getting across the essential information in a simple to read way.
  • Write out a first draft which can be as long as you want, then go through a couple of passes to edit out the non-essential information. Every word is important – try to avoid filler sentences or broad, general statements.
  • Show your CV to others that know you, in particular those in an academic setting such undergraduate project supervisors. Your university should have a careers advice office which can often give you pointers and comments on what you’ve written.
  • An obvious one but just to emphasise here – double-check your spelling and grammar!

Covering Letter

An academic CV is only one part of a successful PhD application. The best applications will have a strong covering letter to complement the CV. If you want to learn how to write a great cover letter, see our Cover Letter for PhD Applications guide.

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