Friday, 27 January 2012

What is Important on a Curriculum Vitae?

What is the most important parts of a cv for an academic? And what is the ranking of these parts? There are various opinions on these questions. Answers seem to depend on the type of academic job that a person is pursuing. The standard answer is that small liberal arts colleges tend to focus on teaching, as opposed to larger research-based institutions, which favor publications. Supposedly, a hiring committee at a liberal arts college fear applicants with multiple peer-reviewed journal articles and/or books since that might suggest future negligence in teaching. Another fear is that well-published scholars may leave for greener pastures after a year or so. Liberal arts college seem to want a person who is willing to stay for the long haul. It would be interesting to find statistical evidence for these generalizations.

Liberal arts colleges fascinate me. From my experience, this type of institution drools at the sight of a cv from a person with an Ivy-League PhD while at the same time hopes that their dream candidate will not publish too much for the reasons previously mentioned. In other words, it seems that many liberal arts colleges want an extremely intelligent person, who has been through the rigors of a top-notch program, but who is committed to teaching, and not necessarily publishing. I realize that this is perhaps a gross generalization, and that there are certainly going to be notable exceptions, but these comments reflect my (albeit) limited experience and observations over the past several years.

What is the significance of publishing then? I recall one notable scholar telling me that if up to him, he would hire strictly on the basis of publications alone. In the order of importance, this person ranks the monograph first, followed by the edited volume, and finally peer-reviewed journal articles. I have read pundits' postings in the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere that equate four peer-reviewed journal articles with a monograph. But this judgment does not seem to be a firm rule that is followed by all scholars. Recently, a colleague told me that paper presentations at conferences rank at the same level as a book review. That is to say, neither are viewed as important entries on a cv. I found this comment intriguing. I had heard that book reviews were not weighed highly by academics, but always assumed that presentation papers would be viewed by most as respectable contributions to a cv. I wonder what the consensus is on ranking the entries on a cv.

It, of course, gets much more complicated when considering faith-based institutions. A Christian liberal arts college usually makes it clear that it does not want to hire anyone unwilling to subscribe to the school's statement of faith, regardless of a person's impressive credentials. In many cases, the successful candidate is the individual who has a connection with the college (alma mater, relative, etc.). All of these interesting dynamics make it difficult to come up with a clear picture of what the perfect cv looks like.

Jonathan Yeager

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