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I'm currently applying for a PhD at my institution. Part of the application requires an academic CV, however I have no professional experience that is not retail work (I have volunteered as student support at my university but don't think that's very relevant), and as I only recently graduated from my undergraduate degree and started my masters, I do not yet have any publications and have not spoken at or attended any conferences apart from attending a postgraduate conference at my university last year.

Are there any ways of getting around this? I received a very good grade for my undergraduate dissertation and have a good idea of what my masters dissertation will be, and I am trying to use those to my advantage.

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    Just think of this as a standarized format for laying out the basics about you. Don't worry about gaps, just focus on including the basic information in a clear, readable way. And definitely include the volunteer work. That is actually a selling point, especially because of the nature of the work. – aparente001 Jan 18 '18 at 2:40
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Don't worry about professional work experience. Not having professional work experience is common, since there're many students who go directly to PhD studies from Bachelor's. In fact, I get the impression that work experience can count against you, since graduate admissions are looking for people who're committed to research, and by getting work experience you indicate you're not committed to research.

What to list:

  1. Your GPA. If it's less than ideal try to frame it in a more flattering light (e.g. "excluding courses outside my major, I scored ___").
  2. Did you win any honors as an undergraduate, e.g. best student awards, a place on the Dean's list, etc? If so, list.
  3. Were you part of any extra programs? For example, your university might have a "special program in mathematics" where the best mathematics undergraduates take a more rigorous & intense version of the courses other undergraduates take. If you were part of a similar program, list it.
  4. Were you awarded any scholarships? If so, list.
  5. Did you serve as a teaching assistant or research assistant? If so, give details.
  6. Did you do anything relevant over a holiday period (e.g. attend summer school, organize any activity, etc)? If so, give details.
  7. Were you involved in any research projects? If so, give details. Who did you work with, what did you work on, what did you discover, what skills did you learn, etc. If they're ongoing, what you're going to do next might also be relevant.
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It's called a "CV", but it's really the same as a resume at this stage. Moreover, how you format it, and what you put on it, is completely up to you.

Try to be as creative as possible, and really sell yourself -- don't be afraid to brag. What are your strengths? Things that may seem irrelevant could still impress the admissions committee.

Also, without research publications, the best substitute is good performance in advance classes and (more importantly) a good recommendation letter, or two, that can vouch for your research potential.

"I received a very good grade for my undergraduate dissertation"

That will look great -- put it on. Find or make an appropriate section. Then say "received highest possible grade on dissertation" or whatever; cite statistics on dissertation scores if you can find them and they make you look more impressive.

I do not yet have any publications and have not spoken at or attended any conferences apart from attending a postgraduate conference at my university last year.

You can put on that you attended the conference. Publications are not necessary in most fields -- if you have them, that's a huge leg up, but most candidates will not have them (at least, at all but the very top-tier universities, and in most fields).

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