Say that I have achieved a Masters degree in Physics, then a Masters degree in Mathematics. Then for a couple of years, I focused on different fields. I have had placements related to agriculture and botany, as well as taken online courses in Machine Learning. After careful consideration I decided want to pursue a PhD in Physics and so I am preparing for applications.

Normally CV's are written in (reverse) chronological order, most recent experiences first. However, my path is not straightforward, and so I am confronted with a choice.

On the one hand, since I have been told that a CV could be glanced at in less than 10s, I would want to put the most relevant (and prestigious) elements first. On the other hand, I am required to have those degrees to simply be eligible in those courses, and to provide the relevant certificates. This makes me want to keep the CV in reverse chronological order, for the sake of clarity and simplicity.

In the motivation letter / note of research interests I can also briefly explain my path, highlight my relevant experience and thus perhaps reduce the need of highlighting it in the CV.

  • Math is not so crazily afield from Physics that someone is going to see "Master's in Mathematics" and trash your resume. Might be worth reordering if you had another degree in, say, botany. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


I would stick to the standard listing. As you say, the reader wants to spend only 10 seconds, so don't write it in a way that might confuse them. If you list a lower ranked degree before a higher ranked one, they may stop reading at what they imagine the end.

In general it probably isn't good to get too clever in lists of things. Be clever in your letter and interviews.

  • 1
    Perhaps a compromise would be to put emphasis (e.g. in bold) on the relevant degrees.
    – user9646
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 11:27
  • Thanks for the answer. Could you clarify the last sentence of the first paragraph?
    – Andrea
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 11:54
  • @AndreaDiBiagio, if they see a BS, for example, they may stop reading there, thinking that is the end, even if it is followed by a higher degree. They will see what they expect to see.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 11:56
  • I see. In this case though, both my degrees are relevant, so it doesn't really matter in what order I state those I was wondering more about the non-relevant activities in agriculture.
    – Andrea
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 12:38

I did an undergraduate degree in a different field after my PhD, and was somewhat multidisciplinary even before that. My CV has the PhD listed first, then the rest in reverse chronological order rather than prestige. It looks a bit like this:

  • PhD
  • BA
  • GradDip
  • Masters
  • BSc

This way I have the PhD first, which is what everyone expects but I reduce the cognitive load of reading the rest of them. I have no evidence to back this as being 'good practice' but it works for me.

Note that I don't include online courses and other certificates in my CV at all, but I mention any relevant ones in the cover letter instead. If there's too much stuff in the education bit of your CV, it's hard to read any of it.

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