I'm a second-year graduate student in a large and well-known American physics department. For a variety of reasons, I've decided to "jump" sub-fields -- into biophysics, though I hadn't really started a project in the field I was initially interested in due to covid -- and am reaching out to faculty in the biology and biological engineering departments at my institution. One of these professors has asked me for a CV before we meet over Zoom.

This caught me off guard, because that question isn't usually posed in my department -- our presence here, and the mere fact of our inquiry, is taken to provide a presumption of competence and interest. We graduate students are encouraged to experiment in different groups if we are not yet sure about what we want to study. That, and the fact that I haven't done research in an academic setting for more than eight years now, when I was in high school, means that I haven't written a CV, and have very little to actually put on it.

I'm not asking about how to make one. There's plenty of pertinent advice both here and elsewhere on the internet. This professor has a relatively tight window of availability, though -- just today and tomorrow -- and I wonder whether I would make myself look ridiculous to admit that I don't have one prepared, and to ask to speak with him anyway.

  • 40
    If you got through an undergraduate degree without making a CV or Resume, your university has failed you. I'd be surprised if this was not required in high school also. Dec 20, 2020 at 0:34
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    @Anonymous Physicist: How would the typical undergrad have anything to put in a CV/resume? The part-time job at Starbucks, maybe?
    – jamesqf
    Dec 20, 2020 at 3:26
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    @jamesqf They have education. Dec 20, 2020 at 3:40
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    Your application to graduate school didn't require a CV? That's incredibly unusual..
    – spacetyper
    Dec 21, 2020 at 6:51
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    The comments on this question alone are absolute proof that there is not one single correct standard. Different regions, different schools, different programs, and even individual professors may have different standards. Absolutely nobody should be surprised by this.
    – barbecue
    Dec 22, 2020 at 14:36

4 Answers 4


If I were the professor I might have a chuckle over this, but wouldn't treat it as something that makes you "look ridiculous". You are new at the game and can admit that, explaining just as you do here.

I would say that "this is the first time I've been asked for one and don't have one ready". But offer to work something up quickly, though it won't be very formal.

I would accept that explanation. Others might not, of course.

But as JHare suggests, you should get busy.

  • 6
    Maybe not ridiculous, but it does seem quite odd, and depending on the context, possibly a bit underprepared. I don't see why they need to mention that they don't have one ready at all, it might be better to just create and send it.
    – GoodDeeds
    Dec 19, 2020 at 19:55
  • And, write a quick one, even 1 or 2 pages, better something than nothing. Dec 22, 2020 at 16:24

The professor probably doesn't want to see your CV in order to determine your competence, but to see your previous research experience, to provide some structure for your conversation.

I'm a bit surprised you don't have a CV from your application to grad school, but regardless, it shouldn't take you more than a few hours to make one, and you'll probably need it in future anyway.

  • 11
    This is the correct answer. Drop whatever you're doing and write a CV. Dec 21, 2020 at 2:00
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    The university likely has some program that will help students prepare them. Ask the department's advisor where to go. Dec 21, 2020 at 5:38
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    Absolutely this. Not just in academia, but often in industry too, people will use the CV as a jumping off point for discussion. It saves a lot of time, after all, if the person you are "interviewing" (is it called that in this situation?) has already sent you a document with a summary of what you've been up to for the last several years. The people in the OP's immediate group know, sure, but it's unfair to assume anyone else will or that they should be the ones to do the research before the meeting.
    – user87850
    Dec 21, 2020 at 15:04
  • I don't recall submitting anything specifically labelled "CV". Obviously I sent records of my academic history, but I don't think it was labelled as "CV". Dec 22, 2020 at 0:18

Ask what he means by "CV".

In some places, a CV (curriculum vitae) is simply another word for a standard resume, containing things like your previous employment history, the broad strokes of your education, and similar things; I believe that this usage is primarily found in the British English dialect. In other places, in academia, a CV specifically refers to a document that goes into great detail, including things like every scientific paper you've ever written.

If you don't have the latter written, but you do have the former, I would recommend that you ask for clarification of what they meant: did they just want an ordinary resume, or did they want an in-depth explanation of your research history?


tl;dr They probably just want some idea of who you are so they know what they're working with. Probably a good idea to give them something, though not necessarily a standard CV.

Before contacting this potential supervisor, didn't you check out their group's homepage? Browse through some of their papers, check out some of their projects, and just generally get a feeling for what they're all about?

They probably just want to do the same thing to you. This is, they probably just want to get a feel for who you are, where you're at, and stuff like that so they have a feel for who they may be working with.

Seems like a good, constructive request on their part, and probably something to honor. Though not necessarily with a standard CV – some document roughly like a resume or CV might be suitable.


  1. Probably avoid labeling the document "resume" or "CV".
    If you're not confident about the document representing you as a resume or CV, then probably best to avoid labeling it as such. Instead, you might call it "Personal info", "Background & Education", etc..

  2. Focus on constructive bases.
    Give the reader something to work with. For example, if your primary assets are from coursework, then probably focus on what coursework you've done. If you have any special skills that might help – e.g. you're good with programming, writing papers, or building things – perhaps mention it. In other words, help the reader understand what you can do so they know how you can participate.

  3. Don't sweat weaknesses too much.
    Often weaknesses can be worked-around. For example, if you're great at writing papers, but you have a pathological inability to save a document, then perhaps you could work with someone else who'd hit Save for you.

In short, it's probably best to give them some sort of idea about who you are in something like a traditional resume or CV, even if not exactly in a standard format.

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