I am a first year PhD in a large Social Sciences program at an American public institution. My CV is very weak as I am not yet published. I have research assistantship experience and teaching experience as well as a stint on a Fulbright. I'm applying to fellowships for the summer to gain more research experience.

I am working on a fellowship application and would like to stand out amongst the crowd. Other than my attributes above, I have nothing! My CV barely fills two pages. Will I be written off because I don't have much experience? I need fellowships like these in order to grow my tiny resume- but- I'm worried can't compete to get them without more.

Thank you for your help!

  • 4
    Did answers to your question help you with your application? Did you receive any fellowship? What happened?
    – enthu
    Oct 9, 2014 at 7:46

3 Answers 3


Everyone starts out with no publications. Never mind starting a PhD in that condition: I finished my PhD at a top-three program for my field without any publications, and I still got a good postdoctoral position. How did I do this? Because of my advisor's recommendation. (And it was a sound recommendation: eventually I did get some publications...)

For graduate students -- and especially, early career graduate students -- recommendation letters are all-important. Do you have a thesis advisor yet? If so, go directly to her and tell her what fellowships you are thinking of applying for and asking whether that sounds reasonable and whether your application will be competitive. If you do not have a thesis advisor, try out the same conversation with several faculty members in your department that know you through your coursework, research or TAing. Emphasize that because you are young and unpublished, you think you will need strong recommendations from them to get serious consideration for summer research fellowships. Select from among these the ones who sound most enthusiastic.

In general, faculty in your department should be very supportive of your endeavor. On the one hand, such fellowships generally provide funding, and faculty are always very happy when graduate students can find external funding of any kind whatsoever, since internal funding is so limited and hard to come up with in these straitened economic times. On the other hand, if you get the fellowship you will be getting funded for doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing in the summer as a graduate student: research. So if you feel like the faculty you've spoken to are not helping you enough with this, it could be worthwhile to discuss this with someone like the graduate coordinator or department head: not in a way which casts any blame on the faculty members, but just to emphasize that you want to do this very desirable thing and you haven't yet found the right person to help you out.

Good luck.

  • 1
    When reading this I thought "Wow this guy must have had an eminent advisor" and having checked ... you did! Apr 10, 2014 at 15:01
  • unfortunately or not, not all fellowship applications require letters of recommendation. Aug 15, 2017 at 14:18

@Pete L. Clark gives good advice. It's really your letters of rec that will probably stand out to committees awarding fellowships. I want to add one point though that may be helpful generally.

One way to stand out from the crowd in graduate school is to write well. Most academics think of their writing in very functional, utilitarian ways. If you can write winsomely, using vivid examples, and occasionally graceful turn a phrase, you will automatically stand out from the crowd. What you are trying to do as an academic is to gain a readership for your work. You are much more likely to succeed in this if people actually enjoy reading your work.

I recommend William Zinsser's book on Style to every graduate student I meet.


It might be an idea to contact the career or academic advisory department of your university and ask for an appointment with them to discuss improving your CV and get their input on how you can improve it and what you should and should not put in.

As regards gaining experience and kudos could be to consider publishing some of the Undergrad work you feel proud of. There are lots of open source journals which might be a good starting point.

You can also network with researchers using resources like [researchgate][1] for ideas and to get experience peer reviewing articles so you can put your contributions onto your CV and maybe get some feedback on undergrad work you have already done to learn more about the whole process of peer review and network with other academics.

Ultimately getting ahead in academia is likely like everything else: more about who you know not what you know so putting yourself out there by banging on doors and networking is going to be the ticket to filling your CV with stuff. Ironically, it will probably mean you'll not need to show your CV to get the position you want the end, too perhaps.

Such is life.

  • 11
    I think the "best to keep a CV short as possible and try not to go over a page" thing applies to a résumé, not an academic CV.
    – ff524
    Apr 9, 2014 at 6:19
  • Maybe there is no such thing as a resume in the UK so it's hard to say. Given the 8 up votes I will assume you are right though as I do not know much about academic CV writing. I will edit that bit out.
    – Magpie
    Apr 20, 2014 at 16:53

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