How do I formulate research interests in my CV? When talking about my field, I like to include some context, such as:

The climate of planet Earth is a complex system. Detailed observations are needed for improving our understanding of individual components and their interaction. Additionally, long-term, large-scale monitoring is required to study the climate system in its entirety. Observations from space are important for both kinds of observations. I am particularly interested in applying space-based observations the atmosphere, for example, for the hydrological cycle. Additionally, I think foo is important because of bar, and would like to research foo deeper.

But on a CV, space and attention are scarce. An alternative would be:

  • Space-based observations of the atmosphere
  • Foo

But this appears a bit bald to me. I think the context, the motivation, should be relevant: why are my research interests as they are?

What is a better alternative for describing research interests on a CV?


Don't even use bullets; just provide a list of keywords/phrases identifying your subfield. At least in the US, departments ask for a separate research statement in addition to your CV. That's the place to explain your research interests in detail and give them context; there's no need to do that in your CV, too.

For example, when I applied for faculty positions, my CV included the following lines between my contact information and my education history.

Research Interests

Algorithms, data structures, and lower bounds; computational and discrete geometry; computer graphics

I've served on the faculty recruiting committee in my (top-10 US computer science) department for several years; this approach seems both standard and effective. Personally, when I read a CV, I only spend a second or two on the self-declared research interests and jump straight to the publication list.

(Posdef's answer suggests giving more context in your cover letter, but I think this is pointless. I don't know anyone who has ever read a cover letter.)

  • 7
    :O All that time spent on writing cover letters is wasted?
    – gerrit
    Mar 6 '13 at 19:42
  • 1
    @gerrit: Yep. Completely. (At least in my completely academic circles.)
    – JeffE
    Mar 6 '13 at 19:45
  • I spend a lot of time on the research statement, and less on the cover letter. But I do read it just to get an initial sense of what the candidate is about.
    – Suresh
    Mar 6 '13 at 22:59
  • Now... who will dare checking that fact about cover letters experimentally (by sending a lipsum for example)?
    – T. Verron
    Mar 7 '13 at 12:14
  • 1
    @posdef: I think of a cover letter as a few short paragraphs saying "Hi, I'm applying, this is who I am", but a research statement is a formal document about your research that everyone requests as part of the application process. You wouldn't describe your teaching experience/interests or your personal connections to the university in a research statement, although people often suggest putting information like that in a cover letter.
    – JeffE
    Mar 8 '13 at 0:15

An advice I got when I started worrying about how to form my CV was to include a short paragraph under the title "Profile" which would practically be the only freetext bit of the CV, where I describe myself in short and to-the-point sentences. The rest of the CV was supposed to be sort of an enumeration of what I have done, what I can do etc etc.

So I think if you want to have your research interests in your CV, it would make sense to purify the core of what you want to say and plug that into such a "profile". Alternative, or rather a complement, to that would be to mention your research interests in a cover letter which you would most likely need to write for any position you'll be applying to.

I guess it all depends on what kind of a CV you are going for.

  • Presently it's for my academic homepage, and if I use it for applying for academic positions I will tweak it depending on where I apply.
    – gerrit
    Mar 6 '13 at 18:21

What is a better alternative for describing research interests on a CV?

  1. include a brief (1-3 sentences) free form blob, basically a research statement. Something like this:

    I work to remedy the effects of human air pollution of natural environment. I focus on monitoring quality of air and water quality in urban areas, especially XYZ. My main achievements include A, B and C.

  2. include a list of keywords of your research interests underneath the blob.

The blob and keywords should fit to the first page of the CV package.

  • One problem with this approach is that A,B,C and XYZ might be pretty long in some fields. That example paragraph would easily be twice as long if I had to write it, as what I do is pretty cross-disciplinary and the only available keywords are not self-explanatory.
    – posdef
    Mar 7 '13 at 16:01
  • 1
    @posdef: well, it is indeed difficult to draft the blob in any field. But after few days of cutting down, I am sure you will be able to deliver :-). A rule of thumb: try to explain what you do to your grandma in a 30 seconds pitch. If you manage that one, you have your blob. If you can't do it, mildly put: "I would strongly suspect something not precisely ripe and right in your line of research".
    – walkmanyi
    Mar 7 '13 at 19:40

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