Keep Track of All You Do. Your Future Self Will Thank You.


Keep Track of All You Do. Your Future Self Will Thank You.

—from the PI’s Desk

Early in my career, a tenured professor told me, "If you sneeze, and it's a good sneeze, keep track of it." At the time I doubted it would matter but I've been forever grateful that I followed his advice.

Writing down noteworthy (and seemingly insignificant) accomplishments, skills, and activities while the details are fresh in your mind can make all the difference when you need to update a Resume or CV for a scholarship, volunteer, job, or program application.

No matter how much you believe that you'll remember the title of your first poster presentation, the name and date of the first conference you attend, or the new skills you gained during the term, once the excitement fades your clarity will be slowly replaced by vague recollections.

When you're presenting your most professional self on paper, accurate and specific details are essential (Note: For the remainder of this post, CV will be used to refer to both CV and resume.)

However, spending time to update your CV at the end of each semester wouldn't be an efficient use of your time because CVs often need to be customized for each application. Plus, the longer you're involved in an in-depth research experience the more items you'll be able to list.

If an application has a one-page cut off, you might need to remove some activities to make the page limit. You don't want to forget about an activity because it didn't quite support your application, and you don't want to spend your time comparing old CVs to determine the key differences each time you create a new one.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution that takes some pain out of crafting a CV without taking too much time: creating and maintaining a separate digital file that includes all of your accomplishments, skills, awards, and activities.

It’s not a polished document, and you won't share it others, so the organization and accuracy matters more than the formatting. This is why it doesn’t take much time to create or update. But it will be infinitely useful during your college career. And if you do this, your future self with thank you.

What to Include

Obviously, if you present your research at a symposium (as a poster or a talk), attend a meeting, publish a paper, are issued a patent, or are awarded a scholarship or any non-research award those should to be included. In addition, if you acquire new research skills, master a technique, learn a new computer program, or take on a leadership role in the lab those should also be added. But if you had a job, volunteered, or participated in extracurricular activities outside of your research experience include those as well.

It’s okay to go a little overboard here because your strategy is to create an all-inclusive list. When you need to create a CV, you’ll review to the file, select the relevant items, and make a customized document. It's always easier to select items from a list than to try to recall specific details when racing an application deadline.

How to Organize

For your digital file to be the most effective, easiest to use, and take the least amount of time to create and maintain, you’ll want to organize it by semester. Make a heading at the top of your document with the semester that is ending now. Then add the relevant skills, accomplishments, activities, awards, extracurricular activities, and other information under it.

If you stopped participating in an activity this semester, make a notation as well because end dates are relevant. Also, whenever possible, estimate the number of hours you per week you participated in each volunteer or research activity. If the number of hours is substantial, it can make a greater impact on a future CV than the mention of an activity only. (View the graphic at the top as an example.)

Where to Store

In the cloud, my friend. You’ll want it to find your digital file quickly, be able to access it from all electronic devices, and you’ll want it backed up. Then, create a nested folder and add all CVs that you have created, and all that you create moving forward.

I have advised countless, stressed students and researchers during job hunts and application cycles who have regretfully said, "I can't find my last CV." You can avoid this completely if you embrace Dropbox, Evernote, SpiderOak, Google Drive, or any of the other cloud storing options.

When to Schedule Updates

Make updates a priority three times a year-- near the end of each semester and the end of the summer. Either schedule the update for the Monday after your last final or keep following us on Facebook. When you see this post pop up, update your digital file that day, or put it on your calendar for the next week. You’re never going to be excited to do it, and it's never going to be more than a chore, but it will save you so much time, and make your life easier if you do this regularly. Again, your future self with thank you--especially when you see your friends who didn't do this stressed out when they are completing applications.

No matter the reason you need to create a CV, you’ll be better off if you have a digital file stored in the cloud to draw from. Your time is better spent customizing a CV, completing an application, or writing a personal statement or essay than trying to remember what you did two semesters (or years!) ago. It will also be easier to make a high quality CV if you can focus on formatting when you’re rushing against a deadline.

And trust me, you do care what your CV looks like because quality always matters—even if doesn’t matter to you, it will matter to the person who reviews it.