The more I read CVs, the less I see the point in them.
First, there is the increasing tendency to have that cringeworthy “personal statement” at the start. You know the one: “Benjamin is a highly motivated and hard-working person who gets on well with people and puts others first.” Of course he is: he wrote it! The day that I see a personal statement starting: “I’m a psychopath with a criminal record”, my faith may be restored.
But I never will because people are now trained to write CVs as if they were writing a letter to Santa. The point is not to provide an objective and verifiable record of their achievements, but to talk up how good they have been. And the extent to which CVs are verifiable is very important; as evidenced by various notable cases, some people lie.
The other irritating aspect of CV writing relates to the insistence of every university on designing its own format and, increasingly, requiring these to be online. I regularly review CVs submitted to my own and other universities as part of applications for employment or promotion. How my heart sinks at the increasing complexity of these online systems, which have clearly been designed by people with far too much time on their hands and who never have to try to make use of their creations.
So, in academia, what are we looking for in a CV? Lists, mainly. Lists of employment positions held, awards and fellowships won, PhD students supervised and examined, papers delivered at conferences and, most importantly, articles published and research grants obtained.
There may also be a requirement to include programmes managed, modules delivered and committees slept on. But these are less verifiable in principle and rarely verified in practice – not least because there is an assumption that if someone has worked in a university for a few years, they can hardly have avoided teaching and administration.
Occasionally, universities are less interested in research and publishing achievements, but these instances are at the far end of the bell curve. Let’s face it, most academic appointment panels are mainly interested in concrete achievements that can be measured and that feed into institutional assessments, rankings and the like.
But if we ditched CVs, how would we record our achievements, and how would we assess other people’s achievements? Easy: we’d use ORCID: the Open Researcher and Contributor ID. This non-profit service, in its own words, “provides a persistent digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher and, through integration in key research workflows such as manuscript and grant submission, supports automated linkages between you and your professional activities, ensuring that your work is recognized”. What’s not to like?
Here, we have an online platform that is free to use and to which more than 2 million academics have already reportedly signed up. The ORCID system remains under development and is dependent on patronage from publishers, funding bodies and universities. But it already enables individuals to summarise their interests, record their careers and list publications and research grants. Many grants can be verified by registration numbers, and publications – good ones – are universally verifiable by digital object identifiers.
The ORCID system has other virtues, too. The unique identifier is a particular boon to people who change their name through marriage or gender realignment, or whose names are very common, or who are from countries where first and family names are hard to discern. Second, the unique record of achievements created is public and therefore verifiable and open to challenge. This should hopefully make it far harder for those with a tendency to be economical with the truth to get away with it.
Uptake of ORCID by universities has been patchy so far, but I make two predictions. First, that ORCID numbers will before long become essential as publishers make them an obligatory part of the process of submitting a manuscript. And, second, that once this takes place, the CV – and the parasitic industry that has grown up around how to write one – will die a long overdue death.