22 tips for writing academic cvs and covering letters

One of the things that’s kept me from my blog in the past year or so – apart from moving jobs and cities and leading an eight-person research team – is that I’ve sat on half-a-dozen interview panels. The last one involved reading through a pdf of all the applications that was 1,100 pages long – just under 60 applications (I have heard of posts attracting nearly 100 applications). That’s an awful lot of blog posts.

Indeed, it’s an awful lot of anything. If you’re an applicant, it might almost make you pity the interview panellists. If you’re a panellist, it might also give you a lot of opinions on how to write – and how NOT to write – standout cvs and covering letters.

So, here is a blog post with some advice for you if you are writing up your cv and your covering letter for an academic job application. It’s a combination of things that have irritated me as I’ve read some applications, and things that I’ve appreciated as I’ve read others. 

I should note that this advice is based on job applications in the UK and in the social sciences. Conventions do vary between countries and disciplines, so my very first piece of advice is: get a draft of both your cv and your letter read by someone who has sat on a lot of interview panels in both the country and the discipline you’re applying to, if you can. 

general tips:

  • your cv lists information; your covering letter contextualises that information. So don’t repeat all the facts that are in your cv in your letter. Use your letter to explain what you have achieved and its significance, not to list what you have done.
  • remember your reader may not be online when they are ploughing through applications, so don’t put crucial information on pages that are only accessible via links.
  • don’t make the letter or cv too long. And no, I don’t know how long too long is, it depends on the job spec and what you’ve done. But I’d suggest three sides max for the letter.
  • only send what you are asked to. I don’t want to have to wade through (or print out) pages of student feedback, book manuscripts, certificates or powerpoint presentations, unless they are a necessary part of the selection process.
  • and remember, if I’ve got lots of applications to read for a competitive post, then at a certain point I’ll be looking (unfortunately) for reasons not to shortlist you – and if it’s not clear exactly what you’ve done, I will not be able to give you the benefit of the doubt. So be precise in both your letter and your cv.

cv tips:

  • list things in date order.
  • put most recent things first.
  • put page numbers on all your publications. It’s important that I know whether a publication is four-pages or twenty-pages. Being clear is better than sowing seeds of doubt in the reader’s mind, even it is a four-pager.
  • publications are either in print or online first (in which case, use the full citation [see above]), or they are ‘forthcoming’ (ie accepted for publication), or ‘accepted subject to major/minor revision’, or ‘under consideration’ (ie submitted but not yet reviewed). Other descriptions can be confusing – or seem evasive.
  • don’t bother listing publications ‘in preparation’ – unless they’ve been invited by a book/journal editor. Others might disagree here, but for me, anyone can say they’re preparing anything. I’d rather go an on actual achievements when assessing applications.
  • in your list of publications, separate out your books, papers, book chapters and ‘other’.
  • in your list of talks, distinguish between invited talks and others.
  • descriptions of grants should include the funder, the dates of the funding period, the amount of funding awarded, and your precise role in the project. Again, even if you only made the tea, I’d rather know that than have to guess or wonder if something is being glossed over. (And tea-making is important to teamwork…) 
  • do not mention the REF in relation to your publications. Currently, publications are not “REF eligible” in any sense other than they count as research – posts are eligible; and whatever stars your institution thinks your outputs are is irrelevant, it’s the REF panel that will decide. And in any case, the REF kind is only one kind of excellence. Don’t embed it in academic work any further than necessary.
  • if you’re going to mention the ‘impact’ of your work, make sure you understand the difference between ‘impact’ and ‘dissemination’ (in REF-speak). Both are important (see the previous point) but if you don’t know the difference between them, that suggests that you’re not sufficiently informed about the REF. Which you should be, not to exaggerate its importance but to acknowledge its actual signficance.
  • do mention any significant periods of leave you’ve had (parental, compassionate…). 
  • be careful when using metrics to describe what you’ve done. Quantity does not necessarily translate into quality.
  • do not list absolutely everything you have ever done. Quantity does not necessarily translate into quality.
  • once you’re going back more than 5 or 6 years, please be selective in what you list you’ve done.
  • personally, I find a photograph of you as part of your cv unnecessary.

covering letter tips:

  • the usual procedure in the UK is that each application is graded against the essential and desirable criteria in the job description. So, address each element of the essential and desirable characteristics of the post explicitly in your letter. Use subheadings to do this! – address each one systematically. Even if you don’t have a lot to say in one subsection, just a sentence will show that you’re paying attention.
  • particularly if you’re applying to a research-intensive department, say something specificabout your intellectual contribution in your cover letter. What is distinctive about what you do?
  • show that you know something about the department you’re applying to – at the very least, show that you’ve read the department’s website.

I hope some of that is useful. Good luck!

next digital |visual | cultural event

For our third event—and second of 2019—digital | visual | cultural turns to the dynamic practices of digital 3D modelling. Focusing specifically on laser scanning/LiDAR and the subsequent generation of ‘point clouds’ and three dimensional digital ‘mass’, the event will assemble scholars and practitioners across heritage science, environmental science, medical imaging, transport technology and fine art disciplines. It will look to articulations of 3D visualisation across disciplines as means to explore how the use of these instruments of visualisation enable ways of seeing that are at once mediated, experimental, collaborative, and spatially complex.

The event will feature a keynote talk on 17 June titled “Point-clouds, pixels and perspective: re-encountering three-dimensional visual technologies between mathematics and culture” from Dr Clancy Wilmott of the Geography Department at the University of Manchester. On the day following there’ll be a full day of presentations and conversations by scholars and practitioners of 3D visualisation (to be announced soon). See the event page for bookings and further details.

digital visual publics event – book now!

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I’m delighted to announce the second digital | visual | cultural event. It will take place over two days, 7 and 8 January 2019, at St John’s College in Oxford, and will explore what kinds of publics are convened by various kinds of digital visuals. We’ll be paying particular attention to the visualisation of urban pasts, presents and futures. The first day of discussions will be followed by a reception for all participants.

You can find out more about our amazing range of speakers and topics here.

The event is free but we ask you to book via the event webpage here.

I’ve been organising this with Sterling Mackinnon, Adam Packer and Oliver Zanetti, and we all look forward to welcoming you to Oxford in January!

digital research methods at #AoIR2018

I had a great day at a digital methods workshop run by Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Richard Rogers, Tim Highfield and Tama Leaver this week at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Montreal. Well, actually it was a workshop on social media research. Given the small matter of GIS as a digital research method, not to mention semiotics and political economy as part of the app walkthrough method, I might start a one-person campaign to get a bit more precision in the labelling here. However, that is my only niggle about the entire day, which was incredibly interesting and helpful and thought-provoking. Here are my take-aways:

  • Tim started off by urging us to be experimental and innovative. He pointed out that much social media research has relied on API-based methods, but Twitter is really now the only platform that allows decent access via its API, and Tim’s sense is that wasn’t going to last. Richard Rogers repeated this: increasingly, there is limited or no access to data to social media data, data is being deleted and data is not being archived. Jean too urged us to go beyond the database model of research.
  • another issue about social media data is that the media themselves keep changing. New features are added, old ones tweaked or removed. Instagram posts can be edited and comments added months after the original post. So how do you as a researcher keep up with those changes?  (Tim and Tama have a book coming out on Instragram – and Instagram has altered hugely since they started working on it, with Stories probably being the most significant change.)
  • a crucial reminder from Richard Rogers: begin with your research questions and then figure out what metrics might work – don’t start with the method! And lots of the day focussed how to generate the answers to empirical questions. But of course there are, or should be, theoretical positions driving those empirical questions. All the methods we discussed were what Richard refers to as “forensic”: the detailed analysis of clues, big and small, to identify a truth (there’s an interesting parallel with the Forensic Architecture research agency here). But forensics have to achieve particular forms of evidentiary reliability and I did wonder what sorts of questions and answers might be co-generated digitally if we worked with a different term to describe a different kind of method: symptomatic? evocative? machinic?
  • there are lots of resources for learning more about these methods: the residential schools run by the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam and the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology are standouts here but there are also some QUT MOOCs here. (There are lots of other summer schools too – I know about the Digital Humanities Summer School at Oxford as well as the Oxford Internet Institute’s – please add any you recommend in the comments box below.)
  • and finally, some words. “Mouse over” as a verb – as in “if you mouse over this dropdown menu…” – and the adverbs “appification” and “platformification”. (They’re what’s happening to identity, apparently.) And quantiquali, or qualiquanti – when digital methods are used to generate data that is then analysed using qualitative methods, or vice versa. Which kind of sounds like mixed methods, so perhaps another prompt for a more radical rethink about ‘digital methods’.

Finally finally, a big thanks to the presenters for a great day.

geomedia conference 2019: revisiting the home

I’m coming to the end of my first visit to Karlstad University as the Ander Visiting Professor of Geomedia. It’s been a fun two weeks, and I’m looking forward to coming back later this year.

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Before I go, I just want to publicise next year’s Geomedia conference. The theme is ‘revisiting the home’ and there are some great keynote speakers lined up, including Melissa Gregg and Tristan Thielmann.You can find out more information, submit paper proposals and register, here.

session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

This is a call for papers for a session at the next conference of the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC 3-7 April next year on feminist digital geographies, organised by Agnieszka Leszczynski (Western University) and me. It’s sponsored by both the Digital Geographies and the Geographic Perspectives on Women Speciality Groups of the AAG.

In the context of a flurry of activities coalescing around digital geographies, we invite papers that consider the “enduring contours and new directions” of feminist theory, politics, and praxis for geographies concerned with the digital (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2018). We broadly welcome interventions that proceed from, utilize, and advance feminist epistemologies, methodologies, theory, critical practice, and activism.

We are open to submissions offering empirical, theoretical, critical, and methodological contributions across a range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • big data
  • digitally-mediated cities
  • artificial intelligence and algorithms
  • social media
  • feminist/digital/spatial theory
  • progressive alternatives and activism
  • feminist histories and genealogies

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words by October 15th to aleszczy@uwo.ca and gillian.rose@ouce.ox.ac.uk. Please include a title, your name, affiliation and email address in the abstract. We will respond to authors with confirmation by November 1st.

Reference:

Elwood S and Leszczynski A (2018) Feminist digital geographies. Gender, Place & Culture25(5): 629-644.

seeing what (we want) driverless cars to see (but they don’t)

Just back from the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, which was held in Cardiff last week – and inspired enough to write my first blog post in quite a while.

driverless car lidar

Well actually there was a lot that was inspiring at the conference, but here I just want to focus on one thing. The Digital Geographies Working Group sponsored a pre-conference event, called Navigating Data Landscapes (the conference theme was landscape). I helped to organise it with Tess Osborne from Birmingham University and Sam Hind from the University of Siegen. Sam’s contribution was a workshop on YouTube videos showing what driverless cars ‘see’, and Tess’s which was a chance to play with a range of virtual and augmented reality devices. Mine was to screen a short film made by speculative architect Liam Young called Where the City Can’t See.

At the end of the afternoon, all the participants got together for a panel discussion with James Ash, Clancy Wilmott and Emma Fraser. Here are some of the comments that I took away from the afternoon from various contributors, specifically around the visualities of Lidar scans.

Images of what driverless cars ‘see’ deploy a cartographic language, not least because Lidar is a technology that uses light to map space by calculating distance. So although Lidar is a technology – like photography – that depends on light, it does not create photographs. This shows in visualisations that layer Lidar scans on top of one another so that it seems the viewer can look through one surface (or rather points scattered across that surface) onto another.

This is a spatial sensibility and not primarily a visual one – so the Lidar images aren’t really landscape images. Sam’s preferred term for what they show is ‘terrain’, a more topographic notion.

In fact, it’s quite possible that Lidar tech doesn’t really see anything at all. Which means that driverless cars – that use Lidar technologies to calculate the distances to objects around them – don’t ‘see’ either. The videos that purport to show us what driverless cars see actually show us a highly mediated version of the data that a Lidar scan has generated. It’s a visual imaginary of what humans think a driverless car sees.

And humans want to think that driverless cars see because this reassures us that we understand how they operate, the principles of their operation – that they are like us, in some way.

All of which means that videos of what Lidar scanners see are not actually what Lidar scanners see, they are what humans working with Lidar scan data desire the scanner to be seeing. Thus the videos showing what cars see are actually what humans (want to) see… and another symptom of this is that so many of the images of what driverless cars see aren’t from the car’s point of view at all, but rather they hover in mid-air. From a drone, perhaps – or perhaps just another, rather minor, god trick of seeing something from nowhere. (I’m trying to remember – surely there must be a deity of automobiles in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?)

seeing the smart city on Twitter: colour and the affective territories of becoming smart

I have a new paper out! It’s co-authored with Alistair Willis and is Online First in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Here is its main image and abstract:

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This paper pays attention to the immense and febrile field of digital image files which picture the smart city as they circulate on the social media platform Twitter. The paper considers tweeted images as an affective field in which flow and colour are especially generative. This luminescent field is territorialised into different, emergent forms of becoming ‘smart’. The paper identifies these territorialisations in two ways: firstly, by using the data visualisation software ImagePlot to create a visualisation of 9030 tweeted images related to smart cities; and secondly, by responding to the affective pushes of the image files thus visualised. It identifies two colours and three ways of affectively becoming smart: participating in smart, learning about smart, and anticipating smart, which are enacted with different distributions of mostly orange and blue images. The paper thus argues that debates about the power relations embedded in the smart city should consider the particular affective enactment of being smart that happens via social media. More generally, the paper concludes that geographers must pay more attention to the diverse and productive vitalities of social media platforms in urban life, and that this will require experiment with methods that are responsive to specific digital qualities.