CVs, narrative CVs, alternative CVs (s03e07)

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[00:00:00] Chris Hartgerink: Welcome to the Open Update season three. For Liberate Science. I'm Chris Hartgerink and I'm joined by my co-host Sarahanne Field.

[00:00:06] Sarahanne Field: Hello.

[00:00:07] Chris Hartgerink: Today we'll be continuing on the theme of power imbalances in research academia and society more generally. We wanted to talk today a bit about how CVs work and how CVs don't work in research, what people are trying to do about that and what they're trying to replace, how they're trying to replace it to what end.

And also to think about, well, does that really address the issues that we're trying to discuss here in the podcast in terms of power imbalances?

Sarahanne, you told me that you would like to chat a bit about narrative cvs. I think a lot of people are very familiar with regular academic cvs. The entire book of a hundred thousand publications, including all the talks, no matter how minor, people have done.

Could you share a bit more about what narrative CVS are and what the goals of it are? Because I'm not even a hundred percent sure to be honest.

[00:01:09] Sarahanne Field: The narrative CV is basically just a description of your academic profile in the format of a narrative. Instead of having, this big list of papers, like you said, your education, talks, invited presentations, things like that, that are all listed in point form, the candidate is asked in a narrative CV to spread these different elements of content out in a story.

With this kind of cv, the narrative cv, you can discuss qualitative aspects of your academic profile. So instead of saying you have 10 publications, you're able to discuss a couple of key publications and talk about how they shaped your competency for the role you're applying for, for instance.

They allow more space for people who have had, say, a less traditional academic trajectory or who have, for example, had a baby in the middle of their PhD and have a gap in their traditional CV as a result.

That's the kind of thing we're talking about today.

[00:02:12] Chris Hartgerink: These narratives, from what stage in a career should I imagine this to apply? Because, like a regular academic CV when you're applying for a PhD candidate job, you don't yet have those and at that point you also don't really have a narrative. So how would that work?

[00:02:31] Sarahanne Field: These narrative CV requests tend to come at somewhat higher level.

I haven't yet seen the request of a narrative CV for, say, a PhD candidate. In that kind of case, the only thing in your narrative is how your education has shaped your interest in that role.

But for instance, for, a postdoc or more likely, an assistant or an associate professorship and upwards from there, you do have a narrative that starts potentially in your undergrad. And talks about your experience as an undergraduate researcher and comes through, you know, those years until you reach this point basically in time.

So I think one of the benefits, supposed benefits of the narrative CV is that where you focus your story is up to the candidate. You might be someone who's applying for an associate professorship, and you may want to discuss undergraduate experience, for example. That would be unlikely, but that's up to you as the candidate to spotlight different aspects of your academic profile through that narrative.

So I think that flexibility, is one of the benefits of using a narrative CV for an application.

[00:03:41] Chris Hartgerink: Have you done a narrative CV?

[00:03:43] Sarahanne Field: I have not, I was going to do one but I decided against it, mostly because it wasn't required and I just didn't feel like it was needed, I suppose, for that particular position.

[00:03:58] Chris Hartgerink: When we talk about CVs in terms of power imbalances, it also sounds like the people who have thick academic CVs would be in the position to tell a good story about their career. It might be correlated in a certain sense because, somebody who has done a lot of work might also be able to tell a good story because that is the quality that gets them published.

I've heard this question raised before. I'm intrigued to also hear your take of how does the narrative CV change, not just the format of how do you tell your career's achievements, but how does it also restructure the qualities that get evaluated in that sense?

[00:04:48] Sarahanne Field: You're touching on something that kind of makes me wary of the use of narrative CVs as a widespread method of selection for grants. That you are basically potentially getting rewarded for rhetoric. If you are able to tell a good story, you are probably gonna be making some good papers that get citations that get published.

In the same way, you are able to potentially spin a interesting, compelling narrative CV or academic profile story. That's certainly a concern of mine, that we are not really helping with equality with this. We're not even necessarily redistributing things too much.

That being said, there is a case for being able to explain why your experience in terms of the papers you've published, but also in terms of other things, like teaching or things that are not typically mentioned in a normal cv, how they relate to your candidacy for a particular role.

The rhetoric thing is a real concern. I do definitely think that the people who are better at spinning a story are going to be better at getting a good narrative cv. One thing that concerns me is how well someone can write in English.

If you're someone whose first language is not English, you may be actually disadvantaged with a narrative cv because it may be that you are not as comfortable with writing in a flowing way in English, quite as well as other competitors that might have a first language that is English.

That's really something that I would wanna keep in mind as well that how this benefits or disadvantages people.

[00:06:26] Chris Hartgerink: "Rewarded for rhetoric" is a very good way to phrase it.

What you just also said about the language immediately highlights that there's so many presumptions that we have or assumptions about what a CV should be, right? Why would you have to write in a language that isn't your native tongue? What would an alternative CV like that would be less problematic, that would have fewer problems for people?

One of them could be indeed, tell the story in whatever language or format that you are comfortable with.

I'm still very surprised that within academia, video applications are such a minor thing, if they happen at all. I've applied for many things over the years and honestly, going on video for the first time was the most uncomfortable thing ever.

But then on the flip side, it provides so much more depth around the person who's applying because they can show so much more than just the words. Just like the podcast has a certain cadence and the language has a certain cadence. I think what you say about, if somebody wants to write this narrative CV in Spanish, because that's where they can express their experiences the best, then especially in these days, shouldn't that simply be possible to the degree that it's feasible at least?

It raises this question of, okay, when we talk about cvs, that we need alternatives. But what those alternatives need to be, that's still wide open for debate.

[00:07:57] Sarahanne Field: I like the idea of going beyond the traditional CV with the traditional metrics. I've seen heaps of cvs that sort of start with talking about the candidates H index and their, the impact factor of the journals they've submitted and been accepted in articles too and that kind of thing.

I love the idea of an alternative to the traditional cv. I just don't know if the narrative CV is the right way to do it. But I haven't seen other alternatives.

One other concern that I wanted to mention is that the assumption that the people who are evaluating the candidates actually stick to what they're given. For example, if they're asked to evaluate purely based on a narrative cv, do they stick to that or do they go beyond that and Google the candidate and check their, for example, their Google Scholar profile. I know someone who has been on a panel who's used the Google Scholar profile because they just felt as though she didn't get enough information in assessing that, that application, with only a narrative cv. She just felt like she didn't get enough about the candidate and she needed a little bit more to actually evaluate the candidate fairly in, in her mind.

[00:09:14] Chris Hartgerink: It's, it's very interesting that you mentioned this example because it's this, okay, there's a policy. Let's do narrative cvs. We don't want this old academic style CV anymore, but by doing that, you don't necessarily change the culture.

So, I, I've heard people say to me like, um, culture eats policy for breakfast, or something like this, where it's simply this point of, you might want to magically make something appear in the world and you set a policy to make that, uh, a condition, but that doesn't mean that then subsequently, The world is created in that way, as well as your example of somebody saying, well, I don't get enough information. I'm gonna go to Google Scholar, or whatever index that they feel like they can get the information from, that they have, you know, been trained to expect. Which makes a lot of sense as well.

[00:10:10] Chris Hartgerink: I want to pivot a slight bit because I think one of the points about the CVs in academia, which I find very interesting after having left academia and also seeing more discussion around this within the tech and the private sector, is that academia is very isolated from regular CVs.

In the private sector, what happens is that these CVs, they go to recruitment agencies and they get automatically screened, and very often the CV will not even land on a recruiter's desk, which I know that's not how academia works. But it's so interesting that the issues that happen outside or take place outside of academia are so vastly different from the issues that are within academia, despite CVs being a society wide thing.

I'm intrigued also to hear your example about somebody trying to get the information they know, because there's also this point of we're not necessarily automatically screening these CVs, but in a way we have an informal algorithm that we use, right?

H index citations, journals, journal impact factors .

Just the reputation that's attached to them or the people you work with. And, in this podcast we talk about power imbalances and trying to reduce them. One of my fears around CVs is also that it will take more of this automated screening into the academic system.

[00:11:48] Sarahanne Field: I find the idea of having your CV screened by some kind of tool to be a little bit frightening. It makes me feel as though. All of the things that are in my CV are basically being boiled down to numbers. I have to believe that it's, it's more than that.

[00:12:08] Chris Hartgerink: It's all being reduced to data and saying, does this meet the criterion that we have set for ourselves? For cleaning jobs or for tech jobs, they will literally offer courses for you on how to construct your CV to get through these algorithms.

I'm not sure about the point that I'm trying to make with that, except to say there's also some things that could come into academia when we start changing these things if we're not careful that make the situation even worse for sake of efficiency.

[00:12:47] Sarahanne Field: There are so many courses in academia too indeed to say, oh, get a better CV for your next job application. That concerns me because it just seems as though the system is so inflexible that every time something shifts people need to get better and jump over more hurdles or higher hurdles. It just gives me the sense that it's just so inflexible and that differences and variability and diversity in the participant pool, that the candidate pool are just not interesting. They're not acceptable. They're not assessable and that, that concerns me so deeply.

Especially for something like academia where epistemic diversity, pluralism, is so valuable for pushing academic discourse forward. The idea that we're tightening and homogenizing these requirements that just, I don't know, that to me is so concerning.

[00:13:47] Chris Hartgerink: And this starts way before the CV even happens. It starts in the call for people to apply.

For me, as somebody who's employed people myself, I tend to not ask for cvs that do anything special. I just want to know a bit of the backstory of context, that's for me, the cv. And then the main part is always in the application procedure. For a communications position, I would want them to write something or to communicate something clearly so that I can see whether they have the skills.

What really matters about the position that people are hiring for and what could a CV contribute to that specific instance. And with a grant application, that is the question that that people have to answer around cvs and sometimes maybe it doesn't add anything.

Maybe it's about the proposal that people are applying with, and not so much about the context from which they're coming.

[00:14:50] Sarahanne Field: I'm constantly thinking about that balance between being able to adequately assess a candidate and making them jump through hoops and just having all this extra information that's not necessary, and that might actually limit the participant pool. That's something that that always pops into my mind when I think about cvs and I, I'm concerned that the narrative CV is a, is a bit of an oversteer.

You know, we're trying too hard to create diversity and in a sense we're limiting ourselves or changing up the system in a little bit of a funny way. But one sort of closing thought that I have, relates back to the point you made on culture in academia, and I think what you're saying is exactly right that it happens so early. Far before we even get to the point of CVs as to how we select for people in academia and whether or not epistemic diversity is ever encouraged.

I think that's what makes me excited to do the work that I do in the science reform movement because there are cultural changes that are happening, as critical as I am of some of the things that go on in the science reform movement, I do see changes in culture. And so I guess that I'm hoping that over time these changes in culture reflect on these candidate selection processes to some degree.

[00:16:09] Chris Hartgerink: That's us for this week's episode of the Open update. There's plenty, plenty more to discuss on this because CVs narrative CVs is only one alternative.

What are alternate to alternatives that we can imagine? If you have ideas around this, feel free to join us in our Signal group.

We'll be back in another few weeks with a new episode. Don't forget if you're new to the show that you can subscribe on your favorite podcast provider of choice. If it's something you do, feel free to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or recommend us to one of your colleagues. Because we're in this for the long haul. We keep having these conversations around power imbalances in academia, in research and in society more broadly. And maybe you want somebody to be a part of those conversations as well.

With that, we'll be finishing up. Thank you again for listening. We're very grateful for you spending time with us and we'll see you again in two weeks.

We'll hear you again in two weeks.

[00:17:11] Sarahanne Field: You'll hear us again in two weeks.

[00:17:14] Chris Hartgerink: Yes.

CVs, narrative CVs, alternative CVs (s03e07)
Liberate Science GmbH May 10, 2023
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