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Résumé for Researchers: the whys and hows of narrative CVs

15 September 2021

Our Research Associate in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Ola Thomson, pens an overview on narrative CVs, explaining how they can enable researchers to showcase a broad array of outputs and outcomes from their research beyond published papers.

The recently published (July, 2021) Research & Development People and Culture strategy paper released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy expresses commitment to driving adoption of the Résumé for Researchers (or narrative CV) to broaden the range of recognised experiences and accomplishments of researchers. This alternative CV developed by the Royal Society and UKRI, will allow activities beyond publication record and secured grants to be recorded and recognised when evaluating research candidates. The strategy report argues that this “will provide a more rounded picture of an individual’s career, their achievements and overall contribution to R&D. UKRI will be using the Résumé in its processes and will be supporting its use by organisations across the sector.” An example of this new CV, commonly referred to as ‘narrative CV’.  But what is narrative CV and how was the idea born?

The Royal Society organised a series of workshops with research stakeholders as part of their ‘Changing Expectations Programme’ in 2017. One of the outcomes of the report was a recognition that a standardised short format CV was sorely needed to reflect the wider contributions of researchers to the research system. This finding has led to the creation of the ‘Résumé for Researchers’. Funders such as the Dutch Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, Swiss National Science Foundation, and UKRI have all experimented and adopted this new way of CV writing. It was developed with the help and input of people from across the research system, including the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

Narrative CV enables researchers to showcase a broad array of outputs and outcomes from their research, but crucially it allows instilled standards and structure into evaluation processes, where the difficult-to-compare qualitative information can be assessed more consistently across applicants (DORA). But, it is possible to adapt and customise Résumé for Researchers, as it is intended to be a flexible tool to recognise and address a range of different processes that require a summative evaluation of a researcher and specificities of the context in which evaluation takes place.

As with anything new there is some apprehension and concerns about the tendency of some individuals to overstate their achievements, and gender stereotypes creeping in where ‘confidence’ means ‘competence’. On the other hand, traditional CVs are not immune to similar issues. What is important in narrative CVs is that researchers can demonstrate how they have made a contribution to their field, discipline or community, and also to research teams and the development of others. This allows candidates to craft a convincing rationale and present their career paths in a much more intelligible way that builds a comprehensive picture of their working life inside and outside of academia.

The four modules of the CV capture outputs and success measures normally included in a non-narrative research CV (publications, funding, awards), as well as activities focused on research citizenship and community, such as public engagement, training and knowledge exchange. Generation of knowledge, development of individuals, contributions to the wider research community, and contributions to broader society are supported by a personal statement, as well as mentioning career breaks, secondments, volunteering, part-time work, and other relevant experience (including in time spent in different sectors) that might have affected progression of a researcher.

However, this new approach is not without its challenges. For example, it can be difficult to integrate the Résumé with existing highly defined processes. In response to this, the Royal Society amended their grants’ processes to collect a wider range of information, for example through amendments to the guidance notes for the personal statement of the University Research Fellowships (URF) and Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships.

Moreover, so far there has been no empirical evidence to show whether and how this type of CV influences evaluation processes both for researchers and institutions. The good news is that this knowledge gap is currently being filled by the Lab for Academic Culture at the University of Glasgow, in partnership with Dr Jane Alfred from Catalyst Editorial and UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN), through their three-phase project to provide researchers in the wider research community with an enhanced narrative CV template. Their work focuses on early career researchers (ECR) and exploring the challenges this CV brings:

  • uncertainty where to insert what information,
  • avoiding redundancy and repetition,
  • confidence in how to document and support with good indicators their outputs, contributions and activities, and
  • confidence in how to select the types of examples that demonstrate impact, quality, wider contribution to leadership, culture, and practice.

The team released a report in August 2021 on piloting the writing and assessing of narrative CVs with a plethora of useful information, guidance and recommendations for academics, Higher Education Institutions and funders who are encountering or using this type of CV format for the first time, and the issues to consider.

For resources on writing these CVs, including example CVs, you can self-enrol onto a free 25-minute online course by the University of Glasgow and explore all the guidance and practical tips. However, it is worth noting that the key recommendation from the report is that whatever approach is adopted to the format and process for submission and review, a pilot should be undertaken, with a thorough equality impact assessment.

Further information

Find out more about our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work.

Listen to an NIHR Dementia Researcher blog with Ola Thomson: How to create a narrative CV

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