39 pages of boredom

By Jonas Waldenström

What do the academics do all day in their ivory towers? Thinking grand thoughts? Plotting the end of civilization? Mixing noxious and explosive chemicals to see what happens? Sleep?

This is Mr Burns. Not really related to this post at all, but he is such a charming gentleman. Nicked from the Simpsons.

This is Mr Burns. Not really related to this post at all, but he is such a charming gentleman. Nicked from the Simpsons.

No, sadly none of the above. Chances are we polish our ever-growing CVs. Sometime in the transition between student and postdoc I started to realize just how widespread the obsessiveness of academic bookkeeping was. Like a disease of academics. All stuff that possibly could be scribbled down as an achievement, even if incredible small, would directly go on someone’s CV.

I tried to stay out of it as much as I could, but after a while I too started to get my credentials in better order. Of course, keeping track of what papers you have written is easy – and fun – but then there is a gradual decline into bookkeeping disease. Held a presentation at a conference? Write that down. Had a poster on a conference? Write that down. Went to a conference? Write that down. Considered going to a conference? Write that down. Did your student present a poster on a conference? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

In a way it is unavoidable. An inherent part of academia is the perpetual evaluations of performance. If you want to get a grant you have to face the fact that a score of other scientists also wants it, and that it is your CV as well as your project that is evaluated (in varying order…). And if you apply for a position, again your CV is scrutinized and measured.

Last week I hope I reached my peak CV writing. My current position is coming to an end and I am to be evaluated for a permanent position on the faculty. At the same time I will be evalutated for professorship. The resulting application ended on 39 pages. Thirty nine pages that some poor fellow now needs to read. Not only was I supposed to list my publications, there were also sections on outreach, administration, education, pedagogic views, achievements, awards, referee assignments, editor assignments, artistic talent, collaborations, teaching, memberships and whatnots. The most inspiring part was to write two pages about research visions and five pages on scientific breakthroughs – the remaining 32 pages were more or less bullet points on various aspects of performance.

An example of a neatly kept CV? Actually this is "Nådiga luntan"  (which Googles translates into 'gracious tome'), or simply the 2013 Budget from the Swedish Minstry of Finance. Photo from Finansdepartmentet under a CC BY 2.0 license.

An example of a neatly kept CV? Actually this is “Nådiga luntan” (which Google translates into ‘gracious tome’), or simply the 2013 Budget from the Swedish Minstry of Finance. [Photo from Finansdepartmentet under a CC BY 2.0 license.]

Don’t misunderstand me – I do think it is good to have a meritocratic system, but sometimes I feel so tired of writing text on how splendid and wonderful I am. After a month with two major grant applications, one annual report to the faculty, and now the professorship application I am pretty damn tired of myself. Especially of writing about myself, instead of writing science. Thumbs crossed, I may become professor in the autumn, and as that is the last career leap in academia I could perhaps avoid future CV opuses of this magnitude.

A final word of advice. If you pursue an academic career, there is one aspect that you should not forget to keep track on: your teaching! In which courses did you teach? At what level? Did you develop the lectures yourself? What kind of examination forms have you tried? Ask your dean (or equivalent) for a written letter on your performance when you leave an institute – it will be very hard to get one 5 years later.

Thus, keep your bookkeeping up, but don’t forget what academia is relly all about: SCIENCE! Go write those papers, otherwise no one will ask for your CV.

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