As I've mentioned before, owing to my being on various committees within and beyond the university, and to my being sent promotion/tenure dossiers for external review, in a typical year I gaze at many CVs from faculty and proto-faculty of all ranks in many different academic disciplines. In the past year, in which I was not on a hiring committee (thereby much reducing my CV-gazing responsibilities), I have still managed to end up evaluating ~50 faculty CVs.
I find CVs fascinating, especially in terms of how they are constructed: what is included, what is not included, the order of items, and so on.
Some items are of course fairly standard, even in very different academic disciplines. Other items are much more free-form, even within a single academic discipline. It's the latter that are interesting to me.
Today's subject: Why/whether individuals should list invited talk titles on a CV. These are the titles of talks given at a university or at a government or private research lab, not the titles of invited conference presentations.
This very issue was the subject of recent discussion by some of my colleagues. I don't believe that anyone's future hangs on whether talk titles are or are not included in a CV, but it interested me that some of my colleagues had rather strong opinions about this issue.
Some people put titles of invited (non-conference) talks on their CV, some don't. Is the title of the talk useful information? Are there any pitfalls to including the title? Does it matter?
Although I vary the level of detail of my CV depending on the purpose for which it is being examined, I don't typically include talk titles, even in the most detailed version of my CV.
Note: Even though I am a full professor, I have to keep my CV up to date. Submitting an updated CV is part of the review of tenured faculty by my department/university and I get occasional requests for my CV for random reasons. It is also easier to construct the abbreviated CVs needed for proposals if you have an updated version from which you can extract the necessary information.
Why don't I include talk titles on my CV? There are at least three reasons:
1 - I don't think it is important information to include in a CV.
2 - I am lazy and don't keep track of talk titles. Sometimes I provide a talk title far in advance of the talk and then I forget what the title is and I have to dig through my e-mail inbox or check the website of the department I will be visiting so that I prepare a talk that is at least somewhat related to the title I selected months in advance. And I certainly don't immediately type the title into my CV and then I don't make the effort to go back later and figure out what it was. If I thought it was important to keep better track of talk titles, I would try to do it, but I don't think it is all that important.
3 - I tend to give a short, general title that will cover a range of possible topics that I will select when I prepare the talk just before my visit. This becomes more difficult to do when an abstract is also requested along with the title, but I can still be sufficiently general to give myself the flexibility to talk about what seems most interesting when the scheduled talk day rolls around. In general, though, the titles for many of my talks might be the same or similar, but this doesn't accurately reflect the fact that the actual content varied somewhat or that I put a lot of effort into creating a talk appropriate for each place/audience. What looks like the same talks, based only on the title, might have been quite different talks. The titles would therefore be somewhat misleading if seen in a list.
Does it matter? In fact, that second point brings me to a potential pitfall that I recently encountered, much to my surprise. If you list talk titles in your CV and it turns out that you gave talks with the exact same title at, say, 8 different places, some readers of the CV will assume that you gave the exact same talk at those 8 different places and will be less impressed than if you gave different talks.
Maybe you did give the same talk; maybe you didn't. Either way, how does this compare to someone who gave 8 talks with different titles (albeit possibly on related topics)? In my experience, the latter is viewed as more impressive.
I personally don't have such a negative opinion about giving the same talk at many places. At least the person is being invited to many places to give a talk. So what if he/she didn't have 8 different talk titles? And anyone who has given a talk many times (e.g. as a lecturer for a professional organization, or for interview talks) knows how much work it is to give the same talk over and over.
If you must include the talk titles on your CV because it is the tradition in your field or because someone else with strong opinions about CVs thinks that talk titles are important to include, let me just say that I hope that your talk title isn't a yes or no question.
In my opinion, it is much more important to include the date of the talk, even if only by year, and of course the place. Many reviewers-of-CVs want to see the pattern of talks relative to time: Were all the talks clustered in one short time span? Have you given any talks lately? Are you continuously in demand as a speaker, or did you stop having interesting things to say a century ago? This is important information; adding the talk title may obscure more than it illuminates.
Update to my updated CV:
Last month I showed how I could organize the invited talk list part of the CV according to certain categories, but after a recent incident, I need to add a new category: Talks that I gave right after being in a minor car accident that was entirely the fault of a 'distracted' driver who somehow hasn't yet heard the news that texting-while-driving is dangerous and who hit the back of my car, which was stopped at a stop sign as I was en route to give a public lecture one evening, and whose profuse apologies made while waving an iPhone in my face did nothing to lessen the head/neck ache I had while giving the talk. I think the talk was OK but it was not as good as it could/should have been.
8 months ago