Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Title X

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.


zed said...

I don't include titles, for FSP's reasons 1&2, and also because it's not commonly done in my field (or so I imagine, I haven't seen a ton of CVs). I don't even include titles for talks given at conferences.

Anonymous said...

Thinking back to your previous post on baby gaps - talks might be a bigger give-away than publications. I had enough papers in the pipeline that I don't have an obvious baby gap in my publications, but I do have a full year with no talks because I couldn't leave the baby overnight (difficult baby).
And I don't include any talk titles in my cv because, as you say, the titles aren't informative and a lot of them are the same.

Experimental Knitter said...

My university has a standard CV format we all follow. Invited talks/seminars/presentations are included in a separate section (I'm at a post-graduate health sciences university). If someone doesn't want to look at that section, he or she is free to skip it. It matters here to T&P committees that one gets invited to speak by folk outside this place.

Anonymous said...

Your colleagues sure have a lot of strong opinions on trivial stuff.

Meadow said...

Good post. Got me thinking about my resume. Talks in my field are roughly categorized as:

1) Seminar Talks (always invited) --generally need a broad title

2) Regional, National and International conference presentations (often invited) -- usually the title of a paper. If talking on a collection of papers then again a broad title.

3) Conferences of local chapters (always invited) -- again broad title

I list all of them under talks. Just recently realizing that many of the titles are similar, I removed all titles. If someone really wants to follow up on titles and abstracts they can easily find it through links on my webpage.

And yes, baby gaps are present in talks and publications.

Looking forward to the comments.

EliRabett said...

It varies by field, you have no idea until you get a 100 pager from some engineering type. They are trained to document everything.

This explains why the granting agencies now limit everyone to two pages

Anonymous said...

Not a fan of including invited talks. Another issue with CVs (mainly postdocs and grad students): many people include fellowships that they were offered but then refused in favor of another one, sort of like

Helen Hay Whitney Fellow
Damon Runyon Fellowship (declined)

I always thought this was sort of silly, myself...

a physicist said...

No titles. CV's are already long. The main point is that you've been giving talks. Publication record is sufficient to indicate if you're working on a variety of projects.

I agree with anonymous 8:03, your colleagues have too much time on their hands! But still, it led to an interesting blog post... it's always interesting to hear what other people worry about.

David said...

Since I received tenure at a top tier university (School of Medicine) 17 years ago I pretty much stopped listing lectures in my CV, with the exception of prestigious "named" lectures. It just seemed to bothersome to include all the invited or conference talks as well as not very germane to the external knowledge or assessment of my activities. I see a lot of CVs, but almost all are from much more junior people for whom listing talks IS important evidence of their work, their growth, and national and/or international reputation. For them it surely makes sense to list the talks and titles.

BugDoc said...

FSP, I totally agree with you that talk titles are not very useful in a CV for the reasons you stated. Unfortunately, my university requires me to include them in my full CV for promotion, so I've had to put them in there. It just seemed like CV "padding" to me since it makes the CV pages longer...

Anonymous said...

Here's a question I've been wondering- do job talks (even for jobs you didn't take/get offered) count as invited talks, or is that tacky? And if you listed them, would you have to say they were job talks, or just the department, date, seminar series it was part of, and things like that?

a physicist said...

Anonymous 9:37: this question (about listing invited talks on CV's) was the subject of a recent FSP post, you'll find the comments on that post have a variety of answers to your question.

Anonymous said...

"Another issue with CVs (mainly postdocs and grad students): many people include fellowships that they were offered but then refused in favor of another one, sort of like

Helen Hay Whitney Fellow
Damon Runyon Fellowship (declined)

I always thought this was sort of silly, myself..."

I include one such entry on my CV because I elected not to do a postdoc and to go directly into teaching. The fact that I won a prestigious fellowship is a better indicator of the quality of my PhD work than anything else - and it also helps to counter the "oh, you're just teaching because you weren't good enough to do research" ignorance I encounter every so often.

another young FSP said...

What do you do about the posters/abstracts section? Once your students, postdocs, collaborators, collaborators' students, etc start giving posters with your name, this section seems to balloon completely out of control. It seems silly to have more detail in this section than in the seminars/talks section.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I just realized my list of invited talks contains basically the same title in three 'flavors', and looks boring as hell.
I don't think it is reasonable to expect people to give each talk a unique title, and I don't see what's wrong with giving the same talk in seminar series at different universities. Still, I realize how boring it looks once everything is listed together.
Titles are useless anyway, so I'm removing them right now!

ME said...

My invited talks often have the same title because I'm boring and I have better things to spend my time on. It is general and then leave flexibility for the night before power point remodeling. There are baby gaps in the travel (talks) but not as much with the papers (thanks to some productive students and going up for tenure the when baby was 1).

Anonymous said...

About giving the same talk over and over again, I see students/postdocs in our research group give the same talk at our group meetings. (We have a large group, so there is a 2 month time lag in between talks for each person .) It takes a lot of work to write a talk, especially on a new topic. I can understand your colleagues criticisms.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I've seen fucktillions of bioscience CVs, and I've never seen one with talk titles on it. And my university does not ask for it on the special T&P format CV, although they do explicitly ask *where* you've been invited to give talks.

Until this post, I'd never even heard of the practice. It's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard.

Kevin said...

I list my talk titles, but I don't list posters. I thought that poster listing was appropriate when applying for grad school or postdoc positions, but after that was irrelevant.

It is true that many of my talk titles are the same, while the underlying talks are different. It is hard to come up with catchy titles that actually mean something.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, last semester I went to a seminar with a particularly interesting title. At the beginning of the talk, the visiting professor explained that, although he might allude to the research named in the title, he'd decided to talk about a completely different project going on his lab.

You can see what I'm thinking here: If I saw a CV with titles, I'd think, "Yeah, but is that really what they talked about?" I've become cynical too early in my academic career.

John Vidale said...

Titles for talks?

Maybe if the talks are just in the last few months so the material hasn't been published yet, but otherwise it seems highly redundant - an indication that the resume compiler had nothing more useful to do.

Even the subject of the recent talks is better treated in the research statement than as a title on the recent talks section.

Anonymous said...

My university (large private research university) requires talk titles on our T&P CV format. The T&P folks warned me that the committee does not look favorably on multiple talks listed with the same title. I thought this was silly, but since I want tenure, I complied.