Podcasts

Podcast – How to create a Narrative CV

Hosted by Dr Yvonne Couch

Reading Time: 31 minutes

In this podcast Dr Yvonne Couch, Associate Professor of Neuroimmunology and ARUK Research Fellow at University of Oxford is joined by four experts to discuss Narrative CV’s, why they’re being introduced, and how to build one. Prefer to watch rather than listen? Find the video version of this podcast exclusively on YouTube.

This weeks guests are:

Dr Katie Meadmore, Senior Research Fellow, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC), University of Southampton.

Dr Ola Thomson, Research Associate in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at University of Bristol, the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg an Independent Expert Consultant in careers and diversity working with Universities, European Commission and Research Funders.

Background

In October 2019 The Royal Society published “Résumé for Researchers”, and since then many UK and European research funders have adopted the requirement for grant applicants to use a Narrative CV, including UK Research & Innovation, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dutch Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland.

A Narrative CV is a content-rich alternative to the traditional CV. It enables applicants to showcase a broader range of contributions to research e.g., Science Communications, teaching, mentoring etc. Through the use if this new format, funders hope address concerns that they is an over focus on success measures such as publications in high impact journals and big grant funding (although of course these still help).

Resources


Click here to read a full transcript of this podcast

Voice Over:

Welcome to the NIHR Dementia Researcher Podcast brought to you by dementiaresearcher.nihr.ac.uk, in association with Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society, supporting early career dementia researchers across the world.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Welcome back to the Dementia Researcher podcast for all the old hands who’ve been here before. For those of you who are new, we bring together early career researchers and leaders within the field of dementia research to discuss their work as well as to share career tips. I’m Dr. Yvonne Couch. I’m an Alzheimer’s Research UK fellow and associate professor at the University of Oxford. I’m also a regular blogger for Dementia Researcher, and this week I’m guest hosting the podcast. In August last year, I wrote a blog entitled, Your Resume Needs You, when some of the big funders started to adopt a novel approach to highlighting your professional achievements.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

To help us unravel what this means for the research community, my amazing panel of guests are here to talk about narrative CVs. Before we get into it, let me introduce that amazing panel. I am delighted to be joined by Dr. Rosa Sancho from Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr. Katie Meadmore from the National Institute of Health and Care Research Evaluation Trials and Studies Coordinating Center at the University of Southampton, Dr. Ola Thomson, a research associate working in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University of Bristol, and Dr. Claartje Vinkenburg who is an independent consultant from the Netherlands. Hello, everyone.

Dr Rosa Sancho:

Hi.

Dr Katie Meadmore:

Hello.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Let’s start with a proper round of introductions. Rosa, you’ve joined us on the podcast before, so why don’t you start?

Dr Rosa Sancho:

Hi, everyone. It’s really nice to be here again. I’m head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK and I’m responsible for the implementation of our research strategy and our funding programs, which include things like our project grants, fellowships, scholarships that we fund through our response mode schemes. I’m also involved in developing Alzheimer’s research case strategies around supporting early career researchers and promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in dementia research.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Perfect. Thank you. Katie, tell us a little bit about you.

Dr Katie Meadmore:

Hi, I’m Katie Meadmore, and I work as a senior research fellow in the insight team at the National Institute for Health and Care Research Evaluation Trials and Studies Coordinating Center, also termed NETSCC. This is based at the University of Southampton. In my current role, we typically undertake research and research projects which are the study of research processes and practices to provide evidence and support to support the continuous improvement of research design management and delivery.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Excellent. Very different from what I do, but I love the fact that we’ve got a lot of variety of skills and backgrounds here. Ola, tell us about you.

Dr Ola Thomson:

Thank you, Yvonne. Hello, everyone. I’m really pleased to be here. My background is in business school, actually, so again, different and human resource management. My PhD explored the careers of women knowledge workers including academics and their experiences of flexible work arrangements. Since then, I’ve worked on a Horizon 2020 project together with Claartje, Act for Gender Equality in Academia and Research and Innovation. What was interesting about that project is that it used communities of practice to promote institutional change from within, if you like, but also connecting with policy makers and funders.

Dr Ola Thomson:

Currently, I’m based at the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research at Bristol and I’m writing a book for practitioners on nurturing, equality, diversity, inclusion in health and biomedical research careers. I think that I’ve been invited to be here with you and talk about narrative CV because I’ve written a blog on this type of CV and been involved in various initiatives in relation to this topic. I’ve worked together with my Bristol colleagues to develop and deliver narrative CV workshops for our research staff, but also collaborated with international funded communities on how to develop evaluation of these new CVs from the funders’ perspective and how we measure its effectiveness and efficiency, so I look forward to this. Thank you.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Perfect. Thank you so much. Yes, that background could be really important because I think instituting change is going to be a bit challenging in terms of going forward with this. Claartje, your title is independent consultant, and that really intrigues me. Can you expand a little bit about what you do and how you got to where you are?

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

Sure. It’s interesting that you picked up on that in particular. Of course, there’s a strong… How do you say? There’s a long story to it and a short story, but I’ll stick to the short one for now. I was in academia for over 25 years as an expert on gender and careers especially and looking at careers in the professional service sector at board levels and in science or in research, if you like. About 10 years ago, I started to do some externally funded projects that were really about improving the process of evaluation, if you like, performance evaluation in research, and how gender bias plays a role and how to make that better. I really enjoyed the consultancy aspect of that, so doing research but evidence based to improve policies.

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

That basically was my starting point. I noticed that I was really good at it and also really inspired by it more than writing about it even though I still write about it every now and then. I’ve become an independent expert consultant running my own firm, a sole trader, I think, it’s called in the UK context, and that’s been very interesting. I’ve worked for a number of European commissions funded projects but also for research funders including European Research Council and the Dutch Research Council. I think a lot of my experience with the notion of narrative CVs is very similar to what Ola just talked about, so I’ll leave it at that.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Okay. Those were some great introductions, and everybody’s got spectacular background which I think is going to be really useful to discuss today’s topic. Today’s show, as you’ve probably gathered, is about narrative CVs. Now, depending on where you are in the world, you may or may not be familiar with this concept. Here in the UK is fairly new, potentially interesting, and a sometimes-contentious way of presenting your professional academic achievements. What we are hoping to do with this podcast is send you away with an understanding of what a narrative CV is, why it’s now a thing, and how this should improve things for academics, and what you need to do to ensure you can make the most of this change to benefit your own career. Ola, I’m going to come to you first. Can you tell us what a narrative CV is and what we might expect to see when we start to fill one in for the first time?

Dr Ola Thomson:

Narrative CV is a type of a research curriculum vitae, and it consists of a structured written description of the researcher’s contributions and achievements, and it reflects a really broad range of relevant skills and experiences. How is it different to a traditional CV, you might ask? Well, it allows you, the researcher, to tell a story. It’s a story not about what you achieved, but equally importantly, how you achieved it and why does it matter and who benefits. It’s actually both the whats and the hows, but the how and the why is what is new in this space because traditionally, we’ve been using lists and bullet points of articles, papers, grants, journal rankings, alongside any entries and other quantitative metrics, but this format departs from this convention in that the aim of this new approach is to recognize diverse or unusual path to research, and at the same time, appreciate the added value of this diversity.

Dr Ola Thomson:

What’s important to say here is that narrative CV is the fruit of a conversation that has been happening for a while now among academics, research, and innovation stakeholders and funders, and it’s about how to reform research assessment, and probably Katie will tell you more about this. I think at this stage, we need to understand that it’s not some trendy bandwagon but part of a larger, a concerted effort to make research assessment fairer and appreciative of diverse paths and contributions to research, and that’s just one of the tools that we’ve got out there. When we are looking for pots of money and we start to complete funders’ application forms, we might come across narrative CV requirements. Don’t panic because there will be a prescribed structure in place to help you with this. You’re not expected to write a freestyle essay.

Dr Ola Thomson:

For example, the resume for researchers that the UK research and innovation funder have been using has four modules as well as personal detail section. The structure asks you to write about your contributions, and the first one is about the generation of knowledge, of flow, of new ideas, hypotheses, tools. The second one is more about your contributions to the research knowledge community. The third one is about a broader society, so the so what question we often pose to our students and colleagues, but lastly, also how we’ve contributed to the development of other people, so maybe junior staff. How have we helped them along the way? Really, it’s about writing a compelling and convincing story about your research and its importance and relevance in the way that shows you engage with the community and you’re placing the larger research ecosystem because we’re not here in a vacuum. We are all part of something larger. How do we engage with it in a meaningful way?

Dr Ola Thomson:

I’m sure even if you’re sitting there and listening to this podcast and thinking, “Oh, no. I can’t think of anything because I’ve been conditioned to focus on myself and my career,” I can assure you there will be examples that you are able to draw on if you give yourself time to really reflect and think through these new lenses. You have to get into the habit of thinking about your research through these lenses right from the start of your research career. If you’re sitting there thinking, “Oh, dear, I’m good at the generation of knowledge but absolutely hopeless at connecting with the research community,” accept the fact that we can’t all be great at everything and that some areas will be developing within us, and we could use the project we’re actually drafting and applying for as a platform to develop ourselves in these areas and where we feel we don’t really have enough exposure yet.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Perfect. Thank you so much. That was a great introduction. Yes, for those of you who are approaching this topic for the first time or you’re unsure where to start, we are going to have a couple of introductory examples from a couple of our guest panelists later. Katie, I’m going to move on to you next. Why do you think we need to change? A traditional CV is so easy to read. Ola described it as a big essay if you have never approached this before rather than there are these modules and that is how most people will approach them, but if somebody came at you with a big essay, I’m not going to want to read that. Why do you think we need to change away from the traditional CV format?

Dr Katie Meadmore:

As Ola suggested, there has been a lot of interest in recent years to improve research culture and reform research assessment. For example, the Declaration on Research Assessment, DORA, and in the UK reviews by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy such as the research and development people and culture strategy or the independent review of research bureaucracy. These all recognize the need for improvements in the research pathway. Traditional funding and publication metrics are no longer seen as the only way to measure research performance. In addition, there is a strong drive to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion in research. It’s felt that traditional CV formats and associated assessments do not always provide an equal footing to all applicants, and the narrative CV has been put forward as an initiative that may facilitate achieving some of those goals as it emphasizes the wider contributions of researchers to the research system and encourages all relevant skills and experiences to be used in the assessment research funding applications or for promotion or for hiring.

Dr Katie Meadmore:

As we’ve heard them, the narrative CV provides the opportunity to provide a written description of a broad range of contributions, experiences, achievements, and skills. That emphasis really is on that word, broad. It’s designed to capture experiences no matter what stage you’re at in your career and no matter what pathway you’ve taken to get to that point. The aim of the narrative is to try and level the playing field to encourage those from non-traditional research routes and those who are less advantaged and provide a platform for them to express their skills and experiences, and to allow researchers and applicants the opportunity to provide a much more holistic picture of themselves. However, having said that, certainly in the work that we’ve conducted this year exploring the narrative CV, although most people that we spoke to really agreed with the principles that underline the narrative CV, there are those who are quite happy with the traditional CV format and some who feel that the narrative CV may have unintended consequences that aren’t in line with the intended goals, and so these need to be carefully evaluated.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Excellent. That actually leads us on really well. Both you, Katie, and Ola, have mentioned that assessing performance in academia and in research is really difficult. Claartje, I’ll come on to you next. What do you think the downsides are of this CV format?

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

Well, that’s a very good question. Thank you. I think, again, we can talk about this for hours, if not weeks, but the two downsides that I really want to mention are very related to this notion of broadening what an ideal career or an ideal CV even looks like, and secondly, this leveling the playing fields. I think, in itself, a narrative has the… Well, to put it mildly, it can reintroduce bias into the process because it’s written, it’s language, and we know that bias appears in language and especially in how it’s read. To give you two very specific examples, or practical examples even, is that one thing is, for instance, pronoun use. If you say, “I have done this,” or “I have written about,” or “This is my idea,” that is a self-promotion strategy, which you need to use in order to sell your ideas or even sell your CV if you like, but at the same time, we know it’s a very tricky strategy to use for women because women are expected to be modest and to give a more communal approach and say, “We did this,” or “We contributed.”

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

That means that the same language just using same pronoun is evaluated differently depending on whether it’s written by a man or a woman. Very binary thinking, but this is something that you can really show using experiments. You just change one thing, just the name on the cv, assuming a woman or a man is behind that name, and then the whole language will be evaluated differently. The second idea that really has to do with this leveling the playing field is that when people tell the story about their own career, they also speak about what happened to them in the past few years, let’s say. The most recent contributions or experiences that they’ve had. I think we know now that the pandemic has hit researchers quite hard in terms of productivity, let’s say, and especially researchers with care responsibilities because of the fact that they were homeschooling their children, for instance, made them focus on teaching only and not so much have dedicated time for writing or for proposal writing, if you like.

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

That means that if that becomes part of the narrative, do we even change the prototype? Do we level the playing field, or do we actually introduce a lack of fit, let’s say? How can you show that you meet the norm of the ideal scientist when you’ve spent time at home in a lockdown situation with your children? I think that’s another way how it can reintroduce bias into something that was previously evaluated. I’m not going to say that these were very objective evaluations, but it was just lists of publications and of grants, and not the story behind it, so the story itself can introduce bias.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Yeah, I think it’s really difficult. One of the things I commented on in the blog that I wrote on narrative CVs was the difficulty in suddenly having to say, “No, I don’t have any experience in this,” and having to explain maybe you’ve not been given the opportunity to teach or you weren’t allowed to supervise a student because your supervisor wouldn’t let you or something like that. It’s very difficult for people, especially women, to say, “Actually, no, I don’t have very much experience in this.” Yes, it is an opportunity to go and develop yourself, but I think it can be really quite difficult to do that. Rosa, I’m going to come to you next. I know Alzheimer’s Research UK have implemented this and we’re one of the first people in the country to implement it. I want to ask you why the charity chose to adopt this CV format and what challenges do you think you face in terms of implementation?

Dr Rosa Sancho:

Very, very similar themes to what you’ve been talking about. The decision to change to a narrative CV format is part of a wider commitment to greater inclusivity and diversity in dementia research as well as doing RB two improve research culture overall. Internally, we were developing our equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy. We were thinking of ways to improve diversity within the dementia research workforce. We became DORA signatories as well, which recognizes the need to improve the way researchers and their outputs are evaluated. It was when we were talking about these things that we came to the idea of piloting a narrative CV and we found that actually several UK funders, like the Royal Society UK Research and Innovation, welcome and many others are either already using them or piloting them or have made a commitment to adopt them. Many international funders, like the National Institute of Health in the US, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Luxembourg National Research Funds, are already using narrative CVs, and they have done for a few years.

Dr Rosa Sancho:

We have been meeting with these funders, learning a lot from their experiences, and we decided to also pilot a narrative CV in a way ensuring that we’re aligning with these funders, which I think will be helpful for researchers in the future. We really wanted to make sure we are assessing applications responsibly so we would like to focus on qualitative outputs as well as quantitative outputs but removing the emphasis from the quantitative ones. We also wanted to help reviewers by offering them a broader view of what a researcher has been doing, what their achievements have been, beyond the typical lists that our CVs used to show. We also thought that display to our EDI strategy because the narrative CV might support those researchers that have taken a non-linear pathway or those very early career researchers that probably don’t have as many quantitative outputs to show off.

Dr Rosa Sancho:

In general, we also wanted to make sure we are setting the tone on the incentives that we want people to work towards. There’s lots of work that researchers do that that is quite invisible so it’s important that we start valuing those and making sure that those broad outputs that everyone does have are visible in a grant application. The narrative CVs are live now, we’re piloting them in a fellowship round, so people who are submitting a fellowship application to ARUK this month are being asked to submit a narrative CV instead of a normal CV. We hope to seek feedback from applicants and from reviewers in the next couple of months just asking about whether that format really allowed them to talk about their broader work and how long it took them to write and what support they needed to seek because we actually don’t have a very good idea of that.

Dr Rosa Sancho:

Some of the concerns we have and some of the concerns that our reviewers have told us about is that some groups might actually be disadvantaged by these new formats. We’ve talked about women who have been shown to sell their achievements differently than men. Also, people whose English is might not be their first language. These are issues that we’ll have to monitor closely and understand what extra support is needed by people who might need it in the future if we implement the CV. The other concern that our reviewers expressed was that some of them have actually never reviewed this type of CV before, so it’ll be a new experience for them as well as to applicants. We’ve discussed this at length. We’ve provided them with new guidance. However, we believe that despite these concerns, even if the narrative CV is not perfect, the CV we were using before posed even greater challenges so it’s worth piloting it in the context of everything else we’re doing to try to improve research culture and research assessment.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Definitely. I think trying to improve the whole culture of research, I think, is really important. Rosa, both you and Claartje have touched on the issues women might have in writing these kinds of CVs. Ola, I’m going to come to you next. As we’re a panel here of exclusively women, which is lovely, do you think this CV format is going to help us as academics? Because I know that when I was trying to write this or when I was trying to write a cover letter recently talking about myself and my own achievements, I found it incredibly difficult and I tended to throw a lot of emphasis on my collaborations and the work I’d done with other people rather than taking credit for a lot of it myself, and somebody else had to point out that my cover letter was now about other people and not really about me. Do you think we are going to be able to cope with that as women?

Dr Ola Thomson:

Thank you, Yvonne. Thank you for sharing. That’s really interesting. I think what Claartje has mentioned earlier about reintroducing gender bias is really important. That’s one side of the coin because that’s the reviewers’ bias, but there’s also the individual experience of narrative CV used and writing it, but I would like to avoid essentializing women and men, and assuming that we have some inner genders’ person traits and characteristics, and that this CV format is just bound to disadvantage women and advantage men. Having said that, there is some preliminary evaluation research, which I’ll keep confidential in terms of which European funder, but they looked at the experiences of men and women who had applied for funding and they found that successful female applicants strongly agreed that narrative CV increased their chances, but unsuccessful female applicants were much less likely to strongly agree. In contrast, in relation to men, successful males were less likely to agree that narrative CV increased their chances of getting the funding and in fact an overwhelming number of them couldn’t say. I think a takeaway from this is that funders don’t fully understand yet how this might play out in relation to gender.

Dr Ola Thomson:

That’s why robust evaluation really needs to be in place, but my suspicion is that there’ll be different insights across different social classes, institutional background, type of support at your local university, discipline, and possibly other social categories of difference. What I would say instead is that this CV format might be challenging for people who have not traditionally worked with language, but now we’re talking about how we write and not what we write. I think that writing good quality resume does become better with practice. The way to do this and develop it is to share our narrative CV drafts with trusted colleagues and peers before we submit. We can explore institutional provisions of training. For example, at Bristol, we’ve created narrative CV boot camps and created self-support and peer review groups, and they help each other, they meet, and retreat together to write and review within a safe and nonjudgmental space. I think universities really need to recognize this new change and provide the needed resources and training and not wait for the funders to provide that.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Yeah, I think that’s definitely a really good idea, and I think encouraging people, like Claartje says, the use of personal pronouns and saying, “I did this,” rather than, “We did this,” or using the “I’m a big fan of the passive voice. I like to pretend that I didn’t do anything. I think it’s best for everyone.” Rosa, I’m going to come back to you. I’m a massive pessimist, generally not specifically, to do with narrative CVs, just in life. Do you think this is going to make a difference or do you think we’re going to have a real problem with old school academics who are just going to skip straight to the list of publications to make sure you’ve got a nature paper?

Dr Rosa Sancho:

I think the culture is slow to change and it has been slow to change. We have encountered one researcher who had strong reservations around narrative CVs, but everybody else, every other reviewer we spoke to, including our grant review board, have been really supportive. I would say that narrative CVs are just one tool we’re using to improve research culture and inclusivity, but it’s not used in isolation. We have now, for a few years, asked our reviewers to look beyond publications and to assess fellowship candidates based on an early career researcher framework that we publish on our website. That includes things like the researchers’ vision, their personal development, leadership, their communication skills, their profile, their influence within their networks. We also talk a lot about the DORA principles.

Dr Rosa Sancho:

I do believe that reviewers are increasingly taking notice of these broader achievements and we see that being talked about increasingly at grant review board meetings. Publications are important and they’ll always be because that’s the way a researcher demonstrates track record in a particular area on a particular technique, but there won’t be a list anymore in the narrative CV, at least in our format, for reviewers to refer back to so it’ll be really important for researchers to now talk about how they’ve contributed to that publication and why that publication is important. I think, slowly, these will help reviewers then change their mindset to looking at the broader achievement rather than just a list of publications, so I’m a bit more positive than you, I think, on this.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

That’s good to know. It’s good to know especially since you guys are in charge of assessing everything. I think actually doing something like this is really important for a bit of self-reflection. I was made to do an application once where they said, “Pick your top five publications,” but they didn’t say what top meant, and then you had to write a little paragraph as to why you’d included that paper in your list of top five. For me, it was such a great exercise because I could say… Actually, I’ve put this paper in because this was the first paper that I’m really proud of and I was in charge of everything.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

I got to design the experiments, and I got to help this student develop, and it was a lot of self-reflection, which I actually thought was a really fun exercise, and I think that, for me, is what this narrative CV process is going to bring out in a lot of people is that capacity to look on their career and say, “Actually, I have done some stuff and that stuff is important. I’m not just a list of papers.” Following on from Rosa’s comments, Claartje, we’ve brought up assessment a lot, and I think assessing these is going to be really difficult. What do we need to be doing to help reviewers who might be seeing one of these CVs for the first time?

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

Yeah. That’s, again, a very good question. I think one of the terms that I have noticed really works with reviewers and especially those with, let’s say, a traditional view on how to judge or how to assess research is to talk about process optimization. Basically, we’re saying you are not a bad reviewer or a bad evaluator, you’re really good at what you do, and we appreciate that you have an X number of years of experience in reviewing people’s track records, but how can we optimize it? How can we tweak it to make it just slightly better, and in that sense more, let’s say to raise the predictive validity of what you are basically saying? You’re saying this person can do this research project, they can pull this off, they are worth the money, and that is an important sign, the predictive validity of the assessment.

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

I think this optimization, when it comes to narrative CVs especially, would be related to, let’s say, what I think the best term is preliminary calibration. What is it that we’re looking at? How do we apply the criteria that we have as a funder, or as a journal, or as an employer even? What are the criteria that we have and how do we find them in the narrative? One trick, and I’m going to give this one away for free for the readers or the listeners to the podcast, is to do this by criterion and not by applicant. For instance, if the criterion is research potential, which is in fellowships et cetera, is a very vague but very commonly used criterion, how do you find that in a narrative? What does potential look like and why do I look for something different than another reviewer? To have this preliminary calibration, you can do that on the basis of a fake CV or one from the previous edition if you like, and to discuss among reviewers.

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

You can do that in an online setting, or if you have a committee coming together, you start with that NSERC, which is the Canadian Natural Science and Engineering Research Council. It has a very good description of that preliminary calibration and how to do that. I think it would make sense if funders designed their own preliminary calibration session with their criteria, their format, their examples, if you like. That helps. That’s a little bit beyond the scope of what can reviewers do, but more funders, I think it really makes sense to run randomized control trials on this because why do you change something completely with huge impact? The signaling of what you’re trying to do with this is don’t underestimate how strong that signal is, so do that in a controlled way and if you have the numbers to design an experiment, basically, and we all know how to design experiments to see if this works or not. What happens with the control group or with the group that’s put in to wait one year and do it a traditional way and how are the numbers different?

Dr Yvonne Couch:

I love that idea of assessment criteria. It’s more like I was writing a cover letter at some point, and somebody said the best way to write cover letter is to go through the essential criteria for the job and basically highlight how you meet all the essential criteria. If you have that as a reviewer for the narrative CV, here are the essential criteria for somebody to be a fellow at this institution or with this funder. Then the reviewer can go through and go, “Oh, yes, look, they’re good at this,” rather than, like you say, just going through and looking for an H paper. I think it would be good to have a couple of examples for people who might be a little bit nervous about doing this for the first time. I’m lifting these directly from the Royal Society Narrative Resume for Researchers and we’ll see how we do. Katie, I’m going to start with you. If I were to ask you how you had contributed to the generation of knowledge, which is module one from the narrative CV page, what sorts of things do you think you might include?

Dr Katie Meadmore:

First, I think it’s important to note that I haven’t actually written a narrative CV yet, so I can’t give an answer from experience so I’m going to skirt around the issue in two ways. First of all, I’m going to start by just giving a broad description of what assessors may want to see and then I’ll give a few examples of what I personally might include, if that’s okay. I think it has already described, I think it’s really important to recognize that the narrative CV is a move from that short list-based item to a longer, more descriptive phrase where contributions are presented in context and are linked to value and use. Before writing any section, I think it’s really important to really think about what your main message is and how you can weave that story throughout your narrative. Importantly as well, I think that in all of the sections of the narrative CV, these contributions are not expected to only be within the academic context. It’s thinking a lot more broadly than that.

Dr Katie Meadmore:

In terms then of what you might include in the first section about the generation of knowledge, I think assessors would expect to see examples of how you’ve contributed to new ideas, to hypotheses, to tools. This includes what research or research activities you’ve been involved in or coordinated, key skills you’ve used, what communication or dissemination activities you’ve undertaken. It may relate to theoretical knowledge, or it may be more tangible knowledge that could be implemented into practice. As we’ve already discussed, some narrative CVs may also ask for a small section of outputs as well to be described here. I think, again, it’s that thinking broadly about outputs in terms of publications, reports, policy briefs, conference outputs, open data sets, software, clinical practice, or products of some sort, but the key part is that all of these activities, skills, or outputs must be described and linked to their use and their value and not just listed and bullet pointed as is in usually in a traditional CV.

Dr Katie Meadmore:

To give a couple of more concrete examples of what I might personally use or include, obviously, it would depend on what I was applying for, but I might include that our team had just developed and launched a new online registry and community hub for Research on Research, ror-hub.org, in case anyone’s interested. I might describe relevant projects and their findings and how those findings have been used. For example, I mentioned the work that we’ve conducted on narrative CVs. I might mention that this is being used as part of a wider project to inform decisions or whether narrative CVs may be implemented by NIHR or how analysis that we conducted contributed to evidence that underpins the NIHR open access policy. Those sorts of examples, I think they are perhaps the sorts of things I would include in that.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

That’s great. Thank you for including some of those really good examples. I think it is, like I said earlier, a really good way of having a little bit of reflection and thinking I’m not just a paper generating machine and the papers at some point have to contribute to something, whether it’s understanding a tiny, tiny bit of molecular biology which might eventually contribute to understanding how a disease works, or in the wider context, whether it’s understanding what patients need in terms of hospital treatment, so I think reflecting on these kinds of things is really important. Ola, the third module for this narrative CV that the Royal Society do asks you how you have contributed to the wider research community. From your own career, like Katie, what would you highlight in this section?

Dr Ola Thomson:

Well, I think I would really highlight my contributions to reviewing papers, drafts, and applications for colleagues. I would also highlight my practitioner researcher-focused work like the podcast we are doing today. It’s actually a perfect example of contributing to the wider research community in terms of career guidance. The book I’m currently writing is also aimed at equality, diversity, and inclusion practitioners who work with academic colleagues and researchers, so the book is also for them if you like. It’s about good practice. In this module, really, we should focus on activities where we have engaged to progress the research community, and you could mention things like editing, reviewing, refereeing committee work, and research evaluation work. You could mention organization of conferences, summer schools, invited speakers, all that has benefited your research community, or it could be contributions to improving research integrity and research culture.

Dr Ola Thomson:

Also, good examples of this, perhaps you’ve been on an equality committee like Athena Swan or the Race Equality Charter. If so, then you definitely should include this. My advice would be to highlight what is invisible and hidden at the moment in traditional CVs, and activities that you would not normally be able to mention in a standard CV. In a way, contribution to the wider research community is built into your job description to an extent, so there are things that you’re already doing but maybe you haven’t had time to think that you’re doing them and how impactful and constructive they are for the wider community. I think, like you said, Yvonne, it’s finding the time to reflect on those narrative CV modules and contributions that you are already making, and as we are all taking them for granted really, and when there are some underdeveloped maybe areas we could use them in the next project to fill those gaps and develop ourselves.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

I think that’s a really good point. There’s a lot of work that scientists do for free, reviewing and editing, and that kind of thing, and I think they’re quite unrecognized and they might get a little bullet point list on your CV, but otherwise, you don’t really get much credit for them. We need to emphasize these things don’t have to be massive, so you don’t have to have organized a massive international conference. If you are an early career researcher, we know that’s not going to be something that you might have achieved, but maybe you helped organize a local departmental seminar series, or you found a speaker that you thought your department would really appreciate and you organized for them to come to your university.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

That’s still impacting the communication and the networking that goes on within your little local scientific community. It’s not on a big international stage, but that doesn’t matter. You’ve got to start somewhere. I think recognizing these little, tiny steps that you might be making towards the bigger steps later, I think, is really important. I’m going to go out for a final controversial hands-up question for anyone who wants to field it. We could have answers from everyone, or I could just be shouting into the void right now. Should you include a narrative CV even if you’re not asked for one, or if they asked for a CV, is it better to just stick with the traditional one? What do we think?

Dr Ola Thomson:

Okay, I’m going to say do not send a narrative CV to a funder who’s not asking for one. The reason why I’m saying this is because they might not really know what to do with it. They might not be prepared for it. They might not know how to review it, how to evaluate it, how to compare it with other reviewers, so it would be quite a risky option. However, what I would suggest to do instead, you can still write one and to use the sections for other parts of the application where you’re more freely expressing yourself, or if you have an interview, you might use those sections to actually speak about that, but I wouldn’t just submit one without being explicitly asked for it.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Yeah, that’s excellent advice. I think if there is an option to maybe add a cover letter to something, then you could use the framework of the narrative CV to write your cover letter, and that way, they can link it to your traditional CV, and it gives them more of a context to what you’ve been saying. Claartje, did you want-

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

Yeah, I wanted to add something which is a little bit tricky perhaps, especially if you’re in an early stage, let’s say, in your career. What I would do is I would look up whether the funder or the institution is a DORA signatory and then take the responsibility as being part of this system to help systemic change and say, “Hey, if you’ve signed this, that means that we’re trying to do research assessment better,” and I would propose for the next round to change your approach or to at least include other contributions beyond listed publications and grant records.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

Yeah, I think that’s an excellent point. I think encouraging assessment of these things and helping people to be able to assess these things better is definitely going to help going forward. Ola?

Dr Ola Thomson:

I think that’s a great example of activism, Claartje, so thank you. Yeah, might work.

Dr Yvonne Couch:

We should all become activists and let’s just complain on our universities all the time, tell them they’re not doing anything right. I think it’s the only way to change is to whine about things is my personal opinion. Right. It’s time to finish up today. Hopefully, for those of you who don’t know what a narrative CV or are embarking on this for the first time, you will have found this helpful. I’d like to say thank you to our fantastic guests, so Dr. Rosa Sancho, Dr. Katie Meadmore, Dr. Ola Thomson, and Dr. Claartje Vinkenburg.

Dr Ola Thomson:

Bye. Thank you.

Dr Claartje Vinkenburg:

Bye-bye. Thanks.

Voice Over:

Brought to you by dementiaresearcher.nihr.ac.uk, in association with Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society, supporting early career dementia researchers across the world.

END


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