Another difference is that academics craft their résumé differently than most other professions. For one thing, we don’t call it a résumé; we call it a CV, short for curriculum vitae. Résumés are supposed to be brief — I recall being instructed repeatedly to keep it to one page in my early 20s. That is not the case with CVs — I recall being instructed repeatedly by my academic advisers to include every remotely relevant scrap of information. As Rita Konaev noted recently, “Faced with tough odds, these poor [graduate students] spend countless hours tinkering with their CVs … until the documents are flawless.” The first time I went on the job market, I can remember agonizing about whether to include an op-ed I had written for my local newspaper as a 17-year-old. (It didn’t make the cut, but it was close.)
So yes, there are differences, but it would appear that one similarity is that both academics and nonacademics embellish their résumés a bit. In the private sector, résumés frequently aggrandize one’s accomplishments and skill sets. In the academy, the key part of a CV is the list of publications. And over the summer, a peer-reviewed article by West Virginia University professor Trisha Phillips and her colleagues appeared in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. It examined whether academics were inflating their CVs: “We collected all of the vitae submitted for faculty positions at a large research university for 1 year and reviewed a 10% sample for accuracy. Of the 180 applicants whose vitae we analyzed, 141 (78%) claimed to have at least one publication, and 79 of these 141 (56%) listed at least one publication that was unverifiable or inaccurate in a self-promoting way.”
During the weekend, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Megan Zahneis wrote up Phillips’s study, noting some possible concerns: “While it has popped up in a few high-profile cases, CV falsification is an instance of academic misconduct that might not make as many headlines as fudging data or plagiarism. But the difficulty of detecting it could make it all the more insidious.” Indeed, the grad students who did the coding for Phillips et al. got more and more upset as they proceeded. As Phillips explained to Zahneis, “That’s because most of these were applicants for entry-level positions, which is what they hoped to be applying for someday.”
Just how insidious is this problem? I suspect that it is not quite as splashy as the Chronicle story suggests. For one thing, when hiring for a tenure-track job, a search committee will not just be reading the CV, it’ll be reading the actual work. At that point, any ruse or inflation of publication status is likely to be found out. Any applicant who gets even close to a shortlist gets there because senior people have vouched for them and the work stands by itself. Fibbing on a CV will not help.
On the other hand, the brute fact is that most academic positions are not on the tenure track. For positions that are not primarily about research — adjuncts, visiting professors and particularly administrative posts that require a PhD — it is possible that the publications on a CV will not be scrubbed. Furthermore, all it takes is one legitimate hire based off an inflated CV to earn trust in the academy. It is possible for this kind of CV inflation to help at the outset of an administration career and then not be noticed until much later — if ever.
It is unlikely that CV inflation has affected tenure-track hires at elite institutions. Most academic hiring falls outside that category, however. That is why further research into CV falsification is warranted, and that is also why academics need to strengthen norms against this type of activity.