Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Addressing Career Breaks Head-on in CVs and Cover Letters

Emily Nicholson, an Australian ecologist, has written a fascinating 1-pager at Science Magazine about addressing career breaks head-on in your CV and cover letter when applying for jobs and grants. She writes:
My early job applications—using a standard CV that mentioned my maternity leaves only in passing... didn’t get so much as an interview... Then, with mentoring and advice from colleagues and friends, I reshaped my CV to account for the time I’d spent raising my family. I put my career breaks front and center, and I reported my productivity metrics to account for my time away from work. 
The result: My first application after I made the adjustments yielded a tenured position...Reframing my track record undoubtedly helped. Here’s how I did it. 
Her approach was to:
  • Get the data
  • Do the math
  • Write about career interruptions up front and in a positive way
First she calculated how many years of full-time work she'd done, taking into account maternity leave time-off and part-time work while having and raising three children. She then calculated her effort had she not had career breaks; e.g., she'd worked 55% of the time in the 6 years since her first son was born and had 23 publications, equivalent to about 42 publications if she had been working full time.

At the top of her CV, within her cover letter, and in prominent positions in grant applications, she wrote:
Since 2009, I have worked the equivalent of approximately 3.3 full-time years, 55% of full time. Yet it has been a highly productive period: 23 publications—including 12 as lead or last author—a research fellowship, and a major grant. On a pro-rata basis, that equates to about 42 publications in 6 years of full-time work.
She then went on to include:
This does not account for the effect reduced working hours and travel opportunities has on networking opportunities, which affect collaborations and citation rates. I have nonetheless established several fruitful national and international collaborations, and my research has scientific and practical impacts.
She emphasizes that her purpose in including the latter paragraph is for her readers to think, “If she managed this working part time, with breaks and sleep deprivation, imagine what she’ll do once the kids are older!”

I am sure I'm not the only one who wants to know:
  • Who else has done this?! 
  • Did it work for you/them?
  • Has anyone seen this type of approach backfire (particularly given what we know about the impact of unconscious bias in applications)?
I've come across this type of front and center acknowledging of career breaks in CVs twice recently: 1) in the Spanish Astronomical Society's Committee on Women and Science list of recommendations and 2) a comment within the 'Astronomers' Facebook group referencing the Australian Women in Astronomy having an active discussion around these ideas and possibly the practice becoming more common in Australia.

The question is not just whether we should consider adding a few lines to our job applications. The deeper questions are:
  • How can we change our community culture into one that would encourage including these types of statements in our job applications?
  • How can we ensure that this practice could help level the playing field and not hurt those who participate?