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CV vs. Vita

In the real world, people often represent their accomplishments to others using a document known as the résumé [1]. In a typical résumé, you are supposed to represent all of your accomplishments in a page, or maybe two [3]. In academic, we instead represent our accomplishments in a document called a curriculum vitae, or CV for short. For those of you who don’t read Latin [4], that means record of life. Unlike a résumé, a CV is supposed to include everything you’ve done [6]. Your CV includes your education (including theses [8]), your publications, your presentations, your courses, your professional and institutional service, your research students [9], your funding [10], and so on and so forth. The more you’ve done, the longer your CV gets. After this summer’s exercise in reformatting, in which I attempted to make my CV more concise [11], it is now seventeen pages long [12]. Some people (e.g., those who are more prolific or more humble than I) eventually drop papers from their CV’s and just summarize.

However, although the vitae in curriculum vitae is in the genitive case (or at least I think it is), meaning of life, some folks seem to think that it’s reasonable to write vita when they mean CV or curriculum vitae. That bothers me, since vita means life. Please send us your vita. No thanks. I’d rather not send you my life.

Anyway, because I dislike the use of vita, I work hard to ensure that whenever my department requests the document, we use CV (or, on occasion, curriculum vitae). I try to remind my institution of this issue, but don’t always succeed.

Why am I raising this issue now, other than that the first paragraph gave me the opportunity to have what may be a record number of end notes? Well, the College recently released new guidelines for sabbatical leaves [15,16]. Those guidelines include the following specification.

The application for a leave should take the form of a two-page letter addressed to the Dean of the College. In such letter, the faculty member should include the following information:

  1. indicate whether a one-year continuous or a split sabbatical leave is preferred;
  1. explain the nature of the work to be undertaken during the leave;
  1. specify the location of residence during the proposed leave;
  1. state the scholarly product(s) and/or enhancements to teaching which are expected to result from the proposed leave;
  1. A statement from the Department Chair describing the ways in which the faculty member contributes to student research as appropriate to the discipline […];
  1. A current vita.

Let’s ignore the ungrammatical construction of this sentence [17] and focus on item 6. I’m frustrated that I’m supposed to fit someone’s life in just a two-page letter. Okay, I’d probably be even more frustrated if I had to fit my CV in a two-page letter; I’d probably use thumbnails [18]. So maybe they really do mean life.

But I’m not sure whose life I’m supposed to include on the letter, nor am I sure how I’m supposed to include it. Should I strike a mephistophelian bargain with someone and have them sign away their life, rather than their soul, on the letter? I [write your name here in blood] do hereby consign my life to Grinnell College so that Samuel A. Rebelsky can take a sabbatical. Or must I sacrifice my first-born child [19]? Can I use an administrator’s life, even though they lack souls [20]?

Or is it more metaphorical? Does it mean that I’m supposed to write about a life? John Smith was born. They lived. They died. So sad. That seems a bit odd. I’m not sure what relevance the story of someone’s life has to my sabbatical, unless I’m taking a sabbatical to write a biography. But I’m not. Also, it does say current vita, so I can’t write about someone who is no longer alive. Maybe they really do want someone’s life, which has some value, and might help cover the expense of the sabbatical. But that’s a scary thought.

What other possibilities are there? Maybe they need a story of my life. SamR got a Ph.D. at The University. While at The College at The University, SamR was in a team that included another Sam, and so obtained theR" suffix. SamR taught at Dartmouth. SamR came to Grinnell in Fall 1997. SamR taught and did research. SamR became department chair of a department that tripled the number of majors. SamR felt so overwhelmed that he knew he’d have a nervous breakdown unless he took a sabbatical. SamR submitted this document. Give him the sabbatical, or you are responsible for the consequences [21]." Yeah, that’s it. They want me to tell a whiny [23] life story. Then, they’ll feel guilty enough to give me a sabbatical.

What? You think I’m wrong? When they say vita, they really mean curriculum vitae? And they don’t really want it as part of the two-page letter? They want it as an attachment? Why didn’t they say so?

Are you annoyed by my overly precise consideration of language? Wait until you read my upcoming essay, Is anal retentive hyphenated?.

Yes, I accept that this critique of the sabbatical guidelines is probably unfair, given that I regularly write equally ungrammatical and unclear texts. But I try hard not to write such texts as official documents. And I ask more precise colleagues [24] to read over any official documents before I release those documents.

Damn! This was supposed to be a quick essay. It wasn’t. Maybe I should have done without the endnotes, the rant about the sabbatical guidelines, and so on and so forth. Better yet, maybe I should never have written this essay in the first place. But wait! I’ve given some of my life to this essay. Perhaps that’s what they mean. I can write I have given n hours of my life in preparing this sabbatical proposal. It doesn’t take much space. It’s part of my current life, or at least it was part of my current life. Done. I knew I’d learn something by writing this essay [25].

[1] At least one of my alumni says that you no longer get the best jobs from your résumé. Instead, you get your job either through connections or through public work that others see. But I think that there’s still a role for the résumé [2].

[2] Did you know that it’s a pain in the neck to get the accents into this Markdown/HTML document? Believe it or not, I have to write résumé.

[3] You might also have a separate cover letter that describes more about you.

[4] I was going to say speak Latin, but this is written, and I’m not even sure we think of Latin as a spoken language [5].

[5] Yes, middle son, I realize that you are speaking Latin in your class. But it’s no longer a language that people regularly use to communicate outside of academe.

[6] Well, there are abbreviated CVs [7], but that’s a separate issue.

[7] I prefer CVs as the plural because it’s not clear to me whether or not we should use curricula vitarum or something else.

[8] Rhymes with feces.

[9] I must admit that we’re currently discussing that issue with our FERPA officer, since one might claim that putting a student’s name on your CV as a research student reveals part of the student’s educational record. However, at the graduate level, it is not only common practice, but also expected practice.

[10] Although many folks list both internal and external funding, I tend to list only external funding. However I should consider adding my innovation fund grant, particularly when I apply for funding related to that grant.

[11] And more attractive.

[12] Which reminds me: I need to update the CV for my latest accepted paper.

[13] David F: You seem to keep track of these things. Is this the most footnotes I’ve fit in the first paragraph? [14]

[14] Michelle R: Yes, I realize that there is no citation that leads to endnote [12]. Well, maybe this one does.

[15] Have I written about those yet? If not, I should.

[16] You can find these guidelines at If you’re not on campus, you can’t currently access those guidelines. See Grinnell’s Web Presence for my thoughts on that inaccessibility.

[17] I’m looking forward to a better version of this document soon, so I won’t rant about the need to make sure that official documents follow rules of grammar and are as unambiguous as possible.

[18] No, not literal thumbnails. Just small copies of the images, which many people refer to as thumbnails.

[19] As much as I’d like to take my upcoming sabbatical, it’s not worth sacrificing any of my sons.

[20] That was intended as a joke.

[21] Don’t worry, things aren’t that bad [22].

[22] Yet.

[23] If the verb is whine, why isn’t it whiney?

[24] Yes, my department includes at least two faculty members who are even more picky than I am.

[25] I also (re-)learned that essays I expect to be quick are not always quick.

Version 1.0 of 2016-10-21.