The Canadian Common CV: an academic pursuit of hyper-compliance

 cragg_CMAJblog_photoJacquelyn Cragg is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and University of British Columbia.


John Kramer is an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia


In January and February of this year, health researchers across Canada are ramping up grant writing ahead of the 2016 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Scheme deadline. As with all grant applications, these researchers (applicants and co-applicants, and their respective trainees) will be meticulously preparing their curriculum vitaes (CVs), in order to showcase the success of their research activities. A cornerstone for federal governmental granting dollars since 2002, this wave of self-publicity will pivotally involve preparing a Canadian Common CV (CCV). As an online tool to list academic history and accomplishments (positions, awards, publications, teaching experience, supervisory experience), the stated objectives of the CCV are to:

  1. Lighten the load of the research community when applying for funding or for reporting purposes.
  2. Facilitate the collection of a common data set required by agencies.
  3. Create a public repository, which showcases Canadian researcher expertise.

While this is an ambitious and desirable set of objectives in theory, our position is that the CCV fails in practice. Reflecting this impracticality, a petition was initiated on to stop the use of the CCV, receiving 750 signatures from across Canada (and several notable comments). Here, we have summarized the shortcomings of the CCV from our perspective and those of our colleagues:

1) The CCV is needlessly complicated.

On the CCV website, researchers are met with a daunting sidebar of menu options, including an overview, interactive ‘how-to’ demos, a webinar, as well as an accompanying glossary of terms to guide completion of the CV. The very appearance of the CCV might lead an outsider to think that a CV was a complete mystery to Canadian researchers. Comparatively, the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States provides one example version of their ‘Biosketch’ and a blank template with brief written instructions. The exact same NIH Biosketch is a standard CV format for various American funding agencies (e.g., Department of Defense).

2) The Common CV isn’t actually common.

After 13 years, a core problem that plagues the CCV is that different funding agencies still require different CV elements (e.g., CIHR vs. Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, CIHR fellowships vs. CIHR project grants). That there is little agreement between agencies (and even within agencies) reflects major differences in opinion (i.e., what is actually necessary), or a lack of communication in terms what represents core data elements. This raises the question of whether a truly common CV exists. As a consequence, researchers are left scrambling for unknown and often unimportant details during grant writing season. For example, two agencies that require the same category of information (e.g., recognitions) often require distinctly different details (e.g., specific dates, award amounts, etc.).

3) There are several senseless and poorly defined fields and sections in the CCV.

Not only are field requirements different between funding agencies, required responses are often poorly defined or completely senseless. In many cases, a researcher is forced to input a value without any clear idea of what constitutes a meaningful or valid response. For example, researchers are required to indicate whether presentations are ‘invited’ or not. As a junior researcher, ‘invited’ talks may reflect a conference paper that is submitted and accepted for an oral presentation. Senior researchers would consider invitations of a different order – keynotes, personal invitations, etc. As a consequence, researchers are now contemplating these irrelevant fields and gauging the ‘accuracy’ of their response, fearing how a reviewer might interpret such unimportant details (rather than concentrating on the value of their work in itself). In a further distraction from a scholar’s valuable time, the CCV stops just short of asking the time of day a presentation was delivered. For awards, grants, and presentations, the exact date (day, month, year) is needlessly required (indeed, the authors wonder how many presentations are listed as the first of the month).

4) The CCV system is not user friendly.

Among the most notable and oft cited problems is that the CCV user interface is not user friendly. Take, for example, adding publications, the currency of the health research domain. To input the details of publications (authors, title, journal, volume, date, page numbers), one tedious option is completely manual (the user entering each field, one at a time); another via an Internet PUBMED search accessible through a hidden (and as it turns out, pseudo-manual) ‘utilities’ function. Pull down tabs fail to make less work, perpetuating the problem of entering publications. As an example, after selecting ‘in press’ or ‘submitted’ (the very definitions suggesting no publication date, volume number, or page numbers) for the status of a publication, the user is prompted to enter these (non-existent) details. But perhaps still more unfriendly and frustrating is that the user cannot view the CV without generating a separate PDF. Back to point #1 (needlessly complicated), the user now must go back and forth between a PDF and the online version to edit the final product.

5) The CCV discourages foreign applicants to apply with Canadians for research grants.

The CCV is, by all accounts, time consuming. The goal, after the first time, is that entering information becomes simpler, and new additions are seamlessly integrated into the overall model. That the CCV is time consuming for first time users is a serious problem. This is especially the case for foreign applicants, who may only use the CCV once or twice in their entire careers. Imagine asking a particularly noteworthy and high profile collaborator or potential supervisor to input a list of ‘invited’ presentations, or the day their society membership expired!

Above all else, the insidious CCV limits how a researcher, within the confines of good academic practice, can shape and emphasize research and leadership achievements. We believe researchers are capable of deciding the content and format of their CV (with some general constraints such as length). In addition to making the lives of researchers easier, there is also an argument to be made that this will facilitate the peer-review process for grants. As an alternative, we propose that Canadians adopt the much simpler American NIH-biosketch.

Author note:

Coincidentally, during the preparation of this piece, CIHR-hopeful health researchers across Canada received the following message in their inboxes: “Extension to application deadlines due to technical difficulties with the CCV.

2 thoughts on “The Canadian Common CV: an academic pursuit of hyper-compliance

  1. Jacquelyn Cragg

    Dr. Woodgett,

    Thanks for sharing your piece. Very well put!

    My favourite bit: “Canadian academics would vote for Donald Trump if it meant the end of the CCV.” I also liked the part about the “inebriated programmer.”


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