Presentation of academic CVs online – comparing French and British cases

How are the educational qualifications of scholars presented differently in French and British academia? Aurore Zelazny & Kyoung-Mi Kim, who work as research assistants in DISCONEX, share some observations in this post.

In the DISCONEX project, we explore how sociology and linguistics professors in France and the UK present their degrees and careers as they appear on public CVs and institution webpages. Based on our observations from the data we have collected and analysed, we focus here on the representation of education and discuss how it differs across mediums (CVs and Institution webpage) and across these two countries in order to evaluate if general tendencies exist between and across countries.

We have searched for professors who make their CVs available online  and who have an institutional webpage where they present their educational background, in order to compare if the information is the same on both media, or if one offers more detailed information than another. General impressions from the CVs were discussed before sampling CVs and institution webpages. We then randomly chose five sociology and five linguistics professors in each country to look closely into common features.

The French and British academic system:

Before addressing our observations, we think it is important to point out that the academic system and career progression work differently in France and in England.

In French academia, researchers are Fonctionnaires (civil servants) as soon as they become Maître de Conférence (Lecturer) at the university enseignant-chercheur (whose mission are both teaching and research) or Chargé de recherche at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) or other research institutions. After their PhD, a “qualification” is needed for applying to become Maître de conférence, which attests an ability to teach in a specific discipline (e.g., section 7 for Linguistics, 19 for Sociology). This qualification is attributed by the Conseil national des universités (CNU) after review of the PhD thesis, the PhD report produced by the thesis committee (jury de thèse) and the publications. Their career progression (grades) then depends on the CNU or CNRS evaluations based mostly on publications and also on projects (sources of external funding) in the case of CNRS researchers. For becoming a Professor or a Directeur de recherche  (the highest position) one needs to get an Habilitation à diriger des recherches (HDR), based on a second thesis corresponding to the second book in other academic systems. With their HDR and again a CNU qualification they can apply when positions are available. French academics are attached to a lab (a research centre) for the research part of their activity. There are 2 types of labs: Unités mixtes de recherche (UMR) attached to and funded by both Universities and a research institution such as CNRS, or Équipes d’accueil (EA) only attached to and funded by universities.  

In British academia, it is possible that academic staff members can get permanent lectureships after their PhDs,  yet the ratio of permanent academic positions is relatively low. It is known that many academic positions are temporary; “Impact” is one of the main criteria of evaluation for career progression. Since the sufficient number of positions are based on fixed-term contracts, the academic mobility is relatively high. The majority of the British public research is located in Higher Education Institutions, and the infrastructures and the permanent academic staff are funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCE). The core funding of research is distributed based on results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Research actions are paid through important grants offered to a project (team) for a certain periods of time after the selection.

Representation of Profiles/CVs on French and British institutional webpages

In terms of the researchers’ CVs and institutional webpages, which is our interest here, there are differences between France and the UK. In France, institutional webpages have been mostly the initiative of the Research institutions. Currently, both university departments and research labs have institutional websites and academics are encouraged to develop and update their own webpages. When featured on the lab’s website, the pages often offer more details than if featured on the university’s website. The lab’s research orientation also gives good clues about a researcher’s main research interests. A list of publications and the participation to funded projects are also displayed. Finally, CVs are sometimes downloadable from the institutional webpage (especially on junior academics’ webpages). Institutional websites are now very important in terms of “visibility” of the academic activity of a given institution especially in the globalised context of rankings. They are also visited for evaluating institutions and academics. Some academics also develop their personal website. In Britain, it seems that researchers are offered a personal webpage to present their profiles and CVs, linked to their departments in the university. Few seem to have their CVs made public or available for download on their institutional webpages. The few who have made their full CVs public would usually upload their CVs on their personal websites.

Reasons for the differences between national contexts

Given that the academic systems are  quite different from one country to another, having a somewhat concrete vision of the current formal tendencies when presenting one’s career and educational background, could be of interest for researchers who wish to pursue a career in one of these two countries. For a less pragmatic and more research-oriented purpose, it will allow one to grasp a more general view of the different tendencies and possible underlying motivations for such variation between countries when presenting one’s educational background.

Generally speaking, CV writing (for individuals pursuing a non-academic career also) relies on a set of “traditions” and conventions, which vary depending on  the country, and also culture. To list a few examples, from a linguistic point of view, CVs written in English tend to use past participles where CVs in French would use a nominalisation. Including a photo on a CV also has different implications in each country and, finally, the amount of personal information included can differ according to the country of application (for example, it is normal in France to mention the ownership of a car and driver’s licence or in England to include a full paragraph of self-introduction ).

We will address here only CVs of researchers which, therefore, follow the conventions of academic CVs. We focused only on researchers in the fields of Linguistics and Sociology, and keep in mind that other fields might demonstrate other particularities.

Education entry templates:

The typical education entry on British and French CVs and Institutional webpages tend to look as follows (the order of  information varies  from individual to individual). It can be noted that British researchers tend to mention the same information across diploma, when French researchers stress different information for pre and post PhD levels:  

  • CV Template FR:  (not always mentioned)

Doctorat (PhD.), Habilitation à diriger des recherches (HDR):

Year of completion, Diploma, Grade (“Mention”), Discipline, Institution, Thesis title, Supervisor title and name (and institution), Jury members (Affiliation), (Defense day/month/year and place), (Number of pages).


Diploma, Discipline, Institution, (Month)/Year of completion, (Grade).

  • Webpage Template FR:  (not always mentioned)

Doctorat (PhD.), Habilitation à diriger des recherches (HDR):

Diploma, (Discipline), (Thesis title), (Institution), Year of completion, (Supervisor title and name), (Grade “Mention”), (Jury members).


Diploma, (Discipline), Year of completion.

  • CV Template BR:  (not always mentioned)


Year of completion, Diploma, (Grade), (Discipline), Institution, (Country/city), (Thesis title), (Supervisor)

  • Webpage Template BR:  (not always mentioned)


Diploma, (Discipline), Institution (Country, city), (Year of completion)

We have been able to see some differences between countries and medium. Here are our major observations (See table below for a summary of our observations).

Comparison between media:

French CVs vs. French institution webpage:

Regarding education, CVs are usually more detailed than the institutional webpages. The researchers’ webpages focus mainly on the PhD and Habilitation, and mention the Agrégation (national higher-level teacher diploma) when applicable, when the CVs go further back (sometimes up to the High School diploma). The information is quite restricted on the webpages (no information about the semester of completion, institution rarely mentioned unless it is a renowned one) compared to what can be found in a same researcher’s CVs. The amount of information regarding discipline is equal though and the country and city of education are stated only if out of France.

Regarding the thesis, their title and final grades (mentions) are rarely included online but are mentioned in the CV. The supervisor and jury members are sometimes mentioned on the webpages and usually mentioned in the CVs, especially if the members are famous in their field. Information about the final presentation (place and date) are absent online.

The resulting status (Docteur, Agrégé, Ingénieur, etc.) are more often mentioned and stressed than on the CVs though.

British CVs vs. British institution webpage:

In the UK, the researchers’ webpages focus mainly on the PhD or postgraduate level, information of BA is not always mentioned. The presentation of education on institution webpages appears to vary. It tends to be just a brief annotation next to their title, for example, Professor XX (MA, PhD, institution name), or described in the text of bio. CVs of the same researchers tend to cover from BA to PhD and above, including the year of completion, disciplines and fields of research, and sometimes thesis title. On institution webpages, we  have also noted that discipline information, if it appears , is portrayed in ways that can support the researchers’ research interests and how they developed. Thesis title, the supervisor and jury members  seem to be rarely included in both webpages and CVs.

Comparison between countries:

FR vs. UK CVs:

French researchers mention in their CVs around 5 diplomas: Licence (Bachelor), Maitrise (1st year of Master), DEA (Master), Doctorat (PhD.) and Habilitation à diriger des recherches/HDR (Habilitation).  UK researchers, on the other hand, include 3 main diplomas usually (Bachelor, Master, PhD). French researchers mentions their Doctorat and HDR mainly, whereas UK researchers focus on their Master and PhD.

It is more common in UK to mention both the start and end date of each education level, along with mentioning, on top of the institution, the name of the Faculty/Department/School. French researchers are less precise regarding these information but clearly state the discipline (although it is not always the case for the HDR), the final grade and the precise date of completion of the diploma.

Regarding the theses themselves, French researchers mention their title more systematically, even at the Master level. They also mention the supervisor and jury members, when UK researchers usually do not. UK researchers, on the other hand, focus more on the resulting title (Dr., Pr., ect).

FR vs. UK institution webpage:

British researchers generally speaking include more entries about their educational qualifications on their webpages, although both French and British researchers tend to keep the amount of information to the minimum. British researchers also mention a larger variety of diploma on their websites (BA, MA, PhD mostly), especially for those who studied outside of UK (e.g., Laurea, State Professorship, Habilitation), compared to French researchers (Agrégation, Doctorat, HDR). They also tend to mention the Discipline and the Institution more often.

Both French and British institution webpages nevertheless tend to focus on PhD level or above.

French researchers would mention information such as Supervisor, Jury members from time to time, when British researchers do not.

Conclusions and interpretations:

We have discussed here our observation of institution webpages and CVs of professors, mainly in linguistics and sociology, in France and the UK (please also see Annex). What we have found thus far is that the representation of educational qualification in context of France seem to be more or less administration-oriented, while the one in the UK context seem to be more or less personalised, research interest-oriented so that the reader could see one’s research trajectory.  

In France, the nomination to the position of Professeur (Professor) or Maitre de Conference (Lecturer) requires a certain number of pre-requisites, namely the qualification by the CNU and the registration for the Concours (competitive examination), which, then allows them to be hired as Lecturer or Professor (respectively for PhD only holders and PhD+Habilitation holders). The amount of administrative steps before being able to acquire the status of Professeur could possibly explain why French researchers provide such detailed information about their education. The criteria applied by the CNU sections (e.g., the quality and topic of the thesis, the pertinence of the education, etc) can be judged through the grades (Mentions), past education, theses topics, etc. As previously mentioned, the webpages are commonly hosted on the lab’s website. Therefore, the research interests are indirectly mentions through the lab’s research orientation. This could explain the lack of explicit explanation about the research interests during education.

In the UK, academic staff members in permanent position (with PhDs) can get promoted through the institutional internal system, an academic committee. Unlike the French system, promotion does not require such qualifications (apart from PhD) but  research and teaching experiences. This could perhaps explain why educational qualifications in context of the UK appears less-administration oriented, and the ways scholars present their academic background and research interest vary and appear more flexible on institutional webpages. We need more information and evidence here to interpret this.

We hope our ongoing research will help link these differences in academic CVs to an analysis, thereby of institutional contexts showing us how academics are positioned and position themselves through the use of language.

~ Text and Annex by Aurore Zelazny & Kyoung-Mi Kim


Table1. Comparison of the information included for education entries on British and French CVs and Webpages

French CV French Institutional Webpage
  • Diploma, Year (and month), Name of Institution, Discipline and Thesis titles are almost always mentioned (+++)
  • From Undergrad to Habilitation
  • High School diploma sometimes included
  • Supervisor (Position), Jury members and Grade are usually mentioned but not always (++)
  • Thesis Defense Info (place and date), Supervisor Info (Institution), Number of pages (thesis) are sometimes mentioned (+)  
  • Department/Faculty/School, Resulting status and Country/city are rarely mentioned (-)
  • Diploma and Year are usually mentioned but not always (++)
  • PhD and Habilitation mostly
  • National Exam (Agregation) mentioned if applicable
  • Resulting status, Discipline, Grade, Institution, Thesis title, Supervisor, Jury members are sometimes mentioned (+)  
  • Department/Faculty/School, Thesis Defense info, Affiliation and Country/city are rarely mentioned (-)
British CV British Insitutional Webpage
  • Diploma, Year and Names of Institution are almost always mentioned (+++)
  • From BA to PhD
  • Disciplines are usually mentioned but not always (++)
  • Thesis title, grade and country/city are sometimes mentioned (+)  
  • Supervisor and Jury members are rarely mentioned (-)
  • Diploma, Year and Names of Institution are not always fully covered (1-2 of those info are missing sometimes) (++);
  • PhD mostly
  • BA and MA are often omitted.
  • Disciplines are less likely to be mentioned on institutional pages compared to CVs (+)
  • Thesis title, grade, country/city, supervisor are rarely mentioned (-)

(+++) Almost always mentioned, (++) usually mentioned, (+) sometimes mentioned, (-) rarely mentioned


Picture: SOAS, London, photographer: Marta Wróblewska

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *