There are very few things as challenging as writing academic biographies (perhaps academic writing?). It seems simple, but things soon get awkward as you try to show how amazing you are without sounding arrogation or pretentious. Sophie shares her tips on writing a balanced bio…
It’s all going swimmingly until you read the Call for Papers: Please submit a proposal and brief bio.
What on earth is a bio (otherwise known as an ‘academic bio’)? And just how brief does it need to be? Writing an academic bio is a skill you can pick up like any other, and this article will take you through the basics of what to include, what to leave out, and how to craft this tricky piece of your academic arsenal.
Covering the Basics
Whatever discipline you’re working in, you’ll definitely need to include the following in your academic bio:
- full name,
- position (i.e. PhD student; PhD candidate),
All this should go into the first sentence, so it reads something like this:
Joe Bloggs is currently a PhD candidate [meaning he’s passed his upgrade] at the University of Warwick.
You can also mention your department, although it’s not strictly necessary for most of us.
The Big Picture
The rest of your academic bio should tell the reader about your research interests. Start by setting out your broad research question, whether that’s finding new ways to create Omega 3 in algae cultures or exploring fashion statements at Charles II’s court. Then focus it further; are you looking at a specific type of algae culture, or a particular poet who was into fashion? This is the most important part of your bio: it tells other people attending the conference where you’re coming from, and may present links between your research areas.
You can end your bio here, or add another sentence situating your research within wider scholarship. Is it important to reference your specific style of criticism, or how you’re leading on from recently-published developments in the field, for example? If it’s important for the theme of the conference, you may wish to add another sentence on the future directions of your research. However, if this isn’t relevant or necessary, feel free to leave it out, especially if you’ve been asked to submit a brief bio – best to keep it brief and stick to your research interests.
What Not to Do
Inevitably, we all do things early in our career/academic life that, with hindsight, make us cringe. To avoid that uncomfortable feeling in the future, four common errors are:
- Treating your bio like a humorous essay: only include a joke if you’re sure it’s really, really funny (maybe check with a straight-talking friend).
- Getting too personal: an academic bio is a chance to make an impression pre-conference, and it may be what people remember you by, so ensure that you stay professional.
- Giving too much information: remember that an academic bio isn’t the same thing as a CV – the conference organisers don’t need to know where you did your undergrad, MA or how much you’ve won in grants.
- Using exclamation marks: your writing should be relatively formal in style, so avoid coming across as too chatty – save your engaging manners for the big presentation day!
One final tip is to use the third person. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but at some conferences, your bio will be read out as an introduction, so personally I prefer to start a sentence like Joe Bloggs above.
What do you think about this approach? Any more tips for writing academic bios? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
By Sophie Shorland
Sophie finished her PhD at Warwick. She is currently writing a biography on Queen Catherine of Braganza, and has recently been shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize. You can find her on twitter @sophie_shorland