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So there's this careers course thing I'm going to this week as part of some graduate school requirement, and I've been asked to prepare a curriculum vitae for it. I'm probably going to include something like

because, after all, I think I've written up some pretty nice physics over time on the site.

I'm wondering, though, what people's attitude towards this is. So: if you're a professional physicist, is your participation on the site on your CV? If yes, then what did you include and how does it look like? If 'depends', then what sorts of CV use-cases do you include it in for and for which ones do you leave it out? If not, and you have a brag-about-able profile, what made you leave it out?

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  • $\begingroup$ tags suggestions welcome $\endgroup$ May 18 '14 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to quite off topic, no? $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    May 19 '14 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ I think having a good understanding of how this site sits within the professional community is not a bad thing to shoot for. Compare, for example with how MO sits within its community: we're different, for sure, but how so? $\endgroup$ May 19 '14 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but somehow what you plan to put in your CV doesn't seems on topic here! $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    May 19 '14 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ Have it on my CV under 'other interests' ;) $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    May 19 '14 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, @MBN, if in any way this reads as uninvited sharing of information. It is in fact a question! I would ask you to concentrate on the sentences that end in "?". $\endgroup$ May 19 '14 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ I for one would like to see some other answers than the one given - whether they agree or not - just so we have a survey with more than one respondent. I'd answer myself, but I haven't updated my CV since I learned about this site. $\endgroup$
    – user10851
    May 19 '14 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty: I can see the questions, but you are asking whether other people write something specific on their CV or not, and in which cases and what they thing about it. So that you can make a decision for yourself. The meta site is for discussions about the workings and polices of the main site. I still don't see how this question is not off topic!!! $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    May 20 '14 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MBN: I'm not sure what the on-topic requirements are for meta. But I am personally quite interested to hear peoples opinion on this. $\endgroup$
    – JeffDror
    May 20 '14 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ Not on my CV. But I don't think I qualify for a brag-about-able profile. Even still, I wouldn't. PhysicsSE isn't what I'd call a career achievement or experience. It is an internet QA forum. My answers and/or questions are screened by votes but noone removes incorrect posts and our peer-review, fact-checking process is appreciated rather than expected. Furthermore, I do this in my free time, when I want a break from real work. Majority of the posts on here are not research level and not all that impressive on a CV. I could go on, but suffice to say I do this for the love of physics, not my CV. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    May 20 '14 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ My view is that meta is for questions about the main site and the community that surrounds it, and since the activity level is low, we can be less strict in our interpretation of that scope than we are on the main site. So I consider this sufficiently on topic. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    May 21 '14 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ Just out of curiosity - did you end up including it? $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Oct 6 '14 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Floris I did but I'm not very happy with it (as well as other aspects of the CV, which I also haven't gotten round to fixing). I'll post here if I update it to something I like. $\endgroup$ Oct 6 '14 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ You might interest with this: Why are contributions to the education of the broader public not valued much within academia? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Nov 16 '15 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ Depending on whether you are seeking a creative position, you may want to include more than just Physics.SE. I have only a tiny rep here compared to the one on Worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ Dec 21 '20 at 20:54
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In the software industry, a high-reputation Stack Overflow profile is seen as a sign of competence, because you have to use the same technical knowledge and research skills required by your job to answer questions there. But in academia, people - at least, the people who make up the majority (though perhaps not the entirety) of tenure and grant review committees, funding agencies, and research directors - tend to see anything that's not actual research as a distraction from research. For that reason participation on this site doesn't play the same role to a professional physicist as participation on Stack Overflow does to a professional developer. Participation in Physics SE is probably best framed as a service activity, like other kinds of community outreach or volunteer work (not that you would put non-physics-related volunteer work on your CV), rather than as a demonstration of your knowledge of physics.

Professors reviewing CVs do look for some amount of service activities, but in many cases they do so only grudgingly, as a concession to the requirements of running a department and/or pressure from university administrators. (And something analogous applies to those in a non-academic environment.) This tends to be somewhat correlated with age, so that e.g. younger professors are a little more likely to look favorably on things like having a blog or contributing to Physics SE. As a graduate student, I don't think it can really hurt you that much to include it, but at later stages of your career (if you go for a career in academia) I think it's important to make it clear that this is not something that consumes a lot of your time, otherwise it probably could hurt your prospects.

As for what exactly to include: I'd put something a little more substantial than what you've quoted. A brief paragraph (2, maybe 3 sentences) that explains what Physics SE is and/or what you do here is probably going to be useful. (I don't have easy access to my own CV at the moment otherwise I'd give you an example, though I doubt that example would be any better than what you'd come up with on your own.) But again, don't play up the amount of time you've invested in the site; better to frame it as something that you use as a resource to improve your education.

I'm sure this has also been pondered extensively on Academia so you could check there for more thoughts, not specific to physics.

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    $\begingroup$ You conflate "professional physicist" with "someone who practices physics in academia" which is a generalization that many professional physicists not in academia won't thank you for. $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    May 21 '14 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Floris I'll clarify that, but I believe the point still stands. Professional non-academic physicists still need to appease grant reviewers, funding agencies, and supervisors, all of whom tend to view participation in this site as a distraction from research. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    May 21 '14 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ David - thanks for clarifying the wording. I agree with you. $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    May 21 '14 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ A quick question on your answer (which is great by the way, thank you). Without wanting to be too subjective, is it the case that this is the opinion of putting Physics SE on one's CV in the US (where I see you are located) or in general? For example, I am aware that the CV in the US, England and France, say, are very different. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Flint72
    May 21 '14 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ This could be a US-centric perspective which doesn't apply to other countries, but I don't think so. The physics community is very much international, and attitudes toward CVs (or whatever you call the document you present as part of a job application which lists your accomplishments) seem to be fairly similar worldwide. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    May 21 '14 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ That depends on what you count as 'similar'. In this regard I think you're probably right, but there can be huge regional variations on certain aspects of CVs. $\endgroup$ May 22 '14 at 16:19
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Speaking as a professional physicist not in academia, I would say that what you do here is seen more as a hobby (extracurricular interest) than a professional achievement. That said - when you are applying for a job, people are likely to Google you. If your profile links to your real name, your activity on PSE is likely to show up in search results. In your case, your profile is the second hit:

enter image description here

That means the cat is firmly out of the bag - even if you don't include it on your CV.

That said:

  1. When I look at a resume, I assume that the things people mention are the things they find impressive: that tells me a lot about their thought processes.
  2. Someone with a very high reputation probably spends a lot of time on this site: you might wonder whether this would distract that person from their "real job" - are they refreshing the question list every five minutes while at work to distract them from their task at hand? A constant need for "upvotes" is considered by some an unhealthy addiction (of which I am guilty).
  3. A highly upvoted answer on this site does not carry the same weight as a highly cited peer reviewed publication

With all that said - if you have written some answers you are particularly proud of, you might link to them from a blog; then point to this blog to give people an indication of (a) your "informal" communication style (how you write when you are not writing for a peer reviewed journal) - this is an EXTREMELY important skill; and (b) your willingness to "give back" to your community - again, something that is highly appreciated by most employers.

Bottom line - everything you do online becomes a visible part of your record of achievements. Make sure that it projects the right perception of who you are - and why you would be a valuable member of whatever organization you would like to be hired by.

Good luck.

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    $\begingroup$ Sure, that works for you people with unique names. I'm not even the only physicist with my name :( Plus there is a popular musician, a cartoonist, some lawyers, doctors, the list goes on. No, if you're like me and can safely assume you won't have an internet presence ever, don't worry about the cat being out of the bag $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    May 21 '14 at 14:28
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${}$Dear me-from-2014,

In the end, when you finished your PhD and got a job as a postdoc, you did end up including your Stack Exchange participation in your CV.

More specifically, you did this as a single bullet point in the section Science communication, under Professional experience, which looks roughly like this:

(using a font which does not highlight the links quite so aggressively), and together with the rest of your science-outreach activity.

After a few years of using this CV, nobody has commented specifically on this part of the CV, either positively or negatively.

In general, adding PSE-specific mechanics (including your SE reputation, badges, or other quirks) feels somewhat crass, and it will not be understandable to the academic hiring panels that will be reading your CV, though the (relatively) new stat of "people reached" is intuitive enough that it makes the cut. In contrast, it feels much more natural to place the emphasis on the writing samples which took a lot of work, demonstrate in-depth knowledge of physics and good writing ability, and which the readers of the CV can appreciate.


Addendum, 2021.

I recently did an interview for a fellowship where the interviewer explicitly brought up my Stack Exchange participation. My application materials mentioned that I "am passionate about science communication and education, and I have authored over 2,400 science-communication pieces" but did not mention Stack Exchange by name.

The interviewer (who is a frequent contributor to a science-outreach YouTube channel) explicitly mentioned my Stack Exchange participation in a good light, and then asked whether I intend to maintain that level of public engagement during the fellowship. The results of the interview will take some time to come out, but I'm pretty confident in saying that this was considered as a positive aspect of my application materials.

That said, of course, this is a single data point. The funding organization in question places a high value on science outreach, and this probably colours their choice of interviewers as well as the criteria the interviewers are provided. In other places, your mileage will probably vary.


Since I'm writing to you from 2020: this year, make sure you're well stocked with toilet paper. Since I'm writing to you in 2014: buy some bitcoin!

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    $\begingroup$ In any case, beware that Stack Exchange is frequently much less known than what its users expect. $\endgroup$ Dec 20 '20 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like the silent question here is: was this helpful at all? Academics are not in the habit of providing negative feedbacks on CV, except by rejecting applications. It is not something I would place on a CV that goes for an academic application, unless the position was a teaching position or mentioned outreach explicitly but I'd mention it if asked during an interview. Do you hear anything positive about this item as you snake your way through the process of job applications? $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ " unless the position was a teaching position or mentioned outreach explicitly." We obviously inhabit different universes @ZeroTheHero . There are no non-junior, non-temporary academic jobs in the UK that do not feature one, or more usually both, of these things. I had the impression that the same was true in (the rest of) Europe and the US. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Dec 23 '20 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries ah! of course this is expected and maybe I can be more precise: there are now teaching only positions, rather than "regular" positions. Of course regular appointments still include teaching, but tenure and promotion tends to be weighted more towards research. So I'd definitely add this to my CV for a teaching position, but not for a regular one. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I am talking about "regular" appointments. These days, researchers who make no impact or do not have the potential to make impact, do not usually get hired to those regular positions. That impact can be made in many ways, but we would expect to see it on a CV. Of course if you have a Nobel prize or a string of successful grants then you perhaps don't need to bother. There is no "tenure" in the UK. Promotion can entirely be based on research impact and public engagement for many academics. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Dec 23 '20 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries yes I'm aware of the sorry state of "tenure" (or lack thereof) in the UK. I just went to jobs sections of PhysicsToday. I would certainly mention PSE for this application jobs.utoronto.ca/job/… but not for the sister one jobs.utoronto.ca/job/…. The former is (explicitly) a teaching position but not the latter. This "teaching stream" is certainly not unique to this university. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I have not heard any specific feedback either way. It's important to note that it is embedded in a full section for science communication, which typically has 6 bullet points spanning a variety of activities; if there were any negative feedback along the lines you mention then I would expect it to hit the entire section. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ That said, I keep a tight eye on this, and I continue to look for feedback that can cause me to reconsider both that section and that particular bullet point. I feel that the science-communication part of the CV can demonstrate significant value, particularly when shown under that lens, so it would take some strong feedback for me to remove it entirely from all applications, but the jury is still out, as far as I'm concerned, regarding whether it is actually helpful or not. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty you could be right. I've not been on the seeking part of the job market for a while. What I know from looking at CVs (for positions in cognate units, PTR applications) and grant applications is that this is decidedly not emphasized. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sure on the other hand that for a "teaching stream" position as in this ad I linked to, I would absolutely include it. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ (@Zero I'm unclear on what "cognate units, PTR applications" means, I'm afraid.) $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ a cognate unit is one that is "close" to my unit. Say Chemistry and Math are cognate to physics (although some would debate this...;) ). PTR is Promotion Tenure Review. Typically if Chemistry has a position open there will be someone from "a cognate unit" on the hiring committee. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero See edits to the text detailing changes to my previous answer to your query. $\endgroup$ Apr 8 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty nice!!! $\endgroup$ Apr 8 at 22:05
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I don't see why you would not, so long as it is in the proper context and not as a substitute for actual qualifications and high quality research outputs and teaching experience.

Almost all posts in academic institutions now come with the expectation that you work will have "impact" outside of academia. For people like me who work in astrophysics, and I guess for many who work in areas like particle physics or theory, then it is rather difficult to point to major technological breakthroughs or start-up companies who are going to take your work and produce a new best-thing-since-sliced-bread device. In fact, if your research is more "blue skies", what you have to argue is that you are reaching out to wide and diverse audiences and having an impact in that way.

Unfortunately, stack exchange does not really fulfil that objective because mostly you are not writing about your own research (I would guess only 1-2% of my answers on Physics or Astronomy SE are linked to my research) and the audience is not that diverse and difficult to quantify. Creating a personal blog about your research area might be more effective in that respect, though I doubt I would have gotten 3 million views of a blog about my research in 6 years.

What stack exchange does do however (providing that you have written many highly upvoted answers), is demonstrate the ability to communicate about science/mathematics/computing to a variety of audiences and that may be a very important part of the role you are applying for. It may also demonstrate a passion for teaching and often demonstrates the ability to marshall facts and research from a variety of sources to support an argument. So you could certainly use stack exchange as an example of work that you have done which might illustrate your ability or potential for certain kinds of tasks.

Having said all that, if you are answering many questions per day on average, then it probably just shows you're spending too much time on stack exchange... like most things, moderation is probably to be advised.

Bottom line: I don't do SE because I think it adds anything particularly significant to my CV nor am I especially altruistic; I do it because I find it entertaining; it drives me to look at old problems in a different way; it often gives me interesting ideas for student problems and assessments; and has prompted me on many occasions to keep up with the latest developments in some areas. I do add it to my professional CV, in the section about all the other public outreach work I do and I regard it as part of that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this clear exposition. As the obvious follow-up $-$ have you included your SE activity in your CV or similar documents? I understand that you've had your current job, at least in essence, since before joining SE, but there are still various processes that require a CV. Or, perhaps more to the point, if for some catastrophic reason your university disbanded the astronomy department and you had to apply for a professorship elsewhere, would you include it? If so, in what format? $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Yes, I have included it - as part of the section on my "outreach" activities. In my view, it is as valid as claiming that $n$ thousand people have looked at an article you wrote in "The Conversation", although in the latter you might be talking about your own research, but often not. I don't think it would carry much weight in applying for a professorship, though I would still mention it in the context of outreach/public understanding of science. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Dec 23 '20 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty As an aside, I have only had positive comments from (a number of) other professionals about my involvement in SE. Of course that could be a selection bias in the sense that it is unlikely that someone would straight out say "you are wasting your time with that". $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Dec 23 '20 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ That's good to hear. It feels like it could be particular to your position (i.e. colleagues might react positively to my-colleague-is-doing-this, but perhaps they feel differently about person-that-does-this-wants-to-be-my-colleague?), but it is nevertheless a very valuable data point. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, I have also only had positive comments from other professionals when my involvement with SE is mentioned, but this has only come from peers or juniors $-$ I have not had any interactions about SE with PIs. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ rob I wonder to what extent the UK system is unique in those outreach expectations. Your system is extremely strange in the way it tracks value for money (and the accounting is absurdly granular) and the lack of “real” tenure is certainly encouraging individual researchers to justify their position within a school or administrative unit. $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero The obsession with outreach (an American phrase) came across the Atlantic, west to east. I am personally more involved with widening participation, something that preoccupies many of my US collaborators too. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Dec 23 '20 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries interesting. My UK colleagues are much more into outreach than we are. We organize the usual stuff and have the local high schools drop in for this or that lab 'cuz we have better equipment, but otherwise the outreach is more at the Faculty level (I did run a series of public lectures on behalf of the Dean some years ago). $\endgroup$ Dec 23 '20 at 21:47

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