How can I boost my CV/portfolio while studying without exhausting myself in the process?

A student asked me:

How can I boost my CV/portfolio while studying without exhausting myself in the process?

It’s practically not possible to do that. There’s 24 hours in a day, and if you want to do anything beyond academics, you will need to set aside time outside of your lessons to do that. It may mean less personal time, or less sleep (though I don’t recommend sleeping less). But the moral of the story is that something has to give way for you to be able to invest the time and energy for it.

One thing I did so that I didn’t exhaust myself too much would be to only take on projects I really enjoy. That way, I don’t find the work a chore, and I am very delighted to pour hours of my time on it.

In my first year of undergrad studies, I used to conduct language classes in the evenings after classes. It was fun (and earning money’s always fun), and my desire to teach better led me to read up more about different techniques for facilitation and public speaking.

From my second year onwards, I started to work as an undergraduate Research Assistant for one of my profs. And I was very passionate about the research area and that really helped me to grow and develop myself intellectually and academically in the process. I read hundreds of books, and I wasn’t complaining because I actually enjoyed it. And the research area overlapped with a lot of the modules that I took. So I didn’t actually have to read much for those modules because I already had the background knowledge and familiarity with many of those topics.

When I took over the leadership for the Philosophy Interest Group, I did a lot of work, but I wasn’t so exhausted nor did I consider it extra work because I thought it was a nice platform to make new friends and try to form a philosophical community, which was already something I personally aspired to make. So I never thought of it as extra work. I just did it because I enjoyed it and personally wanted those things.

And it’s only when I sit down to craft my CV did I realise, “Oh wow! I’ve done so much that boosted my portfolio!”

Now, what’s the point in sharing all these?

If you noticed, I didn’t specifically go out of my way to do things to boost my portfolio. I just took on things I enjoyed doing because I wanted to do them. This is a more organic way, and more importantly, the portfolio/CV that I craft at the end of it all is a true reflection of who I am and what I want to do with my career. I want to build communities, make new friends, learn and read up about the stuff I enjoy, and just teach things that I enjoy teaching. These are things I would prioritise in my life, and they overlap with the kind of work that I want to do.

So the moral of the story is: find opportunities that you actually want to do, or create the opportunities yourself to do the things you want to do. Don’t just do stuff for the sake of adding to your portfolio, especially if it leads you to do things so grudgingly or hesitantly. And I say this because I’ve encountered people who want the achievements, but they don’t want to do the work, or they don’t enjoy the work.

And if you don’t know what to do, then just try anything and everything that comes your way. At least you’ll discover for yourself what you can orcannot do, and what you like or dislike doing.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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