The Canadian Common CV, or CCV for short, sounds simple enough: it’s a standardized tool that researchers use to upload their curriculum vitae for major funding applications. But after 15 years, the anything-but-simple CCV seems slated for a massive transformation, if not a death knell.
When the program was launched in 2002, it was heralded as a way to make researchers’ lives easier – they could use the same common CV regardless of the funding competition. But the online tool has been buggy and cumbersome. Researchers’ frustrations with it have been aired in passionate blog posts and tweets. “It’s been pretty amazing, it consistently underachieves,” said Jim Woodgett, director of research for the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
Even Canada’s 2017 Fundamental Science Review panel, headed by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, took notice. In its report, the panel lambasted the CCV for its “complex and user-unfriendly web interface,” frequent crashes and “rigid architecture that precludes freeform entries.”
In July, the Tri-Council funding agencies responsible for the CCV – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – announced that “a redesign of the Canadian Common CV is underway.” (In the meantime, the CCV is still being used for competitions.)
But, according to Adrian Mota, acting vice-president of competition management at CIHR, the Tri-Agency governing board is considering starting from scratch. In consultations over the next few months, according to Mr. Mota, funding stakeholders will be asking: “How much can we harmonize? Does it make sense to harmonize? Is it CCV 2.0? Or is it something different?”
On that last question, Mr. Mota said the consultations will explore whether the CCV could be replaced by existing third-party tools that import researchers’ professional histories, such as the PubMed or ORCID platforms. Given that the possibilities are so open, Mr. Mota couldn’t say when a new or different CV application might be up and running.
In addition to the three major funders, the CCV secretariat will consult with the 24 other agencies that use the CCV, including the Canadian Council for the Arts and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, as well as researchers and research administrators.
One of the biggest issues with the CCV became apparent within a year of its launch, recalled Dr. Woodgett. “Every time there was a grant deadline, the darn system would crash because of all of the editing going on by thousands of researchers,” he said. The crashing problem improved over the years, but other issues emerged, like cryptic error messages that would occur when researchers tried to use the same CV for two different competitions.
“Each competition has different requirements, so when you apply for a new competition, suddenly your CCV is populated full of red error Xs,” said Holly Witteman, an associate professor in the department of family and emergency medicine at Université Laval. “It just takes away the whole idea of ‘common.’”
Updating the CCV – whether to meet the requirements of a new competition or to add recent works – can be painstaking. For a journal article, for instance, the volume, page numbers and so on are all separate fields. When the CCV website was particularly slow, it could take “30 seconds to a minute” to update a single page number, according to Bruce Allen, a research professor at the Montreal Heart Institute. When he had to create a CCV for a grant a few years ago, the process took “it seemed like a couple of weeks,” he said.
The program has been so onerous that several universities have bought third-party software, called CCV Sync, that simplifies the CCV updating program. Diego Macrini, CEO of Proximify, the software company behind CCV Sync, said he thinks the problem with the CCV is that it was designed for the needs of the agencies, not the research end-users. “From a software perspective, you always beta test with people who will be using the software. That never happened,” he said.
Dr. Woodgett said he worries that pattern will continue. “We’ve heard from the agencies that there is a new version coming along but there’s been no request for input,” he said.
Mr. Mota acknowledged that beta testing didn’t occur with the last extensive redesign of the CCV in 2012. “The application was incredibly slow and buggy, and people really struggled with the user interface. Could that have been avoided? My sense is that we could have done better,” he said, though he wasn’t directly involved with the CCV redesign at the time.
This time around, Mr. Mota said, there is a “comprehensive consultation plan” that is being implemented over the next few months. Once a program has been created, months or years down the line, “our goal is to eventually have beta testing of users,” he said.
“We’re very much supportive of what the [Naylor report] said and we agree the CCV needs to improve,” Mr. Mota added. He stressed that this next round of consultations won’t result in a 2012-like redesign. “We’re not just going to put Band-Aids on the existing application. We need to agree on what the vision is and I think we have a pretty clear path based on years of user feedback.”