An Open Letter… this’ll be new for me…

To the Domestic and Laboratory Goddess-

I’m in a snarky mood tonight and so I’m not going to let this pass. Honey- you really put your well-heeled foot in it with your post ridiculing a colleague for sending you a CV which listed grants submitted but not funded. It will be my pleasure to call bullshit on this one.

Perhaps, while you were blogging about this and that and blogfighting with whoever about whatever, you failed to realize that the funding line for NIH grants is around the 10th percentile???!!!  I mean, WTF.  It is freaking miraculous that people can get and maintain NIH grants these days. This goes for new investigators, established investigators. Whoever. It should not be a point of ridicule that someone is working their ass off to get funded.

When I started in this business, a colleague that I know submitted 28 grants as junior faculty… to obtain 2.  I myself have submitted >20 in the last 3 years. Writing this number of grants takes a shitload of time, time that could be spent on other pursuits, time that needs to be accounted for somewhere. I submit that it is pretty freaking difficult to write this # of grants, maintain a respectable publication record, keep a lab running, mentor your people, teach, and have something that passes as a normal life with kids and the whole deal- all at the same time. Massive  (heroic even) efforts to obtain funding for one’s laboratory most definitely should be accounted for on one’s CV, as should papers that are submitted. Doing this any other way in the vast majority of situations for which your CV would be used- would be shooting yourself in the foot. And there is something you in particular would probably want to avoid- in order to avoid ruining those expensive heels.

And honestly this analogy ‘is like making a list of all the girls you tried to bang in high school, but who turned you down. It means nothing unless you seal the deal,” is just totally absurd and isn’t something to aspire to. We’d all be better off if the genuinely smart, honest, solid, hardworking men and women were the ones we promoted irrespective of flashiness- over the ones with all the flash, sales and notches in their grant-writing bedpost.

I hope that you take this little commentary with the respect and kindness it was intended to convey.



Wow. I’m not sure what got into me there.


14 thoughts on “An Open Letter… this’ll be new for me…

  1. Unfortunately, DrDr A, I have to agree with Dr. Isis. The problem with listing grants you submitted and did not get funded is that there is no way to control for quality. As the final arbiter of what gets submitted from your lab, you can submit random strings of letters. What matters is production, not effort. This is why we don’t pay students hourly. In practice, good production usually depends on a lot of effort, but really, each of us has to find our own way to succeed.

    A good example of this is the perennial student mistake of listing “paper submitted to Science” or better yet “paper in preparation for Nature”. This always gets a good laugh at student section.

    As has been pointed out in the comments on Dr. Isis’ post, there are occasional situations where submitted and unfunded things are supposed to be listed or should be listed, but in general, I don’t want to see all the times you tried and failed.

  2. qaz-

    You are free to agree with whomever you like. This is how it looks to me from the trenches. I think physioprof nicely pointed out that the situations where you might list everything aren’t really that limited.

  3. I’m with you, Drdra. I was explicitly told to include this info in my tenure package, and have also included it in all my yearly faculty reports. But context is everything. I wouldn’t put it in a job app unless the proposal/submission was still pending.

    I’ve got to say, I really resent the analogy.

  4. Nicely put DrDrA. I’m currently slogging my way through a mountain of proposals and it’s heartbreaking knowing that most of the applicants poured enormous amounts of effort into these things and very, very few will receive funding for their efforts. As CPP and others have pointed out numerous times, the top 20% or so really are indistinguishable in terms of quality, and yet only half of those at best will be funded. Listing these on a CV, when used in the right context, at least demonstrates that the effort is being made.

    I’ll add myself to the list of people who are required to submit a CV each year to my institution including a list of all proposals submitted but not funded.

    Finally, I too found the analogy offensive and frankly childish.

  5. I thought the analogy was dreadful, and pretty demeaning.
    Yes there are circumstances where lists like that are inappropriate, and times when it is, but ridiculing and belittling people is never appropriate. Rather than a decent discussion on the issue, and why someone would do that, we got an over the top smack down of a (probably) well intentioned individual.

  6. Qaz said,
    “The problem with listing grants you submitted and did not get funded is that there is no way to control for quality.”

    The quality is irrelevant, it’s simply a matter of historical record. The purpose of a CV is not only to list achievements (although you want these in plain view); it’s also a history of one’s academic activity. It’s a little disconcerting that the obvious distinction between a curriculum vitae (the clue is in the name) and a resume is becoming somewhat fuzzy. I think it’s fair to say that for whatever given context, and depending on one’s seniority, anything from 30 to 90% of one’s CV is inevitably going to contain irrelevant material. That’s why the NIH asks for brief bios, and not CVs, for grant submissions. I’ve seen TT faculty CVs that list all their abstract presentations, although I doubt any of them honestly think that the inclusion of such material is going to contribute greatly to there prestige.

    “Sending a CV with a listing of all the funding you’ve applied for but didn’t receive and papers you have in submission is like making a list of all the girls you tried to bang in high school, but who turned you down.”

    Classy. And very high school.

  7. I think there needs to be a sharper distinction in this little discussion between the Full Monty CV and the selected CV. It is being acknowledged in the comments but not enough. There is a HUGE difference between what you send out for grant review (no vapor ware please) and for career-review (where I totally buy the arguments about effort expended and want to underline that University paperwork has a section for submitted-grants for exactly this reason).

    For a seminar visit? This is a place where I’d expect to see a little more in the way of a Full Monty (to give the host some interesting intro bits, mostly) but personally I don’t see where the vapor ware papers and grants-not-funded need to go in there.

  8. DM- Fair enough. I suppose I submit that not everyone adjusts their CV before they send it out for a seminar visit. Or perhaps some hardworking admin person downloaded what she thought was the right thing? Who knows. Ya gotta cut people some slack. I dislike the sort of blanket assertion in the original post that nothing matters unless the thing is funded. … that somehow makes one less than a man (which is where that analogy goes)?!

    I’m certain though, that this is a great place to start discussing what+ (when/where) should be on a CV, and including the gray areas. Props to C PP for a rather thorough comment to sort this out.

  9. It’s also about laziness/least effort and timing. If someone asks you for a CV on the spot, you’re might give them what you have handy (on your desktop), or it might be a version that’s years out of date, or might be a version written for the grant submitted to non-fed off-the-wall agency.
    I have also seen what qaz mentioned, on CVs by students, postdocs, faculty, and administration. The list of nickel and dime grants would be fine for students and postdocs, but when faculty list they got $200 from the botanical society to plant tulip bulbs in the spring, it doesn’t fly.

  10. The NSF biosketch doesn’t have a grant funding section. It’s got education, appointments, 10 significant/relevant publications, activities, and collaborations squished into 2 pages.
    When you submit an NSF proposal, there’s a whole section on pending/submitted and current funding that goes at the beginning.

  11. Thank you for writing this. I found the original post to be obnoxious too. Personally, I’m a big believer in listing papers and grants in review on all forms of my CV (except where explicitly outlawed), because it shows what I have been working on most recently and not what I was working on 3 years ago. Maybe when I have 50 pubs to my name that won’t matter any more, but for someone still working on transitioning from student to full-fledged independent investigator, that’s pretty damn important. That said, I wouldn’t list unfunded grants or papers in preparation on a CV for external use (but I am supposed to internally).

    I’m also gonna comment on the analogy over at Isis’s, and I hope she’ll respond.

  12. Well, hormones or not, the idea that males are single-minded sex-driven automotons is a little off base, too. Crazy as it might seem, we actually do manage to spare a few synapses for the pursuit of other activities, even in high school*.

    * Alright, so maybe those other things were football, video games, and faking ID cards rather than anything conventionally productive, but cut us some slack here.

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