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Funding for your own idea (CV entry and authorship)


Humulus_lupulus

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Hi, everyone! I am a second-year MS student in biological engineering. I've been unsuccessful in my applications to all the national graduate fellowships, and now that my eligibility has run out for all of them (unless you know of one that I can still apply for!), I am in the process of looking at other sources of funding.

In my field, and in my lab specifically, it is incredibly common for us to get funding from the USDA and smaller agricultural commodity groups. So, I'm not really at a loss for sources, and one of these commodity groups is pretty well-funded and is happy with our current work. I'm probably going to target them for PhD funding as well. I already have an idea of what I want to do for my project, and my advisor is 100% supportive of me heading in that direction.

My question is how this grant could be added to my CV, as it is not possible for a grad student to be listed as a PI (or co-PI). I want to do most, if not all, of the writing on this grant, since it's my own idea, and it would look really great for me to have that on my CV (~$250K) when I'm looking at faculty positions. Anyone ever been in this situation before, where you've written the majority of a grant but couldn't be listed as PI? Does that even matter? I wrote several grants in my undergrad days, but they were not "formal" funding agencies, so my advisor had me list myself as first author on my CV entries. I assume the same could be done here, or my advisor could vouch for me in recommendations that it was all my writing. My only other thought is that I am planning on taking some time off between MS/PhD, so I could technically be a name on the grant as an "industry collaborator" or "consultant."

Any insight is very much appreciated!

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Two thoughts: 

1. If this is common in your lab, how do others list it? I'm sure you're not the first person to run into this question. I'm sure others outside your lab have faced this problem and solved it, too. It's gotta be a known issue. Look at other people's CVs for the answer, or ask your advisor. 

2. Your CV aside, your advisor will describe your role in obtaining the grant in his/her letter, and that will count for a lot, regardless of the actual wording of the line on your CV. You could build on it when you interview and when you are ready to design your first post-PhD project. This is where the fact that you did the writing will shine through, and especially in interviews, this will make all the difference.  

So, short version, I think you just find out what others do and do the same, and then you don't worry about it beyond that. 

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Short answer: If you're not listed on the grant, it can't go on your CV. 

Long answer: This is a really common position to be in- it's happened to me a lot of times over the years. If you write large portions of the grant and aren't a PI, or co-PI due to your status as a grad student, that's well understood. Rather than being a CV entry, this is something you discuss in your cover letter and your advisor discusses in their letter of recommendation. Personally, I have a section of my cover letter that discusses grant writing experience in terms of major contributions to successful grants, as well as things like the NSF fellowship that are grant-based funding. 

Even if other people list similar things on their CV, I'd strongly recommend against it. 

As some general background, usually the reason grad students can't be listed on grants as PI (or co-PI) stems from the fact that most agencies significantly limit funds that can be used towards the salaries of PIs (or co-PIs). I have had friends that were in the position of either getting a release from the school to be listed as a co-PI (and limited to 2 months of funding) or getting the normal funding and not being listed on the grant. NSF and NIH are both quite strict about this, and it encompasses all other funding sources from the agency as well. If you're listed on ANY grant as a co-PI, you cannot be getting more than 2 months of salary from any other grant (at least at that agency)- it invalidates your ability to be a staff/graduate student/post-doctoral researcher, as those are not considered PI positions.

This also means I'd be very careful to explore how it will impact you in the future to be listed on the grant during your time off. 

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Do the grants in your field allow graduate students to be listed as such? In my field, there is a fellowship that is basically a grant but only the faculty member can be a PI, a co-PI or a Co-I. However, the grant is really a graduate fellowship so 100% of the application must be written by the student only (except the letter of reference). Instead of being listed as a PI/Co-PI/Co-I, I am listed as the "graduate student" on the grant. This way, I can include this on my CV since I'm part of the grant, but I'm not the PI. I list this grant on my CV under "awards" (where most people would put things like NSF) rather than grants though. 

In my field, this is the common way for graduate students and sometimes postdocs to be included onto the grant. Most grants where I participated in, I'm listed as "Graduate Student" or "Participant". At my school, if you are listed as a PI, you must allocate at least 1% of your time doing this work (and thus 1% of your salary must come from the grant). So, as Eigen points out, it's usually complicated and/or not possible for graduate students to be PI on major grants. 

Edited to add clarification: With the exception of the fellowship/grant above, I don't include any of the other grants where I'm listed as a graduate student/participant on my CV. In these cases, the idea has not been mine and although I might still have contributed a lot of work towards it (i.e. if it were a paper, I'd be a coauthor), I wouldn't include a grant that I didn't write the majority of on my CV. In my field, many grants are for telescope time (sometimes it's just time, but others it's both time plus funding to pay someone to analyze the data) and usually graduate students are expected to write one of these during their degree but often the faculty member will have to be the PI. In the future, if I ever write a grant (whether it's for money and/or telescope time) where I do all the work but someone else has to be the PI, as long as I'm included in the grant authorship in some way, I'd find a way to put it on my CV (making my actual role clear though).

Edited by TakeruK
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Hey, everyone! GREAT feedback, and all very helpful advice. So, what I'm getting is that it won't be the end of the world if I can't be "co-author" and have it listed under grants on my CV, because it will come through in letters.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any graduate students in my lab, or even my department, who have pursued their own ideas, so I don't really have a model to go by. It's great to get advice from everyone here who might have been in the same boat. Everyone has typically just been funded off an idea that my PI has had (including myself for my MS project, which I don't claim as my "own" on my CV with regard to funding).

I plan to discuss this with my advisor this week to see what his take is on it, but I appreciate all of the feedback!

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Sounds good. Here's some really good, relatively recent advice on a similar issue from the CHE forums:

http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,192963.0.html

When I've asked senior colleagues for advice before, they told me to either rely on my cover letter/recommenders (which is what I chose) or do a more skills-based CV, and have "grant writing experience" somewhere on there in more descriptive terms. I do something similar for research projects that have been successful but not lead to publications, mostly to show a range of collaborations and research skills. 

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On 5/8/2016 at 5:03 PM, Eigen said:

When I've asked senior colleagues for advice before, they told me to either rely on my cover letter/recommenders (which is what I chose) or do a more skills-based CV, and have "grant writing experience" somewhere on there in more descriptive terms. 

That's a great piece of advice, and something that hadn't crossed my mind!

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On 5/8/2016 at 11:01 PM, Eigen said:

Short answer: If you're not listed on the grant, it can't go on your CV. 

Long answer: This is a really common position to be in- it's happened to me a lot of times over the years. If you write large portions of the grant and aren't a PI, or co-PI due to your status as a grad student, that's well understood. Rather than being a CV entry, this is something you discuss in your cover letter and your advisor discusses in their letter of recommendation. Personally, I have a section of my cover letter that discusses grant writing experience in terms of major contributions to successful grants, as well as things like the NSF fellowship that are grant-based funding. 

This has been my experience as well. For example, I have a ~10K USDA grant listed on my CV because it is specifically a graduate student grant, and I am the "Project Coordinator." I've also listed the rest of the small research grants that have been awarded directly to me, as well as fellowships/scholarships like the NSF GRF.

However, I don't list my advisor's ~$500K NSF grant because I am not a co-PI, even though the project idea resulted from my thesis research, and I therefore provided writing/data/graphs for the proposal. So I am relying on my advisor to convey my contribution to the proposal in future letters.

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