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QUESTION: I’m curious to know: how much does success in writing funding proposals for NSF as a PhD student affect your application for a tenure-track faculty position in the US? Especially if you were not the PI (due to citizenship reasons and school regulations) but your PhD adviser was. The fact that you did write the proposal is corroborated in your advisers’ recommendation letter and the fact that you did secure funding from NSF on a recent proposal is stated in the research statement to demonstrate that you do have experience in submitting proposals.


EDIT 1: The wording of this fact in my research statement is as follows: As a PhD student and with assistance from my adviser, I drafted the proposal X that was awarded funding from the Y Division of the NSF. I then go on to briefly explain what published research the award supported.


EDIT 2: Based on your experience how often and to what extent discussion of proposals is included in an applicant's material? I assume the committee would be interested to see the evidence that the applicant is capable of drafting a competitive proposal. Do they by any chance search for the proposal online to see the amount of money it was awarded? Maybe that is a factor on the importance of the proposed study!


EDIT 3: This is with regards to an issue brought up in the comments: The discipline is plasma science and engineering. As I mentioned in the (original) question I could not be a PI/co-PI due to citizenship restrictions and school regulations. Also, the ideas developed in the proposal were not 100% mine but maybe equally shared between the two of us. The draft also went through multiple revisions by my adviser.


EDIT 4: The issue of abusive behavior and circumventing rules have been brought up in the comments. I have not experienced any such behavior (unless I'm being abused without knowing!). Furthermore, per NSF's survey emails I have been listed as a contributor based on this excerpt from the email: You have been identified by the Principal Investigator/co-Principal Investigator(s) as contributing to the following NSF-supported project. Before starting the process of drafting the proposal I was directed by my adviser to read NSF's Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and to my knowledge rules were not broken (I understand circumvention is different).

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    I would be very careful about claiming that you “secured funding” if you are not named as the PI on a grant. You did not secure funding, your advisor did. If the advisor wants to say that it was you who helped write the proposal, then let them, and that might reflect positively on you, but you do not want to be seen claiming you obtained funding when that is not officially true.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 29 at 4:30
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    @Newbie hmm, I’m wondering what discipline you’re working in? Because in my area, math, it would be pretty weird both to draft someone else’s proposal and to boast about it. You say there is no false claim, but technically at the very least your PI can be viewed as making a false claim to the NSF when they submitted a proposal largely authored by someone else who isn’t credited as a co-PI. I know this sort of thing happens and is probably common in some disciplines, but again, such behavior IMO is a touch shady and something I’d be wary of disclosing publicly, let alone boasting about.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 29 at 15:55
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    … Think about it this way: suppose your advisor also “trained” you in other academic work such as writing recommendation letters and referee reports, which they submitted under their name only. Would you think that that’s something to boast about in your application? I mean, it shows that you got valuable training, right? And you can say that those recommendation letters led to positive hiring outcomes for their subjects (assume that’s the case). But obviously, submitting rec letters and referee reports that are written in someone else’s name is pretty unethical behavior. Do you see my point?
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 29 at 16:02
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    "As a PhD student and with assistance from my adviser, ": Don't write this like that. Write "together with my advisor, I prepared", or the like. To me, it feels that writing like you do has little benefits, but it makes it sound like your advisor's role was minor, sth. they might disagree with (and they might be right; telling you the weak spots of your draft and how to sharpen it is difficult work and a major contribution to a successful proposal).
    – user151413
    Jan 29 at 20:44
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    I find "I could not be a PI/co-PI due to citizenship restrictions" to be very odd. I have not heard of universities allowing a graduate student to be co-PI on a grant. Is it different at your university? Jan 29 at 20:46

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Getting funded is a plus, but simply writing proposals isn't the same thing. The NSF considered more than just the writing, including the reputation and background of the PI.

It isn't the sort of thing that will guarantee you a position, but it is one positive thing among others that will earn you a position. Don't try to base your application entirely on that (though I'm sure you know that, already).

So, a small, but definitely positive, contribution to any application. Getting funded on your own would be a different matter and much more positive. Deans, in particular, love that funding inflow.

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  • Maybe I should rephrase my question to ask how often this sort of information is included in an applicant's application. But then again based on your answer it is not going to be an important factor. Also, to your point about not basing my application on the funding part, this just took 2-3 lines of my research statement.
    – Newbie
    Jan 29 at 14:08
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    That sounds about right. A few lines... it shows you can write. It shows you are focused. Positive, but not determinative.
    – Buffy
    Jan 29 at 14:10
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As Dan Romik pointed out, your advisor should be writing their own proposals and not having PhD students do it. The best way for you to benefit from this situation is for your advisor to describe your contribution to the proposal in the letter of recommendation. If the advisor makes it clear that you went beyond what is expected of a PhD student, this makes you look good while probably avoiding making your advisor look bad.

In summary, do not discuss your contributions to the proposal yourself.

I do not see proposal-writing as likely to be decisive in hiring at the assistant professor level or below.

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  • Although I do not agree with your comments regarding the answer of Dan Romik I find the answer here very useful, especially the part you mentioned about how my adviser can make the situation clear through the letter. I also appreciate your opinion that writing proposals is not as decisive for hiring assistant professors.
    – Newbie
    Jan 29 at 20:42
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Grant writing for a Ph.D. student is a plus as mentioned in the previous comments. But it does not pave the way for you if you have not done a good job in publication, teaching experience, and research. I suggest that this item even should not be emphasized too much because the search committee might think you are diverting them from the main elements by listing something that nobody expects from a student. I would suggest you mentioned it as a simple experience, because funding is not all about the writing and even the idea. It has more complexity such as, as mentioned in the previous responses, the PI, his/her reputation, the ranking of the school, the panel, the referees, and many many other factors.

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