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I am writing a postdoc proposal which will involve work in area X. Area X can be studied from a theoretical or applied perspective, and the proposal involves the latter. While my PhD has focused on theoretical aspects of area X, I also have experience in the applied aspects via an internship. The issue is that all the work resulting from the internship is classified, and cannot be legally shared. I cannot, for instance, cite a paper (though I did write an internally published paper on my work while an intern). How can I convincingly convey that I have experience with the applied side of area X?

I am legally able to share that I worked in applied area X during my internship, that I wrote a paper, and I may disclose the name of the organization I worked with. This information appears on my CV, but how should I best incorporate it into my proposal?

Or should I, without anything specific to say about my experience in applied area X, say nothing because saying anything would sound desperate?

Related: How to reference confidential data in reference list

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  • Like Secret or Top Secret classified? Is the existence of the paper itself classified? Is the title itself classified?
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2022 at 2:37
  • @JonCuster Yes, that sort of classification. The existence of the paper is not classified; that is also on my CV. The title, however, is classified. Frankly, I do not even remember the exact title and have no way of finding out because my contacts at my internship could not share it with me if I asked.
    – Plutoro
    Oct 8, 2022 at 2:40
  • Can you clarify the sponsor? Oct 8, 2022 at 3:03
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    @yourfriendlyresearchadmin Do you mean to whom am I submitting the proposal? If so, the National Science Foundation.
    – Plutoro
    Oct 8, 2022 at 3:04

2 Answers 2

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Or should I, without anything specific to say about my experience in applied area X, say nothing because saying anything would sound desperate?

It is counterproductive to withhold truthful and relevant information about yourself out of fear that the information cannot be verified. You should share what information you are able to, and leave it to the people evaluating your proposal to think how to make use of that information. If they think the information is useless (I doubt very much they will), they will ignore it, and you will be no worse off than if you hadn’t mentioned it at all. There is no benefit to you preempting or second-guessing their judgment on this issue.

I am legally able to share that I worked in applied area X during my internship, that I wrote a paper, and I may disclose the name of the organization I worked with. This information appears on my CV, but how should I best incorporate it into my proposal?

Just mention it in the appropriate parts of the proposal, and explain the limitations preventing you from sharing more. It is not materially different than any other type of information you are including in your proposal.

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  • yes, outstanding answer. anyone working your field will be likely to recognise the organisation and the situation as quite probable. If they do doubt you at all, they can ask for a little more detail in the interview. Oct 9, 2022 at 15:01
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Have you read the instructions? The PAPPG covers this:

D. SPECIAL PROCESSING INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Proprietary or Privileged Information

Patentable ideas, trade secrets, privileged or confidential commercial or financial information, disclosure of which may harm the proposer, should be included in proposals only when such information is necessary to convey an understanding of the proposed project. Such information must be clearly marked in the proposal and be appropriately labeled with a legend such as,

"The following is (proprietary or confidential) information that (name of proposing organization) requests not be released to persons outside the Government, except for purposes of review and evaluation." Such information also may be included as a separate statement. If this method is used, the statement must be submitted as a single-copy document in the Proposal Preparation Module in FastLane or Research.gov. (See also Chapter II.C1Chapter II.C.1 for further information regarding submission of single-copy documents.)39

The box for "Proprietary or Privileged Information" must be checked on the Cover Sheet when the proposal contains such information. While NSF will make every effort to prevent unauthorized access to such material, the Foundation is not responsible or in any way liable for the release of such material.

Otherwise, assume any information you disclose is subject to FOIA.

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    Thanks for your answer, but my questions is not whether I should disclose classified information, but rather how to best convince the reader of my proposal of my experience, the details of which I cannot disclose? My question is not so much about rules as rhetoric.
    – Plutoro
    Oct 8, 2022 at 3:26
  • I'm not sure I understand. These rules say here is how you disclose information that cannot be released to the public. Are you saying you cannot release the details to the government at all? At some point you have to decide to be direct and check the box as described or just state it's confidential and details are available on request. You don't have many options. Oct 8, 2022 at 3:34
  • Yes, it seems I do not have options. The nature of my agreement with my internship organization is that without authorization from my internship organization (which is very unlikely), I am not able to disclose details to the NSF (or anyone else) under any circumstances, no matter what the NSF says in their instructions. So should I be vague hoping they understand I cannot be more specific, or just say nothing of my internship experience to avoid sounding like I am grasping at straws?
    – Plutoro
    Oct 8, 2022 at 3:42
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    Yeah, this answer would be good if OP were merely dealing with trade secrets or other "privileged" information, but classified information is something different. Classified information simply cannot be shared outside of approved channels; there is absolutely no work-around.
    – cag51
    Oct 8, 2022 at 3:49
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    I have had subs on my contracts and they just write something like details are top secret and available upon request. When such a situation comes in, in the event of an award, the Sponsor calls the sub directly and the prime awardee is bypassed. At some point you will either disclose or you don't. The only question after deciding to disclose is when and how (as I describe above). Oct 8, 2022 at 3:55

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