I've been writing a big grant proposal for the last few months and I am almost done. I asked my advisor to read it and give me advice on content, and he has yet to read it. He's always saying he'll "read it later" or "he's busy".

I finally got a meeting with him this past week and he says he will read it this weekend. As we're wrapping up, he says it will look good on my CV to have "contributed" to a grant that got funded.

Here's the problem though: I've written the entire grant proposal and done all the literature research for it. The only tangible contribution my advisor has made is to tell me which protein he wants to study. He's also an "absentee advisor" and I do all my own experimental design and troubleshooting. Actually,the post doc in our lab has been giving me all the help/advice.

How should I handle this situation? I realize I could just give him the credit, but how would this reflect on my future career opportunities?

  • The 2nd and 3rd sentences seem to be unrelated to the rest of the question. What kind of grant are you talking about? You and your advisor can probably both list the grant on your CV.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 0:32
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    Can you clarify why you think your advisor will be taking credit away from you? Nothing you've written so far seems to indicate that you won't get credit.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 0:41

3 Answers 3


As far as I know, a grant is given almost always to a PI (principal investigator, i.e. head of the lab). Sometimes postdocs can also be listed as PIs, but I don't remember seeing a grad student as a PI on a grant. So even if technically you wrote the grant proposal, the PI will receive the grant.

This means that he is the one that can write in his CV that he got the grant, and you can write that you wrote the proposal. You cannot write that you are the one that got the grant if you are not listed on it, regardless of whether you wrote the grant proposal.

In this sense, a grant is different than a research paper, where you get credit according to your contribution. A grant is given not as a prize for writing a good proposal, but as funding of specific future work executed by a specific person/lab. I am not sure what the guidelines are for grant proposal writing, but I would not be surprised if this is considered ok in terms of the guidelines. Of course I am assuming your advisor read it thoroughly and thought it is a good research plan.

Also, it is very possible that your PI actually did have a major contribution to getting the grant. The funding agency takes into considerations several factors such as the grant proposal but also the PI's record.

Having said all this, you should definitely write in your CV that you wrote a successful grant proposal by yourself (you can consult with your advisor on how to write this in the most impactful way).

Disclaimer: I don't have any details on the specific grant, so I may be completely mistaken...

  • +1 on the PI having a contribution through their record. In this situation, it could easily be that submitting the grad student as PI will do neither person good, as it could be rejected for lack of confidence in the skills of the PI (if it was the student) Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 12:37
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    I understand what you mean here. It's just, see, how grad students, and even postdocs (who are actually an established researcher if in a well-known research institute. universities somehow don't even want to acknowledge them as a full-fledge staffs) are being treated as slaves.. sadly.
    – kate
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 11:56
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    @kate I understand where you are coming from, but specifically for grants I think you are mistaken. Contrary to popular belief, grants are not primarily given for ideas or for how well the proposal has been written - a large part of the evaluation is indeed a projection of how well the listed PI will be able to execute. A PhD student typically cannot execute a project on their own - they don't have a lab, they can't supervise students, and they will likely not be around long enough. As such it makes sense that a PI gets a lot of credit for a project, even if they didn't write much of the text.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 14:26

The US National Science Foundation requires acknowledgement in the proposal of anyone other than the PI or co-PI that contributed to the writing of the proposal text. I don't know when this criteria was introduced, but it's been around since at least the 2004 version of the GPG. Almost no one knows it's there, though, considering the surprise expressed by folks I've shown it to. I also don't know if other US agencies or agencies in other countries have this requirement, but you should look at the proposal preparation instructions of the agency you are applying to.

I don't recommend starting the conversation with your supervisor by mentioning this requirement, but you should have it in your back pocket.

The US NSF leaves the determination of who is eligible be a Principal Investigator up to each submitting organization. At my university, all faculty are automatically eligible, as are those with the titles Research Associate, Research Scientist, Senior Research Scientist, and Research Professor. Others may be given eligibility on a proposal-by-proposal basis. This sometimes includes graduate students, but it is very rare.

Technically, grants from the US NSF (and presumably other agencies) are not given to the PI, but to the organization for which they work. Traditionally, these grants are administered by the PI and, as a courtesy, awards may be allowed to go with a PI if they leave a university to work for another, but this is not guaranteed.

You should definitely put your writing contribution on your CV, but be clear that you were not the PI or co-PI unless you were.

  • 1
    Is there a distinction here between "acknowledgement" and "authorship"? I.e. is a short acknowledgements section in the paper enough (we'd lake to thank bob and alice for their contributions to this grant proposal)? Or do they need be listed as authors (even if they wrote half a page in a 30 page grant)? Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:54
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    If such an acknowledgment is required in the guidelines, and I'd be a grad student writing a proposal draft, I'd just be blunt and put it already in the draft. If my advisor asks about it, I'd simply say I followed the guidelines and send them the link.
    – silvado
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 7:07

Following Bill Barth's comment, I actually ran into the NSF requirement to list all contributors the hard way back when I was a graduate student.

Several of us (faculty and non-faculty alike) had worked together on an NSF proposal. We weren't aware of the requirement and couldn't figure out how to officially list me in an appropriate blank on the NSF forms, so we basically shrugged and let it be, figuring that having my work prominently featured and my closely associated faculty members as PIs would be clear enough.

To our horror, rather than grant reviews, we received an official investigative inquiry into academic dishonesty and plagiarism! The grant reviewers, not seeing my name, were concerned that my faculty collaborators had stolen my work. Since everybody involved was actually well intentioned and close collaborators, we got it sorted out quickly enough, and learned to our great embarrassment how we should have done it (I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the exact details on the forms).

Needless to say, we still didn't get the grant, though the next time around we did it right and did get funded. In my C.V., I most certainly list myself as an author of that grant, while also marking the appropriate other authors as the PIs.

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