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There are already questions on how to handle unpublished material in CVs. But here I am wondering if would be reasonable to cite an article in preparation in the application of a grant for a PhD or a postdoc position right after a PhD. So basically only for Junior scientists who are still in the process of finishing their PhD or their Masters and have one or two papers in the pipeline which are very relevant to the application in question.

I have seen published papers citing other manuscripts in preparation, usually from the same author or a co-author. So how is this handled/seen in a grant application, provided that the manuscript in preparation exist and can be provided if requested? Would it be better to reference a presentation at an international well-known conference?

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As noted by @aeismail, there are many grant mechanisms that expressly prohibit listing anything that's not "in press" or published, so the first stop would be checking the rules for the grant application itself.

If it is allowed, it's understandable to a junior scientist to do this (and indeed, I did this on several job applications). A few general notes:

  • Don't list a journal. No one cares that something is "in submission" to Nature or Science or Cell or what have you, and it erodes your credibility.
  • Do be sparing in what you list. These should be papers you're actively working to prep for submission, are being circulated to co-authors, etc. Things where in another few months your CV might look markedly different. "I've written the title and maybe half the intro" doesn't count. Every idea and musing you've had doesn't count. There shouldn't be a wall of these, or way more in prep entries than actual published work.
  • Do be prepared to talk about each and every one of them (this follows from the previous point). I have been asked about papers I had in prep in a fair amount of detail (they were interested in the topic).
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In general, most grant applications do not permit you to list unpublished work for consideration. This is to prevent "gaming the system," whereby somebody could claim a whole bunch of work is "in preparation" when it really isn't. However, you need to check the specific instructions for each funding source to see what their rules are with respect to unfinished or unpublished work.

  • I was referring to listing something in preparation/review in the methodology or introduction of the proposal itself, not in my CV. The idea is to show that you are becoming an expert in a particular subject. – Herman Toothrot Sep 4 '17 at 17:04
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Two other possibilities, which should be considered in parallel with aeismall's and Fomite's comments, which are both sensible:

1) Post a preprint on arxiv/biorxiv/etc, cite the preprint. That way they can read the paper without requesting it explicitly. (I think it's unlikely someone will request it.). If journal policies prohibit you from posting it on arxiv, you could put up a PDF copy on your website, and link to it. Both of these plans demonstrate the state the work is in; the arxiv plan also shows that you are willing to expose it to the outside world, even if it is not yet published.

2) Request that your advisor specifically address this unpublished work in their letter. "In preparation" is much stronger when there is a paragraph or two of someone else describing the work's context and importance.

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    I would say you should only post a preprint if the paper is actually done, i.e. substantially complete and polished enough that you could submit it without embarrassment. ArXiv for instance frowns upon the posting of incomplete manuscripts and may reject them. – Nate Eldredge Sep 2 '17 at 3:59
  • This is a good point, and I agree - but if the paper is not substantially complete and could be submitted without embarrassment, why would you send it to a potential employer? And if you wouldn't do that, you should definitely not list it as "in preparation"! – AJK Sep 2 '17 at 4:28

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