When describing my research experience in fellowship applications, I will write something to the extent of "I began pursuing 'item X' under 'Professor Y'." Of course, I follow up with why I found the experience meaningful, and what my role was.

However, I have received feedback from at least two different sources saying that this name dropping is frowned upon, and that if I have a panelist who hates this, that it will torpedo my application.

In my mind, the person I am working with may be relevant if a panelist knows of their work. However, at the same time, a fellowship is about me. Is there a good reason to include the names of the PI's, and if so how can that be written? Or is it truly safer to just remove the names of PI's, especially if they are someone famous (e.g. an NAE/NAS member)?

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    Namedropping is impolite over burgers at a picnic. It's entirely appropriate in professional documents where you are supposed to sell yourself by proudly putting your best foot forward. However, there might be something about the way you did it that might put a reader off. Could you find a career placement center at your institution to look it over and help you edit it? The sort of office that helps with reviewing people's CVs? – aparente001 Oct 5 '17 at 0:56
  • To be clear, this is in a fellowship (NSF GRFP) personal statement essay, rather than CV. I did use almost the exact language as stated in my question, and I do find it appropriate based on my academic upbringing. However, if even one panelists doesn't agree, I'm not sure it's worth the risk. Thus, it seems wise to be extremely cautious. I can ask a career center representative, but I'm skeptical they (especially as a non-academic with no familiarity with the fellowship) will really know more about this. – User2341 Oct 5 '17 at 1:30
  • I see what you mean. Is there a professor you could run it past? – aparente001 Oct 5 '17 at 2:04
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    I would view it as rather strange if a supervised research project were described without mentioning who the supervisor was. It would sound as if there had been no supervision and you were just doing the research entirely on your own (with no controls on the quality of the research). – Andreas Blass Oct 5 '17 at 2:47

The term "name dropping" represents an excessive use of auxiliary authoritative figures, with no justification or substantive basis, to promote one's image.

This means that if you say that you worked closely with Figure X, and you haven't, you are name dropping. But if you did work closely with Figure X, it is not name dropping to mention him/her. That is, a name dropper is an imposter, while someone who lists relevant names with sufficient justification is not a name dropper.

Hence, the advice you got from your colleagues regarding "a panel that hates name dropping will kill your application" is probably misguided and false.

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