I worked on a research project earlier this year. It has recently been submitted for publication and is currently under review. I am working on my resume and cover letter at the moment as well as applying to graduate schools. This is one of the biggest projects I have worked on in my undergrad and thus I will definitely be including it in my applications.

We were told not to circulate this paper, but I was allowed to present a very small part of the data at a conference. There are many diseases/conditions being studied in the project and I presented two of them at a conference.

Although I know that it is definitely not acceptable to circulate an unpublished paper, I am wondering if it would be okay to state a brief synopsis of what the project was about? For example:

This project was a meta-analysis that looked to see if there was a relationship between X and Y.

In addition, would it be acceptable to mention the journal that it was submitted to?

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    "Although I know that it is definitely not acceptable to circulate an unpublished paper" In many fields, circulating unpublished papers is not only acceptable, but fairly standard, in the form of sharing a preprint on arXiv or the like. In other fields, circulating it would be acceptable under certain conditions (e.g. all authors have agreed to the circulation, the paper is not under review in a double-blinded venue, and/or it's only shared non-publicly). Oct 25 '17 at 14:55
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    Based on your edit ("We were told not to circulate this paper."), I think your situation is fairly special in the sense that at least one involved author is highly concerned about confidentiality. You will have to ask that author how much sharing would be acceptable for them. Oct 25 '17 at 15:03
  • Does your field use double-blind reviewing? In that case an additional concern is that you might accidently reveal the identity of the authors to one of the reviewers. Oct 26 '17 at 8:14

Whoever told you not to circulate the paper is the person to ask. If you were specifically asked not to do so, the author could consider it a breach of trust to mention the ideas/results without clarifying the extent to which you can make claims about the project. Maybe they do not mind a general overview, only the paper, but this is something you need to find out from them.

"I will definitely be including it in my applications" is a problematic sentence under these auspices. It is not a good idea to mention the journal, either. Say, it's a top-tier journal. Anyone can submit a paper, but at this stage it is not accepted yet.

In addition, you probably should get more detailed advice from a trusted mentor on how to develop your application.

  • +1 talk to the person who asked the paper not be circulated. It could just be someone being obsessively controlling, but there may be variety of reasons that a junior member of a collaboration may not have considered. If there are, it is educational to have that discussion. Also - usually if there are specific reasons outlined, then it is more clear what can be put in a CV. (However, unless you are desperate to show that current activity exists, putting down a submitted but not accepted paper doesn't really add much value to a CV)
    – Carol
    Oct 27 '17 at 14:09
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    @Carol In some disciplines, putting down a submitted but not accepted paper is still quite valued. In some disciplines the process can take months/years.
    – Dawn
    Oct 27 '17 at 15:40

You can certainly give information about an unpublished paper in your CV, including a synopsis. Do mention, however, that the paper is currently under review (that will also explain why a reader of your CV cannot find it on the webpage of the journal yet). It is best to mention to which journal it was submitted. This will frame the field and your ambitions for the reader of your CV.

Although I know that it is definitely not acceptable to circulate an unpublished paper...

Have a look at the copyright transfer (you can find that on the webpage of the journal or the publisher). It should clearly indicate what is possible, and what is not. Typically, you will be able to distribute a version of your paper that does not contain any editing by the journal. Sometimes you also can distribute a version that contains copy-editing and markup of the journal. Sometimes you need to add some text, e.g. referring to the journal.

If the copyright transfer text is unclear, and you still would want to distribute the article, contact the editor.

Also make sure that your co-authors are aware and agree on any of the above actions.

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    "It is best to mention to which journal it was submitted." I'd dispute this. A terrible paper can be submitted to Nature, and until acceptance the journal means next to nothing. And there is a very real chance of rejection, in which case there's a record that it wasn't published in the author's journal of choice; depending on the disparity between the two journals, this may be mildly embarrassing. Oct 25 '17 at 19:14
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    I think the copyright transfer is a bit of a red herring here - the restrictions you refer to, eg on distributing the non-edited accepted MS, usually refer to public distribution, like posting on a website, rather than private circulation.
    – Andrew
    Oct 25 '17 at 19:31
  • @dendodge Actually, the specification of submission journal is quite discipline specific. In my discipline, established researchers don't submit to super-reach journals because even getting a desk reject can take months. Knowing where something is submitted does frame the field/general evaluation of the work.
    – Dawn
    Oct 27 '17 at 15:42

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