UT Bram Nauta

Bram Nauta is professor of IC Design at the University of Twente.

8 February

Fearing overly inflated stories with unverifiable facts, Bram Nauta takes issue with the narrative CV for grant candidates.

Dear evaluation committee, I’m excited to apply for this personal grant. I’m also delighted that you didn’t request a standard CV with facts and figures as evidence but instructed me to write this narrative. This will give me the excellent opportunity to show you that I’m the ideal candidate to give this personal grant to.

Even before I was born, I developed a passion for technology. My first encounter with technology was the ultrasound imager in the hospital, through which my parents could see my handsome and intelligent appearance. To be honest, I immediately developed ideas on how to improve that machine. After I was born, I quickly discovered that I had an incredible intellect. Within a few weeks, I could learn to crawl, speak, walk and even ride a tricycle without using my hands. My school period was boring and too easy. The only reason why my grades weren’t always perfect was my total boredom.

It wasn’t until the university that I experienced a bit of a challenge. However, I needed a PhD to get to the level where I felt like not being bored all day. I selected a professor who allowed me to develop my own independent research line. As I planned, I did all the research by myself, and a significant amount of my time during the PhD was spent explaining my ideas to my professor all over again. I wrote all my papers on my own, and no corrections were made by my professor. I published many papers in various journals and conferences and received many citations.

Quite an oversell, wouldn’t you say? What an ego! The candidate badly tries his best to show he’s an independent researcher and is even disrespectful to his former professor. This narrative CV isn’t fact-based but actually an inflated story written by the candidate, probably with the help of a special grants department at the university or even a commercial agency.

I made this one up to make a point, but it’s increasingly becoming a problem. I was once invited to an evaluation committee for personal grants where they strictly adhered to these kinds of CVs. I objected that applicants could write whatever they like and that I wanted to check the facts. What journals did they publish in and did they get as many citations as claimed? The funding agency said this information isn’t allowed in the resume to prevent too much ‘number bias’ in the evaluation process. I replied that I would just google the candidate and figure out the missing information myself. That wasn’t allowed either.

So the candidates can inflate their CVs as much as they dare, and I’m not allowed to verify any information. I wasn’t even allowed to use Google and see if the project proposed had already been carried out by the applicant or someone else. All I was allowed to consider was the package prepared by the candidate. I quit the committee, as I refuse to work like this and be held responsible for the outcome.

The – originally sympathetic – idea behind narrative CVs was to prevent the selection process from being reduced to numbers – publications, citations, impact factors and h indices. But let’s not pretend these things aren’t important at all. If reviewers can only rely on what’s presented by the applicant, the process will become a game of who dares to inflate the balloon as much as possible before it explodes. Who dares to bluff the most gets the grant. Is this really the type of future professors we want in our universities?