A couple of weeks ago, I saw a couple of Twitter threads explode on the topic of citing "manuscripts in progress" on one's CV.

I include a retweet along with the original tweet, since the discussion on both threads is informative.

There seems to be a pretty wide consensus among academics (at least those on Twitter) that listing publications in progress with a journal name is pretty pretentious and is likely to do more harm than good. Of course all of this depends on context.

  • An undergrad applying for a Master's or Ph.D. program would be treated differently than a Ph.D. student applying for a postdoc, or a postdoc applying for a faculty position.
  • If the CV has several solid publications and only one or two listed as in progress, it would be treated differently than a CV with 1 (or 0) actual publications and several in progress.

So should you list in progress manuscripts/projects on your CV? Despite all the pitchfork brandishing that accompanied these Twitter threads, I'm actually of the opinion that this is an honest and acceptable way to present your scholarship, with a few caveats.

  • Don't list the journal name! I completely agree that listing a specific journal along with an in prep paper is ridiculous and pretentious.
  • Clearly list the manuscript as in preparation! Not everyone looks kindly on listing in prep manuscripts on your CV, and you don't want anyone to think you are being dishonest about your scholarship.
  • Only list papers that are soon to be submitted! If your paper is a long way from submission, listing it as in prep is little more than wishful thinking. This isn't really being honest with yourself or with others, and it would be ridiculous to have to remove an item from your CV later on because life intervened and you were never able to complete a project.
  • Consider your academic status! As you advance in your career, the need to list in prep manuscripts on your CV should rapidly dissolve. People will be understanding if you're applying for grad school, but you have to be much more careful when finishing grad school and applying for postdocs. By the time you're applying for faculty positions your publication record should really be strong enough to stand on its own without padding from in prep manuscripts.

My suggestion is that early career scientists may want to replace the Publications section of their CV with a more general Scholarship section, with subsections for Publications, Posters, and Oral Presentations. The Publications subsection would be strictly for actual published papers and accepted in-press papers (and maybe submitted papers, with discretion). For substantial projects that have not yet been published, hopefully you've had a chance to present that work to your academic colleagues at a research conference. In that case, list poster and oral presentations, along with the conference name and details, in the relevant subsection(s). The end of one of these entries, in my opinion, would be the place to list an unfinished paper as in preparation, subject to the same caveats listed above.

What to you think?