This is a true story.

Submitted a white paper (i.e., a preproposal). Received reviews for what could not have possibly been my project.
Me: “Uhm, I don’t think these are for my white paper…”
Program director: “Oops!”
Still awaiting the right reviews.

Dear readers, please share your hard-to-believe stories from the grant-seeking trenches in the comments. 




  1. I was working on a major collaborative NSF proposal. A week or two before the proposal was due I suffered a catastrophic injury due to an accident. The PI asked (I knew him well enough to know he was not joking) if I could please postpone my emergency surgery to save my leg until after the grant was submitted, because it was more important. No, just no!

  2. I don’t think anyone can top Gill’s story. But here’s mine.

    Not a grant, but I had nearly the exact same “oopsie” happen with a paper. I submitted my paper, and included a relevant in-press manuscript that we cited. Got back one real review and a rave review for the in-press manuscript. We told the editor that it was for the wrong paper, but not 100% sure they noticed – the paper was accepted without further revisions or comments. (This was at Prestigious Society Letters, too – not a fly-by-night.)

  3. Story about paper, not grant. We submitted a paper, a substantially revised and expanded version of a 2-year-older preprint. One reviewer read only the preprint (which was not part of the submission package), and pointed out all kinds of corrections that we had already incorporated in the journal submission! We took it up with the journal editor, the paper was accepted based on the other reviews …

  4. My PhD advisor wrote a proposal with a co-PI named “John S.”. He and John S were relative newcomers to the field and were basing their proposal off of research already being done by John E, a competitor and friend whom they’d decided not to include.

    When the proposal was put together my advisor sent out the final draft to co-PIs but accidentally sent it to John E! Gmail autocomplete, oops.

  5. My water broke 3 weeks before my due date with LittleProdigal1. I submitted a proposal that was in the polishing phase before heading to the hospital, sitting on a stack of towels while Mr. Prodigal yelled at me to hurry up.

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