Researcher Misses Out on Grant Because of Calibri/Arial Font Dustup

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A view of lead letters in different types. Taken in studio with a 5D mark III.
Photo: rclassen/Getty Images

For scientists, the process of applying for research grants can be a stressful, byzantine affair. Fellowship grants are especially important for young researchers looking to find their place in the field. So imagine the dismay felt by Susannah Maidment, a paleontology research fellow at Imperial College London, when she discovered her grant application had been disqualified just because of the typeface she used.

As Nature reported last week, she applied for a grant from the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), whose guidelines for applicants state their documents should be “in Arial 11 or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11.” Maidment used Calibri, a font she thought was similar enough, and immediately became one of the 4 percent of applicants (about 42 a year) that NERC disqualifies for font violations.

Being disqualified for such a small infraction is no laughing matter. The average grant from NERC starts at £65,000 ($100,233), and the amount of work that goes into them is significant. “These aren’t trivial applications,” said Maidment. “It’s a significant piece of research in its own right.” The guideline is designed to prevent researchers from using font trickery to squeeze in a bit more information than their competitors for the grants, possibly boosting their chances. But Maidment said that if NERC was going to be such a stickler about details it could introduce a word or character limit instead: “I would like to be judged on the science, not how I formatted it.”