The Importance of the Biosketch

When NIH changed the format of the biosketch it did a couple of Very Good Things. Firstly, it limited the list of pubs to a “suggested 15”. Don’t go over that number, as that would Irritate The Reviewers.

A general remark inserted here so that its early in the post: the biosketch is one of the primary tools that reviewers use to asses the “Investigator” section of their score. While investigator may not be as important as other criteria, it can sink you if other stuff is on the edge. And, once more, in this day and age, your proposal needs to be as near perfect as you can make it.

Secondly, it added something called the “Personal Statement”. Here is the official wording on the Personal Statement:

Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor) in the project that is the subject of the application.

This is an important opportunity, especially if you have collaborators on your proposal. Especially if you have senior collaborators on your ESI/NI proposal. There is a fine line to walk here. You need to have mentors/collaborators to teach you/show you/support you for the things in which you do not yet have experience, as (mostly) measured by publications.  If you propose do something, you need to be able to show that you can do it, or that there is someone part of your team who can. On the other hand, I’ve been at study sections, and even reviewed grants where a co-Investigator is the person’s thesis/post-doc advisor. I do not care how great your relationship is. I do not care how open and honest your mentor is. If you are still working with them, there will be questions about your independence. Figure out another path. This figuring can certainly be the start of some long discussions, on the intertubz as well as in your lab. But as it pertains to your proposal: the reviewers will read these personal statements to determine what those collaborators perceive their role in the enterprise to be. Is some big dog lending her name because she thinks that it looks good? Did she even read the proposal? On the other hand is the person interested in the project – have they outlined specifically what they think they can add?

Now, your personal statement. First, never just copy your Biosketch from another proposal. Make sure you write this statement tailored for the proposal at hand. A new investigator (ie asst prof) can use this section to talk about their post-doc, in terms of what they learned and techniques mastered. Do not list # of papers, that should be obvious from the list of publications. If you have collaborated with others on the grant in the past, say so, and say that it was marvelous. History of working together is a good thing, although again, a double edged sword with previous mentors. If you are ESI/NI then point it out here, again. You probably have room (the biosketch is a max of 4 pages, and you don’t have 10 grants to fill up the rest of it). If you had funding as a student or postdoc for which you were PI, you can mention that too, in terms of the experience. I am sure there are things I’m forgetting here, so go ahead and remind me.

If you are going for your first big PI NIH grant, and you haven’t been publishing since you were a sperm, then this para becomes more important. You don’t have a track record, but you still need to indicate that you are a productive, committed researcher. Yes, much of the science will speak for itself (or not), but this is your chance to show what you know and what you do is relevant to this proposal.

BTW, NIH recommends that you write the personal statement in the first person. If you can get all your co-I’s etc to do the same thing, that is good.

Finally, there is another part to the personal statement that has to do with one’s other life. I will address that later this week.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of the Biosketch

  1. Something not to do it the Biosketch: beg. I reviewed a grant where the PI spent the whole biosketch personal statement explaining how if he wasn’t given some money soon, his lab would have no funds. His position and salary were guaranteed, so he was not in jeopardy. I have a lot of sympathy for people running out of money – I have run out before. But it wasn’t persuasive for this guy in the biosketch. It made him seem self-centered (“This can’t happen to me!”) and clueless, not knowing how many really good researchers are struggling.

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