The New NIH Biosketch & Their Do's and Don'ts: Part 2

Feb 05 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Ok... so part 2 is a little later than I would have hoped (here is part 1). But, shall we plow on? Yes, we shall. The rest of their advice from this page.

Don’t stuff your biosketch with data and information that do not belong there.

Oye. I'm reviewing grants right now, and I can tell you, the temptation to put all sorts of stuff here must be very high, since a full half of the biosketchs I've seen have things that I am just not interested in, not relevant, and irritating. Remember that the very last thing you want to do is irritate the reviewer. I've often said the meta-advice for writing grants is: do not piss off the reviewer. What is irrelevant and does not belong here? Preliminary data. The list of everything you have ever published. More difficult to discern are things that are not in support of your grant or career that explain your delay. You are supposed to put stuff in the Personal Statement such as:

May include a description of factors e.g. family care responsibilities, illness, disability, active duty military service to explain impediments to past productivity

but everyone I've talked to says that you need to be very careful about this. There may be hidden prejudices (against time out for pregnancy or military service). Such may be illegal, and even unethical. That doesn't mean they don't exist. Certainly if your pub record has a hole in it because you were gone, its worth noting here. One example that I think worked was a new colleague hired at a MRU. Everyone there got a lighter teaching load the first year, but the course in which  my friend was hired lost its course director, and they asked her to step in & run the (gulp) enormous first year med school class. They promised (and made good on) a year's break from teaching in her year 3 of employment. It worked brilliantly, to the point, where it could be a strategy for others to consider: she didn't have a lab the first year, and spent it organizing, but in year 3, rather than teaching she had a mini-sabbatical and was massively productive. She put this in the personal statement, and it was positively noted in the reviews.


Take advantage of the option to provide links to your publications via SciENcv or My lBibliography. 

Only 1 in 3 or 4 bothered to do this. I can see the Old Fartes not doing something new (they didn't seem to read the instructions, either, but that's another story). But why oh why would a young person not do this? Many people have said (on the tweets or in person to me) that they are not going to waste time reading all the nonsense in the new format, they just want to see the pubs. If this is the case, then providing the reviewer with a one-link, one-click place to get that info is going to be very valuable. Putting the list in your biosketch is (allegedly) forbidden. It is also another way to piss of a reviewer who cares about the rules. For my part, I try and ignore rule-breaches, but probably in the way that we all have biases of which we may be unaware, its probably there in the back of my mind.

Relax if you are a new investigator: the new requirement can only help you, since study sections cluster the reviews of new investigator R01 applications.

Hahahahaha. Relax, new investigator, NIH has your back. Tone-unbelievable-deaf.

Update on being a new investigator from DataHound: The NIH Early Career Reviewer Program-Some Key Parameters. I have long advocated doing this. Here are the statistics to support it.

Bottom Line: List only pertinent information in your biosketch, and know your application could be withdrawn if you don’t use the new biosketch format.

Given the number I've seen that have either ignored this part or that, I am not sure this is true. Its one thing if the whole biosketch is in the old format. Someone just didn't care enough, etc etc. But when parts conform (ie the five areas with four pubs, or is it four areas with five pubs? I am sure that after doing this 6 or 7 times, I will have it memorized), and others don't (as in, oh by the way here is a list of my favorite 26 pubs since 1966), its a sure indication someone read the rules, and said screw this.

But, for young investigators, new investigators, and really any of us that want to get funded, following the logistic rules is a small thing. Why give the reviewers any cause for rejecting you, or even just being annoyed?

8 responses so far

  • Ola says:

    Ive seen a lot of cramming in extra publications. 4 or 5 in the initial blurb, and then another 5x4 in the contributions part, for 25 in total. I figure if you can't make the case for how important you are in 20 papers, you're probably over inflating your importance, so that's a ding.

    • potnia theron says:

      The goal is quality over quantity. And *regularity* of publication. As I've said to new faculty, its often the first derivative over time, not the sheer number of pubs. A steady rate of publication is more important than nothing for 4-5 years and then a burst at the end.

  • Established PI says:

    Advantage to those of us whose departments have a full-time grants specialist who tells you whether your biosketch conforms to the new rules. That's how I learned.

    I just made use, for the first time, of the option to also add up to 4 pubs to the intro section. I used it to highlight co-authorships with the other PI on our multi-PI application. I would consider that useful information for a reviewer.

    Don't get me wrong - I think the new biosketch is ridiculous other than the pub link, which is useful. I can't believe there are people who don't put that in. I just wish NIH would move to the NSF format: 5 pubs most relevant to the application plus 5 additional. And no self-promoting narratives.

    • potnia theron says:

      I agree, but the narrative was "to help" the folks who need to explain gaps.

      • Established PI says:

        The narrative could be used to explain gaps but that is not the main thrust according to the instructions:

        A. Personal Statement
        Briefly describe why you are well-suited for your role(s) in the project described in this application. The relevant factors may include aspects of your training; your previous experimental work on this specific topic or related topics; your technical expertise; your collaborators or scientific environment; and your past performance in this or related fields (you may mention specific contributions to science that are not included in Section C). Also, you may identify up to four peer reviewed publications that specifically highlight your experience and qualifications for this project. If you wish to explain impediments to your past productivity, you may include a description of factors such as family care responsibilities, illness, disability, and active duty military service.

  • Newbie PI says:

    I find the abstract links to be mostly useless, as are the 5 contributions to science sections. Breaking up your pubs into 5 non-chronological lists just makes it impossible to judge how consistent one's productivity is. Thus, you have to go to Pubmed anyway to get this chronological list, and all the abstracts are readily available there.

    • potnia theron says:

      The best lists are linked to the pubmed page, and take care of it. I don't know why people don't put this in, with an active link.

      • Newbie PI says:

        One reason may be a practical one. MS Word 2011 version for Macs (which I think is the latest version) kills your links when you save as pdf.

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