10 tips on mandatory new NIH biosketch & example

Got your new mandatory NIH biosketch all done?

I didn’t think so.

Want some help? Read on.

NIH has done research and come up with a new biosketch for all of us to use with our proposals. It’s not optional.

Originally it was going to be required for January 2015 proposals, but now it must be used by May or later. Since I am submitted a grant last month for the February 5 deadline I made a new biosketch draft before they pushed the required date back. I guess I’ll be one of the guinea pigs.

In the process of writing up my new NIH biosketch, I learned some important things and got feedback from colleagues, program officers (PO), and others.

Here are my top tips and observations. Perhaps they might be helpful.

I still do not know how this grant has fared in study section of course and what reviewers might have thought of my new biosketch so that’s an important disclaimer here.

  • Start now on the new biosketch. You don’t have to finish it right away given the May start point for mandatory use, but the process of making your own new biosketch will take time. To do it right will take you some hours of work. Here’s the NIH instructions and an example of a new biosketch.
  • Update your My Bibliography page. NIH, which has always in the past prohibited any web links in our proposals, now requires one in your new biosketch in the form of your link to your My Bibliography page on NCBI. This means that you need to update your My Bibliography to reflect all your pubs. Don’t know what the heck a My Bibliography page is? Then you’re in a bit of a hole, but don’t give up. You can dig your way out. Start by setting up a My NCBI account.
  • New NIH BiosketchWhere exactly to find your My Bibliography link? See screen shot from my My NCBI page. You can cut and paste it into your biosketch.
  • Check that your My Bibliography link actually works. As an example, here’s my My Bibliography page, which I also had to make public to get the link. Here’s what my link itself actually looks like: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/myncbi/paul.knoepfler.1/bibliography/40959646/public/?sort=date&direction=ascending. Someone told me that at one point their link didn’t work. That could annoy reviewers, huh?
  • Use that new 5-page limit wisely. The new format allows for 5 pages instead of 4 pages. As always you do not have to fill all the allowed pages, but given the new format it might be wise to make use of some of the extra space. Again this will take time and thought.
  • What are your top 24 pubs? In the new sketch you can in theory list up to 24 publications instead of just 15. These 24 pubs include 4 in section A (Personal statement) that most directly relate to the proposal plus up to 4 each in up to 5 areas of contributions to science.
  • Wanna list the same pub(s) in both Sections A and C? While there is to my knowledge no official policy on re-listing the same pubs twice in the new biosketch, that may be the best solution to turn to if you ran into the issue like I did of finding that some of the same pubs fit nicely both into Section A and into part of Section C. This was the suggested solution given by a PO.
  • What are your top few specific contributions to science? The biosketch gives you an entire section, Section C, to describe up to 5 of your hopefully transformative contributions to science. A PO stressed how important they thought this was going to be and how there may be crosstalk between these new sections and parts of the actual proposal itself. The tricky part, of course, is to find the right balance between tooting your own horn appropriately and seeming like a show off. Since this is a new biosketch format, it remains to be seen how study sections will react to this new Section C that in an unprecedented way invites researchers to talk about themselves and their science in more depth.
  • Give each of your top contributions to science and their respective subsections a title. The NIH doesn’t mention this nor does the example they give do this, but I recommend giving each of your subsections in Part C its own title. 1. Cured Cancer. 2. Developed safe and effective Ebola Vaccine. 3. Won Nobel Prize. You get the idea from these silly examples.
  • Get feedback. This new format is going to throw many people including reviewers for a loop and it’s hard to judge what is “right” and “wrong” on this. What this means is that getting feedback from colleagues and mentors is more important than ever. Aim for balance.

12 thoughts on “10 tips on mandatory new NIH biosketch & example”

  1. @Comradde, Kind of refreshing bluntness there. Hopefully somebody around here is listening/reading too, but I take the point– likely not as NIH grant-centric as the Monkey’s domain.

  2. I would turn to your colleagues who have extensive experience with grantsmanship, service on study section (importantly including the specific ones you are targeting), etc. With regard to the new Biosketch format, no one yet has any idea how it is going to be handled in peer review, as applications using it aren’t yet being reviewed and discussed.

    Based on my experience with the personal statement, I don’t think reviewers are going to pay any attention to applicants’ claims of “influence” or “impact” of their previous work. The only cases I have seen for such narrative sections of the Biosketch making a difference are to explain gaps in productivity or funding.

    1. Thanks, Comradde.
      The potential for another kind of “paying attention” by study section members has been concerning some folks and that is that reviewers might react negatively to applicant claims made by applicants in the new biosketches that are perceived as way over the top and applicants giving themselves too much credit. You know what I mean? This new sketch seems to open the door more widely to some ambiguity on just how much one should too their horn. Maybe erring on the side of caution in making claims of impact would be better? Or do you think most reviewers just won’t care either way? Too soon to know?

  3. POs are expert at administering programmatic oversight of the granting process, such as selecting grants for special pay, establishing and administering RFAs, and granting permissions for various things. While some POs used to visit regular CSR study sections in person and watch the discussion of multiple grants, now–if they listen at all–it’s on conference call and only for the very few grants that they are assigned. This means that they have lost access to any special insights into peer review they may have previously had. If you want insights into peer review, you need to talk to study section members.

    1. So who would you turn to for guidance on peer review, grantsmanship, etc. including new questions that pop up such as the new required biosketch format? Also it seems to me that some grant reviewers will care about the new biosketch–do you not think it will matter?

  4. How delusional are you that you actually think a PO’s suggestions about this mean jacke dicke? PO’s are experts at certain things, but they are the last people to ask about peer review.

  5. As an NIH reviewer I promise you we will probably read these the same way we read the essay portion of an application to graduate school. With a large grain of salt and a big belly laugh. I apologize in advance that you will have to waste so much time on it.

  6. Do you think I will be penalized for using the old format if my submission is in April? As a young researcher (predoctoral), I don’t feel comfortable at all with the prompt in section C.


  7. anonymous stem cell repairman

    I can’t help but wonder from the discussion of this elsewhere and the comments on the RockTalk blog that this new format is just going to be ignored by reviewers, or at best cursorily glanced over.

    Particularly in light of the proposed emeritus award, this seems like only POs are going to use this, maybe as a justification to rescue certain grants.

    Also, I really wish that silly examples from the top contributions section weren’t going to be used, but they almost certainly will. Hopefully not along the lines of “Lemme ‘splain to you why you should fund this grant: I’m awesome.”

    Sort of makes me happy that I don’t have to deal with this quite yet. Sort of.

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