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July 9, 2010

Lo, an age ago in Internet time the ScienceBorg was running a poll to see if users (see what happened there? I mean readers of course) would be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee. For access to some sort of so-called Premium Content.

I bet they’ve tabled that for now.

Some Twitt was asking about the importance of a Biosketch to the reviewer of a grant proposal.

Do referent letters, academic record, biosketch etc influence the application-or do you focus on the proposed research plan?

The NIH Biosketch sample Word doc file will give you an overview of the necessary components for their applications. Other funding agencies may vary in terms of what is listed so I don’t want to focus exclusively on the specific rules for NIH. Still, it is my major frame of reference.

The current NIH biosketch format leads off with a Personal Statement. This is new within the past year and nobody knows exactly how to approach this. My suggestion is that you view this as the place to write a reviewer’s bullet points on the “Investigator” review criterion for her.

As a reviewer that makes my job a bit easier but I’m not really looking at this very hard. Perhaps because it is so new.

Instead, my eye is drawn to the section that lists your employment / training stops, etc. My response to the original question is that this is highly important. I go to this either first or second (after the Specific Aims page)-not counting the title and abstract. My goal is to try to get a feel for who you are as an investigator. What your background is, what your training is…in short who you are as a scientist. (Reader whimple’s head is exploding right now.)

Why? Because it is only fair. If there is a name on the PI slot that I recognize, I already have all this information in my head. I automatically start making my adjustments, particularly when it comes to younger and less well-established investigators, in how I read the plan. If I do not recognize the name, I should try to get myself up to speed on who she is. It is, after an an explicit review criterion in the NIH system of funding.

The next section I glance at is the history of funding. If it is an Early Stage Investigator I am looking for evidence of having non-NIH research awards. The goal here is to build an argument if someone starts off on the “untried newbie” StockCritique. It helps the favorably inclined reviewer (if that is what I end up being) to have some evidence of other research projects, even if small.

If an established investigator is the PI, I glance at it but not because I think I need evidence of overwhelming support or anything. Just to orient.

Then I look at the pubs. Why come to these last? Because the frequency of pubs, frequency of first authorships, number of two-author versus multi-author and the level of journal depends to large degree on the subfield. One should calibrate ones assessment of “a productive scientist” to the demands and traditions of the subfield to the extent one can. Also to the career tenure and even the type of employment. A PI at a primarily teaching University should not be held to the same standard as someone in a research-exclusive job category.