How important is the Biosketch to grant review?

July 9, 2010

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.

5 Responses to “How important is the Biosketch to grant review?”

  1. anon Says:

    “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.”

    So, if the applicant was trained in a non-NIH funded lab (from another country, HHMI, NSF, etc) that you’ve never heard of, they’re doomed? I wouldn’t blame whimple for blowing up. This sounds to me like you favor those who have some connection to the “NIH club”. A bias.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    No, it means I try to do my due diligence to familiarize myself with the applicant and her status, subfield, etc so that she is afforded an equal footing with someone with whom I am already familiar. My point is that when you already know the person, you can’t pretend that you do not. It is automatic processing.


  3. I wonder how your approach might change if you had to read some of the monster CVs required by the major Canadian funding agencies! They can run to >30 pages including attachments – references, full info on every grant held by the PI for the last 5 years, all trainees supervised, patents held and submitted, invited presentations, all books on your bookshelf, favourite movies, world cup picks etc. Plus every agency (and sometimes every competition within an agency) has different requirements. (My favourites are the ones that ask for impact factor, PI’s role, and rationale for journal selection for every single publication). When I hear the words “4 page NIH-style biosketch”, I pretty much weep with gratitude.

    I honestly don’t think reviewers ever read more than the PI’s training, and their last couple of years worth of publications and grants. What a waste of time and paper.



  4. drugmonkey Says:

    “rationale for journal selection”?

    Hooooly Moly!


  5. Exact phrasing (source), because I suspect people will think I’m exaggerating:

    “For published contributions, list the full authorship as it appears in the original publication, year, title, name and volume of the publication, and the first and last page numbers. For publications in press, indicate the date of acceptance. For publications submitted, indicate the journal to which they were submitted. Do not include papers in preparation.

    Use boldface to indicate students who are co-authors on the contributions listed. List the sources of funding for each contribution and use parentheses to indicate the primary one. Clarify your role in multi-authored papers.


    Provide details, as appropriate, on the contributions you listed. Such details may include:

    * a list of collaborators and their institutions;
    * the nature of collaborations with other researchers;
    * the rationale or practice used for:
    o the order of authors in the publications listed, and
    o the inclusion of students in the list of authors;
    * your role in joint publications;
    * the reason for selecting certain journals for publications, particular features of the journals, e.g., target audiences, review procedures;
    * the impact or potential impact of patents and technology transfer;
    * the nature of industrially relevant R&D activities;
    * the significance of technical reports; and
    * original research reported in books or technical reports.”

    Damn Yanks don’t know you’re born!


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