Your Grant in Review: The Biosketch Research Support Section

April 21, 2014

A question came up on the twitts about the Research Support section of the NIH Biosketch.

The answer is that no, you do not. I will note that I am not entirely sure if this changed over the years or if my understanding of this rule was incomplete at the start. However, the instructions on the Sample Biosketch [PDF] provided by the NIH are clear.

D. Research Support
List both selected ongoing and completed research projects for the past three years (Federal or non-Federally-supported). Begin with the projects that are most relevant to the research proposed in the application. Briefly indicate the overall goals of the projects and responsibilities of the key person identified on the Biographical Sketch. Do not include number of person months or direct costs.

The last bit is the key bit for Dr24Hour’s question but I include the full description for a reason.

dr24Hours also asked:

and there was a followup to my initial negative response

Together, these questions seem to indicate a misunderstanding of what this section is for, and what it is trying to communicate.

Note the use of the term “selected” and “most relevant” in the above passage.

The Biosketch is, in total, devoted to convincing the reviewers that the PI and other Investigative staff have the chops to pull off the project under review. It is about bragging on how accomplished they all are. Technically, it is not even a full recitation of all the support one has secured in the past three years. This is similar to how the Peer-reviewed Publications section is limited to 15 items, regardless of how many total publications that you have.

Inclusion of items in the Research Support section is to show that the Investigators have run projects of similar scope with acceptable success. Yes, the definition of acceptable success is variable, but this concept is clear. The goal is to show off the Investigator’s accomplishments to the best possible advantage.

The Research Support is not about demonstrating that the PI is successful at winning grants. It is not about demonstrating how big and well-funded the lab has been (no direct costs). It is not even about the reviewers trying to decide if the PI is spread too thinly (no listing of effort). This is not the point*.

In theory, one would just put forward a subset of the best elements on one’s CV. The most relevant and most successful grant awards. If space is an issue (the Biosketch is limited to 4 pages) then the PI might have to make some selections. Obviously you’d want to start with NIH R01s (or equivalent) if the application is an R01. Presumably you would want to supply the reviewer with what you think are your most successful projects- in terms of papers, scientific advance, pizzaz of findings or whatever floats your boat.

You might also want to “selectively” omit any of your less-successful awards or even ones that seem like they have too much overlap with the present proposal.

Don’t do this.

If it is an NIH award, you can be assured at least one of the reviewers will have looked you up on RePORTER and will notice the omission. If it is a non-NIH award, perhaps the odds are lower but you just never know. If the reviewer thinks you are hiding something…this is not good. If your award has been active in the past three years and is listed somewhere Internet-accessible, particularly on your University or lab website, then list it on the Biosketch.

Obviously this latter advice only applies to people who have a lot of different sources of support. The more of them you have, the tighter the space. Clearly, you are going to have to make some choices if your lab operates on a lot of different sources of support. Prioritize by what makes sense to you, sure, but make sure you pay attention to the communication you are trying to accomplish when making your selections. And beware of being viewed with a suspicion that you are trying to conceal something.
*Yes, in theory. I grasp that there will be reviewers using this information to argue that the PI is spread too thinly or has “too much” grant support.

10 Responses to “Your Grant in Review: The Biosketch Research Support Section”

  1. Dr Becca Says:

    When I hear things like “select your most relevant grants” I can’t help but be reminded of that scene in the Wayne’s World movie where Wayne’s ex-gf gives him a gun rack, and he’s like “I don’t even have *a* gun, let alone multiple guns that would necessitate a rack.”


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Then get some!


  3. Lax Says:

    A. Personal Statement
    Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor, participating faculty) in the project that is the subject of the application. Within this section you may, if you choose, briefly describe factors such as family care responsibilities, illness, disability, and active duty military service that may have affected your scientific advancement or productivity

    Still, unable to accept awarded grant for circumstances beyond your control could have affected your scientific advancement!


  4. Eli Rabett Says:

    There is an interesting related question that comes up on NSF proposals where your current and pending includes all the projects you are involved in or proposing and asks you to list the amount. With a single investigator grant this is no problem, but with projects involving Co-Is and senior investigators who receive some support from the project, the problem is how do you state your support. When a senior personnel (someone not a co-I or PI who gets support) only lists the total grant amount they are blowing smoke, but it can be tricky to indicate what the level of support for a group in the project actually is


  5. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    While you aren’t supposed to list effort in months or support in dollars, you are certainly allowed to describe your role in a project.

    As far as grants or fellowships offered but declined, it’s absolutely fine to list these, along with an explanation for declining. For example, many grad students apply for multiple early-stage fellowships–DOD, NSF, DOE, etc–but can only take one. If you are offered more than one, list them all!


  6. Busy Says:

    I agree, list them all. As a reviewer I’m trying to make a determination of your many years of labor in a couple of hours. I will read your proposal, browse any papers you might have written in the subject and then I will rely on secondary signals. Have you published in the area before? were the venues of high quality? was work of similar nature (by you or others) considered of high impact and appeared in top venues in your field (I usually seek top journal in your field as opposed to glam-magazine where papers are often accepted for pure press release value).

    And yes, every grant and scholarship received (even if declined) is another positive data point in your record.


  7. @Eli
    It’s even worse when you consider how to handle subcontracts. (But maybe that’s mostly an issue in genomics).


  8. Joe Says:

    I have seen the turned-down awards listed in an “honors and awards” category following the personal statement and “positions held” categories. I have not seen turned-down awards listed in “research support,” nor would I want to. That section is to show if you are or were recently funded.


  9. drugmonkey Says:

    I have seen the turned-down awards listed in an “honors and awards” category following the personal statement and “positions held” categories. I have not seen turned-down awards listed in “research support,” nor would I want to.

    I can get behind this as a compromise.


  10. imager Says:

    I can imaging a reviewer thinking that apparently this guy doesn’t need grants if he can afford to decline them, irrespective of the actual reason…


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