The new NIH Biosketch is here

December 2, 2014

The NIH has notified us (NOT-OD-15-024) that as of Jan 25, 2015 all grant applications will have to use the new Biosketch format (sample Word docx).
[ UPDATE 12/05/14: The deadline has been delayed to apply to applications submitted after May 25, 2015 ]

The key change is Section C: Contribution to Science, which replaces the previous list of 15 publications.

C. Contribution to Science
Briefly describe up to five of your most significant contributions to science. For each contribution, indicate the historical background that frames the scientific problem; the central finding(s); the influence of the finding(s) on the progress of science or the application of those finding(s) to health or technology; and your specific role in the described work. For each of these contributions, reference up to four peer-reviewed publications or other non-publication research products (can include audio or video products; patents; data and research materials; databases; educational aids or curricula; instruments or equipment; models; protocols; and software or netware) that are relevant to the described contribution. The description of each contribution should be no longer than one half page including figures and citations. Also provide a URL to a full list of your published work as found in a publicly available digital database such as SciENcv or My Bibliography, which are maintained by the US National Library of Medicine.

The only clear win that I see here is for people who contribute to science in a way that is not captured in the publication record. This is captured by the above suggestions of non-publication products which previously had no place other than the Personal Statement. I see this as a good move for those who fall into this category.

For the regular old run-of-the-mill Biosketches, I am not certain this addresses any of the limitations of the prior system. And it clearly hurts in a key way.

One danger I see lying ahead is that the now-necessary bragging about significant contributions may trigger 1) arguments over the validity of the claim and 2) ill will about the almost inevitable overshadowing of the other people who also made related contributions. The example biosketch leads with a claim to having “changed the standards of care for addicted older adults”. This is precisely the sort of claim that is going to be argumentative. There is no way that a broad sweeping change of clinical care rests on the work of one person. No way, no how.

If the Biosketch says “we’re one of twenty groups who contributed…”, well, this is going to look like you are a replaceable cog. Clearly you can’t risk doing that. So you have risks ahead of you in trying to decide what to claim.

The bottom line here is that you are telling reviewers what they are supposed to think about your pubs, whereas previously they simply made their own assumptions. It has upside for the reviewer who is 1) positively disposed toward the application and 2) less familiar with your field but man……it really sets up a fight.

Another thing I notice is the swing of the pendulum. Some time ago, publications were limited to 15 which placed a high premium on customizing the Biosketch to the specific application at hand. This swings back in the opposite direction because it asks for Contribution to Science not Contribution to the Relevant Subfield. The above mentioned need to brag about unique awesomeness also shifts the emphasis to the persons entire body of work rather than that work that is most specific to the project at hand. On this factor, I am of less certain opinion about the influence on review.

Things that I will be curious to see develop.

GlamourMag– It will be interesting to see how many people say, in essence, that such and such was published in a high JIF journal so therefore it is important.

Citations and Alt-metrics– Will people feel it necessary to defend the claims to a critical contribution by pointing out how many citations their papers have received? I think this likely. Particularly since the “non-publication research products” have no conventional measures of impact, people will almost have to talk about downloads of their software, Internet traffic hits to their databases, etc. So why not do this for publications as well, eh?

Figures– all I can say is “huh”?

Sally Rockey reports on the pilot study they conducted with this new Biosketch format.

While reviewers and investigators had differing reactions to the biosketch, a majority of both groups agreed that the new biosketch was an improvement over the old version. In addition, both groups felt that the new format helped in the review process. Both applicants and reviewers expressed concerns, however, about the suitability of the new format for new investigators, but interestingly, investigators who were 40 years and older were more negative than those below age 40.

So us old folks are more concerned about the effects on the young than are the actual young. This is interesting to me since I’m one who feels some concern about this move being bad for less experienced applicants.

I’ll note the first few comments posted to Rockey’s blog are not enthusiastic about the pilot data.

88 Responses to “The new NIH Biosketch is here”

  1. As someone on the computational side of things, it is nice to see that software and databases are specifically mentioned as contributions, at least.


  2. zb Says:

    Yech. Next are they going to add “If you were a brand, how would you sell yourself?”

    I think adding publication contributions as metrics is great. Marketing speak selling your work is quite awful and I am oldstyle enough to think that your work was supposed to speak for itself and then be reviewed by the scientific community for its worth.

    I also think that the comment at Rocky blog, asking about the effect of this new biosketch on gender biases is one that should really be answered. I can easily imagine women being less willing to “brag” along these lines and, further, for their bragging to be evaluated more negatively than similar bragging by men.


  3. Dave Says:

    On face value, I’m nervous about it. For younger guys, it is not always so easy to claim that you have made such an important contribution and back it up with multiple first or last author pubs. It just comes off sounding a little disingenuous IMO. And the ‘example’ the NIH provides is intimidating for new investigators I think. I mean, I know it’s only an example, but really how many young PIs will be able to split their ‘contributions to science’ up into distinct categories like that with multiple publications under each category? Looks a bit scary to me and I would have liked to have seen an ESI example.

    On the flip-side, it could help young investigators who might have a few too many co-authored papers (for example), as it gives them a chance to explain that more easily and detail their contribution(s). This might actually be more than a little beneficial. Then again, it depends on whether the reviewers actually read what you write rather than scanning the journals that you have published in.

    And you can bet your arse that IFs will be pushed as much as possible by those who can (why not?), and I happen to think that citation counts should be used as an objective marker of ones impact on the biosketch, rather than the IF of the journal.


  4. Grumble Says:

    I don’t think the new format will necessarily hurt the youngsters. It will help them by allowing them to explain why the work they did was important and perhaps also their specific role in it. Having that taken into consideration by reviewers is certainly better for early career applicants who typically do not have extensive publication records — and who might have contributed in very important ways to publications on which they are not first (or last) author.

    In essence, it gives n00bs a chance to sell themselves in a much more descriptive way than a plain list of pubs allows. That’s a net gain.


  5. Dave Says:

    …and it is fascinating to me that in the NIH survey (to what extent was the modified format suitable for New/Early Stage Investigators?), the reviewers and old boys disagreed with the young investigators as to the benefits of the new format. This discrepancy is concerning because it highlights that what the reviewers are evaluating, and what young investigators think reviewers are evaluating on the biosketch, might be very different.


  6. Dave Says:

    In essence, it gives n00bs a chance to sell themselves in a much more descriptive way than a plain list of pubs allows. That’s a net gain.

    If reviewers read it.


  7. LincolnX Says:

    Blegh. This was amply covered in the narrative previously. Now, hyperbolic comments will render this little more than vanity pieces, or worse, will disproportionately advantage older investigators who have had a longer career to weave a competitive narrative. Gawd, I hate change for the sake of change.

    Advantage: Grey beards!


  8. This shittio isn’t gonna do anything other than further marginalize the Biosketch completely as a means for assessing the Investigator criterion. Reviewers are just gonna go to Pubmed and ignore the Biosketch completely in assessing scientific output. And godde fucken help you if your name is Wang or Smith or Ghosh.


  9. Lady Scientist Says:

    Ugh. That’s my vote. I didn’t go into science to become a used car saleswoman.


  10. qaz Says:

    This is clearly an attempt to move beyond the publication as the unit of scientific contribution. (I’m old school enough to think that’s a bad thing.)

    The biosketch used to be one of the few places in the proposal that we could look at the actual productivity of the investigator, without all the marketing garbage ladled on. This new system also means that the biosketch is now going to take unpacking in the same way that the grant itself does. “Wait, what does IPF6q* do? Is that something I care about?”

    It is going to take a long time for the system to sort out what this new stuff means (both on the investigator-writing side [how do you write a good biosketch?] and on the reviewer-reading side [what does THAT mean?]). In the end, I bet this is just going to go back to the “in-group” network. “I know investigator X. X is a good person doing important work. We should fund…oops, sorry, I mean…this is a good proposal likely to produce high-impact work.”

    * These are letters I made up. I have no idea if they actually have some genomic or protein import.

    PS. Notice that the marketing section explicitly says that it is OK to include contributions that were not peer-reviewed. I think that’s a major problem.


  11. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    This new system also means that the biosketch is now going to take unpacking in the same way that the grant itself does.

    And the most fundamental principle of grantsmanship is that the last thing you want to do is force your reviewers to “unpack” your shittio. You need to unpack for them, and hang all the clothes in the motherfucken closet.


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    Grant valet?


  13. neurony Says:

    Does this format now allow for listing manuscripts under review, given the allowance for non-publication products? As early stage investigators it might help to tell our contribution story if we’re able to list both published and also submitted manuscripts (which in most cases also would be the source of the preliminary data in the proposal itself).

    What would you all, as reviewers, think if you saw submitted manuscripts in addition to published ones?


  14. Dave Says:

    Even I know that ‘submitted’ manuscripts do not officially exist.


  15. CD0 Says:

    These changes were originally pushed by Varmus for NCI-specific applications, with the aim of protecting old timers from losing funding. It is in the same spirit as the resurrection of the “outstanding investigator award”, which in a few years will subtract a significant percentage of the institute’s funding.
    Whoever things that this is going to help new investigators or the common, unglamorous but productive scientist is deadly wrong.
    I completely agree with CPP: The biosketch will loss any meaning in the eyes of responsible reviewers.
    Dreadful idea and dishonest implementation


  16. Dave Says:

    Would love to see who the 13 ‘investigators under 40’ were. Their responses to the survey seem our of whack with the opinions expressed here regarding the impact of this on ESI/NI. Being under 40 does not necessarily mean one is an ESI/NI, of course.


  17. Cassius King Says:

    It is interesting to note the discrepancy between what the investigators think about the new format, versus the reviewers. It is the reviewers that actually matter in this situation, and the results seem to roundly suggest that the new format leaves them ambivalent at best, and often cold. The disconnect is evidence to me that this doesn’t appear to work as intended.


  18. Juan Lopez Says:

    “This discrepancy is concerning because it highlights that what the reviewers are evaluating, and what young investigators think reviewers are evaluating on the biosketch, might be very different.”. Good point Dave. Expecially since the difference was at 40, which is the age of a first R01.

    I am worried about giving some reviewers ammunition to attack us. “Look at this guy saying that HE changed the field”. As DM I see much more chance of trouble. Now we will be able to include some nice images that are completely irrelevant to the proposal.


  19. Pinko Punko Says:

    I feel this is Rockey doing what appears she likes best, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. I can’t see how it makes this more useful. I suspect it could add some context for noobs and will be piece of cake for big hitters. I suspect it will most squeeze the middle.


  20. eeke Says:

    If reviewers skip the whole biosketch (which this format encourages), maybe it will reduce bias in scoring. The NIH claims to fund projects not people.


  21. Established PI Says:

    My first thought was that this is just going to benefit Established PIs like me, who can wax eloquent about their important ground-breaking contributions and list their glamor pubs in short, neat sections (can’t wait to make those figures!). But this could also benefit junior PIs, who will have a chance to directly address how their contributions have driven a field forward. A smart (well-coached) writer could craft something persuasive that highlights creative work as a postdoc or junior PI that, while not as broad in scope or impact as a more senior person’s, was impressive for someone at that stage of their career.

    Just trying to be positive.


  22. Pinko Punko Says:

    I feel like I would have a decent Biosketch, but still think this format is idiotic, especially in light of the previously introduced personal statement.


  23. poke Says:

    Excellent news! Finally, a mechanism that brings graphical abstracts to grant applications!


  24. odyssey Says:

    Images in the biosketch? Finally a use for all those compromising photos of reviewers!


  25. Philapodia Says:

    So how exactly is this supposed to add any value to the review process? All it seems like it would do is allow grant writers (let’s be honest, we’re not scientists anymore) a chance to show how well they can bullshite. If nothing else it may provide an amusing read for reviewers to see how well someone can humble-brag.


  26. Pascale Says:

    If I ever submit an NIH grant, I’m going to do my biosketch as a graphic novel (comic book for the less sophisticated in the group).

    Of course, I’m really waiting for the day we can submit the whole damn thing as a video…


  27. BugDoc Says:

    NIH should not make any further changes that increase the ratio of time spent on administrative sections to time spent on writing the science. This is going to require more time, more customization and more bullshit to review. CPP is right; it’s going to make the biosketch a relic.


  28. Joe Says:

    The reviewer is still going to need to see the list of publications, and this just means that we will have to go to some website to find it. That’s irritating and a waste of time.

    @qaz – IPF6 search in PubMed pulls up one pub in J. Org. Chem. You’d have to read it to see if you care, but since you mentioned proteins and genomes, I doubt it.


  29. Adriana Says:

    I’ve been reviewing grants for awhile and I wonder if this contributions to science section will be as amusing as the personal statements. I really get a chuckle or a good LOL out of those, nice diversion from reading grants all day but generally not relevant.


  30. zb Says:

    Hey, Ghosh only has 17713 pubmed cites (you can almost scroll those). Wang (444250) and Smith (208254) would be impossible to search, though. Patel (43621) has more cites than Ghosh.


  31. LincolnX Says:

    I just believe this is wrong headed and damaging to young investigators, who will have a hard time coming up with “5 scientific contributions” without sounding like completely hyperbolic idiots.

    Do it another way. List patents, key collaborations in the other sections of the biosketch, or allow annotation of the listed manuscripts to describe the novel significant finding. The Narrative section is already bad enough, but at least allows a rational contextualization of the body of work RELEVANT TO THE PROJECT.

    Anything but this garbage.


  32. DrugMonkey Says:

    up to five

    So does this help LincolnX?

    Noobs could just list one, right?


  33. DrugMonkey Says:

    I hope one day to see Biosketches from two people who were “coequal contributors” on a key paper describing their unique roles.


  34. Grumble Says:

    @Philapodia: “All it seems like it would do is allow grant writers (let’s be honest, we’re not scientists anymore) a chance to show how well they can bullshite.”

    Well since bullshitting ability is the primary characteristic of excellent grantwriters already, this isn’t going to change anything. Other than add an extra two hours to the time it takes to put together my next grant.


  35. SidVic Says:

    I am not so sure this is bad idea. I can relate that I have stretched and used the personal statement much like they suggest using the contributions section. As far as unpacking the contributions section; it occurs to me that it may allow you to “unpack” your publication list. Essentially to explain significance of your publications. I’ve never known a reviewer (be tenure committee or study section) to actually go and read a applicants key manuscripts to evaluate the candidate. After all, that is why we use journal prestige and number of papers to judge productivity/significance. If like me, you don’t have glamour mag pubs, then it could be helpful to highlight your contributions.

    Of course one must be judicious, it must not come across as bragging or BS. I was nervous about stretching the standard format, but it seemed to go over well for me. I got a couple of “investigator is eminently qualified, perhaps uniquely so” type comments. Although, this may just be because of my career path where I worked on a esoteric subject that subsequently became very hot. Not sure???


  36. drugmonkey Says:

    I got a couple of “investigator is eminently qualified, perhaps uniquely so” type comments.

    that is what you are working for when it comes to an Investigator comment. I recommend using a couple of lines at the end of the Aims page to summarize why you are the best person for the job that you have just described above it.

    Although, this may just be because of my career path where I worked on a esoteric subject that subsequently became very hot.

    so? this is how famous people are made. it is also how the more normal of us (who work in areas that may never be “hot”) are viewed as being a “world’s expert in..” that P&T committees are looking to hear.


  37. Dr Becca Says:

    If this has any effect on grant ranking at all, which is doubtful, all I can see it possibly doing is compressing “Investigator” scores even further, making them even less useful than they already are (has anyone ever gotten worse than a 3? 4, maybe?)


  38. drugmonkey Says:

    The Investigator impression may count more than the compressed criterion scores tell us. But really, I see the danger of starting a fight over the claims as the primary place where a difference might be seen


  39. Grumble Says:

    “has anyone ever gotten worse than a 3? 4, maybe?” Yes. I gave someone a 6 or something once. But you’re certainly right that there are very few reviewers who are assholic enough to do that.


  40. drugmonkey Says:

    Why would you throw a 6 at Investigator?


  41. Susan Says:

    Low productivity (2 papers in 7 years). Mismatch of training or skillset to project (physicist proposing ecology project, no collaborators). There are definitely aspects of Investigator that lead a reviewer to doubt the feasibility or likelihood of a project.


  42. Susan Says:

    And please do add me to the collective groan about this change. Adjectives have no place on a biosketch, and now they will spawn. Gender bias, totally. I want the damn list of pubs. Don’t make me go search for it (I won’t) and don’t you dare tell me how to think about it!


  43. Pinko Punko Says:

    The questionnaire regarding the new format seemed entirely designed not to determine if it was an improvement. It seems that it will steer away from what project is to who is doing project.


  44. Philapodia Says:

    I think this will work perfectly for a the new format:

    “One of the Nation’s most distinguished biochemists, Steve McKnight has made seminal contributions across an astonishingly broad spectrum of biological problems. Among the highlights are his breathtaking images of RNA synthesis and chromatin replication in Drosophila embryos, his pioneering analysis of the transcription of the Herpes Thymidine Kinase Gene, his invention of linker scanning to discover eukaryotic transcriptional control signals, his groundbreaking analysis of the VP16 viral activator protein, his discovery of the Leucine Zipper family of transcription factors, his discovery, purification and characterization of transcription factors C/EBP and GABP, his demonstration that the DNA-binding activity of circadian Clock proteins are influenced by NAD cofactors, his contributions to the concept that transcriptional regulatory proteins from yeast to mammals can be entrained by metabolic signals, and his pioneering contributions to our understanding of RNA granules, the subject of his lecture.

    Steve McKnight received his BA from the University of Texas, graduating summa cum laude, and his PhD from the University of Virginia under the mentorship of legendary electron microscopist Oscar Miller. He then became a postdoctoral fellow with Don Brown before joining the Staffs of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. McKnight subsequently helped found the biotech start-up Tularik, Inc, serving as its first research director before moving to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Among his many honors are: the Eli Lilly Award of the American Society for Microbiology, the Newcomb-Cleveland Award of the American Society for the Advancement of Science, the Monsanto Award of the National Academy of Sciences, the NIH Pioneer Award, and election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

    Steve stands out not only as a scientist but as human being. A Texan through and through, he is known for his athleticism, heroism, generosity, integrity, leadership and wisdom. Steve was a star quarterback and tennis player in high school. During the Vietnam War, Steve served as a decorated member of a tank unit, winning the Army Commendation Medal for sustained acts of heroism. He played a key role in the remarkable Life Sciences Research Foundation, whichpartners with pharmaceutical companies to award outstanding young scientists postdoctoral fellowships that provide both stipend and research support. At UTSW, he created the McKnight Prize, which recognizes undergraduates who have done outstanding research, to honor his parents. As Chairman of Biochemistry at UTSW, he implemented a vision of recruiting and engaging organic chemists and biochemists in the same Department, creating a unique culture that fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration. Finally, he is a role model and source of wisdom to young scientists, as exemplified by his provocative, 2009 essay in Cell “Unconventional Wisdom”, which is highly recommended to all those reading this brief biography who are still young at heart.”


  45. Ola Says:

    One issue I see, is that it will be very tempting, nay almost required, to discuss one’s social media, website, blog, and other digital outputs in the new format. The problem is this clashes with the long-standing instruction to reviewers not to click any link within a proposal, lest the naughty grant writer guesses who the reviewer is based on harvesting of IP addresses.

    How tempting it would be to…
    (1) Put one’s stuff on a webpage with an obscure URL
    (2) Link to said webpage only in one’s biosketch
    (3) Sit back and record the IPs of who clicks the link
    (4) Compare and contrast with institutional addresses of study section membership

    TL/DR – if you’re gonna play the role of asshole reviewer 3, FFS use TOR when clinking links in proposals!


  46. drugmonkey Says:

    Seriously? What social media, blog or websites are going to help that aren’t fairly institutional? I can’t see personal sites being a big thing here.


  47. drugmonkey Says:

    Apart from the full publication list but then they have suggested impersonal sources for that.


  48. Ola Says:

    Well if the IT at your university is anything like the clusterfuck it is at mine, then you take matters into your own hands and just set up a lab website on a 3rd party server. Even so, I know of quite a few in the big data fields of proteomics and bioinformatics who run their own websites within the confines of a university sanctioned URL, with the PI or their computer whiz-kid having the ability to independently edit, script, and do things that would easily enable stats on who is visiting to be collected.


  49. drugmonkey Says:

    Ah. But given that the review panel is known to you, and anyone can read your proposal either assigned to review it or not….


  50. Ola Says:

    Wait wha… ?
    You read proposals that aren’t assigned to you?


  51. eeke Says:

    @ Ola – A reviewer on a panel that I served on read a proposal that was not assigned to him, because he saw that it was on a topic that was similar to a proposal that he was reviewing. He said he did this for comparison. During the panel discussion, this reviewer aggressively defended this proposal (that he did not review but read), and it ended up with a very high ranking. I was really impressed that he was able to do that, and hope that someone will do the same for me!!!


  52. Davis Sharp Says:

    Why would you throw a 6 at Investigator? DM, December 3, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Two rare occasions (at least)

    For SBIRs: Business school types who have no clue what they’re doing, but put in a grant and propose to hire the talent they need to achieve their big idea.

    For research grants, I sometimes see a foreign grant (usually from teaching faculty at an underdeveloped nation’s med school) who doesn’t have the training to do the work, cannot describe the experiments in detail, and just writes a bad grant.


  53. Philapodia Says:

    Based on all of the comments on the Rock Talk blog there seems to be almost zero support of this new change to the biosketch format. Normally I would think that all of the negative pushback would cause Rockey to at least re-consider the change or at least address people’s concerns (maybe I have too much faith here…), but I wonder how much of the silence from her office is due to her impending job interview at Nebraska ( Can’t be showing that you’re weak by back-pedaling when the riff-raff faculty start complaining about your decisions!


  54. drugmonkey Says:

    It only took what, 4, 5 years to back down on the A2 revision issue?


  55. Philapodia Says:

    Seems like this asinine change is one last way to shank PI’s and reviewers on the way out of office, and then leave the mess to the next poor sap who gets the office. Classy.


  56. Dave Says:

    I really hope she gets that job. I feel bad for the faculty there, but not enough……..


  57. […] Office of Extramural Research blog, RockTalking, has 73 comments posted to the discussion of the new NIH biosketch format. I found one that expressed no concern and apparently the rest range from opposed to […]


  58. minou Says:

    If Rockey gets the job, one can only say”God save the University of Nebraska”. They deserve much better than that. The way the Presidential search has been organized, their openness, making public the finalists CVs and requesting input from, not only the University people but also the entire community (if you are a taxpayer), seem to indicate that UN deserves a competent charismatic leader. There are four finalists and it seems that more than 1 of them but Rockey could do a nice job. We’ll see hpw the community participation plays out in the final decision.


  59. louis Says:

    If Rockey gets the job, one can only say”God save the University of Nebraska”. They deserve much better than that. The way the Presidential search has been organized, their openness, making public the finalists CVs and requesting input from, not only the University people but also the entire community (if you are a taxpayer), seem to indicate that UN deserves a competent charismatic leader. There are four finalists and it seems that more than 1 of them but Rockey could do a nice job. We’ll see hpw the community participation plays out in the final decision.


  60. drugmonkey Says:

    You people would not believe the weird confluences of people talking too loudly around other people in semi public, and the happenstance of acquaintances, that lead one to the conclusion Rockey is not competitive for the Nebraska job…..


  61. Dave Says:

    ^spoiler alert!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  62. drugmonkey Says:

    Very likely not her only escape attempt though. I imagine something will come through for her eventually.


  63. Dave Says:

    I heard the GOP is looking for candidates…..


  64. E rook Says:

    CPP is correct, this already happens. In my latest summary statement, a reviewer gave a summary of my pubmed hits. We might as well use ncbi’s MyBibliography feature and provide them with a link. I know they also go to RePorter and comment on pubs linked your past grants (and the tier of journals therein). I guess this is fine for the motivated reviewer but shows that the Biosketch is not useful.


  65. drugmonkey Says:

    I had a reviewer recently go all data miner, metrics explicating on me for the first time. The Investigator evaluation did not vary one bit from my usual however. It was odd.


  66. qaz Says:

    Damn, that seems like a lot of work for something that is unlikely to be accurate anyway.


  67. E rook Says:

    I am encouraged by anything from a reviewer that deviates from the usual BS. Even though the Investigator rank was the same as usual, I got the impression that they kinda liked and perhaps defended me in the discussion. Comments from this reviewer seemed to be rebuttals of one other. Like point by point.


  68. mytchondria Says:

    I’m claiming to be DrugMonkey on my Biosketch citing this blog right fuckken here. Lets see what happens to my Investigator score then beyatches.


  69. Philapodia Says:

    I wonder if Collins will mention singing on the last Colbert Report in his next Biosketch. He seemed to be getting into it in…


  70. Lee Says:

    As an ESI, I’m really concerned about this and I was y’all would have some insight. For applications going in for Cycle 1 2015, before the May 25th deadline, should investigators submit the new or old biosketch format? Also, what’s the likelihood that submitting the old format would trigger a snide response from reviewer “3”? One more thing, is this also a requirement for Key Personnel (co-I’s etc)?


  71. DrugMonkey Says:

    I don’t really see where adopting the change on schedule or waiting for the extended deadline makes much difference.


  72. KLF Says:

    I’m also an ESI, with a short, but growing, list of primary peer-reviewed publications. The new format allows listing of publications in both the Personal Statement and the Contributions to Science sections. I cannot find instructions as to whether publications should only be listed one time anywhere on the Biosketch. Does anybody here know, or have thoughts on the idea? Thanks.


  73. drugmonkey Says:

    Not sure why you would want to list them twice? Once should be sufficient… If you have so many that you want to include more of them, that I could see.


  74. KLF Says:

    drugmonkey, thank you for replying. In the new format, publications could be listed under section A as those “that specifically highlight your experience and qualifications for this project” and/or section C as those “that are relevant to the described contribution”. As an ESI with limited list of peer-reviewed publications, a couple will be directly relevant to list under section A. But then those same papers also form the basis for my contributions to science that will be described in section C. If they should only be listed once, and they are included in Section A for their relevance to this project, then it essentially wipes out one of my (already limited in number) areas to describe in section C. Do you see what I’m getting at?
    Sure, once I have spent another ~5 more years publishing, this won’t be an issue I should have more papers than may be listed. (More optimistically, perhaps NIH will have retracted this format in 5 years’ time.)


  75. drugmonkey Says:

    I don’t see any reason to put pubs in section A, I guess.



    I wonder how many of you are funded investigators who have regularly and recently served as peer reviewers? I think much of this is BS. The new biosketch is a significant improvement on what NIH previously had. It simply allows PIs to provide NIH with a descriptive narrative of their contributions–most PIs I know really want a place to do that and they often package in the Approach, which gets lost.
    This new format is a big plus for investigators, old and new, Period.


  77. Philapodia Says:

    Many of us actively serve as reviewers, and some, like CPP, have done so since the late 1800’s. So yes, we do actually have a leg to stand on.

    The personal statement has served the purpose of providing the NIH with a description of contribution to science just fine. I look at the biosketches when I review, but I spend about 95% of my time on the science (as I should). I can’t imagine this extra place for an investigator to wax poetic about what a special snowflake they are will make much difference, just more work for the PI and more paperwork to read through for the reviewer.


  78. Philapodia Says:

    I think I will make my conclusions in my next manuscript as such to cut off any debate:

    “The middle toe on the left rear foot is critical for effective and sustained bunnyhopping and by extension, effective and sustained bunny luvin’. Period.”

    I wonder how this will fly with the reviewers…


  79. MoBio Says:


    Yes to the first two–more than 20 years as both (I’ve reviewed literally 100’s of NIH grants and sat in on review of 1000+ by my estimates).

    I think it is a waste of time both for the applicant and the reviewers –with one caveat:

    If I have never heard of the applicant (in which case I would wonder why the grant was assigned to me to review) the narrative would be quite useful. But again, I would wonder why I had been assigned something to review when I had no knowledge of the area or the investigator. Perhaps… if the person was a newly minted Assistant Professor a quick synopsis of her/his work would be helpful.

    It is far easier (and useful since it is not cherry picked by the applicant) for me to do a PubMed search as well as looking at the ‘exemplar’ list of publications for those whom I’m qualified to review (hence I would be knowledgeable in the field) to get an exact sense of their recent and remote productivity along with an NIH Reporter search to find out precisely how many grants they have.


  80. physioprof Says:

    It simply allows PIs to provide NIH with a descriptive narrative of their contributions–most PIs I know really want a place to do that and they often package in the Approach, which gets lost.
    This new format is a big plus for investigators, old and new, Period.

    It may be a “big plus” for investigators who “want a place to do that [bloviate about their contributions and expertise]”, but it is almost always useless to reviewers who are trying to assess the Investigator criterion (which is the *sole* purpose served by the Biosketch).

    My current practice for assessing the Investigator criterion is as follows (and in this order):

    (1) If I already know the person and her work over the years, right to PubMed.

    (2) If not, then I take a quick look at the Biosketch to see who she is (who she trained with, where she’s currently at, etc), and then to PubMed.

    (3) Project Reporter.

    (4) At this point, it is only if I have a specific concern that might be addressed in the Personal Statement, that I read it. For example, if you have been an assistant professor for five years, but have only published one paper from your lab, I’d like to hear why, and what you’re doing about it. Or if you are a senior investigator who has slowed down recently, I’d like to hear why, and what you’re doing about it (if anything: maybe you are in a planned slowdown).

    I (and every other study section member I have ever served with) have zero interest whatsoever in reading what *you* the applicant have to say about the importance of your contributions to science or the appropriateness of your expertise to the pursuit of the proposed aims. The only utility of any sort of narrative verbiage is to provide explanations that might mitigate prima facie weaknesses in prior productivity. And nothing that NIH does to jigger around with the Biosketch format is going to change any of that.


  81. drugmonkey Says:

    The creation of the Personal Statement permitted the applicant to explain weaknesses in a way that previously had to be left for the reply to review in a revision before, PP. I consider that a change of significant importance.


  82. qaz Says:


    I’ve been reviewing NASA, NSF, and NIH grants since the late 1990s when I was a postdoc, including being a standing member on several study sections over the last decade+. I’ve reviewed NRSAs, R01s, P01s, and center grants. The problem with the new format is it moves something pseudo-quantitative and hard to fake (what papers you’ve ACTUALLY published [see the typical response to people who list “submitted papers”], and thus informative) to something qualitative, squishy, and bloviating (how you feel about what you’ve done science-wise, and thus not informative).

    Generally, my tack is similar to CPP and MoBio – if I know the person, I probably don’t need the biosketch (and I know most of the people applying for grants in my field[s]). If I don’t know the person, the biosketch is helpful to see where the person has come from and what the person has published. I do agree with DM about the personal statement. In my experience, the personal statement is usually useless. But it has been useful, occasionally, for a new investigator to tell me where the PI is going with their career. And it has been occasionally useful when there is an explanation needed for a publication gap. On the other hand, the personal statement does not usually ask me to reinterpret their “contributions” to science (and when it does, I ignore it).


  83. drugmonkey Says:

    CPP “who she trained with”,

    How often does it say directly in the Positions listing who was the graduate or postdoc supervisor, in your experience?


  84. qaz Says:

    I don’t really care who the specific supervisor was, but I do look for who the senior authors were on the PI’s first-author papers.


  85. physioprof Says:

    The creation of the Personal Statement permitted the applicant to explain weaknesses in a way that previously had to be left for the reply to review in a revision before, PP.

    That’s exactly what I said, dumshitte.

    How often does it say directly in the Positions listing who was the graduate or postdoc supervisor, in your experience?

    Sometimes it does, but not always. Even if it doesn’t, it’s generally pretty easy to discern from the publication record. Anyway, this is only important for junior faculty.


  86. Joe Says:

    “How often does it say directly in the Positions listing who was the graduate or postdoc supervisor, in your experience?”
    I noticed people doing this several years ago and decided to do it myself. This is indeed one of the things I look for when reviewing, so why not just put it in the position description? I see it in about 10% of biosketches.


  87. Scared Says:

    “why not put just put it in the position section?” You’re PhD mentor burned bridges and no one on the SS likes them. You get the sense that your PO doesn’t like them either. You want to distance yourself as much as you can from them.


  88. […] back in 2015 the NIH made some major changes to the Biosketch. As detailed in this post, one of the major changes was replacing the long list of publications with a “contribution to […]


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