Strategies for the New NIH Biosketch Format (Part 3)

Today I offer a review of the NIH biosketch Personal Statement (PS) and pertinent strategies for this section in the new format that goes into effect on 25 May 2015. The function of the PS in the new format is the same as before, to “briefly describe why you are well-suited [sic] for your role in the project described in this application,” but with the advent of the Contribution to Science (C2S) section as the major part of the new biosketch, the strategy for writing the PS has become a bit more complicated.

I won’t rehash the general strategies for writing the biosketch or the specific strategies for the C2S section since I have posted on them separately. (Since these posts are being written sequentially, it would behoove the reader to read the previous posts before proceeding with this post.) Some strategies for the PS section in this new format would include:

  1. The PS is no place for boilerplate text. Anticipate that reviewers will be busy and likely to spend the limited time they do have for the review of your application on the proposal itself. As a result, many will skim the biosketches to find the pertinent information they need to assess the team’s ability to complete the project well. It is likely that the PS may be the only part of the biosketch read completely (with a quick review of the product lists and grant funding). As a result, the PS should always be written to fit the role and research being proposed.
  2. Listen to what is being requested in this section. The writer is instructed to “briefly describe why you are well-suited [sic] for your role in the project described in this application.” The key words here are briefly, your role, and the project described in this application. Briefly means be succinct and include only pertinent information. Your role means that you need to restrict your PS to include only that information that pertains to the role to which you have been assigned. Most importantly, only information pertaining to the project described in this application is salient. In other words, the strategic writer remembers the point of the biosketch is to provide reviewers with the information they need to assess the expertise and experience of the research team members vis-à-vis the proposed research. Information beyond this scope is not salient to the task at hand and will certainly frustrate the reviewer.
  3. Do not use jargon, but strategically use key words.  A judicious use of key words will clearly articulate your role in the project and will help align your C2S section’s descriptions to that role. By using words that are salient to the role but also effectively describe the work you have done previously, your C2S descriptions will support your PS. In other words, the appearance of these terms in the PS and then again throughout the C2S will make it clear to the reviewer, even one that is just skimming the biosketch, that you have experience and expertise required for your role on this proposed project.

The question of whether or not to explain gaps in the research timeline usually comes into the discussion of the PS. That is a topic in itself, and a thorny one at that. Given the complexity of the topic, I will discuss how to make that decision and how to explain gaps, should you choose to, in the next post.

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