Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Creating Your Biographical Sketch Personal Statement

Under the new NIH Biosketch requirements, all investigators (not just the PI) must now include Section A: Personal Statement on every application. This new section is designed to provide an overview of each individual's experience and qualifications directly related to the proposal being submitted. In other words, this section must be modified and tailored for every proposal that you submit!

Many investigators, including proposal veterans, are finding it hard to write this section. The NIH instructions state: Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor) in the project that is the subject of the application. Unfortunately, there are no suggested length or other requirements included. This has caused some confusion and led to many different interpretations of the requirement. For one, some individuals have been writing in the first person, while others write the section in the third person. Based on my personal experience, it appears that at this time both options are acceptable. There is also a major variation in length. Some investigators are including no more than a very vague sentence describing their general experience. This is probably being done intentionally, in the hopes that they can continue to use the same biosketch for multiple proposals, but it does not fully meet the requirements.

How should you write your personal statement? First, remember that the statement is going to be used to help reviewers as they look at the Investigator portion of the review criteria. This states: Are the PD/PIs, collaborators, and other researchers well suited to the project? If Early Stage Investigators or New Investigators, or in the early stages of independent careers, do they have appropriate experience and training? If established, have they demonstrated an ongoing record of accomplishments that have advanced their field(s)? If the project is collaborative or multi-PD/PI, do the investigators have complementary and integrated expertise; are their leadership approach, governance and organizational structure appropriate for the project? Look at the criteria and make sure that your personal statement will provide the reviewers with the information they need to make an evaluation based on this criteria. As you may guess, a brief, general sentence will not suffice.

Conversely, it is also probably not a good idea to write an entire page of information. Several paragraphs should be all you need to describe your accomplishments and expertise without overloading the reviewer. See the NIH biosketch example located here.

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