Friday, February 18, 2011

New Biosketch Instructions for NIH Proposals

NIH just released new guidance on preparing the Section A: Personal Statement. This modifies the instructions to allow investigators to describe personal issues that may have lead to limited productivity, delays in start to research careers, etc.

In theory, this is a good idea. If you completed a PhD program and then immediately took a year off to care for a family member with a terminal illness, for example, you would be well-served by having the opportunity to explain this. However, I see some potential for bias if individuals "over-share" on their applications. For example, if you are a woman and list on your biosketch that your career and schooling have progressed intermittently because you took time off to give birth to 5 children, you are setting yourself up for potential bias in the minds of some reviewers. If they were already on the fence regarding your ability to manage the proposed project, you are adding another layer to their thought process that does not need to be there. Your proposal and your personal qualifications should be reviewed based on their own merits- not whether a reviewer thinks you can juggle teaching, 5 kids, and a major research project.

Bottom line: If it is an unusual or one-time occurence, explain it in the biosketch. If not, however, think carefully before adding information about your personal circumstances to your biosketch.

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