Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NIH Biosketch Personal Statement - First or Third Person?

One of the major changes to NIH biographical sketches is the addition of Section A, the personal statement. NIH does not specify whether to write the personal statement on the biosketch in 1st or 3rd person. It seems that either way is acceptable. The example provided by NIH includes a personal statement that is written in 1st person as follows:


A. Personal Statement
The goal of the proposed research is to investigate the interaction between drug abuse and normal aging processes. Specifically, we plan to measure changes in cognitive ability and mental and physical health across a five-year period in a group of older drug users and matched controls. I have the expertise, leadership and motivation necessary to successfully carry out the proposed work. I have a broad background in psychology, with specific training and expertise in key research areas for this application. As a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley, I carried out ethnographic and survey research and secondary data analysis on psychological aspects of drug addiction. At the Division of Intramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), I expanded my research to include neuropsychological changes associated with addiction. As PI or co-Investigator on several university- and NIH-funded grants, I laid the groundwork for the proposed research by developing effective measures of disability, depression, and other psychosocial factors relevant to the aging substance abuser, and by establishing strong ties with community providers that will make it possible to recruit and track participants over time. In addition, I successfully administered the projects (e.g. staffing, research protections, budget), collaborated with other researchers, and produced several peer-reviewed publications from each project. As a result of these previous experiences, I am aware of the importance of frequent communication among project members and of constructing a realistic research plan, timeline, and budget. The current application builds logically on my prior work, and I have chosen co-investigators (Drs. Gryczynski and Newlin) who provide additional expertise in cognition, gerontology and geriatrics. During 2005-2006 my career was disrupted due to family obligations. However, upon returning to the field I immediately resumed my research projects and collaborations and successfully competed for NIH support. In summary, I have a demonstrated record of accomplished and productive research projects in an area of high relevance for our aging population, and my expertise and experience have prepared me to lead the proposed project.



Of course, the same paragraph could also have been written in the 3rd person to convey the same message.




A. Personal Statement
The goal of the proposed research is to investigate the interaction between drug abuse and normal aging processes. Specifically, the research team plans to measure changes in cognitive ability and mental and physical health across a five-year period in a group of older drug users and matched controls. Dr. PI has the expertise, leadership and motivation necessary to successfully carry out the proposed work. She has a broad background in psychology, with specific training and expertise in key research areas for this application. As a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley, Dr. PI carried out ethnographic and survey research and secondary data analysis on psychological aspects of drug addiction. At the Division of Intramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), she expanded her research to include neuropsychological changes associated with addiction. As PI or co-Investigator on several university- and NIH-funded grants, she laid the groundwork for the proposed research by developing effective measures of disability, depression, and other psychosocial factors relevant to the aging substance abuser, and by establishing strong ties with community providers that will make it possible to recruit and track participants over time. In addition, Dr. PI successfully administered the projects (e.g. staffing, research protections, budget), collaborated with other researchers, and produced several peer-reviewed publications from each project. As a result of these previous experiences, Dr. PI is aware of the importance of frequent communication among project members and of constructing a realistic research plan, timeline, and
budget. The current application builds logically on her prior work, and she has chosen co-investigators (Drs. Gryczynski and Newlin) who provide additional expertise in cognition, gerontology and geriatrics. During 2005-2006, Dr. PI's career was disrupted due to family obligations. However, upon returning to the field, she immediately resumed her research projects and collaborations and successfully competed for NIH support. In summary, Dr. PI has a demonstrated record of accomplished and productive research projects in an area of high relevance for our aging population, and her expertise and experience have prepared her to lead the proposed project.


As with resume and CV preparation, your choice of whether to submit personal statements in 1st or 3rd person is, well....personal. I do recommend, however, that all biosketches submitted with your proposal be consistent in their choice of 1st vs. 3rd person. It will create a more cohesive feel as reviewers examine the biosketches submitted with your proposal.

Read more NIH biographical sketch personal statement advice, including things to avoid, here.

7 comments:

  1. This is very helpful. I have changed my personal statement multiple times for different applications and always wondered which was correct.

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  2. i don't believe the personal statement needs to say anything about family obligations.

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    1. NIH changed their policy last year to encourage applicants to describe personal and family obligations that impacted their career trajectories, such as taking time off to raise kids. As I explained in another post, including these obligations could result in reviewer bias. I urge everyone to think carefully before including this information.

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  3. I listed on my personal statement that I had a baby and took some time off, but you are making me rethink this. Perhaps it is better to leave the holes in my time unexplained.

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    Replies
    1. Please take some time and let us know what you finally chose to include and what was the results of review of your proposal. Thanks.

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  4. I have written and reviewed hundreds of personal statements, and I believe using third person allows an individual to better highlight his or her accomplishments and goals. For this reason, I have recently started to recommend that researchers use only third person for all proposals.

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  5. I have written and read the same, and I think using the first person gives you a good sense of the person writing the statement, which I think is very useful, particularly when reading statements by trainees and early investigators.

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