Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Copy and Paste are not always your friends when it comes to your Biosketch

I understand the pressure that most PIs and Investigators are under to get their proposals completed on time.  You are juggling multiple priorities, including teaching, maybe other research projects, and a variety of personal issues in addition to trying to meet your grant deadline.  So it is not surprising that, when it comes to your NIH Biographical Sketch, you simply copy and paste from previous renditions to create a new-ish biosketch for whichever proposal you are working on. 

Bad idea.  Your laziness could prove disastrous to the entire proposal, for a variety of reasons.  First, let's say that you haven't taken the time to update your list of publications in the past 2-3 years. Reviewers are busy people too.  They don't have the time to look you up in PubMed and try to figure out if you have any more recent publications.  If they aren't listed, it is going to look like you haven't had any publications in a while, and perhaps give them the impression that you are not a very productive researcher.  Why give research dollars to someone who doesn't produce?

Now, on to the Personal Statement.  This relatively new requirement has confused and perplexed many researchers.  Some seem to view it almost as a personal ad, including many details of their career goals and interests.  Others give it very little attention, creating generic 2-3 sentence summaries of their research focus that provide no actual substance.  The biggest mistake, however, is the copying and pasting of personal statements from one proposal to another.  To truly write a tailored personal statement, one should focus on the goals of the project at hand, and describe in 1-2 paragraphs why he or she has the right experience for this type of project and why he or she is the perfect person for his or her proposed role on the project.  In other words, you need to convey: I am an expert at _____, based on my background of _____, and I am the perfect person to do ____ on this project.   To truly make a good case for this, and convey it appropriately to the reviewers, you can't simply paste something in from another proposal.   

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