Regardless whether you’re applying for an NIH grant, an internally funded pilot award, or a foundation grant, you are likely to be asked for an NIH-style biographical sketch (“Bio Sketch”). It may be tempting to recycle the Bio Sketch from a past application or make minimal adaptions to your CV so it roughly fits the Bio Sketch parameters, and “call it good.” But don’t miss the opportunity to craft a Bio Sketch that shows reviewers your qualifications and readiness to fulfill your key role on this specific research project.
NIH.gov provides helpful guidance on how to create a compliant and informative Bio Sketch. Did you know the NCBI provides a free online app specifically designed to walk investigators through this task? SciENcv (Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae) will help you get the formatting right, and it will let you link to your My NCBI or eRA Commons account to populate appropriate fields in the electronic form. As a matter of fact, if audio-visual media will help you learn and dive into this task, several YouTube videos and a podcast are available for guidance.
The two parts of a Bio Sketch that require the most thought (and differ most from a conventional CV) are the Personal Statement and Contributions to Science sections. An app like SciENcv really can’t write these for you, so is there anywhere else to turn for help? Of course! One great grant-writing manual called “The Grant Application Writer’s Workbook – NIH Version,” by J.D. Robertson, S.W. Russell, and D.C. Morrison , spends several pages explaining how to optimize Bio Sketches. (This entire workbook is highly recommended.) A handy online reference can be found on the website of Washington University’s Becker Medical Library.
One big thing about the Personal Statement – it should be tailored to each grant you submit. Within the statement, be sure to mention the name of the grant and the funding mechanism, and mention who you are collaborating with. But that’s not all – Robertson et al explain:
The purpose of the biographical sketches is to support feasibility of the project in your hands and those of the assembled research team. The Personal Statement is one of the most important contributors to reviewers’ appreciation of that. Here, you have the opportunity to tell reviewers why each member of the research team has been included. In other words, how each member’s attributes complement those of the PD/PI and other members of the research team, thereby increasing the likelihood that the project will succeed. (p. 122)
They go on to point out 3 goals for every Personal Statement: describe the person’s role in the project, note why he/she is qualified (education and training credentials), and demonstrate why he/she is prepared for the role (relevant experience).
Within the personal statement you may list up to 4 “research products.” Typically these would be peer-reviewed publications, but other kinds of research products can be listed if they help demonstrate why you are poised to succeed in this role (especially if you are a more junior investigator). These could include: abstracts, posters, presentations, or non-peer reviewed articles.
Each Contribution to Science will ideally describe how you (with colleagues, of course) have driven progress in your field of study, especially in areas relevant to the grant. NIH’s instructions to applicants say:
For each contribution, indicate the following: (i) the historical background that frames the scientific problem; (ii) the central finding(s); (iii) the influence of the finding(s) on the progress of science or the application of those finding(s) to health or technology; and (iv) your specific role in the described work.
Based on these instructions, Robertson et al insist that applicants should frame Contributions as more than just a “finding,” but rather as “a contribution that has driven their field vertically.” They advise giving each Contribution to Science an “interest-evoking title.” You may cite up to 4 publications and other research products that vouch for your role in each Contribution. An effective, easy way to emphasize the impact of a publication is to note the number of times it has been cited by others. Research products might include things like patents, audio or video products, educational curricula, databases, or software/netware.
Much more advice is available from these sources, and elsewhere, but these tools and tips can get you started on a more strategic approach to creating your Bio Sketch. Remember, make your reviewers confident that you have the ability to make this exciting research proposal a reality.
- Robertson, JD, Russell SW, and Morrison, DC. (2019). The Grant Application Writer’s Workbook – NIH Version, January 2019 Edition. Grant Central, LLC.
by Matthew Sandbulte, CHRI Grant Writer | 11 October 2019