New biosketch format for NIH

Just got word of this from the Twitters- the NIH is announcing rollout of a new biosketch format for grant applications. I thought I’d summarize the information about it here to make things easy.

  1. Starting for grants that would be funded in 2016 (so anything you apply for in 2015 will have this, essentially)
  2. Will be a five page limit (as opposed to 2 page for current format)
  3. Will NOT include a ‘bare’ list of 15 publications
  4. Now includes a new list of up to 5 of your “contributions to science”, which can include up to 4 citations each (your own presumably). So that’s a total of 20 citations you can have.
  5. You will be able to include a link to your full citation list in an online database (NIH resources sciENcv or My Bibliography are mentioned but could be others I guess)
  6. Here’s a template that includes an example new biosketch
  7. More information can be found in the announcement here from the NIH on Salley Rockey’s blog
  8. As it’s being rolled out the requirement for the new format will be stated in the RFA – SO LOOK FOR THIS IN ALL RFAs from here out. Two pilots already have it RFA-CA-13-501 and  RFA-CA-13-502

The upsides: In my opinion the addition of the contributions to science will be the biggest one and should allow you to really highlight your publications (or lack thereof) in appropriate context. Plus space for moar buzzwords!

The downsides: It’s gonna be a pain to write (like a mini grant in there) and reviewers won’t read this one either.

Money is deeply, fundamentally weird.

Ever since I read this article in Wired magazine (you know, the paper things that are thinner than books and you still find in doctor’s offices?) I’ve had this feeling that the sands are shifting beneath my feet. How can you truly know the value of what’s in your wallet? Count your money? Try again. Money is something other than what we normally think it is. The financial credit crisis of 2007-ish happened in part because of people and groups wanting to buy lots of debt. Why does anyone want to buy someone else’s debt? It makes sense (debt gets paid back with interest, that make the owner of the debt money)- but is pretty weird, really. And many people, myself included, felt that they ‘lost’ a large amount of value following that time- but what was that value really? (an awesome overview of this whole thing can be found at This American Life’s podcast about it- HIGHLY recommended). Why does the economy contract? Isn’t it weird that tomorrow there may be more (or less) value in the world than there is today?

Money is fluid, and so is value. Imagine that you have currency based on gold (work with me here). You can set a value for a certain amount of currency based on the very real mass of gold that it represents. No problems. Everything is smooth sailing, right? Well, all the sudden a massive gold vein is discovered near a subway station in Manhattan. And all of the sudden the value of what you have in your pocket is not what it was in the morning. You worked the same amount for it, right? So why did it change?

The Wired article describes a market, based in the online game Everquest, then just a few years old. In this game players can earn currency (in virtual gold pieces I think) by playing the game. The demand, at that time, was such that the virtual gold pieces had real value. That is, there was an exchange rate between Everquest ‘gold’ and real dollars. Think about it for a minute. Instead of thinking, “what weirdos are going to pay real money to buy gold in an online game”, the real question is what does this say about our “real” money? You could, in theory, go to work all day in a virtual world for virtual currency- that is, play a game that enough other interested parties are playing- and then exchange that currency for things that you really need. Who carries coins and bills in their pockets? Credit cards are where it’s at: Money has gone in directly from your employer then gets transferred to the store you’ve made a purchase at- no physical instantiation involved at all. There have been sweatshops uncovered where the workers are playing games for days on end to get virtual currency (that then is turned into ‘real’ money).

The more recent advent of Bitcoin is a similar-type example of our ability as humans to strike bargains between each other. Their (it’s a decentralized, open source effort, so maybe that’s more of “our”) system is pretty cool and complex, but with thought behind it, which is more than I can say of the US monetary system. Money is a bargain between people. It’s not only based on trust, hope, and need, it’s actually a human instantiation of those very emotions. So when you pull out a dollar bill to pay for something, think about how you’re handing over your trust, hope and need to the sales clerk. But I wouldn’t advise mentioning that to them. That would be weird.

Upside/Downside: Getting a grant rejected

So I’m starting a new feature to talk about the things related to my professional career that I’m ambivalent about. This is for my millions of followers/subscribers who might be interested in this kind of thing.

Receiving a rejection for a grant proposal


So part of what I do is writing applications for funding to send off to various funding agencies (e.g. NIH, DOE, etc.). These proposals are reviewed by a panel of my peers- evaluated for quality, innovation, impact, and how well they fit the goals of the request for proposals that I’m answering. A standard NIH R01 grant runs 12 pages and takes several months of preparation and work to assemble and get perfect- it generally involves a lot of personal investment; time, effort, emotional attachment.  In this funding environment (very poor) they have a high probability of being rejected. The reasons vary but the effect is the same. No money, no 3-5 years of guaranteed support, no boost to the ego for having your peers recognize your brilliance, no accolades of any kind.

Your grant has been rejected. You may or may not have the possibility of responding to reviewers’ concerns and resubmitting a revised version of the same grant. It’s the end of the world. Or is it?


  • You don’t get the money. That sucks.
  • You won’t have support to pursue that really cool plan that you’ve agonized over for so long.
  • You won’t get the ego boost that comes from success. In fact, the opposite. You have a big kick in the pants from the reviewers and the funding agency telling you that you didn’t make the cut. That sucks too.
  • The reviewers saw major flaws in some part of your proposal, or you didn’t sell it well enough. In either case, you need to take this to heart seriously.


  • You’ve spent a good deal of time seriously thinking about this research project. That counts for something. Really. Now you have a plan of action. If you are lucky enough to have some kind of funding to get some part of this done then you now know what 7395256948_e355c85bc3_bto do.
  • These kinds of efforts are very good at highlighting where you need more preliminary data. Maybe you can figure out a way to get some of that accomplished to provide preliminary data for the next round.
  • You now should have a set of good suggestions about where you need to improve and generally, if you read between the lines, you can figure out where your sales pitch has gone wrong and you haven’t made yourself clear.
  • Writing up the background and significance for a grant and gathering all the references necessary is approximately equivalent to writing a review article. Make it one. I’ve done this successfully in several situations.
  • You now have an additional corpus of text, ideas, and figures to recycle for the next grant proposal. And you should do this as much as possible.


So, in summary. If you’re in the sciences get used to rejection. A lot of rejection. Come to embrace it, accept it, and love it (OK, maybe not love it) and your life will be considerably less stressful. The simple truth is that a lot of people have a lot of great ideas. If the idea is really good it will persist and grow better with time and revisions. Hopefully someday it will land you a big bunch of dough. I know I’m still holding out that hope.