Change to Biosketch Allows Explanation of Delays


I am constantly in awe at the speed at which things move in this electronic age (example: Watson on “Jeopardy!” last night), so I was delighted to see that yesterdays NIH Notice about a modification to the biosketch has already hit the blogosphere. In case you missed the announcement, applicants now can use their biosketch to explain how personal circumstances may have delayed their transition to an independent career or reduced their scientific productivity. This opportunity will provide peer reviewers, and others, additional information on which to base their assessment of the qualifications and productivity of the applicant. The change was implemented based entirely on comments we heard directly from our community—concerns that the existing biosketch could work against applicants when there were unexplained gaps. We listened to your concerns and developed a policy that we think is responsive and will benefit all applicants.


  1. We in the blogosphere have been anxiously awaiting this change. I myself have been advocating for this since I saw such a section as part of grant applications for the American Heart Association a couple of years ago. I myself have had gaps on my CV (having 2 kids will do that)…. that reviewers commented on in summary statements- to my endless frustration.

    I’m delighted that this concern was heard and acted upon!

    1. As I know get 1-2 hrs/day to actually sit on my computer at home at night, I am in awe over how having 2 kids, 16 months apart, has really created a massive backlog of spreadsheets, half-finished manuscripts etc. It’s not that my laboratory has been unproductive over the past few years – there is simply not enough hours in the day with 2 kids under 2 to get to it all (especially when your husband is also a scientist and struggling with the same issues). This move on the part of NIH is truly appreciated!

  2. A good move. It is easy for those of us who review to forget that we are not examining past productivity so that we can reward it when reviewing the current proposal. Rather we are supposed to review past productivity to help us predict future productivity..i.e., for the project in front of us. Thus we should all view the information, if provided, to be an explanation rather than an excuse.

  3. I too applaud this change. As we have already seen, a common reason for gaps is having children – and let’s take the long view here, we want our best scientists to reproduce!

  4. I too am thankful for the change. As a man and the husband of a full-time working physician, having children significantly impacted my life as well. With my wife’s inability to simply leave her job when a child was sick, it was dad’s flexibility to take his work home that kept our family nimble enough to deal with life’s little “surprises”. Let’s not forget in this ever changing world that roles and responsibilities cross gender boundaries on a regular basis. One of my favorite quotes/mantras is “No amount of success at work can compensate for failure at home”. Thank you NIH.

  5. I like the idea and welcome the change. However, my concern is will the reviewers really consider this? In the past I have heard from my peers and superiors how research is important and family life has to be set aside. I know for sure some investigators have this thought and if they are the reviewers I do not believe they will appreciate the applicants response.

    1. It is my experience that the long efforts of the women’s movement have educated most reviewers about the importance of making it possible for scientists to have families – men and women. There may be some curmudgeons left, but it seems to me that the culture has shifted and that intolerance of family needs is no longer received as a good thing. Study section members are likely to make this clear in discussions.

  6. I agree this is a great change…I just hope that reviewers will take it seriously. It’s more than just having children that can affect people’s ability to get papers out. In my case becoming caregiver to seriously ill elders has been a major source of difficulty for the past several years. Now, my husband has been diagnosed with a life threating chronic illness. Life happens. But in the mean time, I’m left struggling to write up my past research in the (vain?) hope i might get some funding to do more.

  7. This is a very useful addition to the biosketch. However, all these changes along with the reduced funding at NIH is pointing towards a deeper and more serious problem- a major contraction in the number of scientists that can survive this lifestyle and peer review process. A couple of years of reduced productivity is technically sufficient to derail a career: are the reviewers really supposed to give a new mother (for example) a break when a newly minted scientist is chomping at the bits to get funded ? If it’s not possible to fund both, who do the reviewers pick ?. If one loses their NIH funding even for a year or two, the consequences are for most people too significant to not have a major impact on their careers. I consider myself a successful scientist but would I recommend this lifestyle to my children if they were to ask for career guidance ? Probably not. The personal sacrifices expected of us is really starting to be a bit too much to remain healthy and satisfied in this career.

    1. I think this point is extremely well taken. This new policy is a good fix, but it may prove to be a band-aid placed on a patient that is bleeding out. The outcome of the next few years of congressional wrangling will be key.

  8. This is a welcome change, but I echo the concerns of others. I have little confidence that the majority of reviewers will take this into account. The review process all too often degenerates into a system where overworked reviewers try as hard as they can to find something wrong with an application. Of course there are exceptions and super reviewers, but in my experience this is rare. Unless SRAs bring these comments to the forefront the way they do with new investigators, at best I suspect these statements will be ignored, at worst they will highlight a gap that others may have missed. Then of course is the mantra that NIH wants to fund the best science, and irregardless of the reasons, I fear many reviewers view any drop in productivity as a sign that the grant writer is not among the best.

  9. I applaud this change finally NIH as a large resource for sponsoring research. This was a needed improvement since women scientists took a toll and underrepresented for a long time.

    My comment on echoes, there should be women scientists and reviewers who don”t think being a women, being a mother is not negative.

    We are in the 21st century but the ideas are not up to date.

    I am a single parent. Once my negatives listed to me even though I came to this country after selecting offered four full paid scholarships tution, fees, books, paid travel, living expenses, two times meeting opportunity, bonus for book money and job.

    Success is not accidental but if there is a gap and explained that should be understood and not used against. Specially it is important for the women scientists since saying there is a equal opportunity but when it comes to application there is no remedy. It is not an excuse but I say it is the mother earth and we deal with biological sciences where transferring the information rely on women.

    Young girls are not getting into the science but men and women think differently so the ideas complement each other.

    Now, hope to see more women in academia with sponsored research not out of pity but providing real equal opportunities as it was done in Europe. I am a mother and raised my child alone as well as dealing with health issues.

    March 8th is the International Women’s Day.

  10. A recent issue of The Economist contained an article titled, “Life begins at 46.” I can attest to that but must add that responsible men have the same burdens as women. As a scientist-father who coached his daughter’s year round soccer team while watching her play two other high school sports, I was glad to get my scientific life back when she went to college. It was a close call but I am glad I supported my daughter and glad to be back in full time scientific life.

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