Tuesday, December 8, 2015

How I figured out too late what the new biosketch is for

Sometimes insecurity and impostor syndrome work to your detriment. When I started approaching the new NIH biosketch Contribution to Science section I had a meltdown (here). I felt I had more proper contributions, i.e. publications, in one aspect of my research and not as many in the other, so I framed the biosketch on the former to make myself look more impressive. When I got the comments back from my R01 review, I realized how dense I had been in not understanding what the new biosketch is actually for...framing your expertise to show how you are the best person to perform the research. Because I was insecure, the reviewers did not understand who I was and where my strengths really lie, they questioned that I was actually able to do the experiments I was proposing to do.

Just to make it clear, I do genetics and cell biology. I started as a geneticist and then really dove into the functional analysis to understand the mechanisms of disease following genetic mutation, so I am now primarily an animal model person. If you have the patients, you can happily publish a nice human genetics paper a year, while a substantial mechanistic work can take 3-5 years, hence the discrepancy in my publication balance. In the initial version of my biosketch, I highlighted all the wonderful genetic discoveries I made and all the contributions to medical genetics, to support a very hard core cell biology grant. One of the reviewers wondered if I knew how to make complex mouse crosses...I've been crossing mice for almost 20 years...

The thing is, despite this I got really good investigator marks. They thought I was very productive and well trained, they just wondered why the heck I was doing cell biology and mouse genetics and whether I knew what I was doing. My biosketch was an epic fail, as it was framed and organized in the wrong way. And while some scientists were harping about it when the new biosketch guidelines came out, this whole ordeal made me realized what an incredible advocate this new biosketch can be. In the K99 application you have a 3 page Candidate section where you frame your training, your goals for your science and your vision. The same can be done in the new biosketch. As I went back and redid my biosketch with my goals in mind, explaining how all the pieces in my training fit to lead to the singular expertise which is perfect for this proposal, I realized I had been a complete idiot. And now you can learn from my mistakes. Work that biosketch!

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