Modification of the NIH Biosketch to include Personal Delays

Holy. Moly.

[ UPDATE 2/17/11: A post on the OER blog and a comment from drdrA at BlueLabCoats. ]

A short while ago Cath of VWXYNot made me aware of a Canadian policy on CV/Biosketch items that permitted a narrative on Personal Interruptions and Delays.

Here’s the official wording:

“Identify any administrative responsibilities, family or health reasons, or any other factors that might have delayed or interrupted any of the following: academia, career, scientific research, other research, dissemination of results, training, etc. Common examples of an interruption/delay might be a bereavement period following the death of a loved one, maternity/parental leave, or relocation of your research environment. Limit the list to one page. Descriptions might include the start and end dates, the impact areas, and the reason(s) or a brief explanation of the absence.”

I was immediately enthusiastic.

And I am instantly a big fan of a default section for “Interruptions and Delays”. This is frikken AWESOME to include as an expectation. I am beside myself.

In response to an article in The New York Times ("Keeping Women in Science on a Tenure Track") which was coverage and distillation of an interesting report entitled “Keeping Women in the Science Pipeline,”, I felt compelled to post this on Jan 5:

The NIH needs to adopt [the Canadian section on Interruptions] right away as a required line on their Biosketch...The point is to make it default and a part of every application so that the applications of those who feel it necessary to use it will not stick out as will be a subtle and insidious statement that it is expected that NIH applicants will have had delays in their career progress or scientific projects due to certain personal and family-related factors...Expected and therefore accepted...having expectations laid out relatively explicitly can't but help...My usual advice for these types of delays is that it is dangerous to bring it up in your application before anyone has criticized you for it. Since in the old days you got two rounds of revision and at least one round of revision was pretty much necessary, no biggie...Trouble is, now that we're down to a single revision and ICs are steepening the paylines for even the A1 have to face it head on in the original application if you judge your "Delay" to be so obvious as to entail a good chance of drawing reviewer fire.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a nice custom made section (which didn't take away from your precious 12 pages) for this?

I think so.

Well Cath has alerted me to NOT-OD-11-045 issued on

The NIH is aware that personal issues can affect career advancement and productivity. Such considerations have shaped the implementation of the Early Stage Investigator Policy (see That policy permits Principal Investigators to describe personal factors that may have delayed their transition to research independence. Such factors can occur at any point in a scientist’s career and include family care responsibilities, illness, disability, military service and other personal issues.
This modification of the Biographical Sketch will permit Program Directors/Principal Investigators and other senior/key staff to describe personal circumstances that may have reduced productivity. Peer reviewers and others will then have more complete information on which to base their assessment of qualifications and productivity relevant to the proposed role on the project.

Beginning with applications submitted for the May 25, 2011 and subsequent receipt dates, the biosketch instructions will include a modification of the personal statement section to remind applicants that they can provide a description of personal issues that may have reduced productivity. The revised instructions for the personal statement are shown below and should appear in applications toward the end of March:

Personal statement: Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor) in the project that is the subject of the application. Within this section you may, if you choose, briefly describe factors such as family care responsibilities, illness, disability, and active duty military service that may have affected your scientific advancement or productivity.

Providing information about personal issues is optional. If applicants wish to provide such information they are encouraged to limit such descriptions to a few sentences.

Thank you NIH! This is a very nice step to help those, generally women, who have had the k3rn3d-damned gall to let actual life get in the way of their scientific careers.

19 responses so far

  • w00t!

    Although, the "optional" wording on how to include this in one's personal statement still makes it sound like a bit of a gamble. Definitely a step int he right direction though.

    Best case scenario: Include a required "Research Delays" line on the biosketch separate from the "personal statement". People who have had no delays can just enter "none" and those who have will need not fear the appearance of "making excuses" should they choose to talk about this as an optional part of their personal statement.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yeah, this is why I emphasized it should be a required section in my original post. oh, well, better than nothing!

  • studyzone says:

    Would reviewers receive training/admonitions to not mis-use this information? For example, as a grad student, I had 4 surgeries in a 3 yr period (all unplanned, all due to the same problem, costing me about 4 months of lost research time total). I'm concerned that if this had occurred while I was a postdoc, and I included an explanation under Research Delays, that the medical situation would be held against me by future employers/collaborators ("well, if she had so many surgeries, what's to say it won't happen again?") It still seems like a huge risk to take - I guess the trick is in explaining the situation well enough, but without going into too much detail. Maybe I'm just paranoid. I do agree it is a step in the right direction.

  • Dr. O says:

    Agreed with AA, although it's definitely a step in the right direction!!

  • Oh, did Canada just fix the NIH?!

    You're welcome! 🙂

  • proflikesubstance says:

    No you have to work on NSERC, Cath.

  • drdrA says:

    I spoke directly with with Vivian Pinn about this when she visited my institution a couple of years ago. Nice to see that they have made this change.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    For sure drdrA. Every little tweak helps, I'd say.

  • arrzey says:

    One thing a good mentor can do is address this issue in mechanisms that require letters of support (all K-awards, for starters). It used to be that some of the Early Investigator mechanisms (FIRST awards & the ilk) used letters. Having letters as part of any EI thing is in general one way that NIH can be truly supportive of funding those folks. (I don't know what the current status is).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You don't see any problem with that aarzey? With emphasizing who you know rather than what you've accomplished?

  • Wow, this is definitely a great step forward.

  • arrzey says:

    DM - you are right. [I was going to write lots of other stuff, but ...]

  • brooksphd says:

    This is most excellent news! Thank you Canada!

  • antipodean says:

    The Australian NHMRC also explicitly builds in this to their assessment criteria. This is not new and it's taken very seriously by the panels. Everything is gauged 'Relative to Opportunity'.

    e.g. Advice to assessors

    Track Record in Relation to Opportunity - The extent to which prior research performance of the applicants suggests that the project can be accomplished. Track record is considered in relation to opportunity, with regard to factors such as legitimate career interruptions, administrative and teaching load, and typical publication rates for the field in question.

    Or this to fellowship applicants

    The NHMRC accepts pregnancy and childbirth, major illness and carer responsibilities including parental leave, as career disruptions. Other examples include significant events outside of applicants’ control, such as industry or other work placements, where research was unable to be conducted. Applicants should nominate periods where their career has been disrupted and provide a brief explanation of the reason. Note: Academic or clinical responsibilities will be considered within the framework of ‘relative to opportunity’ and not career disruption.

  • Girlpostdoc says:

    It would be great if someone could answer studyzone's question. As someone who had a brain tumor and subsequent surgery during her postdoc I can't imagine putting that down. I am perfectly fine now but did lose about a year of postdoc time.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    studyzone, Girlpostdoc: the process of review is confidential and reviewers are reminded of that multiple points. Of course, you can't force a human brain to forget something, nor can you guarantee a person will not hold the information against you. My usual position is that of the population sitting in judgment of you that notice a productivity gap, some of them will be looking for a reasonable explanation. Your audience is made up of these people, not the ones who will judge you anyway. You've lost nothing extra with the latter.

  • academique says:

    if you want to talk, I am happy to speak with you. i had a similar experience in my post doc and i know how difficulty it is to obtain advice about personal health issues while being so early in your career.

  • sopsceintist says:

    I had remembered this post just today as I was reviewing a grant and wishing that the PI had written something explaining their career trajectory. I searched for your blog post and then used it to find the NIH link. I have added the NIH link to my review. As a reviewer, I think that a thoughtful statement addressing a slow-down for whatever personal reason is helpful. The alternative is to say nothing and have some reviewers think that there was no reason whatsoever for a stretch of limited productivity and THAT is a bad thing for a reviewer to think! Thanks for this.

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