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Updates to the NIH Biosketch

For this week’s blog, I wanted to focus on a central component of any NIH grant — the biosketch. Did you know that the NIH is updating the biosketch format for all applications due on or after May 25th, 2021? Did you know that your application can get rejected if a biosketch in your grant application is formatted incorrectly? Regardless of where you are in your research career, if you are planning to apply for an NIH grant, it’s a great time to either get started on your biosketch or update what you have.

 What is an NIH biosketch?
An NIH biographical sketch (or biosketch) is a five-page resume of your scientific work. A biosketch is required for all NIH grant applications and renewals. Like a resume, the goal of the biosketch is to communicate to the reviewers that you are the ideal person to undertake the research proposed. In its current form, the biosketch consists of four sections: (A) Personal Statement, (B) Positions and Honors, (C) Contributions to Science, and (D) Additional Information: Research Support or Scholastic Performance.

How to get started writing your NIH biosketch?
There are two major types of biosketches: Fellowship (for F-awards) and Non-Fellowship (for most other awards, including K-awards and R-awards). The NIH biosketch needs to be written in a specific format. The format varies a tiny bit between Fellowship and Non-Fellowship types, so first determine which kind of biosketch you want to prepare. There are two options to get started:

  1. Download the appropriate biosketch sample from the NIH Grants and Funding website and modify it as needed.
  2. Use the NIH SciENcv website (linked to your My NCBI account) to create your biosketch. I love this website and highly recommend giving this approach a try. The NIH SciENcv website is a joy to work with and incredibly simple to use. All you need to do is create a personal NIH bibliography, input all your information, and then export your biosketch as either a Word Document or PDF. The NIH SciENcv website automatically formats your citations and correctly inserts your data into the biosketch layout.

What are the major changes to the new biosketch?

For a complete list of changes, read more about the upcoming changes to the biographical sketch and other support format page in the NIH notice here: NOT-OD-21-073. As you will read, the changes are few but significant. I’ve highlighted a few of the major changes here in bolded italics.

  1. Section B has been renamed. Instead of “Positions and Honors” it is now “Positions, Scientific Appointments, and Honors.” In this section you now need to include both domestic and foreign positions and scientific appointments. The NIH is asking that individuals now list any affiliations with foreign entities or governments. If this applies to you, definitely read through this section carefully as titles can include full-time, part-time, or even voluntary positions.
  2. In Section B, the “Positions, Scientific Appointments, and Honors” should now be listed in reverse chronological order. In the past, these materials were listed in chronological order.
  3. For non-Fellowship biosketches, Section D (Additional Information: Research Support) has been removed. In its place, details about ongoing and completed research projects from the past three years should be included in Section A (Personal Statement).

What are the major changes to the “Other Support” section?

While the changes to the NIH biosketch are minimal, in the same notice (NOT-OD-21-073) the NIH will now require more documentation for the “Other Support” section of your grant. These changes include:

  1. Inclusion of all resources, including in-kind contributions (i.e. office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, or researchers supported by an outside source).
  2. Addition of a signature block (for the Principal Investigator and Other Senior/Key Personnel) to certify the accuracy of the information.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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Conquering the K99 (Part 2)

Greetings postdocs! Are you thinking about applying for a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award?  Here are ten tips to help you get started.

  1. Make a submission timeline and apply sooner rather than later

To apply for a K99, an applicant must not have more than four years of postdoctoral research experience. Surprisingly, determining your postdoctoral start date is not trivial. Generally speaking, the clock begins when your degree was conferred (a date documented by your university). Recently, the NIH released two notices indicating that an applicant can apply for a one-year extension on their eligibility window due to childbirth (NOT-OD-20-011) or a two-receipt cycle extension due to disruptions caused by COVID-19 (NOT-OD-20-158). In deciding when to apply, you need to do the submission math to ensure that you provide yourself enough time to resubmit your application if required. There are three times a year (or cycles) in which you can apply. The review process is long, and you must account for a gap cycle between the initial submission and resubmission. For example, if you apply for a K99 in the first cycle, you will not get your score and comments back in time to resubmit in the second cycle. The earliest you will be able to resubmit your application is in the third cycle.

  1. Make a checklist

The K99 is a beast of a proposal. In the end, my K99 application was 87 pages long. But, fear not. The trick is to divide and conquer. First, go to the NIH Grants and Funding website and download the application guide. Then, to stay organized and motivated, make a checklist of all the items you need to prepare. Here is the checklist I made below.

*Items that you will need to gather from others.

  1. Create and adhere to a writing routine

Establish a writing routine to avoid panic writing and sleepless nights. Specifically, create a list of writing rules for yourself. Determine when you will write, where you will write, and the conditions under which you will write. To build accountability, share your writing plan with others and establish artificial deadlines to ensure you stay on track to complete your application on time. For more writing routine ideas, check out the article “Ten simple rules for scientists: Improving your writing productivity” (Peterson et al., 2018) for inspiration.

  1. Sketch out your research plan before you write your specific aims

In writing a K99, one of the most intimidating tasks is to develop a research plan that is that the magic combination of significant, innovative, and feasible. In coming up with a plan, start early, create rough outlines, discuss your unrefined ideas with other scientists (i.e., friends, lab members, and mentors), and then edit as needed until you have a solid plan. Once you have a solid plan, then begin writing your specific aims. In preparing your research plan, avoid nested aims, where one aim’s success depends on another aim’s success. Also, focus on hypothesis-driven science where any outcome (positive or negative) is informative. Avoid writing yourself into experimental corners and dead ends.

  1. Identify the NIH institute that is right for you

The NIH consists of 27 different institutes and centers. To determine which institute to apply to, use the NIH RePORTER Matchmaker tool to find the institute that is the best match for your research. If there are multiple options available, look up the published success rate of an institute’s K99s and consider picking the institute with the higher success rate. Alternatively, choose the institute where your mentor has already successfully applied to and received an NIH grant.

  1. Contact your institute’s program officer

After you write a solid draft of your specific aims, contact your institute’s program officer. What is a program officer? Each NIH institute has program officers responsible for a set of grants (Ks, Fs, or Rs). Throughout the application process, the program officer is your primary NIH contact with whom you discuss materials regarding your grant’s content. The program officer makes significant funding decisions, including if your grant fits within the scope of the institute you are applying to. Thus, it is important to contact them sooner rather than later. Before you write the rest of your proposal, check in with your program officer to ensure that your grant matches the institute. You don’t want your grant to get rejected because of a poor fit.

  1. Gather an excellent scientific mentoring team

One of the joys of the K99 writing process is that you have the opportunity to submit six letters of support. Use this opportunity to initiate collaborations and build an incredible scientific mentoring team that will help you execute experiments and provide mentorship for the long uphill climb that is obtaining a faculty position.

  1. Don’t forget that the K99 is a transition grant, so let your training potential shine through

A common mistake is that people overstate their early postdoctoral accomplishments, elaborating on all that they have already learned and executed. Singing your praises is excellent, don’t take it out! However, don’t forget to include plans that beautifully elaborate on all the learning the K99 will fund and how this additional knowledge will elevate your science. Remember, the K99/R00 is a transition award. The K99 is supposed to be the training period that prepares you for the R00 independent phase.

  1. Plan ahead and carve out the time to prepare a solid application

My mentor told me that time is your most precious resource. The K99 requires a lot of time and planning to execute well. If possible, put your experiments on hold and commit focused time to prepare your application. In addition to communicating with your program officer at the NIH, initiate early communications with the individuals at your university/institute that will help you prepare your budget and potentially other components of your grant.

  1. Talk to others

Regardless of how much you read and how thoroughly you go through the application materials, you will have questions as you prepare your application. For these questions, your most powerful asset is your mentor and your postdoc peers that have already applied, so seek their advice. The process is long and hard, but regardless of the outcome, the exercise of writing the grant will help you think more deeply about your science and facilitate new collaborations.

Good luck and happy writing!

 

References

Peterson TC, Kleppner SR, Botham CM (2018) Ten simple rules for scientists: Improving your writing productivity. PLoS Comput Biol 14(10): e1006379. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006379

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

 

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Conquering the K99 (Part 1)

Greetings postdocs! I wanted to share my experience with postdoc fellowships and grants for this month’s blog. As a postdoctoral researcher, I applied to over 15 grants and fellowships. Getting funding as a postdoc is difficult, and I did not receive most of the grants I applied to. However, my research proposal improved with each subsequent application, and I eventually found success first with an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship (thanks AHA!) and later with a K99 Pathway to Independence Award. Over the past two years, I have been a grant-writing coach and in the next few blogs wanted to share the many things I learned about applying for NIH funding.

What is the K99/R00?
The K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award is an NIH career development award that supports up to five years of research. The five years consist of up to 2 years of mentored postdoctoral training (K99) and 3 years of independent support that funds your brand-new laboratory (R00).

Who is eligible to apply?
Unlike most NIH grants, both US citizens and non-US citizens (with a research or clinical doctoral degree) are encouraged to apply! Typically postdocs have four years (after degree conferral) to apply for a K99. However, postdocs can request extensions for numerous reasons, including medical issues, disability, family care responsibilities, and natural disasters. Recently, the NIH released two new notices that allow postdocs to apply for a one-year extension for childbirth (NOT-OD-20-011) and a two-receipt cycle extension for disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic (NOT-OD-20-158).

Should I apply? 

If you are eligible and have any inkling that you want to pursue a career in academics, then go for it! In my experience, postdocs often build a wall of concerns that delay their application process. Let me address a few of the most common concerns I have heard here:

  1. “I don’t have a chance at getting a K99 because I do not have a first-author postdoc publication yet.” You don’t have any chance of receiving a K99 if you never apply. While it is true that having multiple publications will likely strengthen your application and that some reviewers are overly critical of a lack of publications, I have met postdocs that received a K99 without a first-author publication. Do not disqualify yourself! It is better to apply without a first-author publication and address this issue in your resubmission instead of applying late and not giving yourself sufficient time to reapply.        
  2. “I don’t have enough preliminary data to write a K99.”
    The K99/R00 is unique in that it is a transition grant. The research you propose to do for your K99 must have a substantial training component that will elevate your science-self. Thus, while the science is important, the NIH is looking to fund people, not projects. The preliminary data’s sole purpose is to convince the reviewers that your project is feasible. Instead of worrying about gathering more preliminary data, refocus this energy towards building a strong team (aka. your scientific committee) that will function as the foundation of your training plan.
  3. “NIH success rates are low. I don’t think I’ll get it, and it’s not worth trying.”

Compared to other grants and fellowships, the K99 success rate is relatively high (~24% in 2019, with significant variability depending on the institute). Admittedly, preparing a K99 does take a lot of time. However, there are many benefits, even if you don’t get the award. First, it’s an excellent exercise in thinking deeply about your research. Second, it’s great practice for writing NIH grants. Lastly, in organizing your scientific committee, you have the potential to gain additional mentors and build real collaborations that can help you and your research succeed.

In my next blog, I will cover how to get started writing a K99, so stay tuned!

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

 

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In Pursuit of Converting Resolutions into Regular Routines

I love the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. At the stroke of midnight, you take a moment to reflect on the past year and think about all the things you would like to do better in the next… call my parents more often, express more gratitude to those around me, eat out less, save more, read and write more, go to bed earlier, drink more water… my list of planned improvements goes on and on. With a new year dawning, everything seems possible on January 1st. However, like so many others, I tend to make lots of New Year’s resolutions in January, stick with them for a few weeks, and then gradually abandon them by February as deadlines build and the reality of life sets in. Determined to defy the odds and convert my resolutions into routines this year, I sought strategies online. No surprise, there are many articles out there, but here are three pieces of advice that I found helpful and will use to better design my resolutions this year.  

  • Be honest with yourself and choose a well-defined resolution that is achievable. “False hope syndrome” is a term used by psychologists to describe the cycle of making overambitious goals, experiencing discouragement when these goals are not achieved, and then returning to the same overambitious goals in the future with the false hope that the results will be different (J. Polivy 2001; Janet Polivy and Herman 2002). This cycle of continued failure can overtime lower an individual’s self-esteem. Thus, to avoid this outcome, be reasonable about your goals. In addition, as the year progresses and the goal feels increasingly out of reach, feel free to refine your goals to ensure that slow (but steady) progress is still made.  
  • Set yourself up for success with a plan. Design a plan that includes tasks that will make it easier to adhere to your goals. In addition, in your plan provide opportunities for immediate rewards that will help you keep going. Studies have shown that immediate rewards help individuals stay motivated and ultimately promote the success of long-term goals (Woolley and Fishbach 2017)
  • Establish accountability by working with like minded people. In a recent study of over 1000 resolution makers (Oscarsson et al. 2020), it was found that individuals in social support groups were more likely to stick with their resolutions than individuals tackling their resolutions alone. Thus, when you make a resolution, share it with others and find support groups where you can encourage one another to keep going.      

My resolution for 2021:  Establish a writing routine
As an academic, a recurring personal resolution has been to establish a writing routine to stay on top of my many writing tasks. In adhering to the three pieces of advice above, my achievable resolution will be to write for 1 hour a day (5 days a week) in the morning before I get started with my lab work. To ensure I write daily, I will plan to write as I drink my coffee, which I have every morning. With regards to immediate rewards, my immediate reward will be a functional first draft of a paper. Lastly, to ensure I keep with this routine, I will form a writing group with my fellow postdocs.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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FA… wha? Oh… FAHA! Becoming a Fellow of the American Heart Association (FAHA)

Curious about what a Fellow of the American Heart Association (FAHA) was, I attended the “Journey to becoming FAHA” panel discussion this afternoon to learn more from Dr. Annet Kirabo (Vanderbilt University), Dr. Nasrien Ibrahim (Massachusetts General Hospital), Dr. Swapnil Hiremath (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute), and Dr. Antonio Cabrera (University of Utah). Collectively, this panel covered many topics for the FAHA curious. Below are some of the major questions answered.

What is a FAHA and how do I become one?

Broadly speaking, a Fellow of the American Heart Association (FAHA) is a physician, scientist, nurse, or other healthcare professionals that has made sustained contributions to the field of cardiovascular disease and/or stroke. General FAHA requirements include a history of AHA membership (i.e.being an AHA partner for at least two years), holding a Premium Professional or Premium Professional Plus membership, possessing an affiliation with one of the 16 AHA Scientific Councils, and a letter of recommendation from an existing FAHA member. However, each Scientific Council has an additional set of FAHA criteria that must be met for a successful application, so do your research and make sure you qualify. Each year, there are two FAHA application due dates, meaning there are many opportunities to apply. To learn more, check out the American Heart Association (AHA) website: https://professional.heart.org/en/partners/fellow-of-aha.

What are the benefits of becoming a FAHA?
As stated on the AHA website, the many benefits of becoming a FAHA include free online access to AHA journals, priority registration for AHA Scientific Sessions, and reduced registration fees to AHA meetings. However, all of the panelists highlighted the additional networking benefits of being a FAHA that have helped them in their early careers. Dr. Cabrera specifically noted that the AHA is an excellent source of role models and mentors for both scientists and clinicians. In addition, Dr. Ibrahim noted that being a FAHA has been helpful for her research, with networking ultimately resulting in more publication and speaking opportunities.

How can I showcase my commitment to the AHA? What kinds of AHA service opportunities are there?
To successfully become a FAHA means showing sustained commitment and service to the AHA. Thankfully, the AHA makes this easy. As Dr. Kirabo noted, on the AHA website you can fill out the Science Volunteer Form to receive emails with volunteer opportunities. In addition, Dr. Ibrahim promoted the AHA Early Career and FIT Blogging Program, which initially allowed her to amplify her voice in the cardiovascular health and clinical cardiology fields.

If I am not a researcher, does a lack of published paper prevent you from becoming a FAHA?    

Depending on the Scientific Council you are applying to, a lack of publications can play a role. However, Dr. Cabrera noted that there is a great deal of variation in assessing productivity and scholarship and that the AHA tries to create opportunities for teachers and clinicians (not only research scientists) by assessing achievement using criteria beyond publications.

If I applied but was not approved to be a FAHA the first time, what should I do? How can I improve my chances?
Check the criteria for becoming a FAHA. Check with a FAHA on your Scientific Council and determine where the gap is and how it can be filled. Most importantly, don’t give up — try again!

Do you have any last pieces of advice for FAHA applicants?

Use your two years of required AHA membership to build up your AHA service — most importantly, commit this service to something you are genuinely interested in. Get a solid personalized letter of recommendation from an existing FAHA member for your application. Lastly, don’t hesitate, just do it.

 

Find out more about FAHA: https://professional.heart.org/en/partners/fellow-of-aha

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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Greatness in Grant Writing

As a first time AHA Scientific Session attendee, I was thrilled with the diversity of topics covered in today’s program. As I learned about topics ranging from structural racism in science and healthcare to the difficulty associated with diagnosing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I had the opportunity to see some of the major challenges that prevail in cardiovascular health and was in awe of the advances being made to address them.

As a researcher constantly striving to write better grants and fellowships, I would highly recommend checking out the recording of “My first grant writing breakthrough — tips and tricks for early career researchers” by Lifestyle Council’s Early Career Committee. In this Zoom hosted chat, Dr. Alain Bertoni (Wake Forest School of Medicine), Dr. Norrina Allen (Northwestern University), and Dr. Kara Whitaker (University of Iowa) shared their secrets for grant writing success. Below are a few points that I took away with me.

Give yourself time to write
I was surprised to learn that some of the panelists had spent years working on a research idea and crafting it into a successful R01 grant. While most of us don’t have the luxury of years to write a grant, the panelists made it clear that writing a solid specific aims page (the backbone of any NIH grant) is a long process that requires many drafts and critical feedback from close colleagues. Thus, a theme repeated throughout the panel was time. Give yourself a lot of time to write and start your grant writing process as early as possible.

Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you are

Don’t be shy, reach out to others for help. A constant theme of this session was the sense that our peers are our strongest asset. As the grant will be read by experts in the field, the panelists emphasized that it is likewise important to get feedback from knowledgeable peers to ensure that the science is exciting, the approach is solid, and that the ideas you are presenting are fundable.

Read other grants and try to gain the first-hand experience with the NIH peer review process

In a final tips takeaway, the panelists noted that one of the best ways new faculty members can learn how to write excellent grants is to expose themselves to excellent grants. This can be achieved through reading successful grants written by peers. Alternatively, the NIH has an Early Career Reviewer Program that allows early-career scientists to participate in the NIH peer review process to help them understand how grants are evaluated.

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”