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Proposal Development

COMProposal development is a key part of the Research Concierge Service. In addition to the material below, you can see Research Concierge-compiled FAQs specific to Penn State College of Medicine here.

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NIH Biosketches

NIH Biosketch Overview Expand answer

For NIH grant submissions, a biosketch is required for all key personnel and Other Significant Contributors (OSC).

Visit the NIH website for templates and samples and answers to frequently asked questions.

You can also see Penn State College of Medicine biosketch FAQs.

Helpful Advice

  • Consider your tone. There can be a fine line between sounding confident and arrogant.
  • Be consistent with use of the first or third person. Keep in mind that the grant proposal will likely include biosketches from several individuals. To create a more cohesive experience for reviewers, all proposals should be consistent in their choice of first or third person.
  • If you are the corresponding PI for the grant proposal, review all biosketches that will be incorporated into the grant proposal. Biosketches represent the strength and complementary skill sets of your team. Make sure that each personal statement has been customized for the funding mechanism and speaks to each individual’s unique role in the proposed project.
  • Use bold text to highlight your authorship position on all citations. If you used SciENcv to generate your biosketch, the software does not do this by default. You will need to export your biosketch as a Word document and make this formatting change outside of SciENcv.
Prepare a Biosketch Using SciENcv Expand answer

The standard (non-fellowship) NIH biosketch is limited to five pages. Graphics, figures and tables are not permitted in the biosketch.

The best way to develop an NIH-compliant biosketch is to use SciENcv. Endorsed by the NIH, SciENcv is an online tool that can be used to create biosketch templates for multiple federal agencies. SciENcv populates a biosketch with citations saved in My Bibliography, a reference tool that helps you save your citations from PubMed, to manually upload a citations file or to manually enter citation information.

The NIH recommends using My Bibliography to provide a URL to a full list of published work within your biosketch.

Visit the SciENcv website for a YouTube tutorial and to get started.

See Penn State College of Medicine SciENcv FAQs.

Section A: Personal Statement Expand answer

Briefly describe why you are well-suited for your role(s) in the project described in the grant application. The NIH instructions recommend you discuss relevant factors, such as aspects of your training; your previous experimental work on the specific topic or related topics; your technical expertise; your collaborators or scientific environment; and/or your past performance in this or related fields.

If applicable, include ongoing and completed research projects from the past three (3) years that are relevant to the proposed project.

In Section A, you may cite up to four (4) publications or research products that highlight your experience and qualifications for the project described in the grant application.

Research products can include, but are not limited to, audio or video products; conference proceedings such as meeting abstracts, posters, or other presentations; patents; data and research materials; databases; educational aids or curricula; instruments or equipment; models; protocols; and software or netware.

Helpful Advice

  • Figures, tables or graphics are not allowed in the NIH biosketch.
  • Customize the personal statement for your role on each grant proposal.
  • Early on in the personal statement, speak directly to the name of the grant application, the funding mechanism and the purpose of the funding mechanism within the context of the proposal.
  • Be concise. The personal statement should be no longer than half a page.
  • If you are a new investigator or early-career investigator, discuss your future research direction.
  • NIH instructions for the biosketch provide the opportunity to utilize the personal statement to explain factors that affected your past productivity, such as family care responsibilities, illness, disability or military service. In today’s highly competitive funding environment, reviewers may be less than sympathetic to an extended absence of research productivity. Because there are reviewers who will view any lapse of research productivity as a weakness, reflect upon how you can communicate insights gained/skills acquired/etc. as a value-added to the proposed project.
Section B: Positions, Scientific Appointments, and Honors Expand answer

List in reverse chronological order all positions and scientific appointments both domestic and foreign, including affiliations with foreign entities or governments. This includes titled academic, professional or institutional appointments whether or not remuneration is received, and whether full-time, part-time or voluntary (including adjunct, visiting or honorary). High school students and undergraduates may include any previous positions. For individuals who are not currently located at the applicant organization, include the expected position at the applicant organization and the expected start date.

List any relevant academic and professional achievements and honors. In particular:

  • Students, postdoctorates and junior faculty should include scholarships, traineeships, fellowships and development awards, as applicable.
  • Clinicians should include information on any clinical licensures and specialty board certifications that they have achieved.
Section C: Contributions to Science Expand answer

In this section, describe up to five of your most significant contributions to science. Each contribution can reference up to four peer-reviewed publications or other non-publication research products, for a maximum of 20 citations.

Helpful Advice

  • At the end of this section, it is recommended you include a URL to your full body of work. The NIH requires the URL be a .gov government website, such as My Bibliography.
  • You can utilize the narrative portion of this section to mention manuscripts that have not yet been accepted for publication, but you many only cite published papers.
  • Do not feel compelled to list more contributions than make sense for you, given your career stage and experience. Three solidly written contributions will have more impact than four or five weaker ones.
  • If you contributed to more publications than you can cite, indicate as such in the narrative.
  • For each contribution, emphasize what the team did, what your specific role was and what impact your contribution had or will have on the field.
  • Consider how each contribution may have laid the foundation for the current proposal.

Grant-Writing Resources

Boilerplate Language Expand answer

Grant proposals often require a description of facilities and resources or other supplementary documentation that describes the environment where the research will be performed.

The Research Concierge Service has compiled boilerplate language for this purpose. Investigators are advised to tailor boilerplate language to reflect the specific aims of their research project. In addition, the RCS strongly recommends that investigators directly contact the department/institute/center in question when seeking a more in-depth resource description, particularly if a specific resource is integral to the research proposal. If you would like to submit boilerplate language for the website or provide updated language for an existing resource, please email

See available boilerplate language

COM Proposal Library Expand answer

Research Development manages a proposal library that serves as a resource for College of Medicine researchers seeking guidance on how to structure a well-crafted proposal. The library contains a variety of successful grant proposals, including fellowship applications, career development applications and investigator-initiated (e.g., R01-equivalent) grant applications. In many instances, the library also includes associated summary statements which provide a summary of the peer review and scores assigned by individual reviewers.

The library also includes a variety of other grant-writing resources, such as how-to guides for preparing an NIH biosketch, templates for writing specific aims pages, and sample language for addressing the NIH’s Rigor and Reproducibility standards. The library is maintained on a dedicated SharePoint site managed by Research Development. User access is view-only.

Investigators can request access by sending a request to the Research Concierge at

NIH Sample Grant Applications Expand answer

The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) makes available a wide variety of top-scoring applications and summary statements on its website. You are encouraged to visit the NIAID website to access the repository of proposal samples and related materials.

Another source of sample grants at the NIH is the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Control & Population Sciences (DCCPS). The DCCPS shares excerpts of funded dissemination and implementation (D&I) grants on its website. To maintain confidentiality, the NCI online repository focuses on Project Abstract, Project Narrative, Specific Aims, and Research Strategy.

Do's and Don'ts for Working with Program Officers Expand answer

Program officers manage an agency’s grant portfolio and therefore have a vested interest in helping researchers submit competitive research proposals. To help investigators nurture more productive, lasting Program Officer relationships, we compiled a list of Do’s and Don’ts.

Do's and Don'ts Regarding Hyperlinks in Grant Applications Expand answer

NIH has very specific guidance regarding the use of hyperlinks in grant applications, which are generally very limited.

At a high level:

  • Do include hyperlinks when explicitly requested in application guide, funding opportunity, or NIH Guide notice instructions.
  • Do use hyperlinks in relevant citations and publications included in biosketches and publication list attachments.
  • Don’t use hyperlinks anywhere else in the application.

See NIH details on, and reasoning behind, this guidance

Concept Papers

What is a Concept Paper? Expand answer

Concept papers are the written equivalent of an “elevator speech.” These one- to two-page documents provide a concise overview of your proposed project.

Some funders (including foundations) approve concept papers before inviting full applications. Concept papers are also a good best practice for anyone interested in honing their message with potential funding sponsors.

When writing a concept paper, consider the “Heilmeier Catechism.” George Heilmeier was Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the 1970s. Heilmeier developed a set of questions, referred to as the Heilmeier Catechism, that every proposal for a new research program had to answer:

  • What are you trying to do?
  • How is it done today? What are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the metrics for success?

Learn more about the Heilmeier Catechism

Why Create a Concept Paper? Expand answer

You identified a funding opportunity that seems to be a good fit for your proposed project. For the next several weeks (if not months) you will be committing a substantial amount of your time to the proposal-writing process. Are you confident you have fully vetted this opportunity and know for certain that your proposal is responsive to the funding announcement? Before committing significant time to the proposal, consider drafting a one- to two-page concept paper to float your idea with the relevant program officer.

  • Concept papers provide an opportunity for investigators to receive informal feedback from funding sponsors before developing a full grant proposal.
  • A concept paper also demonstrates to potential funding sponsors that the investigator has thought about the significance of the proposed project and its alignment with the sponsor’s research mission.
  • Many private foundations require concept papers as a means of assessing a proposed project’s alignment with their mission before inviting full proposals.
  • For state and federal funding opportunities, a concept paper facilitates interaction with program officials whose resulting advice can be instrumental to determining the funding mechanism and program area that best fit your project.
Concept Paper Template Expand answer

Instructions: No more than two pages in length, a concept paper frames a research idea and explains the importance of a particular research project to potential funding sponsors and/or collaborators. A concept paper may include some or all of the following sections, depending upon how developed the research idea and whether or not the concept paper is being developed in response to a specific funding opportunity.

Header: The header of your concept paper should be the working title for your project. Including your institution’s logo builds brand identity. Approved logos are available for download from the Infonet (internal access only; login required).

Introduction: In two to three sentences, provide a brief overview of the project, an explanation of how it aligns with the funding agency’s mission, and why the research question needs to be addressed.

Purpose: If applicable, describe the funding mechanism you believe is a strong match for the project.

Project Description: Describe the “who, what, and when” – what tasks will be undertaken, who will lead those tasks, and when the work will be accomplished. If a simple, yet effective graphic can be included to illustrate a key point, include it!

The project description can be broken down into three sections:

  • Problem and Significance
    • Explain why you think, based on a review of the literature, that the topic needs study and why it is important to the field.
  • Approach/Methodology
    • Specify what hypotheses you will test and what model will guide your hypotheses. Explain what is new in your approach, why it is important to be done, and how it is unique. Include mention of any resources, collaborators, target populations, preliminary data, etc. that area available to the project.
  • Impacts and Outcomes
    • Describe the project’s expected outcomes, which may include impacts on the scientific field, societal benefits, health impacts, economic impacts, etc.

Project Team: Identify key collaborators and their sponsoring institution. Identify stakeholders for which significant cooperation will be needed to implement the proposed project. If applicable, indicate which stakeholders are willing to provide a written commitment of support for the project.

Budget/Timeline: If appropriate for the chosen audience, indicate what you anticipate the project will cost and how long it will take to complete.

Contact Info: Provide contact information for the lead investigator.

Hanover Research

Overview Expand answer

Penn State College of Medicine has contracted with Hanover Research, a grant development firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., to provide proposal support services.

The primary goal of this partnership is to increase the quality and success rate of extramural research proposals. Faculty members with a primary appointment at the College of Medicine are eligible for Hanover’s services, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program also accepts requests to support grant proposals (NIH and non-NIH) that are being developed by postdoctoral scholars who are actively being mentored by a College of Medicine faculty member.

Learn more about the Hanover Research partnership