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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.

You may cite up to four 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

  • Customize the personal statement for 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.
  • Do not use the personal statement to walk reviewers through all of your accomplishments. Instead, use the personal statement to connect your background to the proposed project. What specific strengths do you bring to the table that make you ideally suited for your role in the project? What unique skill sets/capabilities will you contribute that would not be readily apparent to reviewers who read the balance of your biosketch?
  • If you are a new investigator or early-career investigator, discuss your future research direction. If someone is sponsoring/mentoring/collaborating with you, mention it.
  • 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, it is generally recommended that you not try to explain what challenges impacted your ability to remain productive. There is one exception to this general rule: If during this inactive period you were acquiring training/skills/research methods that will be directly relevant to the proposed project and can explain the period of sustained inactivity as a valuable addition for the proposal.
Section B: Positions and Honors Expand answer

List in chronological order positions held since the completion of your most recent degree, concluding with your present position.

An approach commonly used to organize this section of the NIH biosketch breaks the section down into three component parts: positions and employment, other experience and professional memberships, and honors.

Positions and Employment

Follow the NIH guidance and list all positions in chronological order, concluding with your present position.

Other Experience and Professional Memberships

This subsection provides a good space for speaking to the contributions you have made – and continue to make – in your field.

Many PIs use this section to highlight their participation on conference committees, journal review boards and professional societies. You can also use this section to talk about any leadership roles you held – or currently hold – at your home institution (e.g., research committees, scientific review board). For physician-scientists, this subsection is a good place to note your medical board certifications.


General guidance for completing this subsection is to focus on honors that are relevant to the grant application. Examples of relevant honors for a new investigator or early-career investigator include travel awards, research awards and trainee positions on institutional training grant (e.g., T32 fellow).

Helpful Advice

  • Be judicious when completing this section. The key is to highlight information that emphasizes your commitment to a career in research.
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.
Section D: Additional Information Expand answer

In the Research Support and/or Scholastic Performance section, list both the ongoing and completed research projects from the past three years that you want to draw attention to – that is, that are relevant to the proposed project.

List chronologically by the project end date. Briefly indicate the overall goals of the project and your responsibilities.

Helpful advice

  • Name the PI as well as your role on the project.
  • Follow the NIH format for presenting information in this section.
  • Do not include start-up funds.
  • Do not include the number of person-months or direct costs.

NSF Biosketches

NSF Biosketch Overview Expand answer

For NSF grant submissions, a biosketch (limited to two pages) is required for each individual identified as Senior Personnel on the project. For all proposals submitted on or after June 1, 2020, the NSF will recognize only two approved biosketch formats: (1) an NSF Fillable PDF and (2) biosketches prepared using SciENcv – the free profile service developed by the NIH. The NSF may eventually phase out the Fillable PDF. Therefore, investigators are strongly encouraged to use the SciENcv platform.

The requirement to use an NSF-approved format for preparation of the biographical sketch will go into effect for new proposals submitted or due on or after Oct. 5, 2020.

On April 9, 2020, the NSF recorded a webinar about the requirement to use an NSF-approved format for both the biographical sketch and current and pending support documents as part of proposals submitted to NSF.

Section A, Professional Preparation Expand answer

List the individual’s undergraduate education first, then graduate education, then postdoctoral training to include: Institution, Location, Major or Area of Study, Degree (if Applicable) and Year (inclusive).

Section B, Appointments Expand answer

List professional/academic appointments in reverse chronological order by start date, the individual’s academic, professional, or institutional appointments, and beginning with the current appointment. Appointments include any titled academic, professional, or institutional position whether or not remuneration is received, and whether full-time, part-time, or voluntary (including adjunct, visiting, or honorary).

Section C, Products Expand answer

Unlike the NIH biosketch format, the NSF biosketch format does not allow a URL link to an investigator’s full body of work. Only a list of ten (10) work products will be used in the review of your proposal. These ten (10) work products are broken down into two sub-sections: (1) Products Most Closely Related to the Proposed Project and (2) Oher Significant Products, Whether or Not Related to the Proposed Project. Each product must include full citation information including (where applicable and practicable) names of all authors, date of publication or release, title, title of enclosing work such as journal or book, volume, issue, pages, website and URL, or other Persistent Identifier.

Acceptable products must be citable and accessible including but not limited to publications, data sets, software, patents and copyrights. Unpublished documents submitted/accepted for publication are acceptable and should include likely date of publication.

Unacceptable products include unpublished documents not yet submitted for publication, invited lectures and additional lists of products.

Section D, Synergistic Activities Expand answer

For this section, list of up to five (5) examples that demonstrate the broader impact of the individual’s professional and scholarly activities that focus on the integration and transfer of knowledge as well as its creation. The examples should relate to the proposal and/or reflect demonstrated skills, assets and inroads to the program activities being suggested by the proposal. If you review for a number of journals or funding agencies, give the total number, but do not list each individual journal or agency. The NSF will count each as one synergistic activity!

Examples: Innovations in teaching and training (e.g., development of curricular materials and pedagogical methods); contributions to the science of learning; development and/or refinement of research tools; computation methodologies, and algorithms for problem-solving; development of databases to support research and education; broadening the participation of groups underrepresented in science, mathematics, engineering and technology; and service to the scientific and engineering community outside of the individual’s immediate organization.

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.

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 Rigor and Reproducibility standards. This resource is available on Box; investigators can request access by sending a request to the Research Concierge Service.

The library would not be possible without the generosity of faculty members who contributed their proposals. Research Development monitors library utilization. Users are advised to help promote academic integrity by treating the proposals in the library as confidential and proprietary.

Request Proposal Library access by contacting the Research Concierge Service

Contribute a standout proposal to the Library

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.

Proposal Support

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