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Proposal Development

Research Development maintains this website to provide virtual grant-seeking support to investigators. In addition to the material below, we have compiled answers to FAQs specific to Penn State College of Medicine.

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Biosketch Tips

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.
  • Utilize first person (e.g., I, me, mine, we) for the personal statement. Why first person? First person creates a sense of familiarity between author and reader. Because the personal statement is an opportunity for you to sell yourself to reviewers, take this opportunity to connect reviewers to your story by using first person. In contrast, third person (e.g., he, she, they) places distance between the author and the reader, which feels less personal.
  • 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 best way to develop an NIH-compliant biosketch is to use SciENcv. Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae (SciENcv) is a free application developed by the NIH that allows researchers to create and maintain biosketches that meet current agency requirements for the NIH, AHRQ and the NSF. SciENcv allows users to create an unlimited number of biosketch templates that can be auto-populated with researcher information from other linked systems – namely, ORCiD, eRA Commons and NCBI My Bibliography.

To use SciENcv, users are recommended to first log into My NCBI using their eRA Commons login. This action links the user’s eRA commons profile with My NCBI. Second, it is suggested that users create a customized “My Bibliography,” saving citations from PubMed and entering citations manually, as needed. Once a bibliography is created, users can generate a public URL to a full list of published work that meets NIH standards for inclusion in the biosketch.

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

View a SciENcv Tutorial.

View a My NCBI Tutorial.

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.

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

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.

Research Development 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, Research Development 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.

See available boilerplate language

College of Medicine Proposal Library (Internal) Expand answer

Research Development manages a proposal library to support College of Medicine researchers seeking guidance on how to structure a well-crafted proposal. Hosted on a dedicated SharePoint site, the library contains winning grant proposals for numerous mechanisms, including fellowships, career development awards, and investigator-initiated (e.g., R01-equivalent) mechanisms. Summary statements are often included, providing insight on the peer review and resubmission process.

To request access, please send an email with a brief explanation to: Please keep in mind that access is view-only to protect the confidential nature of PI materials.

Sample Applications (External) Expand answer


The 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.


The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Division of Cancer Control & Population Sciences (DCCPS) shares excerpts of funded dissemination and implementation (D&I) grants on its website. Visit the NCI website to learn more.

Open Grants

Open Grants is an open repository of funding proposals that was made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to the University of Florida. Development of the site was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Visit Open Grants to learn more.

Grants Academy Expand answer

Grants Academy is a structured, non-credit workshop that assists participants with preparation and submission of an independent investigator-initiated grant application. Participants commit to submitting a grant application, with support of their chair, in the summer/fall of each year. Participants meet monthly from October through April and are expected to commit approximately 10 percent of their time. Applications include, but are not limited to, submissions to the NIH (such as R01, R21, K01, K08, K23), the American Cancer Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Explore Grants Academy

Institutional Mock Review of Grants (MoRe) Program Expand answer

The MoRe Program at Penn State College of Medicine offers support for research proposals in advance of submission to external funding sponsors. The program uses a live review session similar to that of an NIH study section during which the reviewers interact with the principal investigator to help strengthen the proposal. In contrast to an NIH study section, reviewers will critique a limited set of documents rather than the full proposal. The goal of the MoRe Program is to improve the quality and success rate of externally submitted grants. MoRe is strictly advisory, and the ultimate decision on how to proceed with a given proposal remains with the faculty investigator in consultation with any mentors and/or collaborators.

The MoRe Program accepts research proposals prepared for submission to a wide variety of external funding sponsors, including state, federal, and philanthropic organizations (e.g., NIH, DOD, HRSA, PCORI, ACS, AHA).

The MoRe Program is offered annually in three cycles that precede each NIH cycle for research grants. Investigators preparing non-NIH proposals are also welcome to use the program.

Explore MoRe Program