NINDS's Building Up the Nerve

S2E3: Building a Biography

February 05, 2021 NINDS Season 2 Episode 3
NINDS's Building Up the Nerve
S2E3: Building a Biography
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Building Up the Nerve is a podcast for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the components of a grant application with successful awardees. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we’re here to help—it’s our job!

In this episode, our grantee guests explain how they crafted their NIH biosketches. We discuss the crucial sections of the biosketch, including how to describe why you are well-suited for your role in the project in the Personal Statement and how to determine what is significant enough to include in the Contributions to Science.

Featuring Tavita Garrett, Graduate Student at Oregon Health & Science University, Joy Franco, Graduate Student at Stanford University, Clark Rosensweig, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University, and Victoria Abraira, PhD, Assistant Professor at Rutgers University.

Resources
Chocolate chip cookie recipe: https://www.marthastewart.com/354939/cakey-chocolate-chip-cookies
Tip sheets are titled "Putting Together Your Strongest [Grant] Application," and are available in the "Related Resources" section on the given grant program page, e.g., for the K01: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Funding/Training-Career-Development/Award/K01-NINDS-Faculty-Development-Award-Promote-Diversity

Transcript available at http://ninds.buzzsprout.com/

Lauren Ullrich:

Welcome to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke's Building Up the Nerve, a podcast for neuroscience trainees that takes you through the components of a grant application with successful awardees. We know that applying for NIH funding can be daunting, but we are here to help. It's our job. Hi, I'm Lauren Ullrich, a program director at NINDS .

Marguerite Matthews:

and I'm Marguerite Matthews , a scientific program manager at NINDS, and we're your hosts today.

Lauren Ullrich:

This episode is about the biographical sketch. We will focus especially on the personal statement and contributions to science section of the biosketch.

Marguerite Matthews:

And of course our disclaimer still applies everything we talk about may only be relevant for NINDS. So if you're applying to a different NIH Institute or center, it's always best to check with them about their policies.

Lauren Ullrich:

Our guests today are Tavita Garrett, Joy Franco, Dr. Clark Rosensweig and Dr. Victoria Abraira.

Tavita Garrett:

Um, my name is Tavita Garrett , and I am a PhD candidate , uh , in the neuroscience graduate program at Oregon health and science university. And so what I study , uh , is a type of retinal ganglion cell called an intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell. And so like rods and cones, they express an ops and protein specifically melanopsin uh, so they kind of have this built in sensitivity to light, and we know that these cells are involved in mediating, non-image-forming visual functions. So, circadian rhythms, pupil reflexes, thermoregulation, and since , uh, you know, these intrinsically photosensitive, retinal ganglion cells mediate many different functions, and their axons project to many different brain regions, you might think that there are specialized subtypes responsible for the functions that I described. So I use a combination of mouse, brain slice, electrophysiology, transgenic mice, confocal imaging , uh , and some other techniques to dissect out and define these subtypes. As far as NH awards that I have received, I have received an R01 diversity supplement and I have applied for an F31 NRSA, which was recommended for funding, but I declined it. Hobbies and passions outside of work--I definitely l ike to go skiing, u h, play soccer, listening to podcasts, coincidentally. And right now I'm kind of just trying to fill my house with plants that I've grown from foods that I eat. So I'm trying to grow a bunch of like mango and avocado plants right now. I t's a l ot o f f un.

Marguerite Matthews:

Is this your first time , uh , being a green thumb or is this something you did before the pandemic?

Tavita Garrett:

This Is absolutely my first. I would not have considered myself someone who could keep a bunch of plants alive.

Joy Franco:

Hi, my name is Joy Franco. I'm a PhD student in the mechanical engineering department at Stanford. I study the sense of touch in worms. Uh, I look at mechanosensory neurons and I look at how mechanosignaling is propagated to the neuron itself, and then how the neuron functions as a mechanosensor in the neural circuit. And then what other roles mechanosignaling may be playing in, maintaining the neuron and maintaining the health of the neuron. So I am a D-SPAN scholar. I received the D-SPAN fellowship , uh, in my, I believe sixth year of my graduate studies and I am on the F99 portion still and will be applying for the K00 in the coming year outside of science. I am a competitive cyclist and I also am a dog mama . So, when I'm not in lab or analyzing data, I am definitely either on my bicycle or playing with my dog.

Clark Rosensweig:

Uh, hi, I'm Dr. Clark Rosensweig. I am a post-doc obviously at Northwestern university , um , in the neurobiology department. So in the past, I've applied for both an F31 and an F32 and I got both of those awards , um, which has been hugely beneficial to my career. Uh , so thank you NINDS. And , uh, I'm a sleep researcher. So, I think sleep is really one of the enduring mysteries in biology. Uh, we don't know why we sleep. What makes us tired? What makes sleep such a crucial conserved behavior despite its obvious drawbacks. And , uh , we think that sleep is regulated by both the circadian clock, which controls timing and the sleep homeostat, which is basically just a way of saying that the longer you're awake, the greater your drive to go to sleep will be. Um, and I think understanding the molecular underpinnings of this latter process will give us an opening to investigate all of the other questions that we have about sleep. So to get at this question , uh, I use Drosophila as a model organism, I have various genetic drivers that I can use to manipulate their sleep and wake behavior and their sleep drive. Uh , and I'm coupling that with whole brain and targeted FACSseq of various neurons , uh, to do RNA sequencing and try and identify the molecules that are really tracking with changes in sleep drive. And , uh, just in terms of , uh, hobbies and passions I have outside of work , um, actually spent several years after college doing comedy writing and stand up comedy. And I still like to occasionally do a little bit of that. And then I'm also a really big music lover. So I spend a lot of time either playing music or listening to music.

Victoria Abraira:

Hi, my name is Victoria Abraira, and I am an Assistant Professor at Rutgers university, and I just started my lab a little bit over two years ago. We study actually the sense of touch. So Joy, we have a lot in common. So we study the sense of touch from molecules all the way to circuits , um, in a dish all the way to the mouse. And we are very interested in understanding how touch helps us to move, feel pain and , uh , even socialize with one another. I've been fortunate enough to be supported , uh , throughout my career by the NIH. So I had an F31 and F32 , um, diversity, K , and , uh , and now a recently-funded R01. So I went through the whole , um, through the whole gamut. My passions are also cycling. I'm a huge Peloton fan. And so, yeah, I cycle a lot and my other passion is baking with my three and a half year old. And we're slowly making our way through Martha Stewart's book on cookies,

Lauren Ullrich:

Any stand out cookies so far?

Victoria Abraira:

So I always, every weekend, I always let my daughter pick a cookie and there's like probably over 300 recipes in some, some weeks is like, these are really tough. And so I try my best. I've burned a lot of batches, but the standout is definitely her cake, like chocolate chip cookie that my daughter just adores; it's like, it's like a cake in a cookie, ii's delicious.

Lauren Ullrich:

I'll definitely put it in the show notes so that our listeners can bake along with you.

Marguerite Matthews:

Can each of you tell us how you approached your personal statement for the particular award that you are applying for?

Victoria Abraira:

I can start. So I'll describe sort of my, how I approached the personal statement from the K award perspective. So the K award is a mentoring award for other young faculty or, or post-docs transitioning to independence. So the personal statement, and I guess in my view, I really wanted to paint a picture of the very clear plan for this transition. I wanted my personal statement to reflect the growth, right? So the arc of my graduate and postdoctoral training and how in my new environment, I was going to leverage this training with a current environment to yield a product that was basically greater than the sum of its parts. Right. I really thought about it from the perspective of, of the people reading it and saying, how should we fund this person? Does this person have a good training that within her current environment, she will be successful. And again, like I said, greater than the sum of its parts ,

Clark Rosensweig:

Yeah , Victoria, actually, it's interesting to me that you had that, that sort of feeling that you wanted to approach different personal statements from different directions, because I had that experience as well. So when I felt like I was writing for my F31, there was a very specific, you know, set of things that I wanted to tackle there. But then when I started to write for the F32, it felt like the personal statement needed to be something different. That was really more about the arc of my career and loss about, you know , some of the issues that I had encountered up until the F31. Um, so I think having the foresight to, to think about, you know, what does this particular application need , um, is really critical.

Victoria Abraira:

Yeah. What are they, you know, what is the announcement? What are the key criteria? And then how do I paint that picture? Because it is a personal statement, right? So it's about you as a person, and these are things that can not be addressed in any other application. And so I think that you have to paint that picture really well for the reviewers.

Tavita Garrett:

Yeah. Clark , I really like what you just said about the F 31 personal statement , uh, kind of explaining, you know, how you got to graduate school and what your plans were specifically for, you know, your last years in grad school. And that is pretty much high, approached it side , just kind of thought, you know, this is an opportunity to explain all of the choices that got me to this point. Um, since I did kind of have a bit of a windy path, I did two post-bac opportunities. Um, you know, that might be strange to someone so I can explain, you know, this is why I did this. Uh , this is what I learned from these two experiences. Um, so what I kind of did is to start off by stating my long-term goals, my research interests, how that affected, you know , my choice of graduate school. Uh, and then, you know, all of those kinds of past decisions that led me up to this point, the lab that I was in and really what I wanted to do to kind of like put the bow, I guess, on , uh , the rest of my PhD research.

Joy Franco:

So, you know, similar to what others have said, I really liked the way that it was phrased in terms of looking specifically at the award and what was the call for. And , um, for me, it was demonstrating that I was a really good fit for this award. So my goal with my personal statement was to really make that information easily available to whoever was reviewing my biosketch. I also had a very non-traditional winding path to my current place in my PhD. So I felt like there was a ton of information that I wanted to put into the personal statement to say, Hey, like, yes, please, please pick me. You have no idea how amazing this would be for me, but I also needed to organize that information in a way that would be easily digested by whoever was reviewing it. Um, so we actually chose , um, so I say we, because my mentors helped me with my personal statement of course. And so I actually chose to break it up into sections because I wanted to touch on each really critical part that I felt like was important to seeing the whole picture of who I am. So including scientific career goals , um, you know, background and goals, but then also talking about , um, you know, adversity that I had faced along the PhD path. Um, and then also sort of explaining, you know, if someone were to look at when I graduated high school and then look at when I started my PhD program, there are a lot of questions that come up. Um, and I faced those questions before. So I knew that I needed to address that and explain why was it that it took me so long , um, after high school to get to my PhD program.

Lauren Ullrich:

Great. So this is a great segue. We're going to talk about each of those sort of sections in sequence. So to start , um, how did you frame your scientific interests and goals in relation to the specific award that you were applying to?

Victoria Abraira:

So, you know, you have to really look at the, the purpose of the funding announcement, right? So for my K01, it's a mentored award. And so that means is for young faculty , uh , to establish their career . So there has to be, you have to really articulate your training, but then you also have to articulate how the current mentors in your environment will help you to establish yourself as an independent investigator. So I'll give you the example of the work that I did up until the point that I got hired. So I worked a lot on, you know, touch and the circuits of the spinal cord, which is the brain part of the brain that processes touch information. And throughout my training, really, I had developed tools and the mouse and techniques to study sort of circuit level questions. And I wanted to apply them to a new question for which I didn't have a lot of experience, which is recovery from spinal cord injury. And so I looked around within my environment, which was perfect for that. And I really drew upon the expertise of the people around me and really articulated the questions that were unanswered in the field , um, and for which I could bring in a new perspective into answering those questions. And so I really want it to , um, to frame my scientific interest and goals in relations to that training and answering those exciting questions in the field for which I was going into. And I think a lot of what people don't realize about sometimes some of these K award mechanisms or these training mechanisms is that the science is one part, but the training is so essential, right? So you have to have like a really good plan and you have to have how each mentor is going to contribute to that plan and to how you're going to leverage those scientific interests to answer this cool question in , in the field. And in preparation for this, I did look back at my K application and I almost cringed, you know, c ause I wrote this almost like, you know, maybe a couple o f years ago. And I was like, Oh my God, the science is so bad, you know, because, well, of course, like it's a new field. And so I didn't know how to conceptualize things, but I h ave put together really good research, like a plan, right. With mentors and how t hey're going to help me. And so it was o bvious that like one of the r eviewers comments w ere like, obviously like this is a new field for her. C ause she doesn't know how to write about it, but she knows like how to implement the current plan. Right. So, u m, you have to keep that in mind that the science, like the research portion of it, i t's not going to be great. Right. Cause you're in training and that's sort of a given. And so that's why like this b io s ketch is really important, right. Because i t's an important part of who you are. And so you have to really paint a really great picture for, for the reviewers in that way.

Tavita Garrett:

Yeah. I definitely want to emphasize the training aspect that Victoria mentioned. Like I think that's even more important for an F31 award than so yeah. Framing my scientific interests. I just kind of tried to , uh, express the, you know , research techniques that I enjoyed and what I thought my strengths were. And then also talk about, you know, maybe even the limitations of those techniques and then how I could use the environment around me to get training in other techniques that would compliment what I was already strong in. And so when you do that, you kind of have to analyze like, okay, what am I good at? What new technique could I learn could kind of fill in this gap that is, you know , the technique that I currently use can answer. And I think for a reader that shows a lot of like foresight and that you've kind of thought through things. And I think that's something that , uh , the reviewers are like,

Clark Rosensweig:

Okay , yeah. If I can jump to , I feel like to be to in Victoria are like absolutely on point here. It's the same stuff that I was thinking about. Just sort of feeling like , uh , I wanted to, first of all, craft an overall like overarching narrative of who I was as a person throughout the application, but I think a great way of thinking about that is where are you on your scientific journey so far? And do you have a vision for where you're heading in the future? And I think the biosketch can be a great place to kind of bridge those things because you're really talking about what your progression has been, but now you're thinking about what training do I need right now to get me to where I want to be. And am I starting to see, you know, a niche that I can fill , um, that having these two diverse sets of training might actually bring together and make me, you know, the one person in the world or one of the only people in the world who has that set of experiences that they can tackle, you know, a new set of questions or tackle even an old set of questions from a new lens.

Joy Franco:

Yeah. I think that's a really great way of framing it, especially because if you're applying for a training awards, I think being able to demonstrate why this award would help you and, and how it will help you progress in your career, I think is one of the main goals or at least, you know, that was sort of my takeaway from it. The only thing I'll add to that is that because I was applying for an award from N D S right. And even though I do neuroscience, I'm a PhD student in the mechanical engineering program. And so when I presented this goal, this long range vision for where I see myself as an independent researcher , um, I felt like I needed to explain a little bit more about my scientific background to demonstrate that this wasn't just a completely crazy off shoot, that this was actually something that had been a part of my training. You know, even since I was an undergrad, I had been , um, in a neurophysiology lab. And so , uh , I devoted a little bit of , uh , that part of my personal statement to just talking about work that I did as an undergrad and what motivated me to get into research in the first place. Um, and then how , um, how this particular award would help to fill a gap in my training. Um , and take me to that next level in my career.

Lauren Ullrich:

Yeah, Joy, I actually have a follow up question about that. So , um, I know sometimes when scientists are coming from fields outside of neuroscience, like engineering, or even psychology or education, for example, there are just different conventions in the field. Like let's say the use of conference proceedings or book publishing. And so did you have to think about that or explain what the field conventions were and how'd you approach that?

Joy Franco:

Yeah, it's, it's definitely challenging. Um, because when someone from engineering looks at my CV and they see a shortage of publications , um, it , it definitely is something I have to explain on the engineering side because for them conference papers count as publications. Right. Um, so it's pretty common for an engineering PhD student to defend with like at least a dozen papers. Uh, yeah, the numbers are very startling when you see them. And so it can be very easy to sort of feel inadequate in that perspective. Um, so in, in this particular case, I actually, I did have to talk about why I don't have publications, but it's , um, it was actually from a different place. It , um, so it was from, you know, having experienced this trauma as a graduate and having this setback in my graduate studies, but it wasn't necessarily because of a field switch or anything like that. So I think that there was a little bit of a reverse situation here where, because I'm explaining myself to , um , neuroscientists, their expectation is not that I'm going to have 12 papers on my CV. Um, but the, the opposite situation, I might've had to explain myself a little bit.

Victoria Abraira:

Yeah, it's true. In neuroscience, 12 papers are just not possible. I'm hoping to have 12 papers by the end of my career.

Marguerite Matthews:

Well, do any of the rest of you , um , have any say gaps or lack in productivity that you felt you needed to explain in your application? Um , and specifically in the biosketch maybe there was a gap between college and grad school or switching labs, anything like that?

Joy Franco:

Yeah, I mean, I'll, I'll follow up on that. I know I touched on it a little bit, but I actually had to explain two gaps, you know, so the first was just that it took me so long to finish my bachelor's degree. I graduated high school in 2002 and I didn't finish my bachelor's until 2014. So , um, the time between graduating high school and when I really went back to community college with a very focused effort, right? Like I went back to community college in 2010, knowing that I wanted to go get a PhD. So it was, I was really in it and prepared for this long journey. Um, so I did need to explain a little bit about what I was doing before that point in my life. What was I doing in the time in between , um, especially so that it didn't seem so random that like, Oh yeah, I just woke up one day and all of a sudden wanted to get a PhD. Um , and then the other gap that I had to explain, which is a little bit harder , um, is that I'm seriously injured when I was hit by a car in the start of my second year of grad school, it's a really challenging experience. And it took a couple of years to get back on track with my PhD studies and to really get back to like high productivity. Um, and then it's also something that I continue to struggle with , uh, every day in my life as a, as a graduate student. So I definitely had to present that information because when you see that I have no publications for my graduate studies yet, it's definitely very alarming. And, and it was something that people commented on , um, in the feedback that they gave me.

Marguerite Matthews:

Wow. Thank you for sharing that joy. I know that's gotta be really tough, but I I'm sure that will resonate with other folks who have also , um , had some challenging life experiences. And it's really great that you continue to press on, and clearly you must have a great support system of people who are fighting for you , um , to continue to be able to pursue your research interests. Um, and obviously you, you were awarded this F99, so it doesn't have to be a barrier to your advancement. So thank you.

Joy Franco:

You're going to make me cry. Thank you.

Marguerite Matthews:

I'm sorry!

Joy Franco:

I'm already tearing up here. No, I really appreciate it. I am very lucky to have such amazing mentors in my life and , and, and it's definitely, you know, the support that they give me that has helped me keep pushing on every day.

Victoria Abraira:

It's really wonderful that the NIH now--when I was a graduate student, they didn't have the F99 R00, but what a great opportunity to , um, to foster a diverse dynamics, that of scientists, that's a great, a great mechanism. It really is. And these are not easy to get. So you, you must be really good.

Joy Franco:

It's , you know , it's interesting just to like, add on that really quick, because , um , we were reading the reviews, you know, because you don't know that you get the award , um , before you get the reviews. And so I was like, really panicked about not getting it. And my advisor was like, well, you know, that you can read the reviews, like, have you read the reviews yet? I was like, no, I didn't know that it was so, so she and I sat in her office and she opened up the document and actually read them out loud to me. And I started tearing up because , um, they were so positive and it was interesting hearing people in the room talking about how well she doesn't have any publications. And then there's actual notes about other people who were in the same room and said, yeah, but that's the point of this award? The point of this is the award is to give her this opportunity. So I thought that that was one of the best takeaways from that entire experience.

Lauren Ullrich:

Yeah. I mean, I think the success of the DSPAN program really comes down to the fellows that we've awarded and have really , um, gone out of their way to make it a really phenomenal and supportive communities. So, I mean , thank you Joy for being one of our scholars and being so invested in the success of the program.

Marguerite Matthews:

Absolutely. And I also think it speaks to this idea of excellence, that excellence has to be a certain way , um, and excellence comes in many different forms. And just because you didn't go straight from undergrad to grad to , you know, being the super bad-ass and publishing 12 papers in your graduate career , um , that that is not necessarily what excellence is. Um, if you get there, its probably a lot of luck. Um , honestly it's not a mark on how productive you are or can be , um, in other measures. And I think perseverance is really key and the type of work that we do failure is so common to scientific research. That is something I think a lot of times we take for granted. So I'm glad to hear that even through all of these challenges that we still are seeing some really brilliant folks and honestly be able to use you as the poster children for these awards, because we brag about you all all the time. And that's not a small thing for all the things that you've overcome..

Clark Rosensweig:

I think just to add to that Marguerite , um, joy touched on this, Tavita touched on this. I would also say this: my path to grad school was very nonlinear . So if there are people out there listening that, you know, that are looking at these awards and thinking this isn't for me, I, you know, I, I didn't go straight through, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to be when I was born. That's not what these awards are about. These awards are there to award you for whoever you are and whatever your path was to the place where you're at now.

Marguerite Matthews:

Well said.

Lauren Ullrich:

Clark, do you want to , um, expand a little bit on how you address your , uh , windy path in your personal statement?

Clark Rosensweig:

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so, you know, I don't think I faced anywhere near the challenges that Joy did, but , um, you know, my biggest challenge was I felt pretty unfocused in my undergraduate career , uh , and that was certainly reflected in my grades and in my overall desire to continue in science by the time I got to the end of my undergraduate. So really when I graduated from college, I thought I was never going to do science again. I moved out to LA to, to write comedy and, and take on creative pursuits. Um, and it was really only because I , I needed money to live , uh, that I , uh, sort of found my way into a lab as a technician , um, at UCLA. Um, and I had great mentorship and a really great experience in that lab. And that's what really brought me back to science. So, you know, it took me a long time to get to a point where I felt like, okay, I want to , you know , I want to go back and continue my education in a real way. And , uh, and pursue a PhD program for a long time. Science felt like the job that I did to make the stuff that I loved work and that eventually it became, you know, the thing that I loved. So I think, you know, addressing that kind of stuff in your biosketch is really important. It felt more important to me in the F31 than it did in the F32. I felt like I was crafting a different narrative for the F32, but at least in the F31, it felt really important to me to say, yes, I know that the, that my grades were not so great. Um, yes, I know that it took me a really long time to get to grad school, but here's why that was good. Now I'm focused. Now I know what I want to do now. I know the direction that I'm headed and I think people, people can see that and people also enjoy a redemption story a little bit. So I think that that can be a very powerful thing in your biosketch.

Marguerite Matthews:

Kind of along those lines, I'm curious how you all decided to , um, talk about your significant contributions. That could be kind of scary, right? If you haven't published a paper yet, if you are still working on , um , sort of the bread and butter of your research project , um, how did you decide, say, what to include or if , you know, were you intimidated that you didn't have a big paper to put there? You know , how did you approach that section?

Tavita Garrett:

I got some really good advice when I was starting to write my biosketch and submitting my F31. And someone kind of told me what the contributions, the science section is supposed to look like when you're a PI. And it's really supposed to be like sections of your favorite or most important contributions that have changed the field, or, you know, prompted new fields or developed new techniques. And so I immediately realized, okay, that is not something that I can do as a graduate student, you know, it's just, it's just not possible. So then it made it very easy just to say, okay, I'm going to go through each of my research experiences and describe what I did, the question I was trying to answer and what I got out of that experience , um, how it could contribute to a paper in the future . And so just like on a very kind of , uh , I don't want to say like smaller level, but I guess it's a good way to put it. Like, how did your project influence , uh, research in the lab and kind of slowly try to bring that big picture as your career goes on, but definitely in an F 31 application, you don't have to think that you need to really emphasize that, you know, what you did is completely turning the field around.

Victoria Abraira:

Yeah, absolutely. I would add to that, that you don't have to have publications I've seen even some biosketches that have like poster presentations or anything like that, that you can add. And so , uh , I approached my significant contributions to science the same way, but with a K award, you have the arc of graduate school and post-doc, so there you do have the publications to start to craft, you know , uh, this sections. And basically what I did is I stood back , uh, I looked at my whole body of work, like all, you know, first, middle author publications, whatever I had and put it into like three or four sections of how I felt that my training or these three parts of my training through the sort of the three major sets of papers that I had. Um, you know, what, what was the scientific contribution, what this body of work said and how was going to leverage this knowledge or training for this new scientific question that I was trying to answer through this K award mechanism and actually made a clear distinction for keywords. It's very helpful to , to give the, what you consider to be your transition to independence. So each paragraph has sort of highlighted what I had done, and then I sort of said, and this is where I'm going. And I sort of underlined it, you know, and obviously I didn't have any publications, cause this is all like, sort of, this is what I plan to do no publications associated with it. But , um, it did have a clear distinction of how that paragraph, that knowledge or training was going to be leveraged for this particular question, how that contributed to the overall goal of this keyword mentored grant. Um, one last thing that depending on the mechanism, but this could be something of helpful to your listeners with , um, with K awards, I was moving into a new field of study and I was proposing new techniques for this new field and actually had a section--when I looked back at my body of work, I realized how collaborative I was in the , uh , in the way that I approached my science. And there were lots of things that throughout my career had developed little things and quickly shared it with other labs that led to other publications. And so I actually had, you know, my contributions to science that one of them was like collaborations. Like I actually, that was my contribution. And I said, how, you know, as a broad thinker, I often look how to leverage my tools and techniques to other fields. And , uh, and this could be an added bonus for this kind of the questions that I was trying to answer. And so I listed how throughout my career, I had leveraged that and contributed to other findings in not my immediate field, but other fields. And that was something that maybe, you know, for K word mechanisms, depending on your question that could, that could work because obviously they're looking to train the next set of scientists who we hope are going to be collaborative and again, larger than the sum of their parts. Right?

Lauren Ullrich:

Yeah. I like that a lot. I don't know if I've really seen that before.

Victoria Abraira:

And in my case, when I, when I took a step back, I really did realize like, wow, there's a lot of these little projects that they were just collaborations, right? I'm a middle author here and there, but I contributed this key thing like he region or key concept or something. And so then I said, I decided to highlight as the contribution to science.

Joy Franco:

I think one thing I'll , I'll just emphasize about that. And this is more just general resume CV advice that I had gotten from other people wiser than myself along the way was to , um, whatever you're listing in terms of your job experience or research experience, to always focus on what your contributions were and to really highlight the I in the statement, you know, because the scientists were so used to saying we did this and our group found this , um, certain scientists are using . Yeah , that's true. Um, that sometimes we forget that, like, it's okay to say specifically what I did and especially because I'm in my thesis writing mode right now , um, I'm trying to pay extra careful attention to this, but yeah. So just the, the general idea of really specifically stating what, you know, even if the project had this overarching goal, what was the part that you contributed to, and, and using that I term to highlight it.

Victoria Abraira:

Yeah. Which is actually sometimes really difficult not to, you know, to talk about gender, but sometimes you'd talk about gender. Um, like women tend to have a harder time saying I, yeah , we tend to always frame things as we, and the biosketches where like, people that have read my bio , he'll be like, yeah, you gotta take out those weeds and put eyes in. So , um, that's the time when you have to, we have to do that. Right. It's so true. It's been hard .

Clark Rosensweig:

I think, just to add to that, it's one of the pieces of advice that I got specifically from someone who asked me to write my own letter of recommendation for myself, that they could, you know, edit , uh , was, don't be shy. Brag about yourself here, which is, it's certainly hard for me to do. And I think it's hard for a lot of people to do, but it's something you also have to do when you're writing any sort of fellowship or grant. You do have to celebrate anything that you've done that you feel like has been even remotely worthwhile. Otherwise no one will know the great things that you have done. Definitely. And if you are concerned about bragging too much, just write it and have someone look over it and they will give you an honest perspective on, you know, if this is coming across as too intense, or you could brag a little more, So.

Lauren Ullrich:

Yeah, that actually is the perfect transition. Um, because we've been asking this actually about pretty much every aspect of the grant. Did you get feedback on the biosketch in particular before you submitted your grant and how did you revise it in response to that feedback?

Tavita Garrett:

I definitely , uh , send , you know, pretty much everything that I write to my mentor , um , so that they can have a look at it, give me some feedback and , uh, it's always helpful.

Joy Franco:

Yeah. I always take my mentors feedback. You know, I'm very lucky to be in a lab with someone who has been a reviewer in the NIH process a lot. And I think that that really helps when you're a trainee because, you know, she kind of knows the norm that people are looking for , um, or what they're used to seeing. Right. And , um, it can be really helpful to have someone, even if they're not your say PhD advisor , but just have someone who has experience with that set of standards that can then look at your, your biosketch and say, you know, is this completely crazy? Did you totally deviate from what the norm is? And so I always take the advice that she gives me. Um, and usually, you know, it's, it's about wording, or I always have like some grammatical errors in there. I think more generally, one of the pieces of advice that I had kind of struggled with was especially with regards to the diversity and the , um, the struggles that I had persisted through was during a different application. And I had prepared a personal statement and I gave it to a mentor. Their feedback was actually like , uh, I think this doesn't, this doesn't really make me feel good. Like it was kind of a weird thing, right. Because it's very sad. Like if you know all of the details and if I really lay everything out there, it can be really depressing. And I don't want to make a value judgment about that or get into an analysis of what reviewers should or shouldn't feel. But I will say that when you're writing about these struggles that you've been through, it can be really challenging to find a happy medium. And so based on that feedback, I chose to take a very direct and , um, simple approach. So I tried to just phrase things as simply as possible without really getting into the details. Partly also because I learned that like, you know, it's my choice, how much detail I share, and I don't have to go into great detail. I can just simply stay like, you know, this is what I'm dealing with and leave it at that.

Clark Rosensweig:

Yeah. I think it's really hard to acknowledge any sort of problematic or difficult thing from your past. Um, especially in front of a group of strangers, which is kind of who you're sending this application to. So you do have to spend some time thinking about, is this something that I want to include is this critical for my application to be seen in the light that I want it to be seen in? And, you know , if not, you can leave it out. If it, if you do feel like it's important, then you do have to spend some time thinking about how do I address it in such a way that the ultimate effect is going to be positive for any reviewer of the grant. And that's hard to do

Victoria Abraira:

One way in which I've sort of tackled this is, you know, how people often, when they're writing grants, they say, Oh, can I read your grant? I took a different approach. And I said, can I read your summary statement? So instead of like, you know, reading grants, because the science almost is irrelevant, right? For a lot of these training mechanisms , um, I read a lot of summary statements and I tried to read in between the lines to see what were the things that they really cared about. And I tried to then, you know, have my application speak to those directly. So sometimes reading summary statements, even without reading an application is so informative in trying to understand what that is going after and how the study section is going to interpret that mechanism and its purpose.

Lauren Ullrich:

That's such a good point. Um , and I'll give a little plug for one of our resources available on the website. So for several of our, we have these tip sheets and I actually developed them not by reading applications, but by reading summary statements. So I read through hundreds of summary statements and found like what are sort of the common things that reviewers are always finding to be mistakes. And so when you're reading those tips sheets, that didn't just come out of my head that came, you know, from the mouths of reviewers. And so I, a hundred percent agree with you, Victoria. It's very enlightening.

Victoria Abraira:

Where do I find that website? Where do I find the link to that?

Joy Franco:

Yeah

Marguerite Matthews:

This should also be in the show notes.

Lauren Ullrich:

It's on our training website. So, every mechanism has a series of resources on the side, on our website. And one of those resources in addition to like our webinars and all that kind of stuff, one of them is like a tips sheet. So we have the K22, the K01, the F99, uh , I think those are the three that I've done so far. Um, is there anything else that you'd like to mention about other sections of the biosketch, things you might've been confused about or , or tips and tricks that you had?

Joy Franco:

Yeah, so, you know, as a trainee, someone who's still in their PhD program , um, you need to put this additional information, what your Scholastic performances, and it can be a little bit confusing because there are usually guides about which grades you should include, which ones you shouldn't or which classes. And actually, because engineering has such a huge course requirements, I couldn't physically fit all of my coursework into one page. Um, so at some point I had to leave certain things out. And so , um, I didn't really have a good metric on what to leave out, but I try to just focus on the classes that seem to be most relevant to what I was applying for and relevant to my experience with research.

Lauren Ullrich:

Yeah. I think that's probably the best approach, you know, there's the application guide that has the specific instructions, but then the FOA also sometimes has different instructions. So like for the DSPAN award in particular, I know that, you know, we ask for graduate grades, but not undergraduate grades. We just ask for a list of undergraduate classes because you're senior enough in grad school by that point that your undergraduate grades are not super relevant. Um, but yeah, if you ever have any questions like that, you can always reach out to the program officer that is the contact person on the FOA and they should be able to steer you straight.

Marguerite Matthews:

All right . Thank you all for sharing your wisdom today. Can I ask each of you for one last piece of parting advice for future applicants?

Clark Rosensweig:

I feel like my biggest piece of advice that I remember when I was writing my F 31, just thinking that it was nearly impossible to combine all of the different instruction sets for , uh, how to write these applications in such a way that I would get every component that I needed. So by all means reach out to anyone, you know, who has written one of these get examples. Um, if even if the only thing you get out of them is, Oh, I'm missing this part that I , uh, that I would need if I would like to get funded.

Tavita Garrett:

I think my piece of advice would be to , uh, make a checklist because there are a lot of tiny components and stuff that requires a couple sentences and you don't want to miss anything. So then I also think that helps you plan writing. You're correct.

Joy Franco:

I definitely had a spreadsheet when I was writing for the D span award and I had like multiple columns for requirements and status. And, you know, especially like if you have a draft, because there are so many sections to the total application that like, you'll be, you know, one section may be reviewed by your PI and you're waiting for it to come back. Uh , so I absolutely had to have that checklist. Um, I think my parting advice to anybody, especially trainees though , um, and people early stage when they're writing , um, the biosketch and the personal statement and the contributions, you know, because clearly you're probably looking at other people's biosketches to get examples. And in the process of looking at those examples, it can be all too easy to start comparing yourself to other people. And , uh, if we have anything in common, it would probably be that when I start comparing my CV to others, I feel I start feeling really inadequate and I start panicking a little bit like, Oh my gosh, I'm never going to make it because, you know, I don't have enough publications or I don't have the pedigree that these other applicants do it , my experience, I have to just thoughtfully do everything possible to quiet that voice and to quiet that inner critic and put her on a shelf somewhere because she's really a hindrance to writing, right? Like that's where writer's block can really come from. You're sitting, looking at this page, how do you get started? And you just feel inadequate and you feel like you don't have anything worthwhile to contribute, but that's all coming from that inner critic. Who's, you know, trying to compare you to other people. So put her in a box, put her on the shelf and , um, you know, just start writing as if you're going to be the next Nobel Laureate. Um, and, and really to just keep that faith alive that, that you can do.

Victoria Abraira:

Yeah. I can't agree with more than with what everyone said in my parting advice is that as, as you make these checklists and as you're getting , um, you know, ready to rate and make sure that in particular, when it comes to your biosketch make sure that you keep bird's eye view of what every piece of the application is saying. Right. So you want to make sure that everything's in sync and hence why they're getting organized in the beginning is key because that's, when you start to say, like, what is the flavor of this application, what message I'm trying to convey, and the biosketch can speak to that and then fill in some of the gaps as well. So getting organized is a great part of that process.

Marguerite Matthews:

Great. Um, Lauren, do you have any advice for our listeners?

Lauren Ullrich:

Gosh , um, actually I of want to piggyback off of what Joy said. Um, I think, you know, getting out of your own ways really important , um, we know that imposter syndrome runs rampant in science and that a lot, a lot of people struggle with that and something that I did , um, a couple of years ago now, actually, was like very consciously stopping critical self-talk and , um , trying to break that pattern of like either being disappointed in myself or beating myself up about things and things like that. And , um, it took a long time to break that habit and it's something I'm still working on, but it's definitely made my life a lot easier. Um, it's something I would highly recommend to everyone because the world is hard enough , especially in 2020 , um, with the pandemic , uh, you don't need to make it harder on yourself. So what about you, Marguerite?

Marguerite Matthews:

Okay, well, Lauren stole my idea of piggybacking off of Joy. So let me come up with an original idea. No, I, I'm also actually kind of going back to something Joy , um, elaborated on is , um, don't allow any setbacks you might've had or literal failures define who you are. Um, you, if you have good ideas and you believe in the work that you're doing, go for it and don't feel the need to explain it in an apologetic way, but as an opportunity to say why things may not look as someone might think they should look for posterity sake. I think you can be authentic to who you are without having to apologize that, you know, maybe you failed every single biology class in undergrad, but when you got to, you know , your master's program, you were kicking butt because, you know, you connected with the material differently or , um , because of some potential health challenges, or maybe you decided to start a family , um, being able to publish papers was not something that came particularly easy. Um , or you had to take some time away from the bench. So those things are all, okay, don't let that stop you from , um , still showing all of the other things that you bring to the table in ways that you have overcome. Um , and I think that can really be highlighted and showcased , uh, in your biosketch .

Lauren Ullrich:

Yeah. And I'll , I'll just even say like, those things can make you a better scientist.

Marguerite Matthews:

Absolutely.

Lauren Ullrich:

So instead of presenting them as like, I'm a good scientist, despite all these experiences, you can frame it, you know, even in a more positive way of like, here's what I learned from these things. Here's, here's how I'm a better scientist because of my unique perspective that I bring and my unique experiences that I've had. So , um, don't think it always has to be a negative, even failure can be a positive. So that's all we have time for today on building up the nerve. So a huge thank you to our guests this week for sharing their expertise and thank you to NINDS program director, Dr. Bob Riddle, composed our theme song and music. We'll see you next time when we tackle the candidate or applicant's background and goals section.

Marguerite Matthews:

You can find past episodes of this podcast and more grant application resources on the web ninds.nih .gov . You can follow us on Twitter @NINDSdiversity and, @NINDSfunding. Email us your questions at NINDSnerve [email protected] Make sure you subscribe to the podcast on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast app of choice so you don't miss an episode. We'll see you next time.

Intro
Introductions
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Advice
Outro