May 11, 2011

NIH Personal Statement Template

In January 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revised their biosketch guidelines to include a mandatory personal statement. The NIH guidelines offer this advice in preparing your personal statement.

Personal Statement. Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor, participating faculty) in the project that is the subject of the application.”

The personal statements we have critiqued as grant writers and the ones that we have evaluated as grant reviewers have been relatively unimpressive. Either they rehash what is in the proposal narrative or read like last minute, uncogitated copy. Relatedly, the NIH guidelines regarding the personal statement are rather terse.

We recommend writing a three-paragraph personal statement with subheadings as follows.

  • Proposal Goal. This would be a brief, one-two sentence overview of what the proposal is trying to accomplish in big picture terms. Remind the reviewers what your proposal target is before you persuade them that you can reach that target.
  • Relevant Experiences. As you write this paragraph, lift up the different types of experiences you have had, e.g., academic experience, administrative experience, research experience, mentoring experience, research experience.
  • Leadership Qualification. In this section, you describe why your relevant experiences qualify you for your role in the project. For example, if you were to be the Principal Investigator (PI) in a project, you might indicate that your prior experiences form a solid foundation to assume the PI role because you have developed administrative skills essential to manage large scale projects that also require a broad range of people skills. You want to point out that you have the ability to manage, decide, and set priorities. Your past experiences have shown that you accept responsibility and carry out action plans. Your communication skills motivate others to accept responsibility and achieve. Use your relevant experiences to show how those developed skills transfer to essential leadership qualifications.

We recommend the personal statement be at least one-half page long. You can find the NIH biosketch guidelines in their updated (March 25, 2011) SF424 R&R instructions here.

Even if you don’t apply for NIH funding, you should look at the NIH biosketch formatting and consider using it in applications to other sponsors, unless they have specific formatting requirements.


  1. Writing a personal statement can be one of the most daunting elements of an application process but it is crucial that you invest sufficient time and effort in getting it right. Whilst your grades may allow you to demonstrate your academic achievements, the personal statement provides an admissions board with an opportunity to learn about you as an individual. personal statement writer

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