What is a bio sketch
How do I write a professional biosketch
As someone who reviews many grant applications, conference papers, and internship applications, I read a lot about "Biosketches”(Brief Description of Professional Identity) by people at all career stages.
Unfortunately, many people don't do their best and sometimes don't even seem to realize their main professional strengths. Even well-respected executives sometimes use very outdated bios sketches that do not reveal their status on site.
Biosketches are another of the many “soft” professional skills that are not taught in school but are important for professional success. When you search the internet for instructions on how to write a biosketch, the hits tend to lead you to very business-oriented examples. These are fine for corporate situations, but the culture in psychology and related human and social services is different. People who work in anything related to education, health, government, or social justice-based nonprofits need a bio-sketch that fits those professional cultures. If you work or want to work in any of these settings, read on.
What is a professional biosketch?
A. Biosketch(or sometimes just abbreviated to “bio”) is a one-part description of your professional identity. It is generally no longer than half a page (at a distance) and usually ranges from 50 to 300 words.
The main purpose of a professional biosketch is to identify the professional community you belong to and briefly describe the steps you took to join that community. As you develop professionally, it is also important to describe how your work has been recognized by your professional colleagues.
How do biosketches compare to other professional documents?
Professional bio-sketches are just one of several types of personal descriptions you may come across in human and social services: aside from bio-sketches, there are also some Resumes, “curriculum vitae”(Usually shortened to“ cv ”) and Reflexivity statements (also called in position information).
Biosketches are different from Resumes or "curriculum vitae, ”Are both more detailed descriptions of your work history and job performance with dates and locations and other details. People in psychology and related fields say "résumé" more than résumés, and résumés are usually much longer. For example, my current résumé is 22 pages long and even at this length many details from earlier in my career are missing.
[Note: The National Institutes of Health have a short resume form which they unfortunately also refer to as a Biosketch, so sometimes you will hear people referring to an NIH Biosketch. These are four to five page versions of people's full résumés. While they look more like resumes or résumés, what they have in common with other biosketches is that they focus on highlights of your work, in this case those most relevant to the grant proposal. If you're applying for federal scholarships, learn more about how to fill out those scholarships here, including an example here.]
Reflexivity Statements They are also more detailed than bio-sketches, but focus on how your other personal, social, and historical traits can "situate" your work - examining, for example, how your experiences appear in growing up or being a parent or someone with a particular medical history . Change the way you approach science questions. Unlike autobiographies, they are still working documents because the goal is to make you a better scholar or therapist.
When do you use biosketches?
Some common places you will see biosketches:
1. Websites for universities, medical schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations. Most university departments have individual pages for each faculty member, and these often contain bio-sketches. Other organizations often have an About Us page with a brief description of the key people.
2. Conference papers and other presentations. Increasingly, if you are a student, researcher, or professional trainer, you will need to provide a short biosketch as part of a conference or workshop submission. Many agencies that certify continuing education credits now need to collect this information to show that the people providing the content have the appropriate education and training.
Advanced professionals also need a biosketch, for example to give an invited speech or to join an advisory board. I have more than one version of my biosketch tailored to whether the audience is more research or vendor focused, as well as versions for different topics that I am talking about. For example, I sometimes give lectures that focus more on elasticity. Other conversations tend to focus more on violence or a specific type of violence. I'll customize my bios sketch to highlight my experiences that are most closely related to the topic I'm talking about. You can see examples of different versions of my biosketch here and here. The first emphasizes my academic credentials, the second my writing experience.
3. Grant applications. One of the most important parts of a grant proposal is the “why us” pitchand there is always a section describing the key personnel or team that will carry out the project. Each person needs a paragraph description of why they are well suited for their role. This includes federal grants, which also require the five-page biosketch form. You still need to include a brief description of your credentials and the reasons why you are a good person to do this study (ask for it or not) in the grant application text.
What's in a biosketch?
For most people, the biggest challenge in writing a biosketch is becoming familiar with what I call the "art of blowing your own horn." I totally get this - my family's roots are in rural Appalachia, where putting on the air is almost the worst social setting you can find crime you can commit. I still have to work to graciously accept compliments - I don't know if I'll ever get over this ingrained discomfort. The only way for people to find you and realize that you are good for their job or their conference, or whatever, is for you to tell them about you. I've found it easier to put it down in writing than to face the same challenge in a personal setting. So it can be good practice and give you a few lines to use in interviews or similar situations.
Opening. The opening should introduce you and position you professionally by including your name, degree and current institutional affiliation. Stick to your main affiliations, but it's okay to list more than one (I do). Usually the wording is in the third person. For example (hypothetical example): "Maria Vasquez, M.A., is a PhD student in clinical psychology at Awesome University."
Where you fit into the professional universe. The next few sentences should identify your main focuses. If you are an elderly person, you should communicate this experience. For example, I emphasize that the focus of my work is on violence and that I have addressed this issue in several roles over the years (researcher, therapist, activist).
If you are a younger beginner, it is good to talk a little more deeply about the nature of your interests. For example: “My research interests focus on the effects of childhood neglect of academic achievement. "
If you are an elderly person, stop saying what your research interests are and describe your research achievements. You may think this seems obvious, but it's probably the most common mistake I see in professional bio-sketches - that a notable person still sounds like they haven't completed their first research project. Many people will use the convention of saying what they are "best known" for, such as "Dr. Brown is best known for his work in preventing teenage substance abuse" or "Dr. Han is best known for having one create school-based curriculum for social-emotional learning. "[Again these examples are compiled.]
The first half of your biosketch is also a good place to jot down achievements related to these topics, especially if you were the first to develop a program, pass a law, or study a topic. If you are a seasoned person, it is good to say that you have “more than 10 years of experience providing expert testimony” or “Dr. Brown has authored or co-authored more than 100 substance abuse publications. "
Your relationships with professional organizations. The second half of your biosketch is a good place to describe some of the species you have interacted with or recognized by professional organizations.
The organizations you highlight depend somewhat on the purpose of your biosketch (and probably one of the main points where it might make sense to have different versions for different purposes).
When applying for a scholarship or applying for a research-oriented conference, or for any reason trying to impress university professors or anyone else in science.
In these cases it is good to mention the sources of grants (also known as “external”) that you have received, particularly for research purposes. If you're a student or junior professional, it could be funded scholarships or assistantships, as well as small grants from your own university. If you're mid-career or senior, highlight major research grants from federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health or from large nonprofit foundations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
This is also a good place to mention awards.
People often ask me how far back I should go on awards and a good rule of thumb is not to go back more than one role or career / development stage. So, for graduate school applications, yes, write down student accomplishments, but most high school accomplishments should roll off both your biosketch and resume or résumé. Once you graduate from college, nobody wants to know that you were president of the chess club in high school. The only exception would be if you did exceptional high school performance, such as an Olympic gymnast.
If you have a college degree and are looking for a professional position like a professor or therapist, most of your coursework should depend on both your biosketch and your resume. Again, unless they're exceptional. For the rest of us, it is better to highlight your recent accomplishments.
If you don't have any awards (yet), this section can still be a good place to record professional affiliations, professional licenses, or participation in national organizations such as chairing a committee or similar.
The final type of organization to consider are media organizations. When I speak to an audience composed mostly of practitioners, students, or members of the general public, I often mention some of the news outlets that my work has appeared on. This can be a way to show that your work is the kind that “breaks through” and comes out of the ivory tower.
However, this approach can turn off some reviewers when submitting a grant or conference proposal. Unfortunately, some scientists are quite proud of the fact that no one outside of the academy reads their work and they watch the effort to bring the science to the public. You are wrong, of course, but sometimes you have to play the game before you can change the game. So I would be careful to add these references, especially if you are unsure of the audience.
Play with the content or push the boundaries of how you can get personal. I see more and more people experimenting with the content of biosketches, much like people revising obituaries to be more personal. I think this is a great move and I will support it whenever I can (you will see some of ResilienceCon's bio-sketches are far from rigid). I encourage people to try to push these boundaries so that there is a little more of our true selves in our professional roles. Personally, however, I also recommend a pragmatic approach. If you're working on your first federal scholarship, this is probably not the time to play with the traditional format as you run the risk of looking revolutionary, not informed.
With a little practice, we can all learn how to put our best foot forward.
You can see some examples of professional bio sketches here and here. Some of my colleagues' bio sketches are here. Click here for examples of biosketches for students and more junior staff from ResilienceCon fellows.
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