Some of you may have heard of the new biosketch format at NIH, that will be eventually implemented as part of a pan-US funding agency biosketch system, ScienCV. The new biosketch has received a lot of negative feedback, for example, see Sally Rocky's blog post and comments here, where I have also posted this reponse.
I wanted to express enthusiastic support for the new biosketch format. In a world where there are many ways to contribute to science, NOT ALL OF WHICH INVOLVE FIRST/LAST AUTHOR PUBLICATIONS IN SINGLE-WORD-TITLED JOURNALS, it is extremely refreshing to see NIH provide the capability for one to indicate our achievements for those of us that are not regularly in such a position. This includes many key roles in the scientific landscape – data curators, informaticians, statisticians, software developers, core facility personnel, etc.
I have recently created my new biosketch where I was for the first time able to tell the story of what exactly my contributions to science have been. Some of these things are standards – which are used by NCBI, Elsevier, and many other publishers. These have a large impact on science, yet don't necessarily have many publications and therefore impact factors associated with them. If we want to promote team science and less competition to make the most of our limited resources, then we need a mechanism to value these non-traditional contributions and promote credit to and collaboration with those that create them.
As a woman, I also found that the instructions for describing lapses/changes to one's career path empowering as well. For the first time, I felt comfortable telling the real truth about why I left the bench – having a baby and not wanting to work with the worlds most toxic carcinogens any longer. Why not just be honest about such things? We don't live in a world like our parents did where we get one career and 50 years later retire from it. We can and do and should change careers all the time – it can make us smarter, more informed, and potentially more impactful in our science.
Is the new format more self promoting? Not really, it is just organized differently. The new format provides an opportunity to classify and explain the threads of where we come from and what we can bring to the table for any given proposal that the old format did not. If you are a scientist whose primary products are publications only, then the new format has you explain the threads of your research a little more specifically. However, if you have scholarly contributions that are not traditional publications, it is absolutely key to highlighting these types of contributions. Just because the products of such less traditional activities don't have publisher-invented metrics (yet), doesn't mean they are any less valuable. As scientists, we ourselves should dig a little deeper and try a little harder to understand the impact of non-publication scholarly products – that so many of use and are impacted by every day in our scientific work.
I see a lot of negative comments on Sally's blog, asking to bring back the old biosketch. I certainly understand that change is always hard and no one wants to do extra work (and it did take me a whole day to redo my biosketch), but I don't really see many comments where the benefits of the old approach are clearly delineated. Comments like this one: "If applicants have published meaningful work in decent journals, this productivity speaks for itself" don't understand how much of the scientific landscape they work in is not published within peer-reviewed journals. There is all kinds of public peer review on databases and software and often few or no papers. If anything, the transparency and peer review on open source software in particular, is fundamentally much more extensive than for a publication.
If we want those of us that build tools, standardize data, etc. to keep doing so, we need a way to talk about those things and we need traditional scientists to value them. I think Force11 is a good place to have these discussions and tell our funding agencies, departments and the like what we think. What does your CV look like? Does it have non-traditional scholarly products? How do you feel when you see such things on grant or position applications?
If any of you feel similarly, please post your ideas on Sally's blog. She has been working hard to provide a venue for those of us in such non-traditional roles to be valued for what we do.
And update your CV, you can help change our scientific value system too. One CV at a time.