Research Proposal

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Purpose of the proposal

The research proposal is the initial plan of your thesis project and is written in conjunction with both your NIH and U.K. mentors during August and September during your time at the NIH. The research proposal is your own work. It is essential that all principal parties involved in your research achieve initial agreement on the scope of the thesis project. Writing the research proposal:

  • Focuses the attention on the entire research project, not just the next experiment.
  • Ensures that a comprehensive review of the literature is conducted.
  • Establishes an agreement with both mentors on the scope of the thesis.
  • Begins development of technical writing skills.
  • Begins development of grant writing skills.

The research proposal also pushes you to think about what is known in the field, how you will contribute new information, and what logical steps must be taken to accomplish your research goals. Students are strongly advised to incorporate alternative strategies to accomplish their research goal.

Format of the research proposal

The proposal length should be no fewer than five pages and no more than ten, excluding tables, figures and references. The proposal should be clear and concise and contain specific aims of what you plan to accomplish during your thesis research.

  1. Title (56 Characters including spaces - absolute maximum)
    1. Actually quite important - searched and indexed
    2. Creates an initial impression
  2. Abstract (0.5 pages)
    1. Can be thought of as a mini-proposal
    2. Written for a more general audience
    3. Written last but NOT at the last minute
  3. Hypothesis and Specific Aims (1 - 2 pages)
    1. State the explicit hypotheses and how they will be tested
    2. A bullet point approach is very effective to articulate exactly what you plan to do - it may include a small elaboration
    3. Often includes a mini-introduction
    4. Often the "make or break" section for proposals that go through a grant review process
    5. Typically 2 to 4 specific aims for a thesis
    6. Success of your work will be measured against whether you accomplish the aims
    7. Also plays the role of "tell them what you are going to tell them"
  4. Background and Significance (2 - 3 pages)
    1. Sets up the "story" you want the reader to read - lead them toward your research vision
    2. Establishes you as an authority/ i.e. one who is well-read on the topic
    3. Shows that you are cognizant of the most important work already published on the topic
    4. Establishes for the reader the importance of the work
    5. Helps the reader understand the logical next steps of your specific aims
    6. Focuses more on what has been done, but also allows for your contributions or unique perspectives
  5. Preliminary Studies (variable depending on when it is written – 1 - 3 pages)
    1. Demonstrates that you are capable of deploying the proposed research methods
    2. Shows the quality and quantity of data already acquired
    3. Continues to build the case for the feasibility and logic of your proposal
    4. Include relevant small tables and figures as needed
    5. Larger data sections can be added as appendices
  6. Research Design and Methods (2 - 4 pages)
    1. Explains the methodologies to be used to accomplish the aims
    2. Two separate areas must be covered; these may be interwoven or presented as distinct sections
    3. Conceptual and experimental design
    4. Details of the methods
    5. Should be tied absolutely and unmistakably to specific aims
    6. Should acknowledge potential barriers and pitfalls and how you plan to get around them
    7. If you are testing alternative hypotheses, make it very clear how the experiments will differentiate between them
  7. References
    1. Choose carefully - more is not necessarily better
    2. Important to have a balance between papers of historical importance and more current developments in the field

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