Tips for the Preparation of a Successful Ph.D. Candidacy Proposal
"It is the student's responsibility to submit a Research Plan in the form of a research grant proposal [consisting of] Title, Abstract (350 words or less), Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Research Design and Methods, and References as follows:"
Some students unnecessarily delay scheduling their exam because they feel that they have generated insufficient data. The main purpose of the Research Proposal is to demonstrate a student's ability to formulate a hypothesis and the means by which to test it. While students may use their own preliminary data to justify their hypothesis, it is perfectly acceptable to invoke published results (not necessarily from their own lab!) to support their postulate. Indeed, the topic of the proposal need not be identical to the project on which the student has been working. Examination Committee members will not be dazzled by copious data if the candidate cannot interpret the data or design future experiments.
"Specific Aims: State concisely and realistically what the research is intended to accomplish and/or what hypothesis is to be tested. Do not exceed one page."
Emphasize hypothesis. It is much, much better to say, "I will test my hypothesis that the expression of enzymase is regulated during embryogenesis," rather than "I will characterize the expression of enzymase during embryogenesis."
"Background and Significance: Briefly sketch the background to the present proposal, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify gaps which the research is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the research by relating specific aims to longer term objectives. Do not exceed three pages."
This is clear as written.
"Research Design and Methods: Briefly summarize the experimental design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of this research. Include a description of the types of data to be obtained and how they will be analyzed to accomplish the specific aims." Six to ten pages -- the entire proposal should not exceed 15 pages.
This is the most critical portion of the proposal. Unfortunately, many students concentrate too much on methodological details and devote too little effort to data interpretation. This is an easy trap to fall into because most students at this stage are just becoming familiar with techniques, and since their days are spent thinking about incubation times and temperatures, molarities of solutions, etc., the natural tendency is for their proposals to be dominated by these details. Instead, proposals should illustrate the type of data to be collected and provide predicted results. If committee members need details on experimental design, such as the composition of solutions, these can be provided orally during the exam. Importantly, candidates should emphasize how their experiments will test their hypotheses. It is also essential to include a discussion of the pitfalls of your strategy, such as assay sensitivity, radiolabeling efficiency, possible effects of experimental treatments on cell viability, etc.