Research Proposal Guidelines

Graduate science programs invariably evaluate students based upon their ability to answer questions and solve problems. Scientists are ultimately judged upon the quality of the questions they ask. A graduate program must provide the transition between these stages, and the writing of proposals is an important tool for this process. Writing scientific proposals teaches evaluation of the literature, integration of knowledge from several areas, formulation of scientific questions, design of a research project to answer those questions, scientific writing and the defense of a project proposal. Two proposals are written during the course of the program, one in the second year of the program on the proposed thesis topic (though the actual thesis scope will vary as results are gathered) and a second in the fourth year of the program on an original research topic.

Second Year Proposal

This proposal should be written in a style that conforms to the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) or some similar journal judged appropriate by your research advisor and will contain six major portions:

1. Introduction and historical perspective of your proposed thesis project. This section will provide the context of your research in the overall field (e.g. enzymology, not just a specific enzyme or organic chemistry, not just a certain molecule). This section should include the literature of other researchers in the field, and culminate in the literature from one’s research lab.

2. Specific Aims. This section will outline the goals of the project and describe what the project is intended to accomplish.

3. Materials and methods. This should include all experiments or calculations performed to date. A presentation of your positive results will generally suffice, though description of all approaches may be included. A carefully prepared and complete experimental section is also a critical component of the paper. Great care should be used to show the level of experimental detail and characterization.

4. Results and discussion. This should include all experiments performed to date, making sure to include not only the details of the experiment or calculation but also the analysis and conclusions.

5. Future research plans. This section outlines proposed methods for key future experiments.

6. Literature Cited. List the literature citations at the end of the research plan. Make every attempt to assure the accuracy of the citations and be judicious in compiling a relevant and current list of literature citations (no page limit). Titles should be included.

There is a 15 page limit (1.5 line spacing, 11-12 point fonts, 3/4 inch margins, with page numbering; not including references) for the thesis proposal. This document is to be a comprehensive account of your research project and the research that you have accomplished so far. You should strive to keep it as clear and succinct as possible with discussion of background material being limited to ~3 pages. This proposal is to turned into the chemistry office by the last Friday in March and the oral defense is to be scheduled before the end of April. Evaluation of the proposal will be taken as part of the candidacy exam and is outlined below.

Candidacy Exam/Second Year Proposal Defense

After the writing and submission of the second year proposal, students will be required to present and orally defend in front of their thesis committee their proposed thesis research and general knowledge of chemistry at the core course level. The oral defense will be evaluated by the committee, which will yield one of the following determinations:
1. A pass in the quality of the proposal, its defense, and in general knowledge.
2. There were deficiencies in the proposal or its defense that the student will correct as directed by the committee.
3. There were deficiencies in the general knowledge of chemistry displayed by the student. The committee will determine how this should be remedied.
4. There were deficiencies in one or more of the above components that the committee considered irredeemable. The student would then fail the examination at the PhD level and not be advanced to candidacy. The students performance may, however, be deemed acceptable at the MA level.

If the student has passed the defense, either immediately or after revision, the other factors in the candidacy decision will then be considered, namely, the students performance in (1) formal courses, (2) oral presentations in courses and seminars, (3) breadth, depth, and continuing growth of knowledge including performance on progress examinations, (4) quality of research accomplishments, (5) teaching and assisting.
If the student’s performance in these areas is also found to be acceptable, the student will be advanced to PhD candidacy. Completion of the PhD would then require preparation of a fourth year proposal and of the thesis and its defense.

Fourth Year Proposal

This original research proposition is the last formal requirement for your degree before your thesis final. It must be submitted on the first day of classes during the spring semester of your fourth year. The topic for your original proposition should be within the broadly defined purview of chemistry, but not related to your thesis research project or any research project currently underway in your group.

1. Pre-Proposal Approval: To ensure that your idea for a proposal is sufficiently distinct from the research topics in your group and that it is of an appropriate scope and originality, you will submit a one page pre-proposal to your committee by December 1st. ( Form : After each committee member has had a chance to review your pre-proposal, you will schedule a meeting with any member(s) of your thesis committee who feels such a meeting is necessary. Alternatively, each committee member should provide agreement that the pre-proposal is acceptable without a formal meeting. Signatures from all committee members must be obtained and the form submitted to the chemistry office by the first day of reading period (e.g. Dec 9, 2017). You may then go forward with your plan. If not, a second pre-proposal must be submitted and approved before the end of reading period (e.g. Dec 12, 2017).

2. Scope: Your proposal will be judged for its originality, creativity, significance, and feasibility. It is unacceptable to only propose a simple systematic extension of established facts, such as preparation of an analog or measurement of an unreported physical property. The work you propose should be of a scope that a skilled graduate student might complete as a Ph.D. project.

3. Format: The proposal should be limited to 10 total pages in length (1.5 line spacing, 11-12 point fonts, 3/4 inch margins, with page numbering; not including references) including all Figures and Schemes (this does not include the literature citations). Proposals that exceed ten pages in length will not be accepted and will be returned to you for shortening. The proposal should be divided into four sections as outlined below with suggested page limits for each section.
    - Specific Aims. List the long-term objectives and describe concisely and realistically what the specific research project described is intended to accomplish, outlining specific goals (limit to one page.)
    - Background and Significance. Briefly sketch the background to the present proposal, critically evaluate existing knowledge and specifically identify the gaps that the project is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the research described by relating the specific aims to the long-term objectives (limit to two to three pages.)
    - Research Design and Methods. Describe the research design and procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project, making clear the anticipated results. Describe any new methodology and its advantage over existing methodologies. Discuss the potential difficulties and limitations of the proposed procedures and alternative approaches to achieve the aims (limit to six to seven pages.) Outline key preliminary experiments designed to quickly determine the feasibility of the project or the more promising directions to pursue. Contingency plans and alternative approaches should show how the project would be developed in case the preliminary experiments are unsuccessful or unpromising.
    - Literature Cited. List the literature citations at the end of the research plan. Make every attempt to assure the accuracy of the citations and be judicious in compiling a relevant and current list of literature citations (no page limit). Titles should be included.

4. Evaluation: The thesis committee will evaluate the written proposal on the following criteria (there is no oral presentation for this proposal):
    - Significance (Is the problem important and will scientific knowledge be advanced?)
    - Approach (Are design, methods, and analyses adequately developed, well-integrated, and appropriate?)
    - Innovation (Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches, or methods?)