Personal Research Proposal: A major component involved in the quality control of research and of a training program designed to teach students about the real world of academic research is the preparation, presentation, and peer review of a research proposal describing the student's project. This proposal is written in NIH Grant Application format by the student and includes Background information from the literature, Specific Aims, Rationale, Preliminary Data, and Methods to be used to answer the questions being asked. The purpose of the research proposal is for the student to define his/her doctoral research project, which will be the subject of the doctoral dissertation. The choice of the topic should result from experiments conducted by the student during his/her first two years and from discussions with the student's Advisor and Advisory Committee. The Research Proposal must be submitted to the student's Advisory Committee and Outside Reviewer two weeks in advance of the visit of his/her Outside Reviewer.
The research proposal should be written clearly and concisely. The student should realize that the Experimental Design/Methods section is not a "cookbook" of protocols, but describes the hypothesis to be addressed, experiments to test the hypothesis, the approaches to be taken and the rationale for each approach, an explanation of how the findings obtained will answer the specific aims being addressed, a statement of the pitfalls and limitations of the approaches, and a discussion of alternative experiments to answer the questions being asked.
If, at the discretion of the student's Advisor, a comprehensive literature review that would exceed the 2- to 3-page Background/Significance limitation is required, the review should be included as an Appendix. This review will not substitute for the Background/Significance section of the proposal.
The student's Advisor has the responsibility to guide the student toward a project that upon completion will merit the awarding of the doctoral degree.
Time Frame: The student must begin the preparation of the written proposal as soon as possible after completing the Preliminary Examination and becoming a Candidate for the doctoral degree.
Role of Advisory Committee: Since this proposal represents a research plan for the student's dissertation research project, the major role of the student's Advisory Committee is to offer suggestions and comments on the proposed research, to insure the propriety of the project, and to make certain that the student is prepared to undertake the doctoral research.
The Advisory Committee will be assisted by an Outside Reviewer who has expertise in the field of the proposed research. The choice of the Outside Reviewer will be the responsibility of the Advisor, but the selection must be approved by the Advisory Committee and Department Head.
The presence of the Outside Reviewer enhances the quality of the review process and reinforces for the benefit of the student and the faculty that the student's research is state of the art, scientifically valid, and truly worthy of the doctoral degree. It should be emphasized that inclusion of the Outside Reviewer is intended to be a positive feature of this review process. Often, the Outside Reviewer may make excellent suggestions to improve the student's research project, inform the student of important, but unpublished, findings relevant to his/her research, and help the student secure a postdoctoral position in a leading laboratory.
Presentation of Proposal as a Public Seminar: The student will present the proposal at a public seminar. After the seminar, the student will meet with his/her Advisory Committee and the Outside Reviewer to discuss the proposal.
Recommendation of the Advisory Committee: The Committee may decide: 1) to approve the proposal as written; 2) to require modification(s) of the proposal in a manner consistent with good science; 3) to require the student to make significant changes. If significant changes are required, the Committee may elect to have the proposal rewritten and returned to the Committee and Outside Reviewer for approval.
The proposal will be approved as written (and modified) if there is no more than one negative vote. Approval of the research proposal by the Advisory Committee assures the student that the Committee feels that satisfactory completion of this project by the student should constitute an acceptable dissertation research project. The Research Proposal is to be prepared during the late part of the second year or in the early part of the third year. The student is then expected to devote his/her time to the doctoral research project. The progress of his/her research is monitored on a daily basis by the Advisor and by the periodic meetings of the Advisory Committee.