Research Proposal

            In addition to lectures and general discussions, students will prepare a proposal of research of their own choosing. Although this proposal is clearly related to the lecture part of the class, it is supposed to provide the depth in a specific aspect of molecular applications. Therefore, students should not rely exclusively on lecture material for the proposal. The main aim of this proposal is to make sure that there are clearly defined aims addressing a specific problem, appropriate molecular methods and an appreciation of the wider significance of the work - all these are prerequisites for the planning and execution of a successful project.

After reading the outline proposal, which is essentially the idea to be pursued, I will provide a reading list as a starting point for the literature search in order to write the proposal. Two classmates and I will then comment on the proposal, and we will discuss it in class. The final version of the proposal is due in week 8. The research proposal cannot be the same as students’ thesis project if the original proposal was written by the PI (though it can be related - original proposals will be obtained from PIs).

Proposal Outline

On Fr Oct 13, the proposal outline is due. Although this counts for only 5% of the marks, please take it seriously as it is mainly meant as a starting point for your work - if you miss out here it will be difficult to catch up. I will use this proposal to come up with a reading list of relevant papers, in particular, regarding molecular methods and statistical analyses. The most important thing in your proposal outline is the general idea (hypothesis) and the specific questions you want to address. Don't worry too much about specific details of molecular methods at this stage. It should be clear that I cannot help you if you only supply a few words on an otherwise blank paper, so your outline should contain the following:

  1. A Title
  2. The Project Summary (~200 words)
  3. Headings of your proposal, with key sentences describing the content
  4. 3-5 references on the biological system you want to work on (e.g. ecology, significance, etc.)


The basic elements of the proposal should be

1. A Cover Page with name and affiliation and a project summary of no more than 200 words

2. A Project Description, which is limited to 5 single-spaced pages including figures and tables. Font should be 12pt Times New Roman or equivalent. The main body of the proposal should present, in sufficient detail to permit evaluation, a description of the project, including:
a. Introduction: background to your proposal; any work on the subject, published or unpublished, especially studies using molecular genetics
b. Specific statement of aims and objectives
c. Methodology: sample collection, molecular methods, data analysis and interpretation
d. Broader significance: how does addressing the aim help in a broader context (e.g. conservation, management, engineering, etc)

4. A Timeline of work to be carried out, which should indicate how long you think each step is going to take.

5. References - as many as you need, but at least 10-15.

Include page and line numbers throughout.

Given that this proposal is part of a class on molecular methods, the description of molecular approaches and methods to be used should be at least half of the project description (i.e. 2.5 pages). This could include any statements in the introduction about the particular suitablility of the approach you will take and the description of molecular methodology, data analysis and interpretation. Contact me if there are any questions or problems. Proposals are due on Mon, Nov 6. Submit your proposal as MSWord file via e-submit - a link will be provided soon. Here is an example proposal from last year's class.

Don't worry about a budget for the proposal - at this stage you do not have the information to do that. Be warned, however, that putting a budget together for a real proposal takes a considerable chunk of time.

Proposal Review

Research Proposals will be distributed by e-mail to two students for anonymous peer review - that means that everybody in the class will get two proposals to review. The main idea of these reviews is for you to obtain feedback on your own proposal, and to learn about reading, evaluating and commenting on other people's work - you will be asked to do that frequently in your scientific career. Reviews should not be longer than 2 single-spaced pages and are due on Mon, Nov 13.

There will be a proposal review sessions on Nov 15 & 17, where we will split the class into groups (who will have read each others proposal) and discuss the proposals.

Review Guidelines

The point of this exercise is to gain experience in evaluating the scientific writing of others. Your goal is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal you are reviewing and provide some specific ideas for improvement. In return, you should receive constructive suggestions to improve your own proposal. First read the entire proposal without commenting--resist the temptation to provide specific comments straight away--then read it again and comment. Think about the big picture - grammatical and stylistic shortcomings are only relevant if they compromise the comprehensibility of the proposal. Comments on scientific content are most important. Do not use the editing facility in MS Word - this usually results in nitpicky comments on specific wording rather than the scientific content.

Following are some points to consider as you write your review. Note that you do not need to address each one in each review--use these as a guideline to focus your comments where you feel each proposal needs most attention.

Final proposal

Revise your proposal based in feedback from instructor and peer review. The final version is due Wed, Nov 22.