Fish 521 - Grant Proposal Writing for Graduate Students






Required Reading



Practice in reading, writing, critiquing, and evaluating research grant and contract proposals. Lecture and discussion of funding resources, structure of proposals, proposal review, evaluation criteria, and agency feedback. Examples of successful and unsuccessful grant applications. Preparing proposals and critiquing others' efforts.

Winter Quarter 2015

Monday, 1:30-4:20

FSH 203

Class Workspace

Course Description

Writing grant proposals is one of the basic tools of a successful scientist. In most academic positions, a large part of scientific success is measured by the ability to attract funds. Furthermore, scientific projects are usually expensive in terms of salary, field work and laboratory analyses, and so you have to find the money to carry out the research. On the positive side, writing proposals can be one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of your job, especially when you are successful. And that's why we are here!

Another vital component of being a scientist is the ability to review colleagues' work critically, but constructively. Once you become established, you will receive many manuscripts and grant proposals to review each year. While such reviews are usually anonymous (that is, the authors do not know your identity), editors and panelists know who you are and you will quickly establish a reputation as a reviewer. It is important that you criticize the work according to rigorous scientific standards, but you should keep in mind that your review may have significant effects on other people's career and job prospects.

This class has several aims:

  • to prepare a proposal of your choice (see below for more details)
  • to review and critique proposals of your peers
  • to discuss aspects of proposal writing, such as
    • resources on campus for finding out about funding agencies, foundations
    • structure of successful grant proposals
    • aspects of the review process
    • examples of successful and unsuccessful grant proposals
  • to consider general aspects of scientific writing

The Proposal

Granting agencies differ a lot in the specificity of their research goals. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) usually accepts unsolicited proposals (that is, you can submit anything within a very general area, e.g. population biology), whereas more applied agencies such as the North Pacific Research Board are very specific in their requests for proposals (RFP). For such more specific agencies you can have the most exciting idea which could lead to a scientific revolution - if it is not responsive to the agency's RFP, it won't get funded. In such cases, part of the trick is to find a compromise between your interests and the agency's research priorities. However, here we follow the format of the NSF, which is one of the most general funding agencies.

Many of you already know that you need to produce a research proposal for your thesis work, to be submitted to your committee and to be included in your graduate student file. Guidelines for such proposals can be found on the SAFS web page. This class is a very good opportunity to work on your proposal, and I suggest that you use the time and feedback to produce at least a draft by the end of the class. I will be very happy to help you towards this aim, in class, outside class and in future.

Some of you have been hired on an RAship for a specific project. In that case, a proposal for your work already exists. It's nice to have an example of an obviously successful proposal (otherwise you wouldn't be here) already in hand, but it is important for your own career as well as for this class that you try to bring in your own ideas based on that proposal. This class is a good opportunity to develop these ideas. I certainly don't want to see large parts of your PIs proposal in your class work - if there are any questions, what's acceptable and what not, come and see me.

Reading and Textbooks

There is no required textbook for this class. However, everybody who wants to stay in the field should have a book on scientific writing in general. A list of excellent textbooks are given on the Books page, with some indications on their content. By now, I own several of them, and they all have been a good investment. Specifically, I would recommend buying Friedland & Folt (2009) - it's excellent value for money.

There are also some other documents you should read.

  • On the Links page, the first section is required reading for the class (I will assume you have looked at these documents), the second section is reference material that you don't need to read completely but that you should use as a reference. Finally, there is a section with general links that may be useful. This last section is work in progress - if you find links that may be interesting for your classmates, please send it to me and I will include it.
  • On the Documents page, there are files you will need
    • Instructions on proposal, proposal review and panel discussions
    • Grammar tips based on students' proposals in previous years (by Ted Pietsch)
    • Some examples of proposals (these proposals are examples for successful NSF proposals - they are not required reading but ignore at your own peril!)
    • Additional snippets as they come up during the class - check back frequently


Grading will be based both on your proposal, your review of your classmates' proposals, and the revisions to your proposal. Specifically, the grade will consist of the following:

  • Proposal (40 %)
    • Summary and title (5 %)
    • Introduction and aims (5 %)
    • Rationale and scope (5 %)
    • Research plan (5 %)
    • Intellectual merit and broader significance (5 %)
    • Budget and budget justification (5 %)
    • Full proposal draft (10%)
  • Proposal reviews (20 %)
    • I can't read all reviews, but will try to look at a few each time. Look at the review guidelines to see what I am after.
  • Incorporation of comments (10 %)
  • Final proposal (20 %)
    • graded at end of class
  • Discussion participation (10 %)


There are two weekly assignments in this class, both to be submitted online using Catalyst. Links for submission are on the Panels page. The timelines are very tight - remember if you don't submit your proposal, others can't comment, you won't get comments for revisions, and so on in a domino effect. I will instigate a strict deadline policy - submissions after that deadline will be possible but will not earn any credit. This may seem harsh, but the same is true for NSF or any other proposals - if you are only one minute behind the deadline, it won't be accepted. If you really have unavoidable conflicts, let me know IN ADVANCE.

  1. By Thursday, 12 noon, submit the section of your proposal for the respective week. Reviewers of the respective panel should download these sections as soon as possible - every student should have four proposal sections to download and review.
  2. By Sunday midnight (12 am), submit comments on the proposal sections you downloaded. We will read comments by the beginning of class. Bring your comments to class so you can discuss them. Every student should receive four reviews of their proposal section.

Academic Conduct:

Plagiarism, cheating, and other misconduct are serious violations of the student conduct code. We expect that you will know and follow the UW's policies on cheating and plagiarism. Any suspected cases of academic misconduct will be handled according to UW regulations. More information, including definitions and examples, can be found in the Faculty Resource for Grading and the Student Conduct Code (WAC 478‐120).