Proposal Writing - Sow well now to reap big later!

Navigating Graduate
School and Beyond:
Sow Well Now To Reap Big
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Why write a proposal
The actual proposal
Top 10 do’s for proposal writing
Proposal review process
Proposal evaluation form
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Why write a proposal
• A PhD student must write a proposal for
committee before dissertation. Write this
proposal to federal guidelines.
• Five “golden opportunities” to write and win a
proposal through NASA, DoD, and NSF
• These proposals must be written within 5 years
of graduation
• If you win through one agency, you can still
submit to another agency
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Types of proposals
• Solicited proposal – The agency has a research
problem and need to hire scientists to solve the
• Unsolicited proposal – Agency has a certain
amount of money to use each year for
research. No specific problem is identified.
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Grants and contracts
• Grant – An agency gives you money to do good
research, write quality papers, and stay
engaged in your field
• Contract – An agency expects deliverables. You
must provide a product or body of knowledge.
• Grants provide more intellectual freedom
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Request for Proposal (RFP)
• Understand all the instructions (number of
pages, font size, etc.)
• Read the evaluation criteria and make sure
each requirement is fulfilled. Highlight key
• Talk to the program manager for details and
guidance not have been included in the RFP
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• Find out how many proposals the funding
agency will fund each year.
• Determine how much money will be given to
each project.
• Know how long the project will be funded.
• Verify when the money can be expected.
• Treat the Office of Sponsored Programs staff
• Realize that your first few grants will be small.
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Sample budget
Salary – Principal Investigator (3 months)
Salary – Grad student (1 year stipend)
Grad Student (tuition and benefits)
PI, fringe benefits
Journal publications (2 per year)
Misc (books and software)
Facilities & Administrative (based on 50K subject to F&A)
Total Costs
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The Actual Proposal
• Realize that only 10-20% of proposals are
• Read the RFP and know the requirements
• Make sure the proposal idea fits the need of
the funding agency
• Talk to the program manager
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Tips for selection process
• Be aware of funding cycles. Some agencies
solicit proposals and some accept proposals
throughout the year.
• Meet all deadlines including Letter of Intent
and full proposal
• Follow the agencies format requirements
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Sample proposal outline
1. Cover page
a. Name/Address/Signature of PI
b.Descriptive title of proposed investigation
c. Name(s)/Address(es) of Co-I’s)
d.Name/Title/Address/Signature of
authorizing institutional representative
2. Summary (abstract) of investigation (1 page)
3. Budget summaries (total for each year)
4. Table of Contents
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Sample proposal outline (cont.)
5. Scientific/Technical section
a. Objectives and significance of investigation
b.Technical approach and methodology
c. Relevance to agency
d.Relationship to previous work in field
and/or state of the art
e.Management plan, including role of Co-I’s
f. Timeline of activities (with key milestones)
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Sample proposal outline (cont.)
Education/Public outreach effort
Curriculum Vitae for each PI and Co-I
Detailed budget and management plan
Current and pending research support for PI
and key Co-I’s
10.Facilities and equipment (both available and
11.Certifications (required by U.S. Code) – Your
institution will take care of this
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Sample timeline – Month 1
Segment 1
Segment 2
Segment 3
Read & re-read
Write relevance to
Intro with
literature survey
Create template
Work on hypothesis
Write data section
Make a checklist
Determine sections
of all requirements each Co-I will write
Compile the
literature survey
Refine outline
Work on budget and
help with Co-I’s
Finalize budget with
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Sample timeline – Month 2
Segment 1
Segment 2
Segment 3
Write methods and
technical approach
Create graphics –
first cut
Write project
Have a clear path
from objectives to
Have a clear plan of
what you have done
& what you want to
Refine and finalize
Provide first draft
to Co-I’s for
Type set proposal
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Write expected
Write management
plan & budget
Sample timeline – Month 3
Segment 1
Segment 2
Segment 3
Provide a clean copy Read your proposal Finalize proposal
to two internal
objectively and write
reviewers in your
down critical issues.
Speak with your
internal reviewers
and then modify
Go over checklist
Upload proposal
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Tips for writing abstract
• Write the abstract last using clear, concise
• Explain why the project is important
• Explain how the project fits the needs of the
agency and the RFP.
• State the hypothesis and who will benefit.
• Mention key data and methods.
• Capture your excitement for the project in the
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Additional tips for proposal
• Literature review – Demonstrate knowledge of
the state of the art and how this project will
progress the field further.
• Data – Be sure that data fits the overall scope
of the project.
• Timeline – Consider how much time will be
needed to build instruments needed and allow
for this time in the proposal.
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• Mention your understanding of the limitations
of your data and methods.
• Avoid modesty. Play up your team’s strengths
and accomplishments.
• Have one overall goal and specific objectives.
• Use hypothesis-driven proposal if possible.
Make sure hypothesis is meaningful.
• Clearly explain methods and correct major
• Explain complex concepts.
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• Use top notch figures with good labels and
crisp axes and numbers.
• Use appropriate colors in figures.
• Explain all terms and break down the physical
significance of equations.
• Have a management plan and timeline with
contingency plan.
• Use relevant info and papers in a 1-2 page CV.
• Consider your project’s broader impacts on
education and outreach.
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Top ten do’s for proposal writing
1. Carefully follow the instructions in the RFP
2. Focus the proposal on a single scientific
problem describing the research plan and
anticipated results.
3. Provide judicious amounts of tutorial material,
especially if proposing innovative work.
4. Give credit to others as appropriate by
including references to preceding work in the
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5. Proofread and spell check before submitting. If
possible, have a colleague proof the proposal.
6. Keep the proposal text as short as possible
without sacrificing completeness.
7. Use clear, easy to read type fonts and page
layouts of material.
8. Include all requested information.
9. Strive for realism and adequacy of the budget.
10.Provide any and all material necessary to
understand the budget.
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Proposal review process
Metrics for rating
Rating scale
Program manager
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Metrics for rating
Relevance to agency mission and mandate
Technical merit
Investigator’s expertise and strength
Realism of costs proposed
Overall evaluation
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Rating scale
• Excellent (5 points)
• Very good (4 points)
• Good (3 points)
• Fair (2 points)
• Poor (1 point)
• High risk
Points and ratings are subjective.
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Program Manager
• Looks at ratings and metrics
• Considers the amount of money available
• Makes a decision or consults with a panel of
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Composed of a superset of reviewers
Each proposal is presented by a lead member
Panel discusses and debates each proposal
Each proposal is rated
PM and upper level manager will make final
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• Happy letter 
• Read and follow the instructions
• Read comments from the reviewers
• Contact OSP
• Sad letter 
• Don’t get discouraged
• Read the reviews
• Make notes about what you would change
• Rewrite the proposal and resubmit
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