Chemistry Graduate Program

Guidelines for Preparation of Oral Comprehensive Exam Proposal

(Approved at the Departmental Meeting, October 22, 1998.)

Proposal Format

Before attempting to write a proposal, it is extremely important to have a clear idea about the message which the document must contain. If this message is not clear to the investigator, it will certainly not be clear to those responsible for judging it.  The key questions that must be answered are:

  • What do you intend to do?
  • Why is the work important?
  • What has already been done?
  • How are you going to do the work?

(This should include attention to alternative approaches that might be needed to accomplish the goals of your research.)

The National Institutes of Health have adopted a proposal format which is, on the one hand, somewhat rigid, but which can help to remind proposal writers to keep the proposal in focus. A lack of focus and a clearly defined and logical experimental plan are the most frequent deficiencies of unsuccessful proposals. The answers to the above questions can be addressed in the five sections described below.

The sum of the pages for Sections A-D should be 10-12 (based on double spacing and 11 pt type).

  1. Specific Aims
    List the broad, long-term objectives and what your proposal is intended to accomplish. State the hypothesis to be tested. This section should not exceed one page. It is extremely important to be concise.
  2. Background and Significance
    Briefly sketch the background leading to the present proposal, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify the gaps which the proposal is intended to fill or new frontiers to be explored. State concisely the importance and relevance of the research described in this proposal by relating the specific aims to the broad, long-term, objectives. Two to three pages are recommended.
  3. Preliminary Studies
    Normally it will not be necessary to employ this section for your oral exam proposal unless you have made some preliminary measurements or calculations which might be included at this point.
  4. Research Design and Methods
    Describe the research design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project. Include how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted. 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. As part of this section, provide a tentative sequence or timetable for the project. Point out any procedures, situations, or materials that may be especially hazardous to personnel and the precautions to be exercised. This section of the proposal is clearly the most important. The length of this section will depend upon the nature of the proposal but may be affected by the inclusion of tables, figures or images.
  5. Literature Cited
    References should be limited to relevant and current literature. While there is no limitation on the number of references, it is important to be concise and to select only those literature references pertinent to the proposed research. It is extremely important that the references are correctly cited and that the number of the reference is correctly noted in the text. There is considerable variation among journals as to the correct format for references. Whatever format is chosen should be followed consistently.

Additional Comments

  1. Academic Misconduct
    1. Article II, Section 6 of the Rules and Regulations of the University Senate “Academic misconduct by a student shall include, but not be limited to....knowingly misrepresenting the source of any academic work, falsification of research results, plagiarizing of another’s work, violation of regulations or ethical codes for the treatment of human and animal subjects, or otherwise acting dishonestly in research.”
    2. The Chemistry Department strongly supports sanctions for all acts of academic misconduct (as contained in the appendix of all University Timetables under the section entitled Student Rights and Responsibilities).
    3. Of particular concern in the preparation of a written proposal is giving proper credit in writing to the originators of specific ideas or to the way they have chosen to express them; however, what you write should be almost entirely in your own words with quoted material being used very sparingly. Using the precise wording of any author without identifying the phrasing as a quotation is plagiarism.
  2. Appearance of Proposal - The appearance of the proposal matters. What should matter most is the content, but reviewers tend to react in a strongly negative way to documents which contain misspelled words, grammatical errors, incorrect equations or reactions, or structures incorrectly drawn. They get especially angry if they go to the library to look up a reference you have cited only to discover that it does not exist. Sloppy work in the proposal is equated with sloppy science.
  3. Regulatory Requirements - If your proposal involves human subjects, animals, biohazards, or radioisotopes, then you should be prepared to demonstrate an understanding of the regulations under which the above activities must operate. Discuss with your research director whether or not to include a short section at the end of the proposal to address such topics.

Chemistry department receives more than $6 million in research grants annually
14 chemistry faculty members have NSF CAREER Awards
Longest-running chemistry Research Experience for Undergraduates in the nation