Research Proposal

  1. Steps for preparing research proposal:
    1. Each student will submit a proposal title. The qualifying exam topic may be unrelated to the student's thesis work, related to the thesis work, or, should the student have an idea of what the thesis project will be the time of the exam, on the actual thesis project.  The choice should be made in consultation with the student's advisor. The proposal must demonstrate the student's ability to formulate original hypotheses, to test these hypotheses experimentally, and to interpret experimental results in the context of published literature in the field. The ideas behind the proposal should be generated by the student and not by the mentor, and should the topic be on the thesis proposal, the mentor will attest that the proposal represents original ideas from the student (even though the mentor may have originally steered the student onto this project).
    2. The Qualifying Exam Committee (QEC) will be appointed and the student will be notified of the Committee's composition. The committee will have at least 4 members. The student's potential thesis advisor shall not be a member of the QEC. The chair and at least two other members shall be from the primary Program; at least one member shall be from another Program within the school. At least three members need to be present at the exam. The QEC will be selected to reflect the subject of the proposal, the recommendations of the mentor and student, and with an attempt to involve as many IMP faculty as possible.
    3. Each student will develop a 1 page Abstract. One page (single spaced, 1 inch margins, 11 pt font or larger) is the maximum length allowed.  Proposed areas for the research proposal can be discussed with anyone during the preparation of the Abstract. Students are encouraged to discuss their choice of topic with their research advisor and to discuss their proposed experiments with committee members during preparation of the Abstract. Faculty may provide technical insight into and literature references for experimental methodologies but may not contribute to the experimental design of the proposal. Once the Abstract has been accepted, no further discussion is permitted with any faculty member. Discussion with postdoctoral fellows and other graduate students is permitted during the entire process and in fact is highly encouraged. Once the Abstract is prepared, the student should distribute it to all members of his/her Committee. The Committee will meet and develop a consensus on the student's Abstract draft, then meet with the student to discuss the Abstract. The Abstract meeting should discuss the proposed experiments in detail, with the student being asked to describe them to the faculty. Generally, the meeting with the student is at least 1 hr in length, as it is essential that the proposed experiments be clear to the Faculty in order for them to be critically assessed. Faculty that cannot attend the Abstract meeting should not participate in the exam. The Chair of the committee should take notes of the meeting and thoroughly discuss the suggestions with the student. Often, subsequent dialogue regarding a revised Abstract occurs via email. If so, the messages should be forwarded to all of the committee members as well as the student. The Abstract must be approved by the QE committee prior to development into a research proposal. It is common for students to be asked to revise their abstract based on faculty comments before its acceptance. Only one revision is permitted.
    4. Following acceptance of the Abstract, the student prepares the full-length proposal (see detailed instructions below). Students are encouraged to have postdocs and other students critically read their proposals. The due date for the proposal is four weeks (28 days) after the abstract acceptance.
    5. Once the proposal is prepared and submitted, the Qualifying Exam will be scheduled no sooner than 10 days after the receipt of the proposal. The Chair of the committee will handle the details of scheduling the exam. The student’s thesis advisor may not be present at the exam.
  2. The proposal: (15 pages maximum, including figures, double-spaced, 1 inch margins, 11 pt font or larger).6
    Once the abstract is approved, the student is expected to prepare a full-length proposal developing the ideas outlined in the abstract. The page limits apply to the figures also, but not to the bibliography. The proposal will be an in-depth examination of the proposed topic with a comprehensive literature review. The proposal should include the following sections and address the following issues:
    1. Introduction: (no more that 7 pages). This section serves to introduce the problem you wish to address experimentally, and includes a brief description of previous relevant research, and an explanation of why your project is important and interesting. In the Introduction you should address the following questions, but the order of the questions will be determined by the nature of your project. What is the hypothesis that you plan to test? Why is this an interesting problem? Why is this an important problem (i.e., what is the significance)? What published work is relevant to your proposal? How do published results support or conflict with your hypothesis? Include both where appropriate. What are the experimental systems that you will use to test your hypothesis and (if it is not obvious) how do they work?
    2. Experimental Design, Results, and Interpretation: (~8 pages). What are the experiments that you will do to test your model? Why is this the best approach? Do not list methods as a separate section and do not repeat details of published procedures (i.e., enzyme concentration, buffers, etc.) in the proposal, but you will be expected to be intimately familiar with the methodology for the oral exam. What are the anticipated results, and why do you expect them? What are possible alternative results and how would you explain them? What would you do if your experiments did not work as expected? Have you really tested your hypothesis? (If the answer to the last question is “no”, start over again.) You should include those figures and tables that will help your committee understand and evaluate your proposal. Do not present your expected results as figures or tables in the written proposal, but do have them clearly thought out and do discuss them clearly.
    3. Bibliography: Your bibliography should be sufficiently comprehensive to include all of the pertinent references. If you cite a paper, it will be assumed that you have read it and that you are familiar with its details. Cite complete references, with titles, and use the style found in either the Journal of Immunology, Cell or Journal of Virology, or Journal of Bacteriology.
  3. Possible outcomes of the proposal part of the exam:
    1. Pass - congratulations!
    2. Retest: the committee decides that the written proposal and/or oral defense of proposal are not adequate but do not deserve failure. The QEC decides upon the type of retest. The student must complete a Re-examination Request form and submit it to the Dean for approval. The retest must occur within 4 weeks.
      Options are:
      1. Rewrite the proposal
      2. Re-defend the proposal
      3. Rewrite and re-defend the proposal
      4. Fail – without option to remediate. This results in dismissal from the Program in Immunology and Microbiology. A recommendation will be made to the Dean for dismissal from the Graduate School.