Biology 191: Research Grant Proposal

The Research Grant Proposal Option

The grant proposal option is a one-half credit, one-semester exercise that requires you to write a research grant proposal like those that practicing biologists submit to granting agencies. Such a proposal explains the exact nature of the problem and sets it within the context of work already accomplished in the field in order to explain why the problem is an interesting and important one to study. The proposal then outlines, in considerable detail, the approach that you would use if you were actually to carry out the research. We expect you to put in an effort throughout the semester equivalent to that of a regular, one-half credit course.

The Research Grant Proposal option will give you an opportunity to demonstrate several important scientific tools: familiarity with the current knowledge of a particular field; the ability to distinguish between an important question and a trivial one; familiarity with the scientific method and the tools used in a particular field, including their advantages and their limitations; the ability to generate a testable hypothesis and to design a series of experiments to test it.  The final draft of your proposal should describe a series of experiments that would take you 2-3 years of full-time effort to carry out.

Public Presentation

All research grant proposal thesis students are required to deliver a public presentation to students and faculty in a forum at the end of the Spring Semester, usually held on the last Friday of classes.

How to Write Your Grant Proposal Thesis

Your grant proposal must comprise the following parts:


A good title is brief and informative. Try to encapsulate the research topic and objectives – i.e. what your thesis is about.  Humor is not appropriate in a thesis title.


You should begin your proposal with a half page statement of your research question and the hypothesis (or hypotheses) that you are going to test, followed by a brief description of the approach you will take to test your hypotheses experimentally.


The Introduction consists of an introduction to the field as a whole, a critical review of the work that has already been carried out in the field and a definition of the question you propose to investigate.  You should state your research question clearly and explicitly at the beginning of this section so your readers have a context for the review.  Critically discuss the background information relevant to the problem you have chosen to study, emphasizing why this problem is scientifically interesting and worth investigating experimentally. You should not merely state the conclusions of the work you are reviewing; instead, briefly describe the experiments, the actual results (in quantitative terms whenever possible), and THEN assess what the results mean.  Do you agree with the interpretation of the results?  Did the investigators use the most appropriate approaches to address their question? This literature review section should begin in general terms, get progressively more focused, and ultimately lead the reader to the (inevitable) conclusion that we need to know the answer to the question you have posed.  You need to provide the rationales for your hypotheses, i.e., how you arrived at them.  Remember, a hypothesis is a statement of principle that allows one to predict results of specific experiments.  A hypothesis is NOT a prediction.  The relevance of the background information to your research question and hypotheses should be made clear throughout this entire section.

Experimental Section

The Experimental Section contains a detailed description of the procedures you will use to test your hypothesis, written so your readers could duplicate your experiments if necessary.  If the proposal involves field research, you address where you will work, on what organisms, and why.  What observations will you make, and what experiments will you perform?  If the proposal involves laboratory work, what experimental procedures will you use?

Describe your experiments in sufficient detail so that they could be repeated exactly.  What control experiments will you carry out?  How will you measure or quantify your results?  What difficulties do you anticipate with your experimental design or other aspects of the project, and how can you deal with those?  If statistical treatments are appropriate, which one(s) will you apply, and why?  To assure that what you propose is practical, try to design your proposal so that you are discussing methods and techniques with which you are familiar and that you could carry out in a typical laboratory/field setting.  If relevant, all experiments must comply with federal and college guidelines that regulate the use of humans and animals as research subjects.

Predicted Results Section

For each experimental method you choose, you must state what specific results you expect to obtain in order to conclude that your hypothesis is supported and how you would interpret results other than those you expect.  This section is critical to convincing your readers that you have designed an experimental protocol that will lead to a successful test of your hypothesis, generating clearly interpretable data from which you can draw strong conclusions.

Note: You may find it appropriate to combine the Experimental and Expected Results sections. This is an acceptable format.


In light of the results you expect to obtain from your planned experiments, what conclusions can you draw from these data?  What are possible alternative interpretations and how you can distinguish among them?  Finally, you need to discuss the significance of your findings to your field of study.  [This does not mean, however, that you are obligated to relate what you are doing directly to biomedical research.]  Indicate how your research has moved the knowledge in your field of study forward in a significant way.  In this section you relate the results of your work to the general body of knowledge you described and assessed in the Introduction.  In other words, here you come full circle, relating what your work has revealed to the state of knowledge when you began your project.

Your final grade in these courses will be assessed a penalty of at least one grade point, and depending upon circumstances a penalty of up to one grade point per day (weekends included) when deadlines for any of the following are missed: contract submission, progress report, first draft, and final draft. All deadlines are at 5:00 PM on the specified day. If these deadlines change in any way, you will be informed well in advance.

Your final grade in these courses will be assessed a penalty of at least one grade point, and depending upon circumstances a penalty of up to one grade point per day (weekends included) when deadlines for any of the following are missed: contract submission, progress report, first draft, and final draft. All deadlines are at 5:00 PM on the specified day. If these deadlines change in any way, you will be informed well in advance.

Deadlines for the Research Grant Proposal Thesis

Deadline Item Fall 2014 Spring 2015
1) Contract submission after obtaining the signature of one reader and listing three additional faculty who could be potential readers, submit the signed contract, abstract, and reference list to Dr. Karnovsky. TBA TBA
2) Submission of complete draft* of entire research proposal, including a clear statement of your research question, the literature review, experimental procedure, expected results and discussion. Submit one copy to each reader. The grade received on this draft will contribute 50% to your final grade for this course. TBA TBA
3) Submission of final** revised version of the entire proposal. The grade received will be averaged with the grade received for the complete draft earlier in the semester to give the final grade for the course. TBA TBA
4)Practice presentation. Readers will help you with instructions for how to prepare your presentation. TBA TBA
5) Public Presentation. After presentations, celebration and hand printing. TBA TBA

* A complete draft is a finished piece of work. It is NOT a rough draft. In addition, you are expected to demonstrate significant improvement from the complete draft to the final revised version. Such improvement should go beyond simply addressing reader comments; a global revision is required. Consequently, the complete draft will be graded as a “work in progress”, taking into account both the quality of the document and the potential for improvement. The grade on this draft contributes 50% to your final grade. If sufficient improvement is not demonstrated in the final revised version, your grade in the BIO 191 will be LOWER than that received on the complete draft.

** Turn in one copy for each reader and a CD containing your thesis in Word or pdf format for the Biology Department archives. You must turn in the complete drafts, with the reader's comments, when you turn in the final draft. Please remember to put page numbers on ALL written material given to readers for feedback.