This is a half-course devoted to writing a research proposal, which is similar in style to those scientists write for granting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health in order to obtain funding to carry out a series of experiments to address a significant issue in neuroscience.
Producing a research proposal will require that you are able to identify a relevant neuroscientific literature, evaluate it, and generate important issues worthy of further investigation. Once you have established what the issue is, you will need to propose a series of experiments that will address this issue. Typically, you should propose a series of experiments that would take place over about 2-3 years--again, your advisor will be the best judge of how many experiments that would be. The proposed experiments will require that you are able to understand neuroscientific methods, what kind of data will be generated, and how these data will be analyzed. You will have to anticipate possible outcomes and be able to explain how they will affect the development of the identified issue.
Your proposal will consist of the following sections:
- Title Page - the title page consists of the title, which is specific and descriptive of your proposed experiments, your name, and affiliation (Pomona College).
- Abstract - a brief, comprehensive summary of the proposal. It should consist of a summary of the major components of the proposal, including the issue you raise, the proposed experiments, and anticipated results and interpretation.
- Specific Aims - list the broad, long-term objectives and what the specific research proposed in this application is intended to accomplish.
- Background and Significance - briefly sketch the background leading to the present application, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify the gaps that the project is intended to fill. State concisely the importance and relevance of the research described in this application by relating the specific aims to the broad, long-term objectives.
- Research Design and Methods - this section will be the thrust of your proposal. The biggest problem students usually face here is how much detail to go into. In order to get a sense of style, use the Methods section of journal articles to give you an idea of how to write this section. The rule of thumb is that you will need to go into enough detail so that someone would be able to conduct your experiment from the information you supply. You will propose a series of experiments (i.e., Experiment 1, Experiment 2, etc.). For each experiment, you will develop the following subsections:
- Participants (or subjects) - you will need to specifically describe the participants or subjects to be used in your study. You will need to specify the number of subjects to be used, how are to be obtained, and describe them in enough detail (for animals, this would include: the genus, species, strain identification, supplier, sex, age, weight, physiological condition, etc.). Consult ethical guidelines for use of animal or human subjects as stated in the Journal of Neuroscience's Instructions for Authors, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) Guidebook, and the American Psychological Association's (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.
- Apparatus and/or materials - here you will describe the equipment, supplies, and materials to be used in the study. Standard equipment can be mentioned without detail. Specialized equipment will usually be described with the name and location of the supplier and model number. Procedure--detail what you propose to do and how you will do it. The procedure is where you will include information about the design of the experiment--how many groups and conditions exist, how subjects were assigned to each group and/or condition. It is usually very helpful to use tables to illustrate the design of your experiment.
- Potential Results - identify the results that you expect, the specific analyses you will be using to analyze your data, and how you would interpret these data.
- Discussion - the final section of the body of your proposal will contain a reconsideration of your specific goals, aims, or objectives; the specific analyses you will be using to analyze your data; possible outcomes of those analyses; and conclusions based on the possible outcomes. The discussion is also the place to propose future directions and experiments, based on the considered outcomes of the proposed experiments.
- Literature Cited - you will need to list in a specific and organized way the literature that you refer to in your proposal. There are many different “styles” used and the specific style you use will depend on what you have agreed to follow with your advisor.