Research Proposal for Geosc500 Issues in Geosciences, Fall Term, 2019

Goals and rationale for the assignment This exercise provides experience summarizing a current issue in the Geosciences and will help you develop the research plans needed to advance the state of knowledge in your area. Writing research proposals is an important skill for any career in Geosciences, including those in academia, industry, or government.  During your time in graduate school, most of you will conduct research that is funded by government agencies (e.g., National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, etc.) or industry, and some of you will be asked to participate in the development of a research proposal to generate further funding. We hope that you will see how the process of writing a proposal can help clarify your thoughts on a topic, hone your ability to present cogent arguments for the underlying processes and logic, and develop testable hypotheses.  One of our goals is to help you get started with a thesis proposal (MS students) or second paper/proposal for the PhD candidacy exam. Thus, we encourage you to discuss your ideas for this assignment with your research advisor(s).  However, the proposal should be written and produced by you alone.


Proposals should address a topic in the Geosciences.  If you are unsure about your topic, please feel free to ask one of us.


Deadlines (Submit as one pdf file named in our normal format.)

1. 2-3 page executive summary and introduction due Oct. 23rd.  This should include references to two or three papers, and ideally one of these will be as a recent paper published in Science, Nature, Geology, or another leading journal.

2. Final proposal due Nov 20th. Strict 10 page limit.


Final Product:

The Research Proposal should focus on a topic in Geoscience that is of interest to you. It should include a one-page project summary, an introduction, a background summary, a clear statement of the hypothesis to be tested, a description of the proposed work, and a statement of the significance of the proposed work. Strict 10 page limit. Page limit includes everything (summary, main text, figures, and references).  Font size, line spacing, and page margins as per NSF guidelines: 12 pt. font (e.g., Times Roman), no more than 6 lines of text per inch, 1 inch margins.

Advisor Input and Review You are encouraged to discuss the proposal and research plans with your advisor(s). To facilitate that interaction, we require that you solicit input from one or more advisors. They may provide written comments directly to you or these may be sent to one of us ( and/or Fisher ( On a separate page, at the end of your proposal, please summarize the discussion with your advisor(s), including any key points that helped hone the focus and direction of your research.


Proposal Evaluation Panels Each proposal will be evaluated by a panel of your peers.  A panel will include 5 panelists and will be responsible for evaluating 5 proposals.  The proposals will be distributed electronically and the panels will meet in early December to discuss them.  At the completion of that meeting, each panel will make a recommendation (a priority list) along with a written panel summary of each proposal.


Proposal Quality

Strong proposals include:

A succinct summary of what we know about the topic, including references to key early works and the most recent works published in this area.

A statement of the problem to be addressed. This should focus on what we need to know next, as a community, in order to make progress in this scientific area.

Testable scientific hypotheses that are clearly linked to the proposed work.

A concise statement of the scientific background in the proposed area.

A list of the key questions to be addressed.

Preliminary work, by you or others, showing that the proposed plan is feasible and likely to produce useful results. This could include original research and data gathering or it could involve using data from others, and replotting or reanalyzing these data.

Headings and subheadings to guide the reader through the proposal.

Figures such as maps, key data sets, results of theoretical or numerical models, and diagrams that explain conceptual models or hypotheses.

A statement of work to be conducted, which may include a timeline and key milestones for progress.


Weak proposals include:

Poorly written summaries, omission of key references.

Hypotheses that are not testable and/or not related to the proposed work.

Indications that the author is not committed to excellence, such as typos in the document, figures that are hard to read and not carefully described, incomplete sentences, poor grammar, large page margins or proposal documents that are not near the page limit –all of which are signs that the main goal was to fill space rather than explain an idea and plan that they are passionate about.