PRESENTING A GRANT PROPOSAL*
In order to conduct research today, both students and faculty in all fields must submit
grant proposals. Governmental agencies, medical facilities, businesses, farmers, educational
facilities, arts organizations--everyone has to submit grant proposals. Written proposals are the
most common. But sometimes, you must also present a proposal orally. Oral presentations of
proposed work are often necessary to obtain funding from businesses and arts organizations.
Graduate students in the sciences are often required to give formal oral presentations of their
proposed masters or doctoral thesis research to their committees.
In general, one gets no practice with writing or presenting proposals prior to the first one.
Doing a poor job (from lack of prior experience) can mean you gain no funding and so your
research ends before you have begun. One objective of this assignment is to give you an
opportunity to present an oral proposal when it doesn't count for anything except a grade (rather
than funds that could make or break your research).
The basic idea behind any grant proposal is to convince the funding agency that they
should support your research. We will use the form of a grant proposal that is required by the
National Science Foundation. The NSF is a major funding agency for research in molecular
biology. For this course we will assume that you are applying for an Undergraduate Research
Participation Grant, (recently eliminated from NSF) which funds summer research projects for
undergraduates. When you submit a grant request to the NSF, they send the proposal out for
review to a number of colleagues. These reviewers are scientists in your field who read the
proposal and send their comments to the agency. The reviewers make a recommendation about
whether the agency should support your research or not. In presenting an oral proposal, your goal
is essentially the same as in a written proposal: to convince your audience that they should
support your research.
With most grant requests, you need to have some preliminary data or information on
which to base the proposal. However, proposals generally allow more room for speculation than
do published papers. You can present preliminary data that you collect on your own and/or you
can present information from the literature that provides the necessary information about your
model system and research plan to demonstrate that the project is feasible. By demonstrating a
strong foundation for your research, you can give the reviewer the impression that your
experiments will indeed yield valuable information that bear directly upon the scientific
question(s) that you set out to address.
"The proposal should include (1) the objectives and scientific significance of the proposed
work; (2) the suitability of the methods to be employed; (3) qualifications of the investigator and (4)
the amount of funding required. It should present the scientific merit of the proposed project clearly
and convincingly and should be prepared with the care and thoroughness of a paper for
publication." (Quoted from NSF guidelines.) You will need to convince a reviewer that the project
is worth doing, that the methods are appropriate, that you are qualified and know how to do the
work and that the funding is reasonable. You must make a strong case for your project and
convince the funding agency to provide financial support for your research (at your requested level).
Often an important part of convincing the reviewers that the project in molecular biology is "worth
doing" is presenting a well-thought out plan of experiments.
*modified from Ecology 1993, Dr. B. Ploger.WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR ORAL REPORTS
Your talk will be a formal presentation of your Project Description. This is the main
body of any proposal, written or oral. The project description should be presented more or less
like a research report except that the object is to convince the audience that this is a project worth
doing. The Project Description lays out very explicitly exactly what you plan to do and why it is
worthwhile. A project description includes the following sections usually in this order:
(a) Introduction. The introduction should establish the objectives of the research
and its expected significance in enhancing understanding of an important scientific
question. The introduction should include a statement of the contribution of your work to
the present state of knowledge in the field. This is the place to establish the "big picture"
of how your work will address one of the major questions in biology. In written
proposals, a separate section, titled "significance" sometimes follows the introduction, in
which case background and objectives are emphasized in the introduction, and statements
about significance are reserved for this separate section.
(b) Experimental Design. This should include the specific hypotheses,
experimental design and a description of the experimental methods and procedures. In
molecular biology, one often creates a product such as a clone, sequence, or transgenic
organism. Specifically describe these products as well as any kind of data that you will
(c) Pilot Data. You should include any pilot results or information from the
literature that will demonstrate that the project is feasible, that you know how to do the
work and that you have thought through all the difficulties including the data analysis.
(d) Research Schedule. You must set forth your precise time schedule for the
research. In this case you must be able to conduct the research in the remainder of the
semester. The granting agency needs to be convinced that the work can be completed in
the allotted time. You may want to make an overhead that shows a time line and
indicates what parts of the project you will due in the various weeks.
(e) Summary. End with a short final section that summarizes and pulls together
the proposal and makes the case for supporting the proposed research. This is a good
place to restate (briefly, in one or a few sentences) the significance of your project to
advancing understanding of the major issue in biology to which your work relates.
Citing Literature orally:
Your oral report should focus on your research plans. It should not be a summary of each
of the papers that you read. You should mention papers (i.e. author(s), journal and year
published) whenever the ideas that you are expressing or the predictions you are making are
based on these papers, but don't go into the details of what each paper said. Keep your focus on
what you are planning to do and why you are doing it. The only time you may want to mention
details from a paper would be if these specific details help you to establish that your study is
feasible using your chosen organism(s).
WRITTEN MATERIALS TO BE SUBMITTED:
1. Project Summary. A 150-word summary or abstract of the proposed research is required by
NSF. NSF publishes these summaries in the Congressional Record if the proposal is funded.
The summary should include a statement of the research objectives, the scientific methods to
be employed and the significance of the proposed research to the advancement of scientific
knowledge. It should be informative to scientists in the same or related fields and
understandable to non-scientists.
2. Outline. A 1-page (maximum) outline of the information presented in your talk.
3. Experimental Design. An approximately 3-5 page written description of the experimental
design as described above. Graphics such as flow-charts, figures and/or tables are often
helpful in this section. Note that when graphics are used items must be clearly labeled.
Remember that the reviewer is hearing about this project for the first time so your job is to
make the description of you project easy to understand yet specific enough to convince the
reviewer that the many aspects of setting-up a new research project have been well thought-
out. For example, if you are making a new clone, you must give a detailed account of: the
vector to be used, source of the DNA to be cloned, selection method for identification of the
clone, data which will be collected to clearly identify the clone, and controls that will be
3. Literature cited. A list of papers containing information you used in your grant proposal (oral
and written). You want to show the reviewer that you are acquainted with the major issues in
this field. Many of your references should be taken from the primary literature (i.e. not
textbooks or reviews). You should also include references that help you to establish the
feasibility of your project including protocols. We will use the format for references
according to the Investigations manual. Note that literature cited is not the same a
bibliography and should only include references that were specifically “called out” in the
4. Curriculum Vitae or Biographical Sketch. A sample format is included in Appendix I.
Include anything you can think of that is relevant to your ability to carry out this project.
5. Budget. Obviously, you must include a budget in your proposal, since you are requesting
support to conduct the research. Since the NSF budget page can be very complicated, you
need only submit a conventional budget request for purposes of this course. For this
assignment you do not need to list items that you have used during the scheduled lab sessions
of this course. All additional material should be listed. Note that some catalogues are
available in the lab, others are available upon request and online. A sample budget page is
included in Appendix II. A budget should be broken down into the following categories:
a. Salaries and Wages. Students normally get $2,500.00 for one term of research
support, so you can apply for that amount.
b. Equipment. Permanent equipment is defined as anything whose initial cost is more
than $300.00 or which has an expected lifetime of more than one year. You
should provide realistic estimates of what you need and cannot easily borrow.
Note that it is unlikely that equipment requests will be awarded for this course.
c. Materials and Supplies. Indicate in general terms the types of required expendable
materials and supplies with their estimated costs.
d. Travel. You will want to request funds to support your travel for collecting animals or
doing the research (Grinnell area only). You may request 22¢ per mile.
e. Publication Costs. It costs money to prepare manuscripts, to pay the journal page
charges and to buy copies of your journal article (reprints) to distribute to
colleagues. Add about $200.00 here.
Remember one of the questions which the reviewer of your proposal is always asked is
whether your budget is realistic. They will criticize budgets that are too low as
well as those that are too high.
6. Facilities Available. Every proposal has one final and important section, facilities
Here you lay out where you are going to conduct the research,, the existing equipment you will
be using and the like.
Juan Paul Jones
Present Address Department of Biology Telephone 641-269-3172
Grinnell College Email email@example.com
Grinnell, IA 50112
Education Ames Senior High School Citizenship U.S.
Ames, Iowa Diploma 1990
Grinnell, IA, 1990-present (BS expected May 1995)
(also include any other junior colleges or colleges and the years you attended them)
Positions Held (List only positions related to academic achievements and to your ability to
conduct this research.)
Honors and Awards
Scientific Societies (list the memberships you have in scientific societies.)
Languages (List any foreign languages that you can read, write or speak.)
Special Skills (List here any special skills relevant to your ability to conduct research, such as
scuba diver or computer skills.)
Talks Given at Scientific Meetings
Research Projects (Include here any projects on which you have been an assistant or work-study
student, directed research projects or extended projects in courses.)
Publications Include oral presentations like posters here too. (Give the full citation.)
(You should fill in each of the above categories if appropriate. Do not include the category if it is
not relevant to you.)
Salaries and Wages $2500.00
tape recorder $ 200.00
binoculars $ 250.00
Materials and Supplies
Antibiotics $ 50.00
Restriction enzymes $ 150.00
(100 miles at $0.22/mile) $ 22.00
Publication Costs $ 200.00