20.109(F12): Written research pre-proposal

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20.109(F12): Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering

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Contents

Where you're heading

Writing a research proposal requires that you identify an interesting topic, spend lots of time learning about it, and then design some clever experiments to advance the field. It also requires that you articulate your ideas so any reader is convinced of your expertise, your creativity and the significance of your findings. With this assignment, you will have the opportunity to craft a research idea and then submit or present a proposal, as if you were seeking to fund the work.

Your final proposal, whether delivered orally or in written form, will include the following elements.

  • A summary - though presented first, this is best written last!
  • An introduction- giving a brief statement of why the area of study is important and some description of what's been done already
  • A structural hole, gap in understanding or a need - this is the point of departure for your research idea
  • An explanation of the research - details about what you plan to do
  • A budget - to establish your expertise by showing reasonable requests
  • A bibliography - references cited in the proposal, further establishing your expertise

How to get there

To begin you must identify your research question. This may be the hardest part as well as the most fun. You can start by finding a handful of topics to share with your lab partner. Together you should discuss and evaluate the topics you’ve gathered. Consider them based on:

  • your interest in the topic
  • the availability of good background information
  • your likelihood of successfully advancing current understanding
  • the possibility of advancing foundational technologies or finding practical applications
  • if your proposal could be carried out in a reasonable amount of time and with non-infinite resources

It might be that not one of the topics you’ve identified is really suitable, in which case you should find some new ideas. It’s also possible that through discussion with your lab partner, you’ve found something new to consider. Both of these outcomes are fine but relatively quickly you and your partner should settle on a general topic or two so you can begin the next step in your pre-proposal writing, namely background reading and critical thinking about the topic.

Start this next stage by searching the literature, talking with people, generating some ideas and critically evaluating them. Keep track of your efforts. Get organized with a wiki catalog (for good examples see “yeast rebuild” or the “T7.2”), with a google doc, or even with good old pen and paper. How you catalog this proposal development is up to you but be active in organizing your work or you'll find it much harder to pull all the content into a cohesive proposal when the time comes.

The pre-proposal

Everyone must develop a wiki page that uses the format found here.
Your proposal will be evaluated based on its:

    • creativity and innovation with its context
    • clarity of goals and objectives
    • clarity of writing and figure
    • clarity of what results will achieve over current situation
    • format

The reader of your pre-proposal should leave with the feeling of "Great idea! I wish I'd thought of that..."

A few ground rules that are 20.109 specific

  • you should not propose any research question that has been the subject of your UROP or research experience outside of 20.109. This proposal must be original.
  • you should keep in mind that this proposal is the final assignment for this class, so try to limit your scope to an idea that can be convincingly presented in a ten minute oral presentation or that can be presented to the faculty in a written document that is 5 pages or fewer.
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