BE Board:Thesis proposal

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If this page is of relevance to you, then BE Board:Thesis proposal/Talk will very soon be of relevance too.

Tips from those who have come before

help! Jasonk 17:52, 23 May 2005 (EDT)

A few of us have posted our proposals on bionet: (Insane Projects/Documents/thesis proposals). These should be a useful reference. --Jgritton 11:11, 24 May 2005 (EDT)

Drew pointed out to me last year that your thesis proposal is structured similarly to a grant proposal. Therefore try to accomplish the following:

  1. Be as specific and concrete in your planned experiments as possible (even if you envision possibly having to deviate from your plan later on).
  2. Tom suggested including alternative courses of action if your experiments don't work as planned. For instance, is there an alternate technique you can use if the first method doesn't work? What are the different results you envision coming out of your experiments and what would your next step or interpretation be for each of them?
  3. Give yourself as many "outs" as possible. Scientific proposals should be set up so that there are many incremental successes that you can accomplish along the way to a major success. If your project is such that you can only publish at the end of 5 years, your committee won't like it cause the odds of your project working perfectly as planned are pretty low so at the end of 5 years, you may have nothing to show for your efforts. If instead your specific aims are structured so that the success of one isn't dependent on the success of the others, then you are increasing your odds of producing something by the end of your Ph.D.
  4. Tom suggested including a timeline in the thesis proposal and presentation to give your committee an idea of when you plan to do what.

These are some of the lessons I took away from my thesis proposal experience (which is not to say that I was at all successful at implementing any of the above suggestions). If you think I'm wrong on these points (which I might very well be), feel free to revise or comment. --Reshma 10:50, 7 Jun 2005 (EDT)

Thesis Proposal Guidelines

This information comes from the MIT Biological Engineering Graduate Student Handbook.

A doctoral thesis proposal is required by the month of June following the spring semester in which the Written Exam is successfully completed. This proposal consists of a document submitted to an approved Thesis Committee at least one week prior to an oral presentation of the proposal to the Committee and a general audience. The document should not exceed 20 printed pages. Exceptions can be made by prior agreement with the thesis committee. The Thesis Committee must approve the thesis proposal but no letter grade is given.

Title Page (One page)

Include the title, the date, your name and signature, the advisor's name and signature, and the notation "Thesis Proposal". Note that you also require a signature from the academic office to confirm that your proposal adheres to the format described here.

Abstract (Under 300 words on One page)

State the significance of the proposed research. Include your long-term objectives and specific aims. Describe concisely the research design and methods for achieving these goals. Highlight the specific hypotheses to be tested or technology to be developed which are intended to be your original contributions. Avoid summaries of past accomplishments.

Overall Objective & Specific Aims (Under One page)

Articulate the overall objective of your thesis project, and outline a set of specific aims by which your work is intended to accomplish this objective. Be sure to clearly state the hypotheses to be tested or technology to be developed.

Background & Significance (Four to Five pages)

Sketch the background leading to the present research, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify the gaps, which your research is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the research described in this proposal by relating the specific aims to the broad, long-term objectives.

Research Design & Methods (Six to Eight pages)

Along with the Objective & Aims section, this is the most important part of the proposal. The majority of your time should be spent making this part of your proposal as strong as possible and as clear and concise as possible. Describe the research design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project; it is generally most effective to do this according to the same outline as in the Objective & Aims section. Include how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted. Describe any new methodology and its advantage over existing methodologies. Discuss the potential difficulties and limitations of the proposed procedures and alternative approaches to achieve the aims. As part of this section, provide a tentative timetable for the project. Point out any procedures, situations or materials that may be hazardous and the precautions to be exercised.

Preliminary Studies (Three to Four pages)

Use this section to provide an account of your preliminary studies that are pertinent to your research project and that support your specific aims. Note: it is not necessary to have obtained preliminary data in order to submit or defend the proposal, although it will be expected that you have begun to undertake some of the methods to assess their feasibility.

Literature Cited (No page limits)

List all references. Each reference must include the title, names of authors, book or journal, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. References should be limited to relevant literature. References are not included in the page limits. However, only references pertinent to the proposed research should be included.

Appendix (No page limits)

You may include copies of published or submitted articles pertinent to the proposed research for which you are an author. Such publications are neither expected nor required at the time of Thesis Proposal presentation.

Format and Page Limitations

Proposals must be single spaced using 12 pt font and 1 inch margins. Figures may be embedded into the text, but they must be readable. The font within figures must be at least 9 point and the figure captions must be at least 10 point. Devote one page each for the title page, abstract and specific aims. Use between 13-17 pages for the remaining sections (Background & Significance, Preliminary Results, and Research Design & Methods). Note that although the maximum recommended page limits for these sections add up to a total of 17 pages, you are expected to expand and contract these sections as you see fit so that the total is no more than 17 pages (for example, the preliminary results section may be shorter for some than for others). Page limits include both text and figures. References are not included in the page limits. Total of NO more than 20 pages (including 3 pages for the title page, abstract and specific aims; not including references or appendices).

Document templates

  • It is sometimes a good idea to write your proposal in a format that your advisor can read (and maybe even edit) electronically Endy 15:20, 31 Jul 2005 (EDT)
  • To write a BE thesis proposal using LaTeX, the first two files below form a template that conforms to BE guidelines. You may need to install some extra packages (listed in the preamble) to get this template to compile so the third file below is a pdf of how it should look.
  • Since a Tex document is just an ASCII text file, it should be relatively easy to read or edit electronically.

See also