Writing your proposal

Student making notes in book next to computer keyboardWriting a research proposal will help you clarify your project and will give you valuable experience for any proposal writing you may do beyond Rensselaer. All proposals submitted to the Summer Undergraduate Research Program are read and scored by a selection committee made up of faculty from each of the schools on campus. Someone in your school will read your proposal, but faculty members who are not familiar with your discipline will also read it. For this reason, a successful proposal should be written in such a way that an intelligent reader who is not familiar with your field could still understand the research question you are proposing and the significance of this research in a larger context.

Proposal Contents

The effectiveness of your proposal will depend on your ability to explain the nature, context and scope of the project. The selection committee will also be looking for an indication that your project will be more than just a learning experience-what does it contribute to your field that we do not already know? Make sure your name is on your proposal and include the following information:

  • Section 1 - Abstract: A summary of your research question and your project design. This is 3-5 sentences and is a short summary of the technical part of the proposal.
  • Section 2 - Research Question and Significance: What is the question that you want to explore in your research and why is this an interesting and important question? In thinking about the significance, try to take the position of an average newspaper reader. What is the background for this problem? What work has already been done? If she or he were to see an article about your research in the paper, how would you explain why this is an interesting project? Discuss any background research you may have already done.
  • Section 3 - Project Design and Feasibility: How will you go about exploring your research question? What will be your methods and timetable? What is your research plan?
  • Section 4 - Dissemination of Knowledge: Please indicate that you will participate in the Undergraduate Research Symposium in the spring of the following year or explain why you can't. What form will your final report take? Will you participate in a conference, write a paper with your advisor or other students, or participate in a poster session.
  • Section 5 - Personal Background: What courses or work experiences have prepared you to undertake this project?

Proposal Format

Your proposal may be up to three pages in length, printed single-sided. We recommend at least a 12-point, serif font (such as Times or Palatino), justified left (right ragged). Illustrations may be used in the body of the proposal but should duplicate well on a copier if necessary.

Do not include a cover sheet, resumes, or any other attachments: they will be discarded. Instead, include any relevant information in the body of your proposal. Remember to spell check! You are asking for money and your proposal should be a reflection of your commitment to the project.

Review a Draft

You are highly encouraged to work closely with your faculty advisor on your proposal at least once prior to submitting a Summer Undergraduate Research proposal to review a draft.