In my earlier post, I talked about what it takes to apply to independent fellowship positions. This is the third post in the series and I am going to talk about my experience with coming up with a reasonable research proposal and CV.
Curriculum Vitae (C.V.)
When I started working on my application package, the first thing I did was to update my CV. I have previously applied to a few scholarships earlier in my graduate life, but each of them required a different format/style. And to be honest, it was not my best work, because most of these previous submissions were done at the very last minute, leaving room for a lot of errors and typos. So I was not happy about the current state of the CV and went looking for new, fresh examples to base my new one on.
The one I liked the most was John Chodera's amazingly clean and explanatory CV. I knew this particular one, because we happened to be in the same department and he posted a link to the repository of his own CV in our internal e-mail list. I then went on the advice aggregator and read every single post on how to prepare CVs.
After all this hassle, I had a good idea about how to prepare my own CV and the things I would like to highlight in it. For the curious, here is the latest version of mine.
But in short, here are the advices I took into consideration when coming up with mine:
- Put links to your papers so people can quickly access them if they are reading your application on their computer
- Add your e-mail address and the URL for your personal web site where people will be able to find up-to-date information about your projects and your CV
- Group your publications into categories so that the related ones are closer to each other
- At the top of your publication list, put some summary statistics (no, not your h-index) so that people will know what is waiting for them
- Get rid of anything that is irrelevant to your applications (your GPAs, GRE scores, your not-so-useful undergraduate internships)
- Do not list every single poster you presented unless it is necessary to do so or you received an award for one
- Instead of over-promising and under-delivering, under-promise but over-deliver
- Keep non-academic audience in mind and do not over-optimize for academic purposes
- Use a clean, readable font face and do not over pack your text
This was one really hard to prepare. First of all, you don't find too many examples online and even if you do, they are usually not good for your particular field. Second, other than the cap on the number of pages, there is no clear formating guidelines for this document. Third, it takes a lot of iterations to come up with a descent one.
But don't you worry! Turns out that everybody has their own way of writing this piece of material and there is no real consensus on what this document should contain and how it should be written. But do your best in terms of making it easy for a committee member to understand what you are trying to tell. The best way to do that is to imagine yourself sitting in a room with hundreds of applications and taking a look at a particular proposal for a few minutes to decide whether it is good or bad.
So do take your time to go over this amazing list of grant proposals (aggregated by Ethan White) and the advices. If any, take a look at either Ethan Perlstein's and Titus Brown's statements, both of which were accepted, so sucessful examples.
Besides these publicly available ones, I found out that most fellows are OK with the idea of sharing their proposal if you ask them. Go ahead and see if any of the fellows that are in a program of interest to you are in your network, and ask them if they are willing to share their proposal with you. Of course, I still don't know if mine is a good one or not, but inspired by all those great folks, I made my proposal public on GitHub (forks are welcome!).
Read these as if you are one of the members of the search committee. Do you like it? Do you understand it at a basic level? Is it exciting? If so, how come? What made you like that particular proposal? Consider all these and adopt the things you liked and avoid the things you didn't like when writing yours.
First, the more you read these examples, the more comfortable you will be when writing up. So try to read as many examples as possible. Second, my ultimate advice about writing your research proposal is to start writing as early as you can and do ask for feedback from people around you. I e-mailed quite a few to ask for feedback and only half of them had the time to comment on the proposal, so plan accordingly. And those comments I got so far, were incredibly useful and helped me improve my proposal a lot.
But keep in mind that you should not take every single one of these comments seriously and change your proposal to make everyone happy. Seek advice and learn to ignore it. The way I handled all the feedback I got was to categorize things people pointed out in my proposal and fix the things that bothered more than three people:
so I heard from 5 persons regarding my research proposal and here is a summary of the feedback I got so far: pic.twitter.com/Gngkm6YTKT— B. Arman Aksoy (@armish) November 2, 2014
Here are some words of wisdom from various people I contacted about writing a research proposal:
- Clearly state your past work, future work and the motivation behind it
- Guide readers with titles/sections and always provide quick summaries for skim readers
- Do not use small fonts and do not exceed the page limits
- Be concise and clear about what you want to say (have no mercy for wordy paragraphs)
- Do not say negative things in your proposal and do not bull shit others' work
- Provide some reasoning about why you are the correct person to do the things you are proposing
- Do not be too vague about your ideas (I will cure cancer) and do not provide too much details (I'm going to use this kit [catalog number])
- Do not over use bold/italic fonts
- If you have enough space, throw a conceptual figure in there
- Do not say things like "after I graduate ..." (your career is continious and your either pre- or post-doctoral work is still your work)
- Do not treat this as a post-doc proposal where you are simply going to extend your earlier work. Fellows are encouraged and expected to establish and lead a new research program within the departments (so I was told)
If you are like me and English is your secondary language, then I strongly suggest you to ask help from a science writer on editing your final draft. This will not only help you get rid of too scientific terminology, but also will improve the clarity of your message. If you don't know any science writers, then you might think about getting help from one of the professional editing services out there.
These two are really important parts of the application package, but they are not the final determinants. You still need to tweak and customize some of these to be able to start submitting your application and maximize their impact on the search committee.
Coming up next: Putting your application package together.