Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Research Plan Advice for Academic Candidates

By: Joe Z. Sostaric, Ph.D., Manager, ACS

On reading Prof. Gillmore’s article in the February issue of the ACS Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin, I couldn’t help but think, “where were you when I needed ya?!” If you, as a senior graduate student or postdoc, had a similar sensation, it was probably brought on by the many nuances to writing a good research plan that Gillmore talks about in his article.
Attend a Workshop for Academic Candidates
As a postdoc, one way that you can try to help yourself improve your research plan is to apply for and attend the Postdoc to Faculty workshop, which will be held just prior, and in close vicinity to the Fall 2012 ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia. This is one of the American Chemical Society's highest rated career workshops for postdocs. Housing and meals are provided, so you still need to ask your advisor to pay for the travel portion of your trip (essentially no additional cost if you plan on attending the national meeting with your advisor).
Get Your Advisor’s Feedback
Speaking of your advisor, now there’s a potentially great source of information for career advice.If you currently feel that you’re not quite sure how to put together a competitive academic job application, you probably should go and discuss this with your advisor sooner, rather than later (if you’re a postdoc, you may wish to take this opportunity to request your advisor’s support for your application to attend the Postdoc to Faculty workshop ;-). You might also want to share Gillmore’s article with your advisor, and ask for their feedback and thoughts on that. These types of conversations, even if they don't end in sessions on how to put together a competitive academic job application, can tell you a lot about your "options/situation" as you plan to transition into a faculty position.
Include Components Every Great Research Proposal Should Have
Back to Gillmore’s article, I couldn’t help but put myself back in the shoes of the green chemist I was when I first came to the U.S. from Australia as a postdoctoral fellow at NIH (“green chemist” in this context has nothing to do with “green chemistry”!). So when reading his article, I pulled out a blank piece of paper, and started jotting down the relevant “buckets” of information that together would lead to a framework of a great research proposal. Here are the major buckets and associated points that I came up with:
The Project Plan
  • Executive Summary:
o Write for a broader scientific audience
o Tailor to the institution
o Introduce your plan
-Hook the reader and show the big picture clearly
-Summarize projects 1, 2 and 3
· Show synergies between all three projects
-Propose a timeline, if possible in 1 to 2 paragraphs
  • Project 1-Safe, doable, fundable
  • Project 2-Pie-in-the-sky!
  • Project 3-Something in between 1 & 2.
o Present unifying themes, techniques or key ideas
o Keep it significantly removed from grad/postdoc work
o Write about collaboration with caution
o Convince the experts that you know your stuff
o Use references correctly/effectively
o Plan for what your group will work on in the lab
o Consider incorporating funding resources, and equipment being used
  • References
So I then went back and looked at some of the most highly rated research plans that I had been involved in reviewing and, you guessed it. Every single one of them had the components that Prof. Gillmore listed above.
Get Answers from Trusted Sources
Let us know your thoughts! Do you have any questions about your research proposal, or academic job application? Post them here and we’ll do our best to have your questions answered by the experts!


Anonymous said...

Hi Joe!
I really loved Jason's article and your blog. It provided a lot of good information. But I was confused by one thing, that up until now, I have not given much thought about. I've only ever been at big research intentive schools. But I'm wondering, what will I do if I can't get a job as a assistant professor at one of these schools? How can I know if I'd be happy and successful at a smaller school, or a PUI or liberal arts college? How can I convince others of this? How exactly will my application package look different? The article gave some very good advice, but everything is still very confusing to me. Is there any place that I can get this type of information? It's so important to know this, but my adviser cannot answer these questions!!! Any advice would be very much appreciated.
Thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert but these days just about every tenure faculty position is competitive...not just the R1 I don't think Celine is asking the right questions.


Unknown said...

Hi Celine,

Rather than following David, I do think there is a difference.

Think about your research:
-you will have undergrads doing the work at a PUI,
-you will be showing them directly yourself,
-you will not have major resources of a big R1 institution, and -collaboration with other departments inside and outside your institution will be an advantage.

Students will not have as much time to do research and will likely only work on part of a project.

Proposals are still competitive, for sure. You are really training students for the first time in research.

Hope this helps. Thanks for reading.

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