How to Wow! "Secrets" for a Successful Proposal

What makes certain proposals stand out from the crowd in the review process?

Here are some things that you can do when using the General User proposal system to get your proposal off to a great start with the reviewers.

Have a plan: A good proposal will result when your work is based on interesting science backed by a good, strong experimental plan. You can show your solid planning by choosing a good team of co-researchers who bring relevant experience to your experiment. Spell out the importance and relevance of your proposed work. Make sure your proposal has a focus and is not trying to do too much. Talk to the beamline scientists before submitting your proposal--they are a great resource!

Demonstrate high probability for a successful experiment: Make sure that your experiment objective is reasonable and that you have both a clearly defined experimental method and an appropriate analytical method. Choose the instrument/beamline best suited for your work. Make sure your estimated beam time needs are reasonable.

Back up your proposal with demonstrated performance: Include previous data and any preliminary results in your proposal. Cite relevant publications. Use the attachment feature sparingly, though! Include only directly relevant data and images.

Other tips:

  1. Ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and on topic—avoid cluttering your proposal with information that is not directly relevant to your specific goal. Ask at least one colleague to read your proposal and tell you if it's clear.
  2. Write a competitive proposal: Invest the time to prepare a thorough proposal package. Do not assume that the reviewers will be familiar with your work.
  3. Choose a good title for your proposal: A clear, to-the-point title is better than something flashy and/or vague.
  4. Answer all the questions on the form completely and thoroughly.
  5. Identify all the experimenters who are playing a role in your work, both those that will be coming to the APS and those that won’t. If you are collaborating with an instrument scientist, include him or her on the team as well.
  6. Be sure to include your abstract in the on-line proposal form. If you attach any supporting materials to support your proposal, make sure they are on topic and current. Use this attachment feature sparingly!
  7. Request a reasonable number of shifts for your experiment—be sure the complexity of your work matches the time you are seeking. If your experiment requires a lot of advance set up and this preparation could be done during a shutdown day, spell this out in your proposal.
  8. Carefully consider requests for project status. Project status is very sparingly granted to proposals and requires a very strong proposal package. More about project status be found in APS User News No. 56.

Good luck!

Many thanks to Pete R. Jemian for sharing his presentation “How to Apply for and Get* Beam Time (* No guarantees, of course)” from his March 2010 Small-angle Scattering Short Course.

Adapted from APS User News No. 71 (August 16, 2011).