Format for Ph.D. Research Proposals

As one of the two required seminars, Ph.D. students must present a dissertation research proposal for departmental review. In addition to the other goals listed for the seminar in general, the purposes include:

  1. Presentation of proposed research projects before they are finished;
  2. Improvement of planned research; and,
  3. Improvement of problem solving skills through exposure to the knowledge and research approaches others can bring to bear on particular problems.

One should think of this as a verbal peer review in a friendly, but critical atmosphere.

The presentation of the problem, objectives, proposed approaches, and preliminary data (if available) should be accomplished in about 20 minutes. This will be followed by short (2 to 5 min.) comments from designated respondents. These people are asked in advance by the student for their input, and will address the issues involved in the proposed research, rather than criticizing the delivery of the seminar. They should be informed of the content of the seminar through a written proposal or by participating in the dry run.

Following the respondents, a faculty member or graduate student) previously chosen by the student with approval of a Seminar Committee member) will facilitate a discussion of the proposed research. The purpose of the discussion is to involve members from all disciplines in organized brainstorming to improve the quality and impact of graduate student research. Criticism of the advisor and graduate student are off limits. How could the methodology be improved? What measurements should be omitted or included? Is there new knowledge from soil microbiology (or soil physics, or microclimatology, ...) that impacts the research?

Most benefit will be realized if the research proposal seminar is given relatively early during a student's tenure. The speaker will be videotaped and critiqued as in the normal seminars. Such a seminar should not be given until the research ideas have been discussed and winnowed by the advisor and others involved in the research, and perhaps after an informal seminar has been given to one of the disciplines within the department.

For many seminars it may be desirable to provide a handout containing an abstract or summary, tables and/or graphs, and references. These handouts may help the audience follow the seminar and may be useful for future reference. Use of such handouts is optional.

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