Print

Tips for Doctoral and Postdoctoral Award Applications

The Alzheimer Society Research Program (ASRP) makes funding decisions based on excellence, as assessed by peer review. Your award application will be evaluated on aspects including the proposed research and training environment, as well as your potential as a future scientist. The following suggestions are meant to help you translate your research idea into a successful award application. They are not a substitute for the application guidelines, nor are they the criteria by which your application will be evaluated.

  1. Address all the important points of a research proposal
  2. Involve your supervisor
  3. Do not overpromise
  4. Establish feasibility
  5. Acknowledge the risks
  6. Explain any nuances of your program
  7. Do not make the reviewer’s job more difficult 
  8. Consider the funding agency
  9. Persevere 
  1. Address all the important points of a research proposal
    The ASRP application form specifies the general requirements for a research proposal (e.g., objectives, rationale, methods), but reviewers will sometimes identify specific aspects of a research proposal as incomplete or missing. These perceived gaps can negatively influence your application’s review, but will also depend on your research discipline; for example, the need for sample size calculations or specifying strains of mice is dictated by your research. To ensure you have a complete proposal, get the input of your supervisor (see point two below). It can also be useful to consult discipline-specific journals, which often have reviewer checklists, sections of which may be helpful to compare against your own proposal.
  2. Involve your supervisor
    Along with providing a great reference letter (signed and on letterhead), make sure your supervisor reads your application and provides feedback. Your supervisor has years of research and grant-writing experience, so his/her input into your application (or lack thereof) can be obvious to a reviewer; the degree to which your supervisor was involved in your application can be interpreted as a reflection of the time and energy he/she will have for you during your training.
  3. Do not overpromise
    This may be familiar advice, but you may still hear it in your application review: one well-rationalized hypothesis is generally better than a series of vague research questions. Reviewers need to be convinced you can complete the work you have promised in your application, and within the timeframe you have specified, so keep your research plans focused.
  4. Establish feasibility
    As noted above, reviewers need to be convinced you can carry out the work you have promised to do, so wherever possible, remove opportunity for doubt. For example, if you are accessing a clinical sample, provide a letter of support from the referring clinician, or if you are using someone else’s data or equipment, provide a letter of support assuring access.
  5. Acknowledge the risks
    There are risks to any research project - your experiments could fail or your theories could be disproven. Identify important risks to the research you have proposed, and describe how you would try to mitigate them. Addressing potential pitfalls, and demonstrating they will not take you completely off track, helps convince the reviewer that you will be able to complete your training program.
  6. Explain any nuances of your program
    Some doctoral programs send you straight to the lab, project in hand. Others require years of coursework and comprehensive exams before thesis work can begin. If your program is more like the latter, it could have important implications for your research proposal. Be sure to explain your program’s timelines in the application.
  7. Do not make the reviewer’s job more difficult
    Researchers choose to give back to the Society by participating in peer review panels. Keep in mind that they are unpaid and must take time away from their own work to read and review your application. Do what you can to make the reviewer’s job easier. Take responsibility for conveying your ideas clearly and concisely; an application that is poorly organized - or written with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors - can undermine a great research idea. Proofread again and again then have others do the same. Take advantage of any writing or editing courses that your institution offers. Do not expect reviewers to look up each one of your references. Writing papers and grant applications is a reality of academic work - the sooner you develop these skills, the better.
  8. Consider the funding agency
    Every funding agency is different, including the time and resources they can invest into the peer review process. Read the ASRP guidelines carefully, and do not expect guidelines from other funding agencies to apply. If you do have questions, contact us for clarification.
  9. Persevere
    Doctoral and Postdoctoral funding is good for your bank account, good for your career and good for your morale. For these reasons (and more), it is worth taking the time and effort to put together the best possible proposal. If you are still eligible, try again if you were unsuccessful the first time – this is how many projects get funded and papers get published.

Last Updated: 09/01/15
Back to top