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Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant Guidlines

Proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants submitted to the Political Science Program must comply with or have information about the following bulleted items:

  • Target Date: ABSOLUTE DEADLINE is January 15, 2007. The Political Science Program has only one competition per year for Doctoral Dissertation Research Support. Decisions about support or declines are made within six months of each target date.
  • Project Duration: 12 months;
  • Project Budget: Maximum of $12,000; Proposals with budgets that exceed $12,000 will be considered to be non-compliant and will be returned without review.
  • Project Description: 10 single pages. The proposal must include a letter from the major professor who serves as the Principal Investigator. The letter should indicate his/her confidence in the scientific rigor and value of the proposed dissertation research project. The letter may be sent via regular mail to the Program Directors or via electronic submission with the FASTLANE application
  • Proposal Title should read, "Doctoral Dissertation Research in Political Science: ....."
  • List the dissertation advisor as Principal Investigator and the student as Co-Principal Investigator. It should be clear however that the proposal is written by, and the research conducted by, the student
  • All proposals must be submitted electronically via Fastlane.
  • Proposals that violate these regulations in an attempt to squeeze in more information antagonize reviewers and may be returned without consideration.

Both graduate students and advisors should feel free to contact the Program Directors: Brian Humes, or Phil Paolino, if there are questions or you wish to discuss proposed research.

Dissertation Advice to Students

Outstanding proposals specify how the knowledge to be created advances our theoretical understanding of the study situation, so that people interested in similar situations in different contexts will learn from the project's outcome. The key is to be explicit in showing how the general theory explains the local situation, and in showing how the new knowledge from the local situation will advance the theory.

Follow the proposal preparation guidelines in the Doctoral Dissertation Program Announcement, especially the instructions for spacing (single-spaced), length (10 pages for the project description), font size (12 point is best, no smaller than 15 characters/2.5 cm), CVs, and proposal summary. The summary must address in separate paragraphs the "intellectual merit" and the "broader impacts". (See the Grant Proposal Guide).

Use a clear and concise writing style. Reviewers will include scientists from a variety of specialty areas. It is possible that no specialist from your particular area of research will be on the panel. Defining key terms and keeping your proposal free of jargon will ensure that all reviewers will be able to understand your proposal and evaluate it fairly.

One of the areas in which the proposal will be evaluated is "Research Competence of the Student." You can provide information to reviewers in the body of the proposal as well as in your CV. Be sure to include any other information which can help reviewers evaluate how well prepared you are to conduct the research.

Do not attach any appendices unless you have received permission from the NSF program director. Proposals without explicit permission for appendices may be held up or returned without review. Remember that even if appendices are allowed, reviewers are not obligated to read them, so critically important information should be in the body of the proposal. Letters testifying to local institutional sponsorship need not be appended but definitely should be cited in the proposal.

The following are suggested allocations for the Project Description. These are not hard-and-fast rules, but indicate reviewers' interests:

    • Statement of the research problem, specific aims, expectations, propositions or hypotheses
    • Review of the literature and significance
    • Preliminary studies by the student, if any
    • Research Plan, Including:
      • Research Design
      • Research Site or source of data
      • (References and citations are as important in your methods as in your theory section)
      • Data analysis plans
    • Research Schedule

The research plan should begin with an overview of the research design, relating it to the theory. This should be followed by a brief description of the research site. Data collection and analysis methods follow. Theories, setting and methods should be tightly linked: Readers should learn what the researcher is going to do and how the specific activities to be engaged in relate to both theory and setting. Note that a mere listing of a method is not enough to tell a reader what the researcher plans and why. The term "participant observation", for example, is extraordinarily general and should be unpacked into its specific components, each related to the information outcome that is then related to the research design and theory.

Sampling should be explicitly justified by discussing how data will generalize to a relevant population or theory. Each method, whether it generates qualitative or quantitative data, should be justified in terms of the research aims. The key issue is to impress reviewers that the new knowledge from your project will generalize to significant populations and theories.

Proposals also should include an analysis plan, although readers recognize that plans change in the process of fieldwork. Describe how you will use your data to answer your research questions and test your hypotheses. A mere listing of software programs will not demonstrate to reviewers that you have seriously considered all phases of the research process in designing your proposal. It should be possible for a reviewer to look back to your specific aims and understand why each kind of data is being collected, and why a particular analytic technique is planned.

If there are weaknesses in your design or analytical strategy, it is wise to recognize them and explain why the resulting product will nonetheless be of value. Reviewers are well aware that there are no perfect strategies for conducting research, but will be looking for evidence that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the approach selected. In a competitive review process where only a subset of excellent proposals can be funded, reviewers need to be told how the new knowledge to be gained from your particular study will advance our theoretical understanding of the problem.

* Note: Students doing international research, having a formal affiliation with a foreign research institution, may be eligible for additional funding. Please contact the appropriate program in NSF's Office of International Science OISE.