Tips to write a good PhD / postdoctoral project proposal

PhD and postdoc applications typically include a project proposal (see the current opportunities we offer). While details vary, these are general tips to write a strong research project:

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  • Core problem. What is the problem that you want to solve? What new methods/knowledge/data will you produce? Where is the “knowledge gap” that you want to fill? Introduce the problem in a non-specialist way, so that any educated reader can understand it.
  • Data and methods. Where will you find the necessary data? What methods do you plan to use? Is it realistic to access the data that you need in the given time frame? If the data is not publicly available, how will you get access to it?
  • Intended audience. Who will care about this research? Be explicit about who benefits from this research, and don’t assume that people will be interested in any research idea.
  • Why with us? Explain why you think that it makes sense to do it with a given supervisor in a given department/university (not just because it is in the UK or in London). For example, say that Prof X is a leading expert in Y.
  • Related work. Include relevant and current references (core books and scientific articles), showing that you have read the current research that you have identified a gap in the literature. 5-10 well-chosen references are usually sufficient. Do not include too many references, because it may give the impression that you cannot focus.
  • Timeline. A PhD should be completed in 3 (or 4) years, so you must provide a realistic timeline for the project phases (research design, data collection, experiments, data analysis, write-up).