The Sassy Scientist – Proposing Stardom

Whether you’re just starting out in academia or have been around the block a few times so speak, setting out a new proposal is daunting. Whether it’s coming up with the research topic or fieldwork idea, figuring out how to get the support you need or submitting it to whoever you need approval from, none of it is easy. That’s why Jasper has asked us:

What is the secret for an amazing proposal idea?

Dear Jasper,

What a dilemma. I’d love to be able to tell you that concocting a proposal idea was as easy as baking a cake. Simply add a little bit of flour, sugar, eggs and butter, a nice bit of elbow grease and a hot oven and there you go – a brand new tasty proposal. Unfortunately, the last time I baked anything I set the fire alarm off and used salt instead of a sugar, which feels like a much better analogy for formulating proposals.

First of all you have to try and find a niche. I think that being born in the last 25 years makes this seem even harder – all the good, “easy” ideas have been taken! Imagine proposing a research project ninety years ago looking into explaining the jigsaw fit of the continents, it seems so obvious. Plate tectonics was famously easy to come up with, right? Trying to find a new niche when so much of the world has now been explored, surveyed and modelled seems impossible but I promise you, there are plenty of fields where, when you actually start reading into it, people haven’t been able to prove as much as they might like to claim, there’s considerable uncertainty and major simplifications. There’s always room for new science, don’t be disheartened!

The next thing to make your proposal stand out is to jazz it up a little. Let’s not be ashamed to say it – we’re all nerds. We have our little corners of science that we find fascinating and love to obsess over. The problem is you need to make it sound cool enough to get a supervisor or funding body obsessed too. The best way to do this is through a little bit of light, scientific, stalking. Find out the interests and needs of whoever is going to be on the receiving end of your proposal and tailor it to them. Convince them that the research is relevant beyond just “I think this sounds cool” and that its part of a greater picture. Chances are it probably is anyway, you just have to make them believe that you’re also working toward this greater good and not just towards your own nerdy fantasies.

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: Confidence is key – your idea is probably a lot better than you’re willing to give it credit for so don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet as it were.

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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