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5th Year Program Details

Research Proposal

Students entering the 5th Year Program often have little or no training in the scientific method. Their concept of research is vague. More often than not, initiating research training is very intimidating and many students do not have confidence in their abilities. Please remember that very few individuals are born with the innate ability to conduct science and that learning the process of research requires time.

As part of the program you will write a masters thesis. Before you start this advanced project, however, you will prepare a written proposal of research. This will outline the specific goal(s) of the project and indicate how it will be attained. A typical research proposal will be 8 to 14 pages (typed, double-spaced) and should include the following elements:

  • Title Page

    The title page will provide a descriptive, informative title of your general research project and include name, date, and additional text that is found on the title page of theses and dissertations (see the UAB Format Manual for Theses and Dissertations).

  • Goals/Aims

    This section is an abbreviated description (not more than one page) of the long- and short-term goals of your research. It should provide the reader a basis for understanding the primary purpose (specific objectives) of the research. Questions and hypotheses can be stated here (your mentor can provide examples).

  • Background

    This section should be highly developed and contain a history and description of the basic scientific problem or question you are addressing, citing relevant literature by author and date. It will provide the rationale for your specific goals. The final paragraph should restate the purpose of the proposed research. When appropriate, a null and alternative hypothesis should be presented.

  • Approach or Materials and Methods

    This section should include the experimental design and the methods used for evaluating your research question. You should outline your methods in reasonable detail, although complicated procedures previously addressed in other literature can be cited. Methods can vary significantly with discipline, so pertinent literature can often provide appropriate models. The appropriate statistical evaluation should be presented and include the statistical tests that will be used as well as any statistical applications (e.g. SAS).

  • Significance

    This section is generally a short paragraph and suggests the importance and relevance of the proposed research.

  • Literature Cited

    All literature referenced within the text should have full citations. You may choose a citation style that is found in one of the refereed journals within the discipline of study.

Mentors can provide examples and assist with development of your proposal; do not hesitate to go to them for help. Variations in style may be used when approved by a mentor. Your mentor will discuss the preparation of the proposal. This includes frequent discussions of the appropriate content and review of various ideas and drafts of the proposal prior to submission to the Supervising Committee and the Graduate Program Director.

Supervising Committee

As your research project and proposal are developed, a Graduate Supervising Committee must be formed. This committee will be comprised of your mentor and a minimum of two additional faculty members. You, with suggestions and advice from your mentor, should select committee members who can contribute to the development, execution, and completion of the research project. At least one member of the committee should have their primary appointment in Biology. We do not encourage you to have more than four faculty members serve on the committee. All members must have Graduate Status (approval can be obtained from the Graduate School), and one can come from outside of the University.

On occasion, the direction of your proposed research will be altered in response to new findings, new technologies, etc. The committee must be notified of any changes in protocols or procedures. As a collective, the graduate committee should contribute significantly to your overall training and development.

Committee Responsibilities

It is the responsibility of the committee to:

  • review the proposal of research and provide suggestions or comments
  • evaluate your previous and future coursework and provide guidance
  • administer the candidacy exam
  • evaluate your thesis and conduct the thesis defense

It is your responsibility to maintain appropriate contact with the committee and notify it of your progress and/or any problems encountered at least once every term.

The committee must meet formally at least three times during your tenure as a student. The first meeting occurs when the committee is formed and you will formally present your research proposal and any preliminary data. At this time your coursework will be evaluated and the time and scope of the candidacy exam will be determined. The committee will also meet for the candidacy exam and for the private and public thesis defense. Additional meetings may be scheduled as needed.