Hints for Applicants

Writing a competitive proposal


Project description

Several faculty members from diverse areas of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) will evaluate your application so it should be written in terms that can be understood and appreciated by a broad audience. Write the project description with guidance from the faculty research mentor. A project description needs to concisely communicate several things about the proposed research.  Therefore, your description should include:

  • A brief problem statement - provide the most important background information that will establish why your objectives are unique and relevant,
  • Objectives - explain what hypothesis you will test or what questions you will address,
  • Approach - provide a brief highlight of the main methods you will use to conduct your research,  
  • Anticipated outcomes of your proposed research project - summarize what you expect to accomplish and why the findings will be relevant.

Your description should convey how your proposed work relates to the general goals of the mentor. Keep in mind that your anticipated accomplishments do not have to be major breakthroughs. Instead, consider what you might discover that is currently unknown or undocumented. What is the value to the immediate research group and to the broader research community? Also, if appropriate, what is the potential value to those outside of the research community (e.g., to human medicine, to agricultural production). How might your work benefit broader areas of society?

Describe in general terms the types of activities you will be involved in. For example, what percentage of your time will you put into such activities as library or online research, laboratory work or field studies? Include a draft timeline of projected activities and accomplishments.

Statement of benefits

What skills and knowledge do you anticipate acquiring as a result of the project? How will this experience complement your academic program? How will participation in the program prepare you for further research, further academic pursuits, your anticipated career or for all of these?


As long as the minimum GPA requirement (2.5 overall) is met, GPA is not a major factor in success of applications. In fact, for a student with average success in classes, completion of a successful research project may be a significant encouragement for further academic study.

''Time committed to project

How much time can you devote to the project? Most reviewers will want to see a commitment of at least 8 to 12 hours per week.

Presentation of project/results

With your mentor’s input, propose a realistic assessment of where you think you might present the results of your research. The experience of presenting your project progress or results is a very important aspect of the Undergraduate Research Program (URP). You are expected to submit a poster or presentation to the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) within one year of your experience.  Plans to present your results in a poster or presentation at a professional meeting related to your mentor’s broader research program will be viewed very favorably.  The CANR Undergraduate Research cohort will also present progress reports at the CANR Research Roundup during your semester of research.

Research support funding

Prepare a simple budget including a breakdown of scholarship/wage/ stipend, equipment, supplies and travel/presentation costs. Reminder for students and mentors: At least 80 percent of the total requested must support the student.  Remaining funds may be used by the mentor to purchase supplies and equipment that would not otherwise be available for the project. This budget should not exceed $2,000, even if it is part of a larger project budget.  The selection committee will look at how the CANR Undergraduate Research Program funds will be used. Don't forget to include expenses for producing and printing your research poster(s) for UURAF and professional meetings.

Please note: These funds are for students whose primary major is in the College of Agriculture and Natural resources only. Secondary majors, minors and coordinate majors are not eligible for this program. Seniors in their last semester before graduation are not eligible for research support grants. A student can receive funding from this source for two semesters total.

Evaluation Rubric Beta Test for Spring 2018 URP Applications

The URP selection committee will use these rating descriptions to evaluate the application packet. MAXIMUM POINTS = 38

 Project description (10 points maximum)

7 - 10:  Student shows excellent understanding of the scope of the project. Includes problem statement, objectives, anticipated outcome, and how student’s work relates to goals of mentor’s project. Description shows that student understands goals of his/her participation in the project. 

4-6:      Statement includes original input from the student, but includes “copy and paste” from another source, such as the project grant proposal or previously published descriptions. Shows effort in describing objectives and anticipated outcome.

1 – 3:   Statement relies on “Copy and Paste” described above.  Little effort to include objectives, approach, anticipated outcomes.  Problem statement is vague or not closely related to mentor’s research project.

Plans to present results: (10 points maximum)

7 – 10: Clear plans to present at UURAF/Mid-Sure and additional professional meeting(s) or MSU department research event, including date(s) of event (s). Presentations are scheduled within 12 months of start and termination dates listed on student application.

4 – 6:   Mentions possible presentation events but does not provide details (dates, already registered, poster vs oral presentation)

1 – 3:   Vague description of possible presentation. Limited to department undergraduate event only. Does not include plans for UURAF/Mid SURE within 12 months of award.

Student Benefits: (10 points maximum)      

7 -10:   Understands that the question refers to professional development; describes participation on research team; mentions plans for graduate/professional school; acknowledges possible contribution to body of knowledge in the area; connects problem to possible solutions

4 – 6:   Mentions this opportunity to fill gaps in academic background; uses this opportunity to gauge “fit” with research as a profession

1 – 3:   Sees this as a “job.” Little connection between this experience and future plans.

Budget (3 points maximum)

3:         Explanation clarifies specific use of funds.  Part of budget is dedicated to preparation of presentation costs (materials, travel, registration fees) OR explains that mentor will cover additional costs for presentation.

2:         Mentions plans for use of award, but does not provide details of how other expenses for the project are covered.

1:         Budget provided does not match amount requested.  No narrative explanation of budget.

Letter of support from faculty (5 points maximum)

4 - 5:    Mentor provides strong support for applicant; knows applicant from previous work experience or class performance; sees potential for applicant to continue in research, apply to graduate/professional school; mentions positive characteristics in applicant that provide a good match for project and team.

3:         Mentor uses boilerplate language in recommendation, supplemented with some detail specific to the student.

1 –2:    Mentor provides very little support that indicates he/she knows applicant; uses boilerplate language as recommendation; no details on applicant’s possible contributions to project and team.

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