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2004 GSA Research Grant Proposal Writing Workshop

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  1. 2004 GSA Research Grant Proposal Writing Workshop Stephen T. Hasiotis Robert H. Goldstein Roger L. Kaesler University of Kansas Department of Geology Lawrence, Kansas 66045

  2. A successful proposal… • Should follow the scientific method… • Answer directly the questions asked on the application form… • Be sure the answer is found in the first paragraph and clearly answers the question… • Additional paragraphs should follow and support your first paragraph in a logical and reasonable manner…

  3. A successful proposal… • Should have clearly written hypotheses or a well explained problem(s) to be addressed… • Should demonstrate that your research outcome will have regional application, not just local significance… • Should concisely and clearly spell out how you will falsify the incorrect hypothesis or address the problem(s) to be solved… • Show reviewers that the research project has a definite end point and it can be solved…

  4. A successful proposal… • Should have a well justified, reasonable budget… • Should have a detailed budget justification with no loose ends or inflated cost estimates… • Be consistent with punctuation in the figure captions and bibliography … • Should be checked, rechecked, and checked again for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation…

  5. Scientific Method • Four essential elements of the scientific method are iterations and recursions of the following four steps: • Observation • Hypothesis—theoretical, hypothetical explanation • Prediction—logical deduction from hypothesis • Experiment, Test Your proposal is one iteration of the steps above…

  6. What is a Hypothesis? • Hypothesis—is a proposed explanation of a phenomenon • A provisional idea whose merit is to be evaluated… • In the hypothetico-deductive method a hypothesis should be falsifiable, possible to be shown to be false by observation… • A hypothesis is not a question—a major misconception among many people… • Several hypotheses should be proposed as explanations of a phenomenon…

  7. What is a Hypothesis? • Hypotheses require more work by the researcher in order to either confirm or disprove them… • Note: if confirmed, a hypothesis is not necessarily proven but remains provisional... • An example: A person enters a new country and observes only white sheep. A hypothesis might be that all sheep in that country are white… • This is falsifiable by observing a single black sheep, provided that the observer did not mistake a goat for a sheep or correctly interpreted the hypothesis (exclude rams?)…

  8. What is a Hypothesis? • Hypotheses should provide generally a causal explanation or propose some correlation… • Hypotheses are based a pattern in observations or suggested by preexisting data… • There are no definitive guidelines for the production of new hypotheses… • Some work, like testing rates, refining techniques or ages, and exploring new areas, is harder to frame as hypotheses… • Here, many refer these to problems or questions to be answered… • It is best, however, to put these types of research into hypotheses as well…

  9. Predictions… • Useful hypotheses enable predictions to be made by deductive reasoning that can be assessed experimentally… • If results contradictory to the predictions are found, that hypothesis under test is incorrect or incomplete—requires abandonment or revision… • If results confirming a hypothesis are found, the hypothesis might be correct but is always subject to further test… • Thus, the reason for multiple hypotheses to be tested is to leave you with alternatives…

  10. Experiment… • Once the prediction is made, an experiment is designed to test it… • The experiment may seek either confirmation or falsification of one or more hypotheses… • In the geosciences, experiment equates also to well planned testing in the laboratory or field and data analysis… • Integrity may be augmented by introduction of a control… • Two identical experiments are run, in which only the factor being tested is varied… • This serves to further isolate causal phenomena…

  11. Evaluation and iteration… • Testing & improvements—based on outcomes there may be need for revisions of hypotheses, experiments, or methods; the scientific process is iterative… • Verification—research or work will become accepted only if they can be verified… • Reevaluation—all scientific knowledge is in a state of flux because new evidence can be produced that contradicts a long held hypothesis… • Evidence and assumptions—evidence comes in different forms and quality, due mostly to underlying assumptions… • Objects heavier than air fall to the ground when dropped… • Aliens abduct humans… • Most extraordinary claims also do not survive Occam’s razor…

  12. Review of a proposal… • Reviewer’s Evaluation Checklist—indication of how well you, the proposal writer, were able to get your point across… • Proposals should be written for the nonspecialist… • Avoid jargon, verbage, and condescending tones… • Proposals should be free of mistakes… • Remember, few reviewers, hundreds of proposals, and time is not cheap for anyone… • Make it easy for the reviewer to give you money… • Ratings from excellent to poor…

  13. Reviewer’s Evaluation Checklist • Definition of hypothesis or problem • Significance and quality of proposed work • Methodology or plans • Budget • Presentation Quality • Overall review—potential for producing significant research that will interest others in the subfield or general geological community • From High, very good, reasonable, limited, to low… • Results translate into the Grants Scoring Sheet…

  14. A few examples… • The Jurassic Bonanza island arc is extensively exposed on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The volcanic portion of this arc offers an unprecedented opportunity to study geochemical variations across 500 km of exposed strike length. Documenting and analyzing the geochemistry can offer insights into along-strike variations of mantle input and crustal processes that can occur in the subduction setting. • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  15. A few examples… • As a test of the hypothesis that a negative feedback between silicate weathering rates and atmospheric CO2 concentrations (CO2atm) is responsible for maintaining a relatively stable climate through much of Earth’s history, my project will collect and use river geochemical data to calculate chemical weathering rates and CO2 fluxes in the Canadian Cordillera. Initial results show that pyrite oxidation coupled with carbonate weathering is an important process in the region. This is a potential source of CO2atm that could completely offset silicate weathering CO2 drawdown in the region; it is also a process not currently considered by global carbon budget models. Identification and quantification of the sources of the riverine sulphate (SO4) is essential to determine the magnitude of pyrite-carbonate CO2 fluxes. This may be an important key to understanding Earth’s climate evolution. The requested funding will be used for isotopic analyses to enable SO4 source determination. • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  16. A few examples… • The Hiemstra Quarry site near Delta, Iowa has been tied to other Late Mississippian fossil sites in the Midwest, as well as in Europe and Australia, as all have early land vertebrate fossils. This study will compare other taxa (mainly fishes) found at the Hiemstra site, in concert with a study of the unusual sedimentology, to help understand Iowa’s Late Mississippian stratigraphy. • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  17. A few examples… • Previous research on Lower Kane Cave of Wyoming has established that sulfur cycling plays an important role in the geomicrobiological dynamics of this karst system, as well as active cave formation by sulfuric acid speleogenesis (1). Data from the cave shows elevated concentrations of sulfidic gases and rapid loss of aqueous sulfide, beyond what can be accounted for by abiotic mechanisms. The presence of prolific microbial mats in the cave system, combined with measurements of aqueous and gaseous sulfur, implies a significant biological influence on sulfur cycling within the cave. Sediment associated with sediment, biomass, aqueous and gaseous sulfur will provide information on the mechanisms of sulfur cycling with this cave and the biochemical pathways of the microbial population. Microbial mediation of the sulfur cycle may also affect transport and sequestration of other metals within the Lower Kane Cave system. • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  18. A few examples… • It has been proposed that the Neoproterozoic succession in Death Valley and the global stratotype section for this period in Australia record a similar history (Hoffman and Schrag 2002). Does the detailed stratigraphy warrant such as correlation, and does the stratigraphy support any of the continent reconstructions for that time period (Sears and Price 2000), in terms of glacial and interglacial intervals, as well as timing and style of rifting? And does the stratigraphy support the timing of rifting calculated from the subsidence curves for the Mordilleran Miogeocline? • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  19. A few examples… • The Huron-Erie Lobe of the Laurentide ice sheet advanced into Indiana during the late Wisconsin Stage. After several minor retreats and subsequent advances, it finally fully retreated to the northeast leaving behind a succession of moraines, including the Fort Wayne moraine near the Ohio border. Fraser and Bleuer (1988) reported that the Fort Wayne moraine acted as a dam to ancestral Late Erie (proglacial lake Maumee) and that the moraine was eventually overtopped and rapidly eroded resulting in an outburst flood in the Wabash River valley. • The hypotheses to be tested include: • First, did other glacially related, outburst paleofloods occur as proposed in this region? How frequently? What was the magnitude of such floods? Did these floods significantly affect landscape genesis in this part of Indiana? And, finally, did these floods constrain the present course of the upper Wabash River? • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  20. A few examples… • Scree-mantled slopes are a common feature in mountain belts. The amount of sediment produced by these slopes suggest that the small rockfall events that produce these slopes are of geomorphic significance. However, the magnitude of the contribution of small rockfalls to the erosion of mountain ranges needs to be quantified. • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  21. A few examples… • The Central Asian Orogenic System (CAOS), occupying about one-third of Asia, results from a protracted (Precambrian to late Paleozoic) process of subduction, accretion, and collision (Figs. 1 and 2) (Sengor et al., 1993). Its origin has been attributed to either the development of one temporally continuous arc shortened by trench-parallel strike-slip faults synchronous with subduction (Sengor et al., 1993) or collision of a series of arcs and micro-continents with Siberia, implying a post-collisional phase of thrust-related deformation (Dobretsov et al., 1995). A lack of geochronologic constraints on deformation and poor understanding of the relationship between arc magmatism and the mode (i.e., strike-slip vs. thrusting) of coeval deformation has hindered the determination of the most appropriate model for the Altay region. To this end, I will (1) map the relationship between plutons and major deformation zones, (2) date major arc-related plutons, and (3) date monazite included in synkinematic garnets in thrust and strike-slip shear zones. • Hypothesis? Problem? Information?

  22. Things to remember… • Now is the time to learn good proposal writing skills… • Practice, practice, practice—learn from the reviewers’ feedback… • Proposal writing and success rates will only become more difficult in time because of more proposal writers and fewer research dollars… • Some agencies and programs have higher rates than others (e.g., 40-45% vs. 12-20%), but those gravy trains will end, too…

  23. Good luck with your future research grant proposal writing endeavors…