Every year thousands of students apply for Ph.D. scholarships. Still, many students fail to win a scholarship and secure admission. Many rejected candidates have good profiles, high-quality motivational letters and CVs. However, they lack the most important thing; a quality proposal. Most of the universities evaluate your applications with a point system. A proposal typically has the highest points and carries the highest weightage in your application. For example, the University of Venice has reserved 42 points for the proposal out of 70 points for an application. If you have lower grades and a not-so-good profile, you can be selected if you write a quality proposal. Vice versa, students with high-quality profiles can be rejected due to a low-quality proposal.

Ali (name changed for anonymity) contacted me to evaluate his application for an Italian Ph.D. scholarship. After I inquired him about the proposal, he told me that he would use his friend’s proposal and I didn’t need to review it. He put the least effort into the most crucial element of an application. Ali is not alone because this has become a custom of our students, copy-paste a proposal and send it. We don’t even realize how much it hurts our application. One student told me that since his proposal is 27 pages long, it should get full marks. He and many of us don’t know that a single-page proposal could also be a high-quality proposal. And yes, it does not have to have a rocket science idea. However, it does have to follow a pattern, a scheme usually used in Science.

I will start a blog series about proposal writing, keeping in view how important it is. The purpose of this blog series is to take you through a journey of transformation from knowing nothing about proposal writing to being proficient at it. Proposal writing skills are helpful to get a Ph.D., but they can also help you win research funding and kick-start your academic career.

The proposal writing starts even before you write something. Your first task is to search for what to write. Most of the students search for any proposal they could get their hands on and send it. No wonder why they rank the least in applications. YOUR JOB IS to KNOW WHAT YOUR PROFESSOR IS INTERESTED IN. If you don’t know that, chances are your proposal would not capture the attention of anyone at the university. Even if I want to make a human-flying machine and no professor is willing to supervise it, a proposal about it is worth nothing. I want you to be a detective and look for what a professor is dying to work on. Yes, every professor has that dukhti rag. If you could identify that, he will select you and make sure that you join his lab as soon as possible.

You might ask, “How can I do that?” How to identify his dukhti rag, the passions, the interests of a professor. Read their recent papers. First, you will know what field they are working in and their interests by reading their articles. But to identify dukhti rag go a little bit deeper. Identify the questions they raised in the discussion of their papers. This is where scientists usually write what could be interesting for them to work in the future. Reread the last sentence. Discussion of their paper includes what interests them. If you write a proposal about that, you are already one step ahead of your competitors who just read the call and applied without searching for professors, identifying a supervisor and writing a proposal catered to his/her interests.

The next blog will be about the pattern of a research proposal. Stay tuned!

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