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Call for Proposals - Details

In this course you write your research proposal in response to this call for proposals in the area of evolutionary systems biology.

Preamble: About such Calls

A "Call for Proposals" specifies important details on how to apply for a research grant at a research agency (grant = funding = money for conducting said research). Pay close attention to what these calls say: they give a window into what those think that *want* to fund your research, but are in the difficult position of having to decide whether they should give their money better to your project or some other project. Your task in writing a proposal is to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to find the key points they are looking for in deciding whether to fund a proposal or not.

Guidelines for writing and administering grants can be very complex in real life. As an example, here is the NSF Grant Proposal Guide, Table of Content (!), here is a PDF of the full Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide, which essentially is a long book. The relevant bits of these general guides need to be combined with the specifics of the call a researcher wants to reply to. Here is a list of current calls at NSF.

For this course you don't need to navigate all that complexity. The few instructions given here are on one side designed to mimic at least some features of how this process would work in real life, on the other side we also want to keep it manageable, so everything you see in this course is greatly simplified (compared to what professors have to do to write competitive proposals).


Call for Projects in Evolutionary Systems Biology

We are looking for interdisciplinary projects that contribute to building bridges between systems biology and evolutionary biology with the help of modeling.

If you are interested in submitting an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship proposal, then please discuss this as early as possible with the course instructor to ensure that the group project can be planned appropriately.



There are several deadlines associated with the proposal process, as detailed here. Please note that the final proposal submission deadline is a hard deadline with no flexibility, so plan ahead to make sure you have everything ready on time.


Eligible projects

  • should have at least some modeling component (either in preliminary data to make the case or in the actual proposal);
  • can be, but do not need to be exclusively modeling projects;
  • can invest significant efforts into generating new data if they can argue that this data is needed for improving a certain model of importance;
  • ideally use some input from models in helping to decide what experiments to do;
  • can exclusively focus on developing new modeling capabilities or tools, if they can argue that these are needed to understand a broad class of questions relevant to either systems biology or evolutionary biology or both (or any of the various biological disciplines of relevance);


Projects that are not eligible are

  • mere exercises in data collection ("because we can") that are not linked to any model of interest.
  • projects that build only "pure" models without a clear link to at least some aspects of a biological theory or without the production of a tool useful for studying some biological phenomenon; the link to biology has to be specified explicitly in the proposal.
  • projects that do not make an effort to integrate at least some aspects of one additional discipline.


Format and length of text

You may write all texts independently; however, before submission you are expected to integrate them all into one Plone page on the course website. Submit this page as you have done before with your ReLog entries. In addition, print this page to a PDF and then submit this PDF in an email to the course instructor.


Please use the following guidelines for planning your proposal. The word counts are meant to provide an approximate length to provide you with a sense of proportions and a reasonable amount of flexibility.


  • Abstract: 150 words, providing an overall summary for specialists and a broader audience alike.
  • Broader Impact Summary: ca 300 (200-500) words, appropriately summarizing for a broader audience what this grant will be about. Why should the non-specialist public care about the scientific merit of your grant?
  • Scientific Aims Summary: ca 300 (200-500) words, appropriately summarizing the scientific merit for specialists in the different disciplinary fields touched by the grant.


  • Main text: ca 5000 (min 3000 - max 10000) words.
    • Background: What has been done before before? Define a clear starting point for this work. Include appropriate references.
    • Aims: What do you propose to do? Break down your work into a few major aims that you describe. For each aim provide:
      • Aim overview (1 paragraph)
      • Detailed description of Aim: What will be done? What is the innovation in this? Why is this feasible? What methods will be used? What problems might occur and how do you plan to deal with them? (Make the text as long as needed)
      • Deliverables: What concrete results will you deliver? Describe concisely tangible measurable outcomes that will result from your work. (usually short, as it builds on details discussed before; else make it as long as you need).
    • Workplan: When will you do which work towards what aim? Explain how the various subprojects of this project work together and who will be working on what aspect.
    • Broader impact: Who cares? Explain why the general taxpayer should be throwing x$ after you to do this. What common good do you expect to come out of this?
    • Figures and tables: Include in the text or add as appendix at the end as many items as needed (up to 10 of each type).
    • Evolvix Modeling Code: In the appendix add the full, properly documented modeling code that was used to produce the figures in your proposals. Add only small excerpts as necessary for fluent reading to the main text.


  • Data sharing plan (max 1 page): Detail how you plan to share your results on the long term for future generations of scientists to build on them?


  • Collaborating lab justification (max 250 words / lab): Pick real labs of the web that you propose would be good choices for you to do this project in and/or that you would like to collaborate on this. Explain why these labs are an excellent choice for being involved in this project, and who would be placed in which lab. Describe briefly the facilities that you will need from the lab and why it would be in the interest of the lab to work with you on your project. 


  • Budget information: In the appendix include for each year of the proposal:
    • How many graduate students will be working on this in any given year? Do you need support from undergraduates, programmers, or postdocs? Any guest expertise needed from outside of the collaborating labs? Justify details briefly.
    • Is there any special equipment you need that would not usually be in the collaborating labs?
    • No need to worry about expenses for running lab costs that are typical for the collaborating labs. Only list special expenses, if you feel you need something that would not easily be considered "standard" equipment.


  • Supplementary material: Everything relevant to understanding your proposal has to be in the proposal; reviewers should not have to look at websites or other references to understand the proposal completely.
    Try to avoid an Appendix, but if it makes your proposal that much more readable if you have one, then you may use one (e.g. special methods, figures, tables, simulation results, proofs, etc).


  • References: as many citations as needed to link the ideas in the proposal to the appropriate scientific literature.


How to write

Many books have been written on how to write in a way that communicates your science effectively. You can't read them all. It is important that you make an effort to learn a few new things that improve your writing every time you write something significant. That is why we will review the proposal before the actual final submission. Here are a few online resources that may help you: