I am currently applying for a PhD position in data science, and my potential supervisor is asking me to write a research proposal. This professor is working on "ML & NLP methods for Digital Health."

I am very interested in NLP technologies, and I really want to pursue a PhD in this direction. The problem is that I have no ideas to provide in this research proposal.

I could probably write something, but I'm not an expert in his field of specialty and I think it's ridiculous to send a bad proposal just because he's asking for one. I wonder if it would be better to just tell him that I don't have any ideas to submit.

What do you think?

Thanks in advance.

  • What country is this professor in?
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 2, 2021 at 15:03

2 Answers 2


I assume that in Switzerland you need to send something, no matter how tenuous. You aren't expected to be an expert yet. That is why you want doctoral study.

Try to narrow it down to something that you would "like to explore". Even a couple of things. But send something that indicates interest. You can also say (guessing a bit here) that you are open to suggestions beyond your own ideas.


I would guess that the professor won't decide whether to hire you depending on which problem you propose to study. The professor is instead trying to find out whether you're well prepared to do research. Grades from past study aren't great indicators of that ability. If you're able to formulate a research proposal that makes any sense at all, then you're probably well prepared for a PhD (= to start a PhD).

On the other hand, if you tell the professor that you have no ideas, it doesn't really send the message that you're curious and creative.

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