I am particularly interested in postdoc proposals in the social sciences and in the humanities. In these fields, the applicant usually has a thesis manuscript that they want to turn into a book or a few articles or both. This task requires revisions; it may also require some additional research, if the manuscript is to be substantially augmented.

Since it is mostly (say 75% for a one-year postdoc) about extending and revising an existing manuscript, there seems to be a large overlap between the dissertation exposé and the postdoc proposal. How to avoid a proposal that is overly «backward-looking», i.e. that mostly repeats the PhD thesis? Since some kind of summary is probably necessary, what is a good ratio between the summary and the description of the proposed future work? Finally, how does a PhD exposé – which typically explains the state of the art, the research puzzle, then the methods and hypotheses – differ from a postdoc proposal in terms of its structure?

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    Contact your advisor's former students and ask if they would share their proposals with you, or ask other people for examples. In general, you want to tell a story, so you should focus on some problem to solve, your plans to solve it, and use your old work as evidence that you're the person to attack these new problems. (Or replace "problem" with "gap in existing knowledge".) So, include enough of your old work to motivate the new work, but be selective in what you include.
    – bmurph
    Feb 14, 2016 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


It seems obvious that while some forward-looking ideas may have been included in the thesis and defense, a proposal to develop them should have much more than just a concept -- timelines, deliverable milestones, cost of equipment (for physical sciences and engineering) or travel or payments for volunteer research subjects, what approach to publication will be used, etc. In short, mostly the same things that go into a grant proposal.

On the other hand, the methods of the thesis are not so important and should be condensed to an executive summary. The only part that should really be common is the proof that an important problems is addressed -- if the resulting book will have no impact, there is no point funding the effort to finish it.

Disclaimer: I'm neither a social scientist nor in a postdoc. But I do know what my employer would ask me to prepare in a proposal for funding for elaborating my dissertation.

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