Is it appropriate (I type 'common' in the original post)for graduate students to draft the research proposal for their advisor’s funding application (like NIH’s or NSF’s grant application) ?

  • in the field of Biomedical research.
  • major grant proposal, like NIH's or NSF's)
  • Is this behavior allowed? Although it is OK and somewhat common for graduate students to draft grant proposal in our country, I'm not sure the situation in US or Canada. I do not know if I should write this thing in the personal statement for PhD application.
  • 2
    in what field? what kind of funding application? (In my field, mathematics, the answer is no.)
    – Anonymous
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 11:33
  • 1
    In engineering, its not that common but I know some professors who ask their students for drafts as an exercise.
    – The Guy
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 12:49

3 Answers 3


In experimental fields, this is not exactly a routine practice, but it is not rare either. Especially in a sizable lab with a large number of graduate students, multiple grants are needed to support all the work going on. It takes a substantial amount of time to prepare a grant proposal, and most proposals are not funded, so working to get grants can be a major drain on a PI's time. If a graduate student can do some of the work, that may be the most efficient use of laboratory resources.

And an experience graduate student is likely to be the person with the best practical understanding of what precisely they are doing in the lab. The student should understand the significance and the challenges of what they are planning to study further, and including that specific knowledge can help to make the best case for funding a proposal. That being said, I would not expect a student two write an entire proposal (including all the parts of the proposal describing logistics and budgeting), nor would I expect their discussion of the research aspect to be used without substantial editing by the PI.

Moreover, regardless of what career path they eventually take, it will be important for the students to be able to explain cogently what they are working on and why it is important. Having a student write a draft describing the research they want to undertake may be a good way of teaching these skills.

  • 4
    In addition, for any student intending to go into research, learning specifically how to write and submit a research proposal to gain funding is arguably an important part of the education which should be provided to the student. As you already mention, the portion of that process which is explaining what they are working on (or are proposing to work on) and why that work is important is a skill which is translatable to most career paths.
    – Makyen
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 20:03

I see nothing morally wrong with this. As a graduate student, you need to learn to write papers and applications, and being a part of a writing team for a grant proposal sounds like a great opportunity to learn. That's why I discuss my proposals with all my grad students and postdocs when I write them, so they get to see "how the sausage is made".

I tend to think that if this proposal will fund your own research, then not only is it appropriate for your to participate in, but can even be expected.


There's nothing at all wrong with it. You are part of the lab. It is a proposal to fund the lab (and you, by extension). And really, I've always felt my lab to be really a team-based atmosphere. Sure, the advisor was in charge and had final say and everyone has their individual projects, but they all should be pulling in the same direction.

Furthermore, as a graduate student, the proposal will either (a) be based significantly on the work you have done, or (b) be work you will do. Or (perhaps most likely) both. In any case, you have perspectives and ideas that even the PI does not have, so you should contribute whenever possible.

I was lucky to be involved in several proposals while in graduate school (Including NSF, ARPA-E, so fairly major ones). Not to say I "enjoyed" proposal writing, but it was/is a skill that as served me well in my post-academia career, and really has allowed my to contribute in my current position. And, it's worth noting that the technical writing skills of proposal writing translate fairly well to report writing, and really paper writing. Honestly, reading some of the journal papers out there, I wish more students got more involved in technical writing opportunities earlier in their careers.

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