I'm a postdoc and I have never submitted a research proposal.

There is a funding project at my current University open to postdocs. I have a list of past winners and I'm tempted to ask for their proposals to give me some guidelines in writing mine. Obviously I can just ask and I know that professors share winning proposals, but usually, they know each other. But I've never met these people and the only thing I have is their contact information.

What is the correct way to ask for sample proposals and is it considered good manners to ask such a thing?

  • 1
    Note that for many government funding agencies (e.g. NSF, NIH) you can obtain the proposals from the agency directly under freedom of information laws.
    – Thomas
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 21:45
  • @Thomas: This was previously discussed in academia.stackexchange.com/questions/8111/…, with several people feeling that this would be considered rude or academically unethical. Commented May 30, 2017 at 21:52
  • @NateEldredge Good point. But it's still worth noting that the possibility exists.
    – Thomas
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


First: Good approach to looking at successful proposals first. You cannot write a winning proposal if you don't know how winning proposals look like.

Second: Most people will probably be loath to share their proposals with anyone they don't know. But at the same time, most professors will (or at least should!) share their proposals with those they mentor in one way or the other. In fact, they may also take the time to walk you through the process, look over your proposal, give you feedback, etc. So ask your superiors, your department head, or others in similar position who look after your career development to help you with proposals that have been funded.

  • My advisor is really open and I'm sure he will share with me his winning proposals. For this case though, I think in asking people at my level as this proposal is open specifically to graduate students and postdocs. As I said I have a list with the past winners and their contact information. How to approach them is my issue.
    – ziulfer
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 0:19
  • Go to their office, introduce yourself, talk to them in person. But also talk to your adviser when you write yours. He may have reviewed such proposals in the past. Commented May 31, 2017 at 2:23
  • 2
    One of the reasons people loathe to share their proposals (or other non-public documents) is the feeling that they lose control of where the document may end up next. So if you get a copy, be sure to treat it as if you feel as if you do not have permission to further distribute it. (If someone else wants to read it, they should contact the original author).
    – Carol
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 16:32

If you have awarded proposals available from your advisor, but still want to get input from other post-docs, one way to approach this would be to reach out to the postdocs who have awarded proposals and ask them to meet (offering to buy coffee helps) and talk about their experience with the grant program. That is less pushy than flat out asking for their proposal. You can ask for tips on preparing your proposal and ask about feedback they received from reviewers. Some of them may have applied more than once and can tell you what they did wrong and how they improved. If the meeting goes well and they feel that you are sincere and trustworthy, they may feel comfortable offering to share their proposal at the end of the meeting. However, if they don't, you would still have examples from your advisor to help you.

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    Plus one for suggesting the softer way. Indeed, being less direct can often help.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 18:53

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