1. Overview

Your research proposal represents a formal agreement between you, your supervisors, your school/s and the Board of the Graduate Research School (BGRS) about the:

  • nature, scope and approach of your research;
  • rationale for your research;
  • general methods you will use;
  • approvals and training required;
  • timeframe for completion;
  • funding of your research;
  • arrangements for your supervision; and
  • tasks that you are expected to complete in order for your candidature to be confirmed at the end of the first year (PhD candidates only).

Usually a single BGRS member will review and approve your research proposal on behalf of the BGRS. Your reviewer will not be from your school, but will normally be from a cognate discipline. As BGRS members review a large number of research proposals each year, they are experienced in identifying potential problems in the proposal. They read all aspects of each research proposal carefully and highlight any problems or questions to be addressed before they formally approve the proposal. Their approval is neither trivial nor automatic.

If your proposal is not approved in the first instance, you will be provided with written feedback to assist you revise the proposal to an acceptable standard. This process may be iterative. Initial feedback on a research proposal may be:

  • The proposal has been approved in its present form. The reviewer may recommend that you consider particular questions or comments, but responses to these are not required.
  • Please provide further information. The proposal has not been approved in its present form. In this case you will be provided with an outline of specific amendments that are required, and/or any general questions or areas of concern. You will then be required to provide a satisfactory written response before the proposal will be approved. The response required may include full revision of all,or part of, the proposal.

BGRS members are asked to consider the following when they review research proposals:

Supervision

Please refer to the

a) Are the proposed arrangements for supervision appropriate in relation to qualifications, eligibility, expertise, experience, availability, arrangements for co-supervision and absence of conflicts of interest?

b) Would alternative or additional arrangements be appropriate, for example addition of a supervisor with particular expertise?

Proposed study

a) Are the nature and scope of the proposed study consistent with the requirements of the degree in which the candidate is, or in the case of applicants for upgrades, is applying to be, enrolled?

For example, for a PhD, will the study make a substantial and original contribution to scholarship through the discovery of knowledge, the formulation of theories or the innovative re-interpretation of known data and established ideas?

For a master's, will the study be a substantial piece of work generally based on independent research which shows a sound knowledge of the subject of the research, evidence of the exercise of some independence of thought and the ability of expression in clear and concise language?

b) Is the structure of the proposed program consistent with the rules for the degree in which the candidate is applying to be enrolled?

For example, if the proposed study includes a creative component to be examined, is there provision for this within the rules for the course?

In the case of candidates proposing to use data collected or other work done prior to enrolment, will they meet the requirement that the thesis has been substantially accomplished during enrolment in the degree?

Research direction

a) Are the aims/problems/questions to be addressed in the research outlined in sufficient detail in the proposal?

b) Is there sufficient evidence that the proposed work is appropriately original for the degree?

c) Is there sufficient evidence that the proposed approach, design and methods are suitable for the study in question?

d) Has sufficient assessment been made of any risks for timely completion of the project, and are there contingency plans for dealing with problems that might arise?

Common examples of such problems include:

  • delays in receiving approvals from relevant committees;
  • difficulty recruiting sufficient subjects or respondents;
  • unexpected failure of study organisms to survive, breed, or develop;
  • breed, or develop;
  • inability to get key specialised methods to work;
  • difficulty obtaining access to materials, specimens, animals, study sites, data, literature, primary sources or specialist assistance; and
  • disruption or destruction of plans due to political unrest, natural disasters and the vagaries of nature.

e) Has sufficient assessment been made of any safety and health hazards, for example in relation to field work and other off-campus work and travel as well as laboratory and other technical work, and are there plans for addressing these?

f) Overall, is there evidence that adequate risk assessment of the project has been undertaken, and are there plans for management of risk? Please see the University's Safety and Health policies.

Candidature plan

a) Is the proposed timeframe for the research realistic, reasonable and consistent with the length of candidature for the degree?

b) Is there sufficient detail in the planned timing for completion of different phases of the research (milestones) whereby the candidate and supervisors can monitor progress?

c) Are the tasks that have been set out for Confirmation of Candidature fair, with reasonable and measurable outcomes, and are they consistent with the Board's expectations?

d) If the candidate plans to undertake formal coursework, is this within the limits set previously by the Board (maximum 24 points) and necessary for the research program, as required in the relevant University rules?

e) Has the candidate made an adequate assessment of the generic and research skills required to bring their project to a timely completion? For example, these might include skills in statistics and academic writing, as well as specific skills pertaining to the research.

f) In general, does the candidate appear to have the appropriate skills to complete the research and thesis?

g) If the candidate does not appear to have the appropriate skills, have they developed a realistic strategy for achieving them?

Budget

Please see the University's Infrastructure Guidelines for the Support of Higher Degree by Research Candidates.

This resource includes lists of the resources provided to research candidates by individual UWA schools.

a) Is the budget presented in sufficient detail and are the anticipated annual costs realistic?

b) Has the school agreed to underwrite the costs of the research, including any necessary field work? If extra funds are required above those to be provided by the School, are these guaranteed? If not, is there a contingency plan in the case of the funds not being available?

Ethics and other approvals

Please see the relevant ethics guidelines.

a) Does the proposed research include:

  • the use of animals or human subjects, including the latter as respondents to questionnaires;
  • genetic manipulation or use of genetically modified organisms;
  • potentially hazardous procedures or situations;
  • potent teratogens or carcinogens; or
  • ionising radiation?   
If so, has approval from the appropriate UWA approval body been obtained?

If approval has not been obtained, what is the timeframe for this, and should approval be a pre-requisite for confirmation of candidature?

b) If the research includes any of the above, has the candidate completed any appropriate training?

If appropriate training has not been completed, what is the timeframe for this, and should completion of such training be a pre-requisite for confirmation of candidature?

Intellectual property and authorship

Please see the University's Intellectual Property Policy and Guidelines on Research Ethics and Conduct and some general information for candidates on confidentiality and intellectual property.

Examples of problems that arise in relation to intellectual property include:

  • disputes between candidates, supervisors and other collaborators about authorship of publications;
  • disputes between candidates, supervisors and funding organizations about ownership of intellectual property with commercialisation potential;
  • disputes between candidates and supervisors about the ownership of data, especially in the event of a change of supervisor;
  • disputes between candidates and supervisors about the ownership of research ideas or plans, especially in the event of a change of supervisor; and
  • concerns raised by examiners about the level of candidates' contribution to co-authored published work included in theses.

a) Have actual and potential intellectual property issues been addressed adequately in the proposal?

b) Is it likely that there will be publications arising from the research? If so, is there evidence that the candidate and supervisor/s have discussed and reached appropriate agreement on authorship of these publications?

c) If there is an intellectual property agreement, has it been duly signed by all parties? In particular, is it clear that the student has understood and agreed the implications of the intellectual property agreement?

General

a) Are all the sections of the proposal complete?

b) Is the proposal generally acceptable as a piece of academic writing at the required level?

c) In particular, is there evidence of problems in relation to plagiarism, insufficient or inappropriate referencing or inadequate English expression?

d) If there are problems with the standard of the proposal as a piece of academic writing, do the tasks required for confirmation of candidature include specific activities to develop the candidate's writing/English skills?

2. Assessment of applications for upgrade to PhD

BGRS members assessing applications for upgrade from master's to PhD are requested to consider all the points above. The following points are also considered:

a) Why did the applicant enrol initially in a master's rather than a PhD? It might be that they were not advised/permitted to enrol directly into a PhD because they were not qualified to do so. If this was the case, is there sufficient new evidence that this applicant is now qualified for enrolment in the PhD, in terms of their demonstrated ability to complete independent research at PhD level?

b) Are there scholarship or other funding issues that should be brought to the attention of the Graduate Research and Scholarships Office with respect to the proposed upgrade of this candidate? An example of such an issue might be an international candidate who has guaranteed funding support for the tenure of a master's but not necessarily for a PhD.