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Proposal Development Institute

The Proposal Development Institute (PDI) provides a variety of experiences that collectively enhance the ability of Virginia Tech tenure-track faculty and research assistant professors to successfully pursue externally funded grants and contracts to support their research and scholarly activities. The program is designed to help early-career faculty members to translate research ideas into formal written proposals to external sponsors and includes a portfolio of activities tailored to the participants, regardless of their affiliation.

The program is jointly funded through the Office for Research and Innovation, colleges, departments, and research institutes who select faculty members to participate in the program.

Weekly workshops will take place in-person on Wednesdays from 4 - 5:00 p.m. in Burruss 130. The workshops will also be available via Zoom in synchronous mode and recorded for those who cannot attend in person, but in-person activities will be introduced among the participants in the room. In-person attendance is strongly encouraged when possible.

Over the semester, a weekly one-hour session is provided on topics related to proposal preparation, spanning from how to interact with program managers to effectively communicating research ideas in proposals. At the end of each seminar there will be time allotted for participants to consult one-on-one with the external consultants in areas of interest about effective proposal writing skills development.

Participants will also be assigned a task to complete that week, related to the material covered related to the preparation of a research proposal. The idea is to facilitate the planning of a research proposal, piece by piece, implementing the knowledge acquired during the semester.

Each component of the proposal will be reviewed by a mentor and the members of a working group to be introduced next.

Jan. 25 | Session 1
Establishing research agenda and getting started

Feb. 1 | Session 2
Identifying agency and funding opportunity

Feb. 8 | Session 3
Types of projects and articulating project goals and hypotheses/research questions/challenges

Feb. 15 | Session 4
Objectives/aims and project plan

Feb. 22 | Session 5
Outcomes, significance, and putting it together

Mar. 1  | Session 6
Positioning and talking to the Program Officers

Mar. 15 | Session 7
Grantsmanship and mock review exercise

Mar. 22 | Session 8
Outlining the narrative and using graphics

Mar. 29 | Session 9
Writing the first and background sections

Apr. 5 | Session 10
Preliminary results and the project plan

Apr. 12 | Session 11
Education, training, workforce development, broadening participation

Apr. 19 | Session 12
Other sections

Apr. 26 | Session 13
The budget and budget narrative

May 3 | Session 14
Other proposal components

May 10 | Session 15
Red team review, submitting the proposal, and the review process

May 17 | Session 16
Interpreting and responding to reviews

Participants are asked to prepare a one-slide presentation about their research interests and activities to provide their fellow participants an overview of their research. The slides will help generate potential new collaborations, clustering 4-6 participants with similar interests into working groups for the semester.

Members of each working group will review each other's work during the semester and provide feedback. In addition, each working group is paired with a more senior Virginia Tech faculty member who will serve as the mentor for the group.

Regular meetings of the mentoring group will take place during the program. These mentoring groups primarily focus on aspects of writing effective research proposals and pursuing funding with external agencies and foundations; however, they likewise are designed to address topics of interest and importance that arise among the participants in the group.

Program directors from different federal funding agencies and foundations are invited to talk about their research programs and funding opportunities for newer faculty. More importantly, the program directors will be available to answer any questions raised by the participants. This meeting will be held in addition to the previously mentioned seminars.

Throughout the PDI program participants are given an opportunity to participate in synchronous and asynchronous seminars that address a wide variety of topics related to the pursuit of external research funding and the conduct of funded research grants and contracts. Seminar titles from the PDI program in previous years include:

  • An Overview of the Office of Sponsored Programs
  • Understanding University-Level Investment Research Institutes
  • Forming and Participating in Interdisciplinary Research Teams
  • Preparing Effective Broader Impact Statements and Educational Plans for Proposals to the National Science Foundation
  • Preparing and Implementing Data Management Plans to Support Research Activities.

Additional topics could be included if requested by participants.

Participants who are planning to submit an NSF CAREER Award proposal during their time in the program can obtain an internal review of their proposal from Virginia Tech faculty members. This input can help the faculty member strengthen their proposal prior to formal submission to NSF.

Admission to the PDI program is based upon a review of nominations received by department heads/chairs, school directors, and/or research institute directors.


Alex Leonessa
Director of Proposal Development Institute
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Professor of Health Sciences
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (by courtesy)
Director, Terrestrial Robotics Engineering & Controls Lab
Virginia Tech, 227 Goodwin Hall,
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Last Updated: Jan. 9, 2023