Application Do's and Don'ts

Examples of what to do and not to do when writing titles, project descriptions, and student role.

Project title

Senior Honors Thesis--Music and Memory

  • “Senior honors thesis” should not be included in the title
  • Doesn’t adhere to the capitalization guidelines
  • Uses a prohibited character (dashes)
  • Not descriptive

The impact of musical training on memory

Investigating the Efficacy of High Frequency Deep Brain Stimulation in a Rat Model of Binge Drinking: Towards a Neuromodulation Intervention for Binge Drinking

  • Too long
  • Doesn’t adhere to the capitalization guidelines

The efficacy of high frequency deep brain stimulation in a rat model of binge drinking

Project description: focus

State the purpose of the research itself, not your own plans or your experience with the research or on the program or research mentor


  • I am applying for a Presidential Scholarship project to work with Professor…
  • My Presidential Scholar research will focus on…
  • My research with Professor Smith looks to analyze how trade and technological changes influence governmental responses...
  • This project will be a continuation of research that I first began in my freshman summer and have continued throughout my sophomore year…


  • The goal of the project is to investigate how entrepreneurs learn from observing the success or failures of other entrepreneurial ventures.
  • Iron is one of the nutrients essential to life, and humans around the world obtain most of their dietary iron from plants. For this reason, much research is going into understanding how plants take up and use iron under a variety of conditions, and how these responses can be improved upon.

Project description: point of view

Do not write the description from your research mentor’s point of view:

This research enlists the assistance of a philosophically-minded student to find and analyze textual resources relevant to...

The research will involve identifying and analyzing textual resources relevant to...

Project description: references

Do not include references in the abstract

There is a significant income-achievement gap such that individuals of low-socioeconomic status (SES) do not perform as well as children of high-SES in almost every academic domain measured (e.g., Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; McLoyd, 1998; Reardon, 2011).

Previous research has demonstrated that there is a significant income-achievement gap such that individuals of low-socioeconomic status (SES) do not perform as well as children of high-SES in almost every academic domain measured.

Project description: general tips

I will be continuing the work that I have been doing for the past year on the project entitled "Using neuroscience to categorize music." The project investigates real, objective measures that can be used to accurately predict human neurological responses to musical patterns. This would apply to a diverse amount of stimuli - as found in recordings from all types of music and as perceived by human listeners, from what a chef hears while preparing a meal from clinking of silverware and china to what a conductor hears while conducting an orchestral score from memory. 

The goal of the project is to engineer a search engine for music based on real, perceptually salient, and quantitative aspects of music audio signals. The project combines research in audio and acoustic engineering, perception and cognition, computer science, and music. In simpler terms, it is taking a new way of analyzing musical rhythm patterns by separate segments of audio into independent components and organizing them into latent timbre channels. 

The first step is encoding streams of feature data in these channels, thus encoding separate information about each aspect of the musical mixture.  I will assist in the design, running, and analysis of behavioral studies in human rhythm perception - specifically the stimulus preparation, collecting and analyzing fMRI data, processing similarity matrices for computational analysis, and helping to design both computational algorithms that predict the behavioral responses to rhythmic aspects of music audio and also an interface for searching / browsing music by rhythmic content. 

  • Too long
  • Multiple paragraphs instead of just one
  • Includes the project title (don't do this!)
  • Extraneous information (e.g. the chef/silverware and orchestra conductor sentence)
  • Information that should be in other sections of the application
    • the first sentence should be in "related experience"
    • the last paragraph should be in "student role"

The goal of the project is to engineer a search engine for music based on real, perceptually salient, and quantitative components of music audio signals. To determine what components are salient to listeners, neurological responses to specific auditory signals will be measured by presenting auditory stimuli to research participants while they undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  The auditory stimuli will be created with known, categories, and organized rhythmic patterns and will be presented in different channels.  Therefore, information about each aspect of the musical mixture can be encoded separately and the participants’ responses to specific stimuli can be analyzed and compared.  Based on these computational analyses, algorithms will be developed that can predict behavioral responses to rhythmic aspects of music.  The algorithms will then enable searching and browsing of music by rhythmic content.

Student role

I will design and test substrate boards.

  • Doesn't provide enough detail for the reader to understand what you will actually be doing

I will work with my faculty mentor and the other lab personnel in designing the substrate boards to hold the array of miniature dielectric probes. This will involve work in SolidWorks and other electronics design software.  I will be testing the sensor arrays and then helping to compile, analyze, and present the data taken during tests. In addition, I may help prepare reports and any other necessary literature, as well as researching microwave radiation and its application to dielectric probes. As a member of the lab, I will sit in on group meetings and help the lab in whatever other projects may be necessary.

Project description vs. student role: Guidelines

These two sections have different purposes and should include different types of information. Be sure to differentiate between the goals and general methodology of the research and your specific role in the research.

Project Description: focus on the overall goals and general methods

  • The goal is to test the hypothesis that HCN channels cause sodium current through sodium-potassium ATPases (sodium pumps) in dendrites to be consistent, independent of cell activity. If this hypothesis is correct, the sodium concentration in dendrites will stay constant regardless of when action potentials have occurred.
  • We will use a combination of experimental and modeling approaches to reveal the neural substrates of such cognitive biases. We will see whether subjects are able to closely estimate the evidence provided by individual cues or their combinations, and see if they exhibit contradictory biases in their estimates of reward and the choices they make when alternative choices are not equally rewarding.

Student Role: explain what you will actually be doing

  • I will run participants through the study protocol. This involves preparing the electrode cap on the participant's head and reducing noise and unwanted muscle activity artifacts in the brain waves.
  • My role will be to manufacture and characterize the freeze-cast carbon-based scaffolds to determine structure-property-processing correlations with which future scaffolds can be custom-designed and optimized for applications such as water filtration and deionization.
  • My role in the project will include running participants in experiments, coding and analyzing data, and creating stimuli for future experiments.
  • I'll be using B-roll footage of daily life taken by local media across the country over the years, and connect it with the many scattered data-rich sources that exist. Further, I'll be working on solutions for connections between Scalar and MediaThread (media sorting software platforms), then connecting that platform with the source data from a variety of institutions as large as the Library of Congress and as small as Domitor, a group of academics working on the nebulous pre-film movie era.

Project description vs. student role: Example

Project description:

This project is focused on the arsenic concentration in groundwater in New Hampshire and its implication for children's health. Arsenic is not only a carcinogen shown to cause skin, lung, and bladder cancer, but also may cause non-carcinogenic problems in children, such as low birth weight and low growth rate. New Hampshire does not require testing of private wells for contamination; therefore, many residents (1 in 5 wells in NH) use water with concentrations of arsenic that exceed the EPA's "safe" level of 10 parts per billion. The goal of the project is to evaluate webGIS as a means to disseminate information about groundwater arsenic concentration to people beyond academia. A webGIS site is a website that possesses the functionality of geographic information systems (GIS), with which the user can view information presented as maps and perform inquiries using spatial analytical tools. This approach has potential implications for human health by making data on arsenic levels available to the general public.

Student role:

This study will adopt a qualitative approach. I will design a survey, identify interviewees, conduct interviews, analyze the collected data, and prepare a report about the findings. Specifically, I will evaluate the two webGIS sites aforementioned through comparing different functions provided and different designs about information presentation, map visualization, and website operation. It is expected that based on this study problems of these websites can be identified and optimal designs can be recommended.