How to write a successful proposal using SPF

The objective of this short document is provide some guidance on how to prepare, write and submit a proposal for a foreseen experiment at a Synchrotron Radiation (SR) or a Free Electron Laser (FEL) large-scale facility with a good chance of being approved. In particular, these guidance notes are tailored to the Standardized Proposal Format (SPF) offered on the www. portal. SPF is available for ALL users of European large-scale users facilities, i.e. independently of European funding and/or user nationality.

Lightsources facilities are funded to provide a service to the scientific community, but their running costs are relatively expensive and their beamline access is significantly overbooked. Therefore, the facility’s management cannot provide beam time for just any experiment proposed. Each interested group of users which is willing to get access to a SR and/or FEL large scale facility needs to prepare, write and submit a beamtime request (or proposal) to the facilities.

In order to increase the chance for your experiment to be allocated for beamtime, you, as a proposer, will have to formulate a technically and scientifically convincing proposal. The use of the Standard Proposal Form (SPF) available on the wayforlight website is encouraged, because it complies with the aspiration of the European Commission to common standards, and it also allows for the submission of different proposals with a common heading. Most facilities now accept SPF proposals generated via the wayforlight portal, with slightly different processing procedures. Therefore, as a proposer, first please check whether this applies to your facility of choice under the step “2. Submit to facility(ies)” before you start to write your proposal under the step “1.Write your proposal”.

The proposed experiments described in your proposal will have to undergo a review process whose aim is to select those that take advantage of the instrumental characteristics of the source and beamline requested, and that address an interesting and possibly topical scientific issue and/or material; the proposal will be rated according to its potential to be ground breaking both in technique and topic. Thus it is usually not sufficient for a proposal to be merely scientifically correct for it to be approved; it will have to be evaluated and prioritized in relation to other proposals according to the criteria mentioned above.

To this purpose, proposals for SR- and FEL-based experiments are always examined, at each facility, by a review panel composed by scientists knowledgeable in the field of the proposal. Members of such review panels are usually not staff of the synchrotron radiation facility itself; the scientists in charge of the beamlines will, however, be asked to give their opinion on the technical feasibility of the proposed experiments. Experiments which are judged technically not feasible are often not forwarded for evaluation on scientific merit by review panels, and will be looked at very critically in any case. Thus it is important that you, as the proposer, seek advice from the scientists involved in operating the beamline on the technical and instrumental aspects of your proposal before submitting it.

After each call for proposals, e.g. twice a year, in most cases the review panels physically meet for a two- or three- days intensive meeting in which all proposals are comparatively evaluated and prioritized; sometimes, an additional advice from referees external to the review panel is obtained. In any case, you should be aware that these meetings are quite intensive; review panel members have to make decisions on a large number of proposals in a limited amount of time and will typically not have the time and means to perform in-depth literature searches on every proposal before or during the meeting. Therefore please put all necessary references (i.e. publications) in the proposal text (References box in the SPF), including those to your own work.

SR facilities should be considered as a tool necessary when other types of photon sources cannot solve the problem at hand, that is, it is not a routine experimental tool. It is important to show in the proposal that relevant in-house characterization methods have been used to set the background of the SR experiment; for example, for a structural investigation it might be useful to quote or report the results of in-house X-ray diffraction measurements, possibly with a short table or small figure reporting the results.

In the “Proposal objectives” in the SPF, you will briefly describe what is the relevance for your research field of the scientific question(s) you want to solve and which SR method(s) you want to apply to which material(s), as well as the experimental results you expect thanks to your proposed experiment. This section has a certain overlap with the “Motivation for the present proposal” in SPF box where you are expected to describe the beamline and beamtime requested, and the SR methods you propose to be used to tackle your scientific question(s).

The description of the context of the study (“Background” in SPF) is also needed. This means what is the research status associated with the present proposal (mention the references section), what is known, what are the pending questions and the scientific breakthroughs that still need to be made and how your proposal could help for this.

A clear experimental plan (“Project description” in SPF) is essential. Here details about the foreseen SR/FEL experiments and measurement strategy need to be filled. State the type and number of measurements planned, the X-ray parameters (energy, focus, …), the detection mode, and justify the number of shifts required. In case the technique(s) proposed for the measurements is (are) not standard on the requested beamline, give all necessary details. The Technical part of SPF deals with details of your samples including safety related issues. If you plan to bring specific additional instrumentation to the beamline, give details highlighting the extra value you will add to the experiment.

Finally, the proposed “Complementary experiments” tool of the wayforlight portal allows you to submit two (or more) concomitant proposals at two different European SR/FEL beamlines or facilities. Indeed, to solve a scientific question, you may sometimes need to use several SR/FEL techniques, and/or X-ray parameters and/or sample environments not available at the same beamline but available at beamlines located at different European SR/FEL facilities. With this new “Complementary experiments” pilot action, you have a dedicated tool to solve this issue by submitting two proposals at two different SR/FEL facilities with a common scientific heading. While all the quality criteria for the selection of proposals remain intact, this type of proposals enables to emphasize the link between two proposals you would otherwise have to submit independently, and stress in particular the added value of combining several efforts, which might otherwise not be acknowledged by the different review panels. It is, therefore, highly recommendable to use the SPF since single sources do not offer this functionality. An added value of the complementary experiments has to be made very clear in the proposals, however, the instrument is not intended to raise chances of weak single proposals by coupling them together!

Here you can also download the guidelines in .pdf format

General guidelines
At first sight it seems rather obvious how to write a good proposal for SR beamtime: explain the scientific case and some practical aspects of the experiment, and send it in.

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