Donald R. Kaplan Dissertation Award in Comparative Morphology


The Botanical Society of America is soliciting applications for the Kaplan Dissertation Award in Comparative Morphology. Donald R. Kaplan was a leading researcher in the area of plant form, where he sought to deduce fundamental principles from comparative developmental morphology. He spent most of his professional career at the University of California, Berkeley. Through his own work and the work of the many graduate students he mentored, he had a profound effect on the fields of plant developmental morphology. Donald Kaplan always encouraged his students to work independently, often on projects unrelated to his own research. He also believed that students should publish their work independently, and rarely coauthored his students’ papers.

To promote research in plant comparative morphology, the Kaplan family has established an endowed fund, administered through the Botanical Society of America, to support the Ph.D. research of graduate students in this area. Research proposals for the award should have a strong focus on questions that address the evolution or generation of diversity in form and advance the field of comparative plant structure. Graduate students in other disciplines whose work may bring novel insights into developmental or morphological problems are also encouraged to apply.

The annual award of up to $10,000 may be used to support equipment and supplies, travel for research and to attend meetings, and for summer support. Applicants and their advisors must be members of the Botanical Society of America and are advised to join the BSA if they are not already members, to facilitate the application process. International students are welcome to apply. Graduate students must have advanced to candidacy or be at a comparable stage in their doctoral program.


Applications will be evaluated by the Kaplan Dissertation Award Committee. Evaluation criteria include the relevance to advancing research in plant comparative morphology, and evidence that the award will allow the graduate student to undertake an independent research project. They also include the motivation for the research, the clarity of the research hypothesis, the explanation of the methods to be used, and the connection between the objectives and design of the research. Awards will be made through institutional offices of sponsored research. Overhead costs are not permitted to be deducted, and applicants or their advisors are responsible for confirming with their institutions that this arrangement is possible before applying. Funds should be spent within two years; any unused funds will revert to the Society at the end of three years. In accordance of the wishes of the Kaplan family, it is expected that some portion of the work will be published as a peer-reviewed paper in American Journal of Botany. As an extra benefit, the journal will cover Open Access publishing costs.

Kaplan dissertation award review rubric guidelines

Research motivation (Weight: 2)
How well does the proposed project address a clear/novel/interesting question, and is the proposed research placed in the context of big-picture objectives in comparative plant morphology?

Clarity of hypotheses or questions (Weight: 1)
Are the hypotheses clearly stated? Does the proposal provide sufficient rationale so that the evaluator can understand the logic behind the hypotheses?

Explanation of methods/analyses (Weight: 1)
Does the proposal provide enough explanation to justify the proposed methods to achieve the stated goals, in language that can be understood by an educated but non-expert reviewer?

Connection between objectives and design (Weight: 2)
Does the proposal clearly and explicitly tie the hypothesis and methods to the motivating question? Will the proposed methods test the stated hypotheses?

Student Independence (Weight: 1)
Is there strong evidence that the award will allow the student to undertake an independent project?

Strong letters of recommendation (Weight: 1)
Do the letters of recommendation show strong support for the applicant’s project and provide clear evidence that the proposed research is independent?

Significant Outcomes (Weight: 2)
Are there clear outcomes, both intellectual and applied, that significantly advance the field of comparative morphology or plant biology broadly?

Broader Impacts statement (Weight: 1)
Does the proposed project contribute to broadening participation and inclusivity in botany and the BSA? 


Applications should be written in the form of a proposal that describes the motivation for the research and how the proposed research is related to the student’s overall dissertation project. Proposals should include a cover page with the applicant’s name and abstract (500 words or less). This should be followed by the proposal body, limited to a maximum of 5 single-spaced pages in total (including figures), followed by separate references. The proposal body should include background information, methods (this section limited to 1 page maximum, of the total), a clear statement of the significance of the possible outcomes, and a statement (200 words or less) addressing how the applicant or their work contributes to broadening participation and inclusivity in botany and the BSA, and a brief budget. Two letters of reference are required, including a letter from the student’s research supervisor. The letter of support can be directly uploaded by the student applying or may be emailed by the those writing the letters to In keeping with the intent of the Kaplan family to promote the graduate student’s research independence, applicants and their advisors must both indicate clearly how the proposed research differs in a substantial manner from the research program of the advisor.

This award is NOT limited to students in the United States.

This award is now open for applications.
Deadline is February 1, 2024 (Midnight Pacific Time)

Current BSA members can access the awards portal by clicking here and logging in with your BotanyID/Password. Once signed in, click on the "2024 - Donald R. Kaplan Dissertation Award in Comparative Morphology" link and you should see a blue button that says "+ Create New Nomination" at the bottom if your login was successful.

Please feel free to email with any questions about the award and application process.

Erin Patterson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, For the Proposal: The development and evolution of awns in the grass subfamily Pooideae

Honorable Mention:
Jacob Suissa
, Harvard University, for the Proposal: Bumps in the node: the effects of vascular architecture on hydraulic integration in fern rhizomes



Annika Smith, University of Florida, for the Proposal: The unique nectar spurs of the nasturtiums (Tropaeolum): Vascular architecture, tissue conflict, and synorganization