What Is a Research Statement?
The Research Statement (or Statement of Research Interests) is a common component of academic job applications. It is a summary of your research accomplishments, current work, and future direction and potential of your work.
The statement can discuss specific issues such as:
- funding history and potential
- requirements for laboratory equipment and space and other resources
- potential research and industrial collaborations
- how your research contributes to your field
- future direction of your research
The Research Statement should be technical, but should be intelligible to all members of the department, including those outside your subdiscipline. So keep the “big picture” in mind. The strongest Research Statements present a readable, compelling, and realistic research agenda that fits well with the needs, facilities, and goals of the department.
Research Statements can be weakened by:
- overly ambitious proposals
- lack of clear direction
- lack of big-picture focus
- inadequate attention to the needs and facilities of the department or position
Why a Research Statement?
- It conveys to search committees the pieces of your professional identity and charts the course of your scholarly journey.
- It communicates a sense that your research will follow logically from what you have done and that it will be different, important, and innovative.
- It gives a context for your research interests—Why does your research matter? The so what?
- It combines your achievements and current work with the proposal for upcoming research.
- Helps hiring committees assess:
- areas of specialty and expertise
- potential to get funding
- academic strengths and abilities
- compatibility with the department or school
- ability to think and communicate like a serious scholar and/or scientist
Formatting of Research Statements
The goal of the Research Statement is to introduce yourself to a search committee, which will probably contain scientists both in and outside your field, and get them excited about your research. To encourage people to read it:
- make it 1–2 or more pages, 3 at most
- use informative section headings and subheadings
- use bullets
- use an easily readable font size
- make the margins a reasonable size
Organization of Research Statements
Think of the overarching theme guiding your main research subject area. Write an essay that lays out:
- The main theme(s) and why it is important and what specific skills you use to attack the problem.
- A few specific examples of problems you have already solved with success to build credibility and inform people outside your field about what you do.
- A discussion of the future direction of your research. This section should be really exciting to people both in and outside your field. Don’t sell yourself short; if you think your research could lead to answers for big important questions, say so!
- A final paragraph that gives a good overall impression of your research.
Writing Research Statements
- Avoid jargon. Make sure that you describe your research in language that many people outside your specific subject area can understand. Ask people both in and outside your field to read it before you send your application. A search committee won’t get excited about something they can’t understand.
- Write as clearly, concisely, and concretely as you can.
- Keep it at a summary level; give more detail in the job talk.
- Ask others to proofread it. Be sure there are no spelling errors.
- Convince the search committee not only that you are knowledgeable, but that you are the right person to carry out the research.
- Include information that sets you apart (e.g., publication in Science, Nature, or a prestigious journal in your field).
- What excites you about your research? Sound fresh.
- Include preliminary results and how to build on results.
- Point out how current faculty may become future partners.
- Acknowledge the work of others.
- Use language that shows you are an independent researcher.
- BUT focus on your research work, not yourself.
- Include potential funding partners and industrial collaborations. Be creative!
- Provide a summary of your research.
- Put in background material to give the context/relevance/significance of your research.
- List major findings, outcomes, and implications.
- Describe both current and planned (future) research.
- Communicate a sense that your research will follow logically from what you have done and that it will be unique, significant, and innovative (and easy to fund).
Describe Your Future Goals or Research Plans
- Major problem(s) you want to focus on in your research.
- The problem’s relevance and significance to the field.
- Your specific goals for the next 3–5 years, including potential impact and outcomes.
- If you know what a particular agency funds, you can name the agency and briefly outline a proposal.
- Give broad enough goals so that if one area doesn’t get funded, you can pursue other research goals and funding.
Identify Potential Funding Sources
- Almost every institution wants to know whether you’ll be able to get external funding for research.
- Try to provide some possible sources of funding for the research, such as NIH, NSF, foundations, private agencies.
- Mention past funding, if appropriate.
There is a delicate balance between a realistic Research Statement where you promise to work on problems you really think you can solve and over-reaching or dabbling in too many subject areas. Select an over-arching theme for your Research Statement and leave miscellaneous ideas or projects out. Everyone knows that you will work on more than what you mention in this statement.
Consider Also Preparing a Longer Version
- A longer version (5–15 pages) can be brought to your interview. (Check with your advisor to see if this is necessary.)
- You may be asked to describe research plans and budget in detail at the campus interview. Be prepared.
- Include laboratory needs (how much budget you need for equipment, how many grad assistants, etc.) to start up the research.
Samples of Research Statements
To find sample Research Statements with content specific to your discipline, search on the Internet for “your discipline” + “Research Statement”
I still think it's bizarre that they ask you to do this, since someone who writes a great essay might have a ridiculous research plan, but it seems unlikely.
More often I think it's the other way around- the advisor helps with the research plan, but doesn't even want to discuss career goals with the student, so the essay on career goals is horrible.
It's rare that anyone really excels at both, and it's equally rare that the essay being bad is going to keep you from getting the fellowship.
Most people just write the same bullshit anyway. So basically you just want to sound like a real person, but it's okay if you don't say anything too original, because most people are only going to give the essay the most cursory read.
Here's my advice: Think hard about what you want to do, and why you want to do it. Be honest. And get someone else to read it.
It's funny because I was just thinking about this again today. One of my role models is having a rough time right now, and I'm feeling abandoned because she's worried about her own career and doesn't feel qualified/doesn't have time to help me with mine.
So I was thinking again how, while there are things I admire about her, I hope I've learned how to avoid making some of her mistakes.
But part of me just thinks, well here she is, quite a bit farther along with her career, and she doesn't feel any more secure or satisfied, really, than I do now.
Is this really what I'm signing up for? Lots more years of battling other people's malformed expectations, passive aggressive crap, and a constant feeling of uncertainty?
Last week was so good. Was that my one good week for a while? Lately it seems like I can't have more than one in a row.
Maybe I should hire Nancy Pelosi's astrologer.
So as an example, I've posted my career goals here before, but it never hurts to think about them again.
I want my own lab, and I want to run it my way.
I want to work on my ideas, not someone else's.
I want a team of people to work with me on my ideas. I want to do the hiring and firing.
I want students who have their own ideas.
My top career goal right now is to get a faculty position and funding. That's all. I can't think much farther ahead than that.
The purpose of my research is to ask good questions and figure out the most direct, practical ways to ask them.
The purpose of my research is to keep me from getting bored.
The purpose of my research is that it's a non-boring way to pay the rent.
Lately I'm hearing more and more that the way to get a good job is to find the job you want and target it as you would an all-out attack. Do lots of research on 2-3 places that you think would be good for you, and put all your effort into making contacts, and making your application suit the slot that's open.
My problem right now is, I'm afraid the job I want doesn't exist. And I'm afraid that, the more I research the possibilities, the less certain I'll be that there is a place out there that I would ever fit.
If you keep squishing me between a rock and a hard place, can you make me fit a mold that wasn't made for someone my shape?
It's funny because here I tend to vent my fears and frustrations, and here it's probably evenly split between people telling me to quit and people telling me not to give up. Though admittedly, I've never really run a poll and counted.
But in real life, people who know me, or even people who barely know me, say they feel certain I'll succeed in achieving my goals, that they're not worried about me, that I seem to be on top of my game.
You do? I will? You're not? I am?
My question now is, how much help is it reasonable to ask for when people think you shouldn't or don't need it? And how do you convince them you do need it, when you're in a culture where showing signs of weakness just means the sharks will smell blood and come out to eat you?
If I didn't really need any help, would I still feel like I do now?
Labels: ambition, career, funding