The Golden Rule of the Research Statement

Today’s post is short. It’s about the Research Statement.

There’s undoubtedly a lot to say about Research Statements. But Dr. Karen doesn’t have time today, because she’s submerged in client work with looming deadlines.

So this post is simply going to introduce the Golden Rule of Research Statements. And that is:

Talk About the Research, and Not About Yourself.

What this means in practice is, beware the “I statement.” It is tempting to write a document that goes something like, “I work on transitions in the care of the elderly in Japan. I am particularly focused on the recent growth in government run care facilities. I use ethnographic methods to address the nature of the care given in these facilities, and I explore how the care is received by the patients and their families.  My dissertation explores one such facility in northern Japan.”

This would be bad, because it is entirely about you, and not about the research. Instead, write something like this:

“The rapidly aging society is one of the primary challenges facing Japan in recent decades.  Both the public and private sectors have hastened to respond to emerging needs of the elderly and their families.  Over 200 new government run elderly care centers have been built in recent years.  In my dissertation, I conduct an ethnographic study of one such facility in northern Japan, in order to explore the nature of the care provided there, as well as its reception by the elderly themselves and their family caregivers.”

I statements are not verboten.  They just need to be minimized, and carefully contextualized so that the research is always forefront, and your ego is secondary.

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The Golden Rule of the Research Statement — 16 Comments

  1. Karen, this is great! Short and sweet and to the point. And especially relevant to me as I begin to draft my research statement (and would have certainly been writing more like the first example than the second).

  2. This advice comes at precisely the right moment for me, too. I’ve been revising my research statement this week, and you have pointed out precisely why I’m stuck. Thanks for this post!

  3. Hear, hear! A related piece of advice comes from, I believe, one of the famous Bems in social psychology — when reviewing the literature, the topic of your sentences should be real world phenomena, not the names of researchers.

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  5. I’d love to hear more about research statements in another blog post! You’ve got great comprehensive coverage of Cover Letters, CVs, and Teaching Statements, but now that I’ve gotten to the point of redrafting the Research Statement, I’m feeling a bit lost. Thanks for all the helpful tips along the way!

  6. Hi Dr. Karen,
    I’m a fairly new reader, but I am already extremely grateful for all the great resources you are providing here. I would also like to also ask for more detailed advise about the research statement. Having taken your advice about including some info about my second project in my cover letter, I now feel like I don’t have anything unique to say in the research statement. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again!

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  8. Hi Dr. K,

    I really appreciate your writing and advice.

    Though, what’s the reason for minimizing “I statements”, please? Some believe that it’s in their best interest to emphasize that which makes the person/scientist unique.

    For example, I heard an NPR show that highlighted this guy who can fix anything…and he ended up fixing the Hubble. What should he put in his research statement?

  9. In the RS,can one cite a few references that are relevant to the research proposal overview, after completing past accomplishments and current interests? Thanks in advance.

  10. Oh my gosh–you really ARE the advisor I wish I’d had, but didn’t / don’t.

    I really appreciate your blogging on the Statement of Research Interest. (Mine was filled with stuff about how, even as a small child, I was fascinated by human behavior….) Thankfully, I found you in time and have gotten out the hatchet. I am sure the search committee thanks you too.

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