Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Research Statement

Today, at long last, and in response to popular demand, a post on the Research Statement.

I have, perhaps, procrastinated on blogging about the Research Statement because at some level I felt that the rules might be more variable on this document, particularly with regard to length.

But in truth, they really aren’t.

The RS needs to be one page long. [Addendum of 9/9/12:  After a great deal of discussion on comment stream and FB and email, I have decided to revise this advice and recommend a length of no more than two pages.  Two pages allows for an elaboration of the research well beyond the summary in the cover letter that gives the search committee substantial information to work with.  I cannot in good faith recommend going over two pages, for the reasons I sketch below, but I strongly urge all job-seekers to investigate the norms of their individual fields carefully, and follow the advice they receive on this matter from experts in their own fields.  Just never simply ASSUME that longer is better in an RS or in any job document.]

There are undoubtedly a number of excellent reasons that people could give for writing a longer RS, based on thoroughness or detail or concerns for accuracy. And I would acknowledge those principles as valid ones.

But they would all come second to the single most important principle of all job market writing, in my view, which is the principle of search committee exhaustion.

Search committee members are exhausted, and they are overwhelmed and distracted. There simply is no bandwidth in their brains or their psyches to handle the amount of material they are required to read, when searches routinely garner between 300 and 1000 applications.

Anything that feels “long” is going to be resented just by virtue of its length. And resentment is categorically what you don’t want a search committee member feeling about your job application materials.

So, in short, the Research Statement, just like the Teaching Statement, needs to be one to two pages in length, single spaced.  And like the TS, it needs to be in 11 or 12 point font, and have decent one-inch margins.

(The RS to which I refer here is the document sometimes requested as part of a basic job application.  This is NOT the research proposal required by specific fellowship or postdoc applications!   Those will specify a length, and should be written to follow the outline I describe in Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template.)

What are the other rules? Here they are:

  • Print the RS on regular printer paper. Do not use letterhead for this or the TS, and do not use any special high grade paper.
  • Put your name and the words “Research Statement” centered at the top.
  • If unsure how to structure, use a 5-paragraph model as follows:

Para 1: A brief paragraph sketching the overarching thematics and topic of your research, situating it disciplinarily.

Para 2: A summary of the dissertation research. This may replicate to some extent the paragraph on the dissertation in the cover letter, but it must have more detail about the methods, the theoretical foundations, and most of all, the core arguments.  Here, give a chapter summary, approximately one sentence per chapter.

Para 3: A brief description of the contribution of the dissertation research to your field or fields, and a summary of publications associated with the dissertation research, including a plan for the book, if you are in a book field.

[Addendum: Other ongoing research can be described here in more paragraphs in the event that you are going for a 2 page document]

Para 4: A summary of the next research project, providing a topic, methods, a theoretical orientation, and brief statement of contribution to your field or fields. Mention publications, conference talks, or grants related to the new project.

Para 5: A brief summary of the wider impact of your research agenda(s) writ large—what do they “tell us” that is valuable and important, both for a discipline but also for a wider scholarly community, and in some cases, for humanity in general.

  • A RS (like a TS) is not tailored to a school overtly. While you may subtly adjust your project descriptions to speak to a specific type of job, you do not refer to any job or department or application in the statement itself.
  • Do not refer to any other job documents in the RS (ie, “As you can see from my CV, I have published extensively….”)
  • As in all job documents, remain strictly at the level of the evidentiary. State what you did, what you concluded, what you published, and why it matters for your discipline, period. Do not editorialize or make grandiose claims (“this research is of critical importance to…”).
  • Do not waste precious document real estate on what other scholars have NOT done. Never go negative. Stay entirely in the realm of what you did, not what others didn’t.
  • Do not position yourself as “extending” or “adding to” or “building off of” or “continuing” or “applying” other work, either your own or others.
  • Do not refer to other faculty or scholars in the document. The work is your own. If you co-authored a piece, do not use the name of the co-author. Simply write, “I have a co-authored essay in the Journal of XXX.”
  • Do not refer to yourself as studying “under” anybody, and do not refer to your professors’ and advisors’ names. It goes without saying that you most certainly do not refer to anybody as “Dr. or Professor So-and-So.”
  • Do not forget to articulate the core argument of your research. I am astounded at how often (probably in about 80% of client documents) I have to remind clients to write such a sentence. This sentence will read like this: “In this dissertation, I argue that…” As a prompt device, you may use the line, “In contrast to other scholars who have interpreted xxx as yyy, in my dissertation I find that xxxx is better understood as zzzz.”
  • Give a sense of a publishing trajectory, moving from past to present, from essays published to essays currently in preparation or in submission.
  • Make sure you are not coming across as a one-trick pony. The second major project must be clearly distinct and original compared to the first.  Avoid the temptation to describe how you will “continue” or “extend” your previous research topics or approaches.
  • Use the active voice as much as possible, but beware a continual reliance on “I-Statements”, as I describe in this post, The Golden Rule of the Research Statement.

I will stop here. Readers, please feel free to add more in the comments.  I will add to this post as further refinements come to mind.


Comments

Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Research Statement — 100 Comments

  1. I am interested in applying for Ph.D programs in the UK and they ask for a Research Proposal…is this the same thing as a Research Statement?

    • No, they are looking for what you might think of as a research protocol, so literally your background, literature review, hypotheses and methods. You would need to convey how this is a unique area of research that is novel and adds to the existing literature; they are assessing the novelty of your research and how you would conduct the study. PhD programs in the UK are heavily researched based; you would need to show that you could literally hit the ground running to do your PhD. A major difference is that UK PhD’s usually take 3-4 years full-time and this is stringently enforced. I have a PhD from the UK and there are obviously pros and cons compared to the US system but you need to be a confident researcher if you’re planning to take that route.

    • No: a Research Proposal is intended as a pitch for a specific project, or the research programme you will undertake within a specific timeframe (such as a PhD or a post-doc). A Research Statement is used for applications for jobs and occasionally fellowships, and outlines the research you have *already* completed, and what you plan to pursue next. So your Research Statement will describe your doctoral thesis as a finished (or very nearly finished) product, and list the publications generated by your doctoral work and any subsequent projects.

    • No, a research proposal is a description of what you would like to do for you PhD research. Essentially an outline of your expected PhD thesis (which can of course change later once you’ve been accepted and started working on your research) with a short lit review, an identification of a research gap that you plan to address and a brief outline of proposed methods.

  2. What about in the case where you are asked to provide a “Teaching and Research Statement” in addition to a statement of your teaching philosophy? I have gone for a one page statement which focuses on my research but links that to my teaching so as not to repeat too much from my philosophy or my cover letter. Any thoughts from others?

    • I’m preparing a “Teaching and Research Statement” and have kept it at 2 pages (1 page for teaching and 1 for research). Do others think that’s OK? If it’s 1 page total, for both teaching and research, then how much could I really say? That’s so short, less room than a 2-page cover letter.

      • Yes, on occasions where jobs ask for that combined statement, I always work with clients to do a two page document, with one page devoted to each part.

  3. In my field in R1 jobs it is pretty rare that one is asked to prepare a research statement. This stuff does in the cover letter. Any insight into when one is asked for this?

    • Field dependent, but as KK points out, you should have a research paragraph (or two) in your cover letter anyway…

  4. The above echoes my experience. One obvious caveat would be postdocs and such that either stipulate a longer statement length (the ol’ two page Fulbright IIE style), or suggest a wider range of material should be included.

    • Thanks for the tips – a very useful post! How do these apply to postdoc applications?

      – If the required length of the research statement is not stipulated, would one page also be sufficient for a postdoc application?

      – Also, what is the convention for naming (with title) your advisor in the cover letter – should this also be avoided?

  5. In terms of the 5-paragraph model, where would you include subsequent projects, i.e if you are on your second or third post-doc. Do you give equal time/space to each project you have completed, or just the basic run-down and focus more on current or upcoming work?

    • This is a good question. If you’re well beyond the diss, then you will use the “diss” para to describe your most important recent research, then at the end of that para or in the next one, indicate with a sentence or two the research that preceded it (demonstrating an organic connection between them if possible), with a major publication or two. And then from that, move to the next major project. So it’s a bit more of a zig zag, with the past sandwiched between (and subordinate to) the present and the future.

    • Let me respond in a different way. if you are a senior scholar applying for an associate or full position, then your RS may certainly be longer than one page (although I’d cap it at two, myself). The one page rule applies most to those who are seeking their first or second assistant professor position.

  6. Where is the appropriate place to highlight (solo or lead-author) publications developed outside of your dissertation work? For example, a secondary area of inquiry that runs tangential to your core area of research.

    • That can get another paragraph. Now, this is tricky. If you have an *extensive* secondary body of work for whatever reason then in that case, you may be one of the people who can go onto two pages. This is rare—most job seekers just have their diss, its pubs, and a planned second project, and that can all go on one page. If you have a small body of secondary research, that can also still fit on one page. So the judgment call comes in knowing how much is “too much” to legitimately fit on one page. Questions like that are what people hire me for!

  7. I’m wondering about repeating myself. The 5-paragraph format for the research statement is very similar to the format for the cover letter. So should we more briefly discuss points we’ve fleshed out in the cover letter, to save the space for points that are not in the cover letter? Or is repeating the info in the research statement and cover letter OK/expected? (If you’re repeating yourself, then there’s the issue of figuring out X different ways to say the same thing.)

    • I answer this in another response, but basically you have the space here to go into far more detail about the scholarship itself—the methods, the theoretical orientation, a very brief and edited literature context, and a strong statement of contribution to the discipline. You can give chapter summaries of about one sentence each, and you can also describe the publications in a sentence or two (not possible in the job letter). And the biggest thing in the RS is the description of the second project. The cover letter devotes a very short paragraph to that, of approximately 2-3 sentences, but in the RS, it can get a full-sized paragraph.

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  9. I struggle with para. 4 because I have 3 major post-diss projects in mind. 2 are off-shoots of the diss. material in the sense that they contribute to the same field as my diss. but look at very different aspects than my diss. covered. The 3rd project is a completely different trajectory with little-no connection to my diss. I fear it sounds “out of left field” as they say, but it’s my dream-project. So I’m not sure how to communicate all of these interests. Thoughts?

    • This is a huge question, and one that I’m going to edit the post to include. It is critical that no job seeker propose more than one next project. This may seem counter-intuitive. Surely, the more ideas I have, the more intellectually dynamic I look, right? Wrong. Anything above one major post-diss project makes you look scattered and at risk in your eventual tenure case. A tenure case requires a clear and linear trajectory from the diss, its pubs, to a second project, and its pubs.

      Now, I hasten to add that this rule applies most firmly in the humanities and humanistically inclined social sciences. In the hard sciences, and experimental or lab-based social sciences, the rhythm of research and publishing is different and different rules might possibly apply, with a larger number of smaller-scale projects possible. But in book fields, you need to do one book…and then a second book…for tenure.

  10. In a research proposal (i.e., for a specific postdoc), what is the appropriate length of time for revising a dissertation for publication? My instinct is, for a 3-year program, to devote 2 years to revision/publication, and one year to the new research project. Is this too slow, too fast, too hot, too cold, or just right?

    • To my mind that is exactly right. However, I know of a major Ivy League 3-year fellowship that expects 3 years to be spent on the first book. I find that baffling. As a postdoc you have few teaching obligations and almost no committee/service work….why would it require three years to transform your diss to a book in that environment? This particular app does allow you to *optionally* propose a second project for the third year, and I recommend that all applicants do that.

  11. Karen, thanks for this and all of your other helpful posts. I’m a sociology phd student at a top department, and served on the hiring committee last year. Not a single applicant made it onto our short list (or even the “semifinalist” list of 30 candidates) with less than a 2 page research statement (and most were 2.5-3 pages). Maybe my institution is unique, or maybe they were poorly written and not as detailed as they could have been in one page. But I just wanted to share my experience for any sociologists reading this blog.

    • That’s interesting. That would seem to be fetishizing length qua length…. the work can be described in one page when the one page is well written.

    • I’m in a top psychology program, and I echo this– I have read many research statements for short-listed candidates in my department, and I have never seen a research statement shorter than two pages, and typically they are three or four.

      • I crowd sourced the question on FB and most responses said they favor a one page version. I suppose this could be a field specific thing. The humanities are def. one page. It strikes me that social sciences and psych in particular might be tending toward longer. I really wouldn’t recommend more than two though.

        • I am writing my own R.S. and have asked for copies from colleagues in both psychology and the life sciences. In all cases, the R.S. has been at least 4 pages. So, it doesn’t seem specific to just the social sciences. Maybe it’s a difference in the prestige of the universities, with R-1 preferring lengthier research statements, while liberal arts universities prefer a smaller research statement. Most candidates at R-1s also have lengthier C.V.s which would imply a longer R.S. no?

    • I’d seen a lot of recommendations online for RSs to have a hard limit of either one or two pages. When I asked my own (Education) professors about it, they said that two pages sounded short and that they’d seen everything from one page to ten pages but recommended keeping it no longer than 3-4. Right now mine is 2.5 pages.

  12. Thanks for this really helpful post! A few quick quick follow up questions that I’m sure may benefit others who have similar concerns. 1. As we situate our dissertation research within our fields (paragraph 2/3) does this mean we have license to use field-specific vocabulary or theoretical language? (as opposed to the cover letter, where we’re writing in a much more accessible voice?) 2. Also, many of the items in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th paragraphs you suggest would seem to overlap quite extensively with the cover letter, making it hard to properly differentiate what goes where. For schools that require this statement, should we just strip down our cover letter and include some of these details in our research statement? Or, is there something I’m missing? And finally, 3. A bit of a mega-question, but what is the *point* of a research statement? Why do some schools have them? Understanding the reasons some departments request it would be helpful, especially in differentiating from the cover letter. Sincerely, Grad-student-on-the-market

    • Never strip down the cover letter. That is the document that opens the door for the reading of the other docs such as TS and RS. The distinction of the RS is that it can be more field-specific and far more detailed than what you can provide in the single para devoted to the research in the job letter. You can also situate the research vis-a-vis scholarship in the field (carefully and within limits, remembering the rules that the work described is YOUR OWN, and never to devote precious real estate to what OTHER PEOPLE have or have not done).

      You can also briefly sketch the chapters of the dissertation as long as you give no more than about one sentence per chapter. One of the most tedious pitfalls of the RS is the exhaustive chapter-by-chapter description of the diss.

      And re #3: that’s a great question. What IS the point? Basically, if the cover letter and CV open the door to your candidacy for the very first cut in a search comm member’s mind (say, from 500 to 100), then the RS gives more detailed indication that are a hard-hitting scholar with a sophisticated research program and a body of dense scholarship that will yield the publications you need for tenure, and also answer the question more clearly as to your fit for the job and for the department.

  13. Is the Research statement the same as the diss abstract? My field seems to consistently ask for diss abstract and all the examples I have seen are two pages, with page one being a discussion of the project, it’s contributions, etc. and the second being ch descriptions.

  14. I’m in a STEM field and would disagree with limiting the RS to 1 page. Most research statements that I have seen (for searches at R1 schools) have been 2-3 pages. One aspect of this which may be different in STEM fields compared to social sciences/humanities is that in STEM you really should include between 1 and 3 figures in the research statement. We like data and we want to see yours. My research statements always included at least two figures – one from published work and one from a cool new result that wasn’t yet published (but was either in review or accepted but not in press, making it hard to scoop). Depending on the school I also sometimes included a picture of a cool method (it’s a pretty pic too) – that was typically done for SLAC apps where I was also making the point that I would be able to involve their students in that research. With figures that are actually readable, there is no way to get away with less than 2-3 pages for a research statement. Again I think this may be STEM specific but given how scientists read journals – most folks go straight to the figures and then later look at the text – this is probably a good tactic in those fields.

  15. Forgive me for bringing up/asking the perhaps obvious. So no master’s thesis mention?

    Also, you mention not providing two second projects. Would that still apply if one is far-away foreign, and the other local?

    Thanks

    • Another question on the MA – mine was empirical research published in a general science journal (Proc B) so I definitely need to mention it. But my question is whether I should explicitly say that this was my MA project?

      I’m entering the job market ABD.

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  17. I’d say, especially for humanities fields, the “baseline” of 1 page single-spaced that Karen mentions is correct. As she says in the post, there are obvious exceptions (STEM might want more, specific jobs might want more), but assuming 1 page without any other specific information is a good standard rule. In fact, from my own experience, 1 page generally works for any document that isn’t your vitae or your job letter.

    The reason I say this is because you basically want to make a good impression pretty quickly. Job committees have limited time, and they are probably going to scan your document before deciding whether it is worth reading it in full. I’d also suggest reading up on document design, and making your documents easy to scan by putting in effective headers that give a powerful overall impression of your candidacy. You should also design those headers to lure your readers to look at your work more closely.

  18. I’m going through the process right now as an ABD, following advice from many quarters including TPII and a number of junior and senior faculty in top departments in my field. I have collected sample statements from 5 successful candidates and they are all in the 3-5 page range, closer to what the sociologist above describes. I have not seen a single statement at one page.

  19. When proposing future research, do you still recommend we avoid stating what others have NOT done? Can these types of statements, “yet others have not yet address xxx and yyy”, be helpful in justifying the need for our proposed topic?

    • It is always good to indicate, rather briskly, “in contrast to other work that has emphasized xxx…” or “no studies to date have examined xxxx.” What I am cautioning against is the very common temptation among young candidates to harp on and on about other scholars’ shortcomings, or how their diss topic is “badly understudied” (a phrase I’d give my right hand never to have to read again). Can the self-righteousness and just describe your work and its contribution.

  20. thanks for the post!

    I had a question about not giving the sense that one is “extending” past work. As you say in this post: “Avoid the temptation to describe how you will “continue” or “extend” your previous research topics or approaches.”

    In my case, my book will be comprised of about half new material and half dissertation research. “Extending” feels like an accurate word to describe the relationship between the diss and the book. Like, ‘Extending my diss research on xxx, the book offers new ways of thinking about issues yyy and zzz. …’

    So is this the wrong way to describe the relationship between book and diss (even if it seems accurate?) What are *good* ways to talk about the relationship between the two when the book really does “build on” groundwork laid in the diss?

    Thanks!

    • This question actually requires a blog post on its own. There is a weird fixation among job seekers on the word ‘extend.” I don’t get it, and find it mystifying and irritating. Of course books or second projects will typically have some organic connection to the diss. But the insistence on saying that they “extend” the diss makes the DISS primary, and the new work secondary. But on the job market and in your career, the diss must NOT be primary. The diss is something a grad student writes. You are not applying to be a grad student. You are applying to be professor. So it’s the new material that should have primacy. Yet young job seekers are so myopically fixated on their diss that all they ever do is harp on and on about how every single damned thing they’re going to do next is basically a reworking of the diss material. Yuck! Who wants that?

      As you can see, I am a bit reactive at this point…

      • ok! I hear you saying that it is more about not giving the sense, throughout the letter, that the book is a mere “extension” of the dissertation, and that typically this word is overused by applicants and thus gives that impression. That makes sense.
        Personally, the sentence I noted above about is my only reference to the diss–the rest is all about the book and future project since I’m a postdoc and the diss is really in the past. :)
        thanks!

  21. Thanks for the helpful guidelines, Karen!

    How would you recommend shifting the focus of the paragraphs for those of us going on the market as postdocs? For me, I’ll have completed 2 years of a postdoc in Education, and so I have many new projects more relevant to my future research than my dissertation was. However, except for a few conference proceedings, I have no publications on my postdoc research yet. In fact, some of my proposed “new” research will be to continue what I began in my postdoctoc. Do hiring committees look down upon this?

    Thanks for your advice!

  22. Does anyone here know if this is an effective format for British Oxbridge postdocs as well? I’m finishing a UK PhD and pretty keen to stay in the country, and obviously these are madly competitive. I know my research is good, but the eternal question of how to make anything in the humanities sound important to other people, you know?

  23. Karen: “Just never simply ASSUME that longer is better in an RS or in any job document”

    Yours Truly: “Just never simply ASSUME that they are going to read what you write. Often they a long CV, RS, and list of publications to tick all the boxes and cover their backs.”

  24. If I consider teaching and curriculum development part of my research, is it okay to mention this in the RS–specifically if written for a university more focused on teaching than research? My assumption is that R1 schools would look down on this…?

  25. Does the rule of no more than one future project description apply to the field of developmental psychology?

    *Please delete above post with my full name, I did not realize it would post

    • You would need to investigate that among your profs and colleagues. I don’t know the expectations of all fields well enough to advise.

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  27. I wrote a research statement and asked a friend in my department look at it. She said I should include a paragraph on collaborative work I’ve done as well. The problem is that all of my “collaborative” work is really “assistance”. I do not want to frame myself as a graduate student, but I also see the value in highlighting my ability to produce scholarship with other people. Any thoughts on this, Karen or others?

    • I’d like to know the answer to this question, too.

      Karen’s advise
      (Do not refer to other faculty or scholars in the document. The work is your own. If you co-authored a piece, do not use the name of the co-author. Simply write, “I have a co-authored essay in the Journal of XXX.”)
      sounds like you shouldn’t, but I personally see more advantages (that’s what scholars are used to, you can reference one paper multiple times without much space, you give the full information of your papers) then disadvantages (mention other authors).

      So some remarks on using reference lists/bibliographies would be really interesting.

  28. Karen,

    You mention that P4 should include: “A summary of the next research project, providing a topic, methods, a theoretical orientation, and brief statement of contribution to your field or fields.”

    How specific do you need to get with that information? I want the review committees to see that I have good, viable ideas for future research, but at the same time I’m worried that by giving too many details my ideas are liable to get stolen…not to mention that more detail means a lot more space on the document and I’m already finding it really hard to keep it to 2 pages even just using pretty general info. All the example research statements from my field that I’m reading make generalized statements like, “This area of my research will focus on developing and characterizing the structure of smart multifunctional materials for infrastructure applications,” but that just doesn’t seem like enough…

    Thanks for the advice! Your blog has been so valuable as I am preparing my application package. :)

  29. Hi Karen,
    I am applying for a few Phd positions & programs around the world, and some programs ask for a research statement, some for a statement of purpose.
    I fell Ill during my master’s studies and it had impacted my studies to the point of taking a leave of absence(and is known by my referees).
    As I understand, I can mention that in a SOP, but not in a research statement. Is there anyway I can communicate to the admissions committee about my situation (within the scope of my application) ?

  30. Hello, Karen, I am an old follower returning.
    In a research statement, do you give considerably less space to what is already published, books and articles, and much more space and detail to describe projects(s) in progress or about to be launched as research proposal applications?

    • I recommend balancing about half and half; in the case of very young/junior candidates, though, the previous/current stuff is going to far outweigh the future stuff.

  31. Hello,

    I am applying to an R1 and part of the app package asks for a “statement of research interests”. it sounds self-evident, but this is different from a research statement, right? They are, in fact, wanting to know what my future research projects are, to ascertain if i am a good prospect, correct?

    Many thanks, Karen and co.!!!

  32. Hi,
    I am applying to graduate school, and some programs ask for a research statement. I have not done any independent research, but have worked in a lab under a postdoc for three years. As a undergrad, is it okay to refer to the postdoc by name and say that I was assisting? Should this be structured any differently than the model you gave above?
    Thanks!

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  34. Hi Karen,

    I’m applying for a PhD scholarship and I’m required to write a research statement. Is there any different format for a PhD student to be or just follow the same as per above?

    Thanks a lot!

  35. Hi,
    Could you please let me know if it is proper to mention some of projects in a certain master course that one took? I asked this because I am applying for a position that almost there is not a direct relation between my master thesis and my prospective PhD supervisor’s research interests. Thank you in advance.

  36. If some of your research background was for a government agency and your results went to government documents and forms, are you allowed to include it in your research statement. For example, I am applying for a job that calls for a research statement in which I would be designing stream sampling plans and in the past I worked for state government designing and implementing SOPs for stream sampling and EPA reports. This experience is much more applicable to the job than my dissertation research is. In other words, is the RS more to show I can do research and think like a researcher or that I have done similar research in the past?

  37. Hi,
    This post has been really helpful to me.
    I have a question about citations in a research statement. Should I cite relevant or seminal studies?
    Or is a research statement assumed to be written out of the authors own confidence, experience, and general knowledge of their field of study?
    If yes to citations, is there an optimal amount?
    Thank you!

  38. I dont understand why I cannot name who I collaborated with, or worked with and claim complete ownership. Most of all disseration ideas comes out of a collaborative effort. Seems kinda lame to suddenly act like every idea is all mine without giving due credit.

    • it’s not claiming ownership. It’s focusing on the work that YOU did as part of the project and not dispersing attention to other scholars, in this particular document.

      • I disagree. All of your recommendations are valid except for this one. In science and engineering, almost all dissertation work is collaborative; that’s how it works, either through industry applications, a reagent or mathematical technique, opportunity to apply theory to projects etc. Of course, the student has to compe up with the research questions and hypothesis and methodologies but it is very rare for one lab to have everything that the student needs in-house and even rarer for the work to be done in complete isolation (you don’t see that many two author papers in STEM fields these days). Including names of other people would actually be a good thing as it shows a willingness to interact and collaborate with a diverse set of people, picking up new skills and perspectives; this is how science is done these days. Of course the research thrust should be from the individual, but that is like a given.

        • I am also in a STEM field, and all of my research has been collaborative to one degree or another. In my tenure-track applications last year, I mainly phrased my research statement to say that I work with YYY group on YYY, lead studies of ZZZ within the ZZZ Collaboration, and so on. I didn’t get any interviews.

          This year I received some feedback from a new letter writer (and current collaborator), who thought that last year’s statement made it hard for outsiders to tell what specific ideas I had and what I specifically did about those ideas. When I rewrote my research statement to focus on those issues this year, I ended up with a stronger document that didn’t need to mention my collaborators at all — not because I tried to claim credit for everything, but because I wrote about my own contributions rather than the corporate identity.

          Since jobs go to individuals and not corporations, I am strongly inclined to agree with Karen’s advice, even for STEM fields. In fact, it may be even more important for those of us with highly collaborative research to discuss our own contributions and leave our colleagues out of our research statements. The CV/publication list makes it clear that we interact and collaborate with others. The difficulty is to demonstrate what I actually did as author #13 (in alphabetical order) that makes me actually worth hiring.

  39. Dear Karen, I am applying for a faculty position and have been asked to provide along with the usual CV and cover letter “Research Program Plan” and “Teaching philosophy”. Could you please or anyone inform me if the “Research Program Plan”is the same as the RS or a detailed research proposal? Additionally, should I include in the teaching philosophy an experience in my undergraduate that has shaped my teaching philosophy? Finally, should my TP include any courses ever taught or course proposals? Your candid response will be appreciated. Thanks

    • The RPP is the same as a RS. Please read all my posts on the Teaching Statement for more on that—do NOT include your undergrad experiences. Check out my column in Chronicle Vitae for more on that question–it’s the column on how to apply to a Small Liberal Arts College (SLAC) job.

  40. Dear Karen, I am applying for a postdoc position in Spain and have been asked to provide along with CV and references, a “cover letter with a description of research accomplishments and statement of overall scientific goals and interests (approximately 1000 words)”. This messes up the usual structure I have in mind. What do you suggest? Two different files or a hybrid between them in one file? thanks

  41. Hi Dr. Karen,

    I’m applying for a tenure track position in Strategic Management but my dissertation was on a topic related to my field, pharmaceuticals. How do I craft a RS if I really haven’t thought about future research in topics related to management but my teaching experience and work experience (line management) is directly related to management/leadership?

  42. Hi, Dr. Karen,

    I’m applying for tenure-track positions in Computer Science. My current research focus (and for the last year and a half in my postdoc) has been in “data science”, primarily applied to biology; my dissertation work was in computational biology. I don’t want to focus on the biology aspect; I see this research being more broadly applicable. I also have significant industry experience from before my PhD; I spent 6 years doing work that was very relevant to this field of data science (in finance and in global trade), and I’d like to tie that industry work into my research statement. What do you think about this? Some have told me I should just talk about my postdoctoral research, while others have said the industry experience, since it’s very relevant, makes me a stronger candidate and I should tie it and my dissertation work into my postdoc and future research.

    What are your thoughts? Thanks!

  43. I am a young scholar in Communication. My research plan includes a description of past and current research projects (dissertation + 4 subsequent projects) and a description of short and long term projects (work in progress and three major research projects I want to undertake). I have been told this is not enough and I need more projects in my proposal. Only 2 pages for so many projects (including a detailed timeline) does not seem feasible.

  44. Dear Dr. Karen,
    First, let me thank you for your website. I’ve been reading it carefully the past few weeks, and I’ve found it very informative and helpful.
    I’m in something of a unique situation, so I’m not sure how to best make use of your advice on the RS, which seems aimed at newly minted PhDs. I have been in my current position, teaching at a community college, since 1997. During this time, I completed my doctorate (awarded in 2008). I taught abroad on a Fulbright scholarship in 2010-11, and during that time revised and expanded my dissertation for publication (this included contextual updates and one complete new chapter). I was fortunate enough to get a contract, and the book appeared in 2012; the paperback is coming out this month. Given my experiences, I want to make the move to a 4-year institution, if possible (I realize the odds are slim). A few of the ads I’m looking at are asking for a research statement. So, how do I best handle my circumstance in the RS? The dissertation and book are largely the same. Where should I provide the detailed description of my project and the chapter summaries (as you’ve recommended)? How can I avoid redundancies? Your advice is appreciated.

  45. Dear Dr Karen,

    I have read parts of your blog with great interest .. I need some advice.. if you have a research statement where one is combining two different streams of research, is this generally a good idea or would it be better to have a single stream? At the moment mine RS is nearly 4 pages (I have a short 3 page version of this).

    Can you also give advice about an “academic plan” is this simply the 1-2 page “teaching statement”? Do yo have pointers/advice for this?

    best regards,

  46. Greetings Dr. Karen, hope this message finds you well.

    I am applying for my first post-doc fresh out of my PhD. But I also did a Master’s prior to my PhD which resulted in publications and a thesis. That being said, do you think I should add my Master’s research to my research statement? I planned on putting it just above my PhD research. Thanks a lot :)

  47. Hi Karen,

    I’m wondering if it’s acceptable to mention personal qualities in an RS, such as being a collaborative worker or being able to acquire new skills rapidly (with concrete examples, that is). Normally I would put that in a cover letter, but it seems that cover letters are a thing of the past.

    Regards

  48. Dear Karen,
    a special question… how do your rules above changing when writing a research statement for someone who has 4+years of AP experience and tons of research after dissertation?

    Yours and other suggestions seem to be from the point of view of a grad/post-grad. Need some good insight/advise on how to to tailor a description of your research that spans many different threads and is perhaps quite a bit different from your dissertation.

  49. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for this useful post.
    What about career goals?
    Does one mention those in the research statement or cover letter, if at all?
    For example, for NIH career development awards one has to write a one-page personal statement that includes career and research goals. The two are often aligned.

    More specific, can /should one say things along the lines of:
    “My primary career goal is to become a successful independent investigator focused on xxx research.”
    or
    “I plan to secure a faculty position at a major university or research institute where I can engage in cutting edge research on xxx.”

    Thank you for your insights.

    Best regards,

    • This is more industry/business talk and not typical for academia. If you are articulating a complex research and teaching plan, it is UNDERSTOOD that you’re aiming for an academic career.

  50. Dear Prof Karen
    Greeting, hope this greeting finds you well
    I have read this blog with great interest…In my opinion, writing teaching and research statements are very difficult than writing a PhD research…
    For your info that I have finished my PhD research with 17 publications in 2 years and 4 months and since that time (2 years)still writing my research statement and not finish yet..

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