Developing your Research Statement

Britt Argow, Wellesley College, and Rachel Beane, Bowdoin College, wrote this page for the 2009 Pursuing Academic Careers Workshop.

Variably called a Statement of Research Goals or Interests, Research Agenda, or Research Statement, many academic job searches give you the opportunity to present your scholarly accomplishments in a summary document. A research statement is often a critical part of your job application packet, but it doesn't end there. Throughout a career in academia you are likely to be asked to prepare similar documents for annual reviews, reappointment and tenure packages, and for promotion. Shorter summaries may be submitted for awards or publicity, or may appear on your departmental web pages. For this reason, the time you commit to crafting a thoughtful and provocative statement of your research interests is an investment in your academic career.

Purposes of a research statement

An effective research statement accomplishes three key goals:

  1. It clearly presents your scholarship in non-specialist terms;
  2. It places your research in a broader context, scientifically and societally; and
  3. It lays out a clear road-map for future accomplishments in the new setting (the institution to which you're applying).

Another way to think about the success of your research statement is to consider whether, after reading it, a reader is able to answer these questions:

  1. What do you do (what are your major accomplishments; what techniques do you use; how have you added to your field)?
  2. Why is your work important (why should both other scientists and non-scientists care)?
  3. Where is it going in the future (what are the next steps, and how will you carry them out in your new job)?

Tailor your research statement

Research statements are not one-size-fits-all, and of necessity will reflect the nature of your research, your level of experience and expertise, and the type of institution to which you are applying. When applying to top-tier research universities, your research statement ideally works to demonstrate that you will bring unique and critical expertise, grant opportunities, and potential for high productivity to the institution. Liberal arts colleges often expect a balance between teaching and research, and therefore you might want to include examples of how students have been or will be involved in your research program. Two-year colleges rarely request a research statement as part of the application package, and in general it is a good idea to respect their guidelines. If, however, you have research plans that you could conduct in this setting with little funding that would involve students in a research experience, you may want to volunteer an additional statement that showcases the educational impact of your work and makes your application stand out (while making clear that you understand the environment and mission of the institution).

Consider carefully the needs of the institution to which you are applying, and tailor your research statement to meet those needs. Keep in mind the realities of facilities, teaching loads, and other institutional support, especially if you are applying to institutions quite different from your doctoral institution. Write a statement that proposes a plan of research compatible with the opportunities available at the target school, or explain what collaborations you expect to develop to gain access to needed facilities or equipment. You may want to consider the current research programs of the faculty at the target institution, and then explain how your proposed research program broadens, strengthens, and complements the current program. If you are applying to several different types of job opportunities, you may need several versions of your research statement.

Some general do's and don'ts

  • Do ask your doctoral research adviser, a recent hire in your department, or former graduate student colleagues who have moved on to academic jobs (especially in your target type of institution) to look over your research statement.
  • Do (respectfully) ask to look over copies of the research statements of friends and colleagues who have had successful job searches, or those of junior faculty in your department.
  • Do refer to your own past publications and presentations (cite them) as appropriate when describing your research.
  • Do tailor your statement to each type of institution to which you are applying.
  • Do proof-read carefully, and ask a friend or mentor to review it as well, before sending it out.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to write your research statement!

Further Resources