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What is a research statement?

What is a research statement?

Summary:

Faculty 411 is a series of articles intended to help demystify the process of applying to faculty jobs. As our department seeks to recruit new faculty colleagues, we want every person to have the information they need to assemble an application that best shows their potential to be successful in a job – at Emory or anywhere!

A key component of the faculty application is a research statement that communicates the type of research program that you seek to build in your independent career. While we understand that many different formats can be utilized to effectively write this document, most candidates elect to provide research proposals that are organized in a format similar to those used in applications to external grant agencies (e.g., NIH, NSF, DOE, DOD, etc.).

In essence, the research statement serves to define the types of problems that you think are important, the types of techniques that you would utilize to solve them, the challenges associated with your approach, and how you communicate within this context. While some faculty pursue the exact ideas from their statement upon starting their lab, this is not always the case. The purpose of the statement is to demonstrate to the committee your potential to envision, formulate, and communicate ideas, not to hold you to a specific set of ideas in your independent career.

A few points to consider

Be as clear as possible

Many of the people reading your application will not be in your immediate research area, so it is important to effectively set the context of your proposal and clearly state what, why, how, etc. Avoid specialized jargon as much as possible.

Use pictures and graphics

Pictures and graphics can often be helpful to concisely describe a concept or plan, especially for faculty who are not experts in your research area.

Most people write 3 proposals

While not required, this can demonstrate the breadth of your interests and show that you have a backup plan if one project does not work out.

References

As you have done in papers, fellowship applications, etc., use references to set the context of your ideas.

1-Page Research Summary

For our application, we also require a 1-page summary (with figures). This statement is particularly helpful for those who are reviewing your application package and who are not familiar with the research areas you are discussing (which is likely the majority of reviewers). Therefore, it is essential here that you concisely explain the significance and potential impact of your proposed research. One approach to this summary is to state the overall theme of your proposed research program, and then provide a brief summary of each project.

Making the most of existing resources

This article is not the only resource available on how to write a successful research statement. Rather, there is so much advice out there, it can be difficult to know what guidelines to follow. The authors of this article suggest this article in Science Magazine as a useful guide.

Some suggestions from this article that we found to be particularly helpful include:

“Choose an important subject”

If the research you plan is not compelling, no rhetorical skill will make it compelling to a committee of smart scientists.”

“Keep it short and focused”

Superfluous details are not just unnecessary, they are often the hallmark of a poor plan. The specific aims must be clear and succinct.” Identify your goals, state why those goals are important, define your approach to achieving those goals, and indicate the kinds of evidence that will validate your approach.”

“How do I demonstrate independence”

“The best plans usually build on the prior experience of the applicant, but are not direct extensions of their postdoctoral work.”

How should I format this thing?

In the absence of any guidance concerns about formatting can be an unnecessary barrier for applicants. We fully recognize that that there are many different ways to effectively communicate your research plans, and we encourage you to express yourself and your envisioned program however you see fit. While we do not have strict page limits, typical research statements range from 5-15 pages.

As for the style, the ACS offers the following advice for formatting that will help engage readers:

  • Avoid two-column formats. 
  • Avoid small fonts that hinder readability, especially as many will view the documents online rather than in print! 
  • Use good figures that are readable and broadly understandable 
  • Use color as necessary but not gratuitously.

Additional Resources

Examples and more information can be found at the following resources:

Written by
Michael Heaven, Dennis Liotta, Khalid Salaita, and Nate Jui
The Lab Report

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