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PhD Talk For AcademicTransfer – How To Write A Research Statement

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer – How to write a research statement

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better – and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

When you are applying for an academic position, you are often requested to write a research statement. A research statement is a document of typically 2-3 pages in which you describe your past, present, and future research.

Your past research experience can detail various projects you have worked on, the skills you learned, the publications that resulted from this work, and how this work was funded. For your present work, you can focus on a brief discussion of how you went from your past experience to your current project, and how it fits within the broader field. For your future work, you can discuss the main research line you would want to develop if you get hired by the institution where you are applying.

Since research statements are quite a standard part of an academic job application process, you can find various examples for different fields online. In this post, I have summarized my eight best tips for you:

  1. Ask colleagues for examples: Ask colleagues in your field and at your goal institution for their examples of research statements, so that you get a better feeling of what is expected from you. You may get inspiration from typical examples that are available online, but you need to realize as well that each field and each university have their own preferences.
  2. Read the instructions carefully: As with every type of application, you need to make sure you follow the instructions in terms of formatting and length to the letter. If your application does not follow the template, it may be headed for a straight rejection.
  3. Explain why your research is important: When you discuss your research experience and plans for the future, make sure you explain the broader importance of your work. Why does your research matter? Which challenge for our society does your research contribute to, in one way or another?
  4. Talk about funding and funding potential: Through which institutions have you obtained funding so far? How is your experience in terms of applying for funding? Have you worked in consortia yet in the past? All of these topics can be important to address to let the search committee know that you have experience with obtaining funding, and if you don’t have experience yet, that you have outlined where you will apply and how you will get support to get your proposals checked by somebody who can give you good advice before submission.
  5. Write for a broad search committee: Academic search committees may bring together people from various fields, so try to write clearly and avoid jargon. Any person on the committee should be able to understand the topic you are working on, why it matters, and – at large- why you would be a good hire for them.
  6. Show consistency in your career: Try to explain how you went from past to current research, and how you plan to continue in the future. This type of consistency does not mean that you need to be working on one single topic your entire research career, but means you show how you have built up skills and how you plan to use these for your future research topics.
  7. Set realistic goals for the future: Avoid being vague and setting extremely lofty goals for your future research. Instead, show that you can tackle a realistic topic, based on your career trajectory, but that has significant impact as well. Make it as precise and detailed as possible.
  8. Tailor to the institution: Part of being realistic, is tailoring your research statement to the institution as well. It’s tempting to make a single academic job application package and submit the same package to various institutions, but the search committee will notice this quickly. Tailor your application by explaining, for example, how your skills would be complementary to those in the institution, or how the laboratory facilities of this university would be a perfect match for the research you want to carry out.

Have you written a research statement yet? What was your main challenge in writing this, and how did you overcome this challenge?

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