The day will come when your job contract ends or you feel like applying for a new and exciting position. You may feel a bit lost preparing all the documents you need for that new job post but don’t worry, help is out there!
When applying for a PhD, post-doc, or faculty position, you will need to provide your curriculum vitae (CV), including the contact information of two or more references, sometimes specific certificates (e.g. language certificate), and a research interest statement. A research interest statement is a 1–3 page document (if the required length is not clearly stated) that describes your research until now, your interests, and your future plans.
Why Do You Need a Research Interest Statement?
This document is helpful for the lab/department that wants to hire you, as well as for yourself.
A potential employer will learn about:
- your interests and experience;
- your passion for research;
- the match between your interests and the employer’s research;
- your ability to think logically;
- your independence from your supervisor;
- the extent of your writing skills (important for paper and grant writing, and thus for earning money for your research!).
You will have the chance to:
- think about and define your future plans and research interests;
- gain confidence and visualize your future career path.
Depending on where you are applying and for what position, there will be some differences in the requirements for the research interest statement. Sometimes you’ll need to produce a separate file, which is often required for faculty positions, and other times you can simply include your statement within your CV. Let’s start by defining what to do when applying for a PhD or post-doc position.
Research Interest Statement for PhD or Post-doc Positions
When the research interest statement is part of your CV, aim for one page, or around 400 words. Pay attention: do not rewrite your CV – clearly define your research interests. Highlight your scientific skills, your passion, and your ideas!
How should you structure it? Think about how you would tell a story or write your thesis. You need an introduction, a main paragraph, future research ideas, and a conclusion.
This summarizes the contents and guides the reader through your application.
This is the core of your statement. It contains your recent and current research, as well as your planned future research. If you have worked on several projects, make the connection between them. Write about how you became interested in what you have done and why it still interests you.
Capture your reader’s attention by telling a story and your statement will be easy to remember. In this section, you can briefly describe any important recognition, such as papers, presentations, awards, and grants.
A very important tip: your statement will be more powerful if you place your work in a broader context. Let your reader visualize the ‘big picture’.
Future Prospective Research
This describes your short-term goals (2–5 years). This section will differ depending on whether you’re applying for a PhD or post-doc position. For the former, write about additional technical skills you are planning to learn or how you want to broaden your knowledge in a certain field.
For the latter, try to be a bit more detailed, and also include how you plan to develop as an independent scientist. State how your research goals will align with the employer’s research, which collaborations you could bring to the department, and which departments on campus you could benefit from working with.
Use one sentence that essentially says why you deserve the job.
Research Interest Statement for Faculty Positions
Applying to faculty positions requires a bit more detail and sometimes the research interest statement has a precise length (2–5 pages). The structure above is still valid; however, you will need to add long-term goals (5+ years).
You can think of it as comparable to writing a grant application. Include some preliminary data, if you can, and be detailed and precise. It’s crucial, in this case, to be able to visualize the ‘big picture’ without being too vague!
How will your research bring innovation into the field? Make sure you mention any potential funding your research could bring to the department and which laboratory equipment and space the department should provide you with.
You can mention any common campus facilities you plan to use. Include the potential applications of your research; collaborations with industrial partners can strengthen your application.
Customize Your Statement
A very common mistake is to use a basic template for each application. Your application will be better if you customize your statement.
Highlight Why You Are a Good Match for the Lab
Describe the match between your experience and interests and the lab/department you are applying for.
Sometimes it can seem really difficult to find a suitable match, but don’t despair; you need just one or two points of contact between your research/interests and the employer’s research.
Focus on Format
Write clearly, and be concise. Use single or 1.5 line spacing, short bullet lists, and clear subject headings. The clearer your statement, the more powerful your application!
Give it Time
One last tip: give yourself time to write. Leave the statement in your drawer for a few days and come back to it. This will help you obtain a different perspective on what you wrote. If you can, send your statement to friends and colleagues to get suggestions. Someone who isn’t from your field can also bring helpful insights.
I hope this article will help you with your applications. Remember: stay calm and keep writing!
Writing A Research Statement. Carnegie Mellon University Global Communication Center.
Originally published June 21, 2017. Reviewed and updated January 2021.