Before you know it, the day will come when your contract ends, or you just feel like applying for a new and exciting position. You may feel a bit lost in preparing all the documents you need for that new job post. Do not worry, there is advice out there. One thing you will need is a Statement of Purpose or Research Interest Statement if you want to apply, mainly, for academic positions. Remember, a powerful statement reflects the quality of you as an applicant, and that’s why it is important to know some rules on how to write it.
Basically, 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 statement is a document of one to three pages (if it is not clearly stated) that describes your research until now, your interests, and 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.
The employer will learn about:
- interests and experience you have;
- 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, thus in earning money for your research!).
You will have the chance to:
- further think and define your future plans and research interests;
- gain confidence and visualize yourself further in your career.
There are some differences in the requirements you may need. Sometimes you need to produce a separate file, which is often required for faculty positions. Other times you can simply include your statement in your CV. Let’s start first by defining what to do when applying for a Ph.D. or post-doc position.
PhD or Post-doc Position
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, but define clearly 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 and conclusion.
Introduction: summarizes the contents and guides the reader through your application.
Main paragraph: this is the core of your statement together with the future research. It contains your recent and current research. If you worked on several projects, make the connection among them. Write how you became interested in what you have done and why it is still interesting for you. Capture your reader by telling a story, not just stating what you have done, and your statement will be easy to remember. In this part, 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: describe your short-term goals (2-5 years). This can be different if you are applying for a PhD or post-doc position. In the first case, write about additional technical skills you are planning to learn or how you want to broaden your knowledge in a certain field. For the second, try to be a bit more detailed, and also include how you plan to develop yourself as an independent scientist. State how your research goals will align with the employer’s research, which collaborations you could bring into the department, and which ones on campus you could benefit from.
Conclusion: generally, use one sentence which leaves your imprint and practically says why you deserve the job.
Applying to faculty positions requires a bit more detail and sometimes the Statement of Purpose 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 if writing a grant application. Include some preliminary data, if you can, and be more detailed and precise. It is crucial, in this case, to be able to visualize the ‘big picture’ not being too vague! How does your research bring innovation into the field? In this statement also mention potential funding your research could bring to the department and which laboratory equipment and space the department should provide you. You can mention common facilities of the campus you plan to use. Also include potential applications of your research; collaborations with industrial partners can strengthen your application.
A very common mistake is to use a basic template for each application. Your application will be a winning one if you customize your statement. Describe the match between your experience and interests and the lab/department you are applying for. Sometimes you have to search deep in your mind to find the match, but do not be distressed – it is there! You need just one or two contact points between your and the employer’s research and the match is done. Around those matches develop, create, and articulate.
About the format: write clearly, and be concise. Use single-spaced or 1.5 spaced text, short bulleted lists, and clear subject headings. The clearer your statement, the more powerful your application!
One last tip: give yourself time to write. Leave the statement in your drawer for some days and come back to it later. This will help you obtain a different perspective on what you wrote. Send it as well to one or more friends and colleagues to get suggestions. Someone who is not from your field can also be very helpful.