Statement of research interests

This article is still under development.

A statement of research interests is a way for you to articulate what you are interested in, your relevant past experience, and your concise future plans for research. You can think of it like a teaching philosophy, but for research; a future-oriented bio statement; or a narrative account of your research activity and plans.

Broadly speaking, statements of research interest are used in three ways:

  • As part of your application package for a faculty job which includes research (1-2pp)
  • As generative writing to clarify to yourself and your immediate (prospective) collaborators what you want to do. (1p)
  • As part of an advertisement for you and your work, such as in a bio statement or on your website. (0.5p)

Let's focus on the middle way right now, as it's a good place to start. Your goal in this statement is to clarify to yourself about what kind of (research) work you want to be doing, and how it connects to the work you've already done.

Getting started

What are you curious about?

Research is fundamentally about creating new knowledge. It is a creative, inventive process. If you're new to research, it can be a bit intimidating to start. Some options:

  • Spend some time working through the research design exercises to familiarize yourself with questions, access, methods, and theories. Instead of planning a specific research project, though, your goal is to design an ideal project.
  • When you read a paper, particularly a paper published in the last 18 months, ask yourself what is interesting or cool about this paper. It might not be their conclusions; it might be the clever way they connected hypotheses or the surprising population they worked with.
  • Don't worry if someone else might have already done the research you want to do. If there's already a large body of literature around your chosen topics, that means you have a lot of opportunity to look for nuance and compare other people's ideas against each other.
  • Conversely, if nobody has ever done the research you want to do and you don't know of anyone doing anything similar, then your interests are probably too esoteric and/or your keywords are too narrow. That's ok eventually, but right now you need to describe your interests in more general terms.

Some people have a hard time imagining what they're curious about. They want someone else to tell them what project to work on, how to move forward, and which topics to focus on. If that's you, now is a good time for introspection: why do you want to do research?

For example, I am curious about how people develop professional identity as scientists. I'm not particularly interested in student learning of specific topics in physics, except inasmuch as they are indicative of student learning across multiple topics.

How would you like to change the world?

This is a really big question about the intended impact of your research. Some people want the knowledge they generate to have practical, immediate applications. For example, you might be curious about how first generation college students fare in your program because you want increase their completion rate. Or you might be curious about how students understand topic X because you want to teach it better. The world is a really big place; you don't have to change all of it. How would you like to change your teaching practice, your department, your town, etc?

For example, I would like academic science to be a more equitable and just place, which means that some of my research is about how marginalized students navigate occasionally hostile pathways through undergraduate degrees. Separately, I want to help emerging researchers learn how to do research in education, so I do research on the best ways to teach graduate students and faculty about how to do education research.

Who do you want to work with, and in what capacity?

For some researchers, this is a highly constrained topic; for others, it is quite open. Think about the following questions:

  • Do you want local or remote collaborators on the same project?
  • Do you want to be part of a research group of people on related projects?
  • Do you want to be the sole PI with many students? One of a few PIs? Not a PI?
  • How much time, realistically, can you devote to research endeavors?
  • How many projects do you want to keep going at the same time?
  • How much money do you have access to? Do you need to be externally funded? Who should be responsible for acquiring your funding?

For example, I thrive when I have a large collaborative research group to talk to. Some of the people in it should be working on the same projects as me, but some of them can be working on different things in similar ways. I thoroughly enjoy being one PI of many, though I'm ok being a sole-PI or occasional consultant. I need to have several projects going at the same time.

Write an initial statement

Write about one page for each of these questions. It's ok to leave out questions you're not sure about the answers for, but strive to be thorough. If you have multiple interests, it's ok to write a paragraph about each of them.