This is for a PhD application at the department of computing in a UK university. It says I need a research proposal with the following

Your research statement should incorporate a brief description of the general research areas and topics that interest you, as this may be used to select suitable academics to whom your application will be circulated.

Your research statement should also discuss:

1) motivation for the research (i.e. why the topic is important and potential applications for which your research could be useful)

2) research issues you intend to address during your PhD and

3) your initial ideas on the research methodology (e.g. what sort of simulation or experimental techniques) you intend to pursue to address the research issues.

Nowhere does it ask for a discussion on why I am suitable, my background etc.? Should I then omit these and write the research proposal in a way where I'm simply pointing out an interesting problem and some approaches to solve it?

  • You may include your background in the motivation section if it's relevant. For example, you've worked in a sector and observed some phenomena which intrigued you to pursue the research topic. Otherwise, you should focus on the proposed project in the research proposal. Your research ability and potential will be primarily assessed through the quality of the research proposal. Your resume will have the information about your background, and the two recommendation letters from your references (as I understand, most UK universities ask for two reference
    – user66882
    Dec 23, 2017 at 6:18
  • ) will likely to include information about your suitability. You might also include a Statement of Interest to elaborate on why you're suitable for the programme you're applying for. The whole package of application documents will help the admission committee assess your suitability as a candidate from different angles. So back to your question - you don't need to talk about your background here unless it's directly related to the project, and focus on finding an interesting and researchable problem.
    – user66882
    Dec 23, 2017 at 6:25

2 Answers 2


While it may be institution/field/country-specific, from the description I assume that you are applying to the program and do not have a prospective advisor who has already agreed to supervise you, nor a project onto which you will be allocated. In this case, that seems similar to the American "statement of purpose" (SOP).

The first guideline is: follow the guidelines. They tell you exactly what they want to see in your statement. You should absolutely touch on all of those points.

In fact, many statements add nothing to the profile exactly because the applicants fail to understand its purpose. The only way that you will have the reader's attention is if you talk research. The statement should not be the place where you state everything that they could have read (in a more appropriate format) in the CV. Your background is, of course, relevant, and you should absolutely include it, but only as evidence of your motivation and involvement with the field and the tools that you wish to learn or use during your PhD. The key to a good statement is to seamlessly merge your interests, background, experience, fit and the necessary tools to accomplish your goal. You should leave a strong impression that you have a solid (not necessarily deep) understanding of the field you are getting into.

So, for instance, don't write this (parentheses are my comments):

I have always liked to be boring and make people uncomfortable. Since I was a child, my parents would roll their eyes every time they read one of my essays. Rarely they would be able to finish. As I grey up, I felt the need to contaminate my friends with my excitement, and made them listen to incredibly long and meaningless talks. (Sorry to be blunt, but nobody cares about your childhood.) I graduate in May from Boring University and so far I have maintained a perfect GPA. In fact, I took several courses in how to be boring, such as Being Boring I and I have published a paper where we explored the mechanics of self-expression in boring situations, along with Dr. Cheeky Jokes. (I have your CV and your transcripts, I can see that.) Now, I want to further specialize in making people annoyed, and Awkward University's program in Social Engineering is certainly the best in the world (I know, why do you think I work here?) and will give me a strong background to make people uncomfortable while simultaneously being boring (nice, but what do you bring to the table?).

Rather, maybe you should word your essay like this (note how I touch on all three topics while simultaneously referencing the background and fit):

The strong background that I acquired in boredom from Boring University has motivated me to further specialize in awkwardness. Working directly with Prof. Cheeky Jokes on the mechanics of self-expression in boring situations, I noticed that awkwardness emerges directly from personal interactions under these conditions. Under the supervision of Boring University's Ethical Review Board (ERB), we designed an empty room where we put people who knew each other but hadn't talked in several years. Upon examining the data, we found that they not only were extremely bored, but also engaged in very awkward conversations about their past and how their kids had grown up. This very exciting finding was later published in the Journal of Awkward Situations. Now, during my PhD and motivated by my previous research experience, I want to continue exploring the effect of boring situations in the emergence of awkwardness. During my research, I became interested in Prof. Clumsy's research on how to maximize awkwardness in daily situations. In fact, I believe that providing experimental validation for her recent work on finding the optimal number of people who will maximize awkwardness in a highschool reunion, which she modeled computationally, can be a major breakthrough in the field. While Prof. Clumsy has already disclosed that she is already working on that, I believe my experience with experimental social engineering can be a solid addition to her group, especially given that I have had thorough contact with ERBs.

Note, however, that in many cases the SOP is not heavily weighted in admissions, but that's probably field-dependent. And I am not in CS nor in the UK, so take my advice with a grain of salt.


I don't have real experience on the matter, but I would say your research statement is meant to be the proposal for your PhD research, and should contain what they tell you it should contain. Other information should appear elsewhere in your application (if at all).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .