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I'm going to apply for assistant professor positions (in theoretical computer science) soon, and I'm trying to get a feeling for how to write a good research statement.

  1. Should it contain a detailed overview of my (recent?) publications?
  2. If the answer to 1 is yes, should I highlight my specific contributions in multi-author papers - as opposed to "we proved this and that..." ?
  3. If the answer to 1 is yes, I must list the references here that I'm mentioning, which are also stated (in the full list of publications) in my CV, right?
  4. Assuming there's no page limit, what's an appropriate length for a research statement?

My current plan is to group my work into topics and then, for each topic, provide a short overview of the respective papers ("What I've done so far") and some outlook on some future work ("What I would like to do").

  • I would have more outlook for future work, and try to provide a coherent, long term theme under/most which all of your work can be described. – Dave Clarke Jun 13 '13 at 10:59
  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/8369/102 – user102 Jun 13 '13 at 11:06
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Should it contain a detailed overview of my (recent?) publications?

NO. It should contain a detailed overview of your research program, including both your past accomplishments and your future plans/vision. Of course you have to describe your published results in technical detail, but as part of a larger narrative, not as stand-alone pieces. Focus on the big picture, not on the tiny technical details. Remember that your audience is not just other theoretical computer scientists.

If the answer to 1 is yes, should I highlight my specific contributions in multi-author papers - as opposed to "we proved this and that..." ?

NO. "My coauthors and I proved..." is fine. The public dogma in theoretical computer science is that in every paper, each of the authors contributed 100% of the work, which is why they are listed alphabetically. You own any paper that has your name on it. Your narrative will naturally focus on the parts of the paper that you are the most proud of, which are usually the parts that you worked on the most.

Of course, if you're writing papers with your advisor or other more senior coauthors, there is a natural tendency for people to wonder if your aren't really just riding their coattails. This is why you need a larger narrative in your statement—to convince the reader that you understand your results at a deeper level than someone who merely read the papers. This is also why you have papers with different sets of coauthors—so that the common thread through your work stands out as your contribution. In particular, you have at least one paper without your advisor. Right?

If the answer to 1 is yes, I must list the references here that I'm mentioning, which are also stated (in the full list of publications) in my CV, right?

The approach I always recommend is to treat your CV as your bibliography, and to include a footnote like "Numbered references indicate papers listed in my CV." Of course, this means that your research statement never cites anyone else's work, except in broad narrative strokes, but for a brief document intended to sell your research program, I think that's appropriate.

Assuming there's no page limit, what's an appropriate length for a research statement?

Aim for three pages. Less than two is too short. More than four is too long.

That may not seem like a lot of space, but that actually works in your favor. You want to give the impression that you've done just gobs of really amazingly cool stuff, but dammit there just isn't room to write about everything.

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    As a note for those reading these questions who hail from other disciplines: the length of the research statement may vary. In my (mechanical engineering) department, for instance, job postings state that research statements are expected to be five pages long. The length should follow the requirements of the posting, or the norm of your field (whichever is more specific). – aeismail Jun 13 '13 at 15:10
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    "for people to wonder if your aren't really just riding their coattails" which is fascinating it itself. With some senior researchers writing 10+ papers with different members of their team in one year. It would seem so much more obvious that all the real work (i.e., coming up with the results) is done by the less senior ones... but I guess, as always it depends on both sides. – subsub Dec 16 '13 at 15:35

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