I'm undergraduate who are applying US research program. I have one interest field in which I have read 1 survey and 3 other papers (I know it is not enough). I only have some vague and primitive idea so that I am not sure I will do research in the field in graduate program.

I'm afraid if I write my research interest too specific and there are no professor who has knowledge about or is interested in such field, the admission committee would think my goals do not coincide with their department research interests.

Is it a disadvantage to write research interests too specific?

It is also possible that what I believe is too specific may be not specific enough for some professor.

3 Answers 3


I am not sure if a statement would be harmful, it will be a question of how well you appear to know the field. You are right in that you have not nearly read enough. It would be better to simply state that you are interested in such and such a field without going into depth, after all being interested is hardly a problem. If you try to get into arguing for why a field is interesting without having a good grasp of the field, you run into the likely situation that instead of primarily showing your interest, you simply expose your lack of knowledge. No-one would expect an undergraduate to have deeper knowledge about a specific research topic but if you try to argue for some field based on very sketchy knowledge, you may come across as naive. I therefore think it is better to simply state fields that you are interested in without going into specifics. If you manage to read up on a field (which would take, likely significant, time) so that you have a perspective, then such a statement would be a definite positive. Coming across as having good general skill (knowledge and abilities) is still the most important aspect.

  • 3
    Corollary: Read up on a field enough to have a perspective.
    – JeffE
    Nov 21, 2013 at 11:16

You should choose either where do you want to go (e.g. research group) or what topic you want to research.

If you choose the group because those guys are really clever and doing very interesting things (whatever they do!), or maybe because they are where you want to live for personal reasons and you don't care about the topic, then find out what kind of interests they have (specially what do they need to cover with new people) and be specific on that. You can ask them, everybody likes getting new people to work with/for them specially when they need more people and have money to pay them. If they don't have money and don't need people, and possibly are saturated of work and cannot supervise/advise more students, then probably you should search for a different place (and repeat the process in this paragraph).

If you choose the topic then you should see which are the best groups to work on that topic, who is doing interesting things, where they are, choose the research group of your interest and then repeat the process in the previous paragraph. Do this until it works for a research group.

Be aware that working for many hours a day, days a year and years in total is more exhausting if you don't really like the topic of your work. I know it's feasible, and it's even possible to get good results and survive (at least physically and academically, your soul may be crushed), but certainly it's more advisable to do this after finding a topic you love.


It's not uncommon for people to do a project entirely different from what they wrote about during the application process, so it's not necessarily a bad thing to write in detail about a project that would interest you. It's good to let the faculty know that you can sketch out one or more coherent, interesting, and potentially fundable/publishable ideas for a project that would be appropriate and manageable during your time in the department.

If you want to talk specifically about what you're interested in (and I encourage this), great - but get to know the specialties of faculty members before applying. You should be choosing the schools based on faculty, after all.

I think you're spot on about being too specific about a project causing a problem when there are no faculty on staff who specialize in that area. To be honest, it's in your best interest to not apply somewhere if there are few or no professors that specialize in what you're interested in. It becomes difficult not only for the student who may receive little help, but also for the advisor, and the result could be a poor working relationship.

Your letter of intent is one of the most important parts of your application package. If you don't talk specifically about a project you'd be interested in, then make sure what you do talk about is worthwhile and not simply filler.

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