I am a last-year graduate student in physics in the United States. As I write my dissertation, I am also reading example research statements for inspiration, and the common format has been to introduce oneself in terms of one's research interests, relate that to one's dissertation work, and subsequently segue into relevant research accomplishments.
The way I usually characterize my research interests is roughly in terms of what is important to me, and what I enjoy doing. I enjoy the art of using mathematics to solve physical problems, generally in the sense of translating from a physical model or physical intuition, to mathematical formalization and derivation, and back to the physical meaning of the results. What is important to me is that my research has a positive societal application, especially with regard to the energy crisis, though this criterion can be taken fairly broadly as long as I don't feel my research is just going to sit on a shelf.
My work thus far includes three projects, two of which I hardly cared for until after I'd worked with them for several months. As I sift through postdoc offerings, none of the ones that actually interest me are closely related to my dissertation work. Most are in the same subfield as I've been working in, which is traditional condensed matter theory, but I'd even like to try branching out from there, and applying possibly to biophysics, soft condensed matter, or something else that doesn't fit neatly into the usual division of physics subfields.
With this in mind, how can I write an effective research statement? Here are the two ideas I've had so far. I'd very much like to hear the perspectives of others who've written or read research statements of this nature.
- I can say something to the effect of "I would like to branch out and explore new directions," but the rest of my research statement would still be a description of what I did in my Ph.D. work. It seems an odd juxtaposition to say, "I don't want to keep doing what I already did," and then talk about it at length. My best guess for a way to make this work is to instead describe what I did in the projects and what portable skills I developed in the process.
- Related to that, I can also focus on the parts of the projects that I did enjoy, such as the problem-solving process, or the reasonably clear societal benefits which one of my projects has.
How can I write a research statement that respects my desire to branch out without sounding as if I have no focus? I am still a graduate student, and have experienced so little of what is out there (especially in the areas that mean the most to me) that I am not prepared to commit to one path, and it would be disingenuous to write as if I have my career trajectory planned out.