0

I showed my research statement for applying to postdocs to my advisor, but that's it. Also the recommendation letter writers looked at it (they requested it, anyway) but have provided no feedback/suggestions. How can I tell if my research statement is too long or too short, if the research proposal is significant, if experts think it's too hard, etc.?

Is there a checklist of criteria (i.e. a rubric) for a good research statement? It appears to me that researchers know what makes a good research statement but want to keep it secret. Would it be a good idea to ask researchers for their research statements so I have an idea of what it should look like?

In general, I have the impression that successful researchers help "groom" some early career researchers, but only some. Those graduate students/postdocs get all the help and everyone else is left out. The ones who get the help are the ones who get the jobs. I don't want to be left out. That's why I am asking here.

3
  • 1
    Why would you want to keep it secret?
    – Buffy
    Mar 7 at 19:11
  • @Buffy I meant that I am guessing what to put in my research statement, and researchers who write good research statements don't say what makes a good research statement, but I want to know so that I can write a good research statement.
    – cgb5436
    Mar 7 at 21:38
  • Why do researchers not tell people what makes a good research statement? I don't know. There's probably no incentive for them to tell early career people.
    – cgb5436
    Mar 7 at 21:39

3 Answers 3

1

Yes, if there is someone else you can ask and you think they will give good advice. And yes, you could ask one or two people for their research statements that have been successful in the past.

I don't think it is true that researchers don't tell people what makes a good research statement. If you want advice, ask for it. As long as you are not asking too many people, or asking for them to spend a lot of time, there is a good chance they will help you.

1

Yes, I think you can ask for advice on your research statement from anyone who is A) qualified to give such advice (qualifications would include being someone who reads these statements to make hiring decisions, or at least someone who has successfully gotten a position that required them to write such a statement), and B) invested in your success and willing to gift you the time necessary. I would not send your research statement to people you do not know well and are not invested in you personally, unless it's part of an application for an open position.

Your advisor should certainly be covered in both of these categories, though it's possible few other people fit also into category (B).

People writing you rec letters might be good people to consider as well, but it doesn't seem like you've asked them for feedback. They have asked for your statement so that they can write you an appropriate recommendation letter; it would be destructive to your chances if they wrote about how you were an excellent candidate for a position in underwater basket weaving while you wrote a research statement about how you plan to do work in cheese making. If you want feedback, you'll need to ask for feedback.

The same goes for your advisor, too; if you have specific questions about your research statement, ask them about those specifics rather than just handing them the statement. Otherwise, it may not be clear whether you are looking for rigorous feedback or simple praise and encouragement.

Your question and comments reveal what seems to me to be a bit of a paranoid attitude towards these things. I understand that it can be very difficult to do an assignment when there is no "rubric" to know how you are graded, but hopefully by the end of your PhD you would have lost some of these notions that I think come primarily from earlier schooling where many assignments are graded on rigid criteria. In the "real world", even the "real world" aspects of academia, including graduate admissions as well as job applications for post doc and professor positions, there is no rubric. Your research statement is going to be read by the specific person/committee doing the job of hiring you. A good research statement is one that they like: specifically, one that is part of the overall total application that they like better than any other that they receive. There is no magic length, no special words, nothing cheap or easy that you can add to your statement to make it a guaranteed success. Different people and different committees will come to different conclusions when presented with exactly the same materials.

6
  • 1
    I personally would amplify that "being someone who reads these statements to make hiring decisions" is the best possible qualification for giving the desired advice. Partly because, as you say, different people have different opinions about what a good research statement looks like, and someone who's been involved in hiring decisions should have some sense not only of their own views on this, but also their colleagues' views. Mar 7 at 23:06
  • When I e-mailed them the research statement, I wrote something like "Any feedback would be appreciated." But maybe I should have been more "in their face" and directly ask them: "Could you please provide feedback on my statement? I would really appreciate it. Thanks again for your time."
    – cgb5436
    Mar 7 at 23:40
  • @cgb5436 Yes you should definitely be more direct than that. Even more direct than your second draft. "I am concerned about (X,Y,Z; specific things you want feedback on) in my research statement and I am looking for your advice." Better to have this as a conversation in-person, if at all possible.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 7 at 23:43
  • @BryanKrause OK, I'll do that next time. My experience was, I asked if they can write me a letter. They agreed and asked for a research statement. I sent it to them and said that any feedback would be appreciated. Then a couple days letter they told me that they sent their letter and wished me luck. There was no substantial back and forth dialogue whatsoever.
    – cgb5436
    Mar 7 at 23:49
  • @cgb5436 Busy people are rarely going to spend their time doing extra things that you haven't asked for. You asked for a letter, they asked you for additional info they needed to complete it, they wrote the letter. They also may not have the time to review your statement for you, of course, but you have to ask them first.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 7 at 23:51
1

It's not true that it's a secret. There are various advice freely available, such as this article from science as well as public articles from various graduate schools, such as this one from purdue or this one from cornell. There are also some more specific advice such as this answer from academia.se or this one.

It seems normal to me that your letter writers don't give any specific feedback, as that's not really their job. Just your advisor seems reasonable. Presumably you are entering the stage of your career where you are expected to be more autonomous anyway.

I'll also offer some other thoughts on what I think would make a good research statement for an ABD student.

  • By default in engineering, I would aim for 3-4 pages (11 pt readable font).
  • Use section headings for organization, and underlining to assist skim readers. Include a list of 4-6 bullet points which summarize your past/current research and describe your future research plans.

A standard organization would be something like this

  1. A brief introduction which introduces your work and also directly responds to the language in the job posting.
  2. Explaining all the results of your current research, which should show that your research is interesting, relevant, technically rigorous, and academically significant.
  3. Future plans section, which should explain in detail a realistic and impactful research agenda for the next 3-5 years
  4. Brief conclusion which can again appeal to the job posting, and explain funding opportunities.
4
  • For example, how do I know if my future plans section is a "realistic and impactful research agenda for the next 3-5 years," without asking people? I tend to think that my advisor is too biased because we had been working together for several years.
    – cgb5436
    Mar 7 at 23:18
  • @cgb5436 Haven't you been doing research for the past 3-5 years? What do you think you can accomplish with another 3-5? Certainly it's good to get some other feedback here, but also you should be able to have some idea yourself, and that's one of the things you're being hired for.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 7 at 23:35
  • @BryanKrause No, because I was trying to branch out in different directions. I didn't even have any specific questions. I wrote things like, "Person X did this. It would be interesting to explore connections between [what I did] and [what person X did]." But I had no idea how realistic it was. It was a guess. Looking back maybe I should have asked person X beforehand.
    – cgb5436
    Mar 7 at 23:37
  • @cgb5436 Which parts demonstrate to the person reading it that they should definitely hire you?
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 7 at 23:47

You must log in to answer this question.

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