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I'm back again with what should be my final post as I truly figure out the damage caused by my horrendous Ph.D experience (the D in my Ph.D could stand for diminishing returns at this point). It is also probably somewhat of a sequel to this post I made 5 months ago: Conference, poster, and publication gaps due to COVID and poor advising. How to explain for the future?

There's no need to read the above post, but it can help give some context for this one (if you want to see the recent ones go ahead and review my recent posts).

I am currently writing a research statement for a tenure track position I am applying to near my hometown. My odds of getting it are probably next to none, but I want to do so anyway since I was told by peers and faculty that research statements are expected for post doc and certain industry positions. I have not come across any that interest me yet. However, I feel like if I write this Research Statement now, I will at least have a template should I want to go back to it for different positions. What I am doing now, like most things these past 6 months, is preparing myself for future job positions and ruling out what my options are right now.

I wrote a paragraph that explains my low research output. No mentions of the drama that happened between me and my first advisor or anything like that. If I am also being upfront, when I write this it feels unfair to me almost. First two years it was nothing but doing requisite stuff in my program that may have lead to publications and I was not allowed to work on extra projects whatsoever that could have prevented me from being in my present situation. Even then, I don't know if my present situation is all that bad (visiting full time position at a SLAC, fellowship requirements I will fulfill by teaching this year). Now, after an advisor switch, I was expected to propose (which I did in 7 months) and casually go back to working on research with new health issues (e.g., PTSD, borderline cognitive functioning)? Good news is that I recently found out one of the sources of my problem and treated it.

Here's the paragraph:

My current research work output at the Ph.D level is reflective of the limited research output I could possibly generate given when I started my doctorate studies (Fall 2020) and budget crisis at [Ph.D program name] one academic year after I matriculated into the Ph.D program. After matriculation into my Ph.D program, I had not yet graduated from my Master’s program until December 2020 due to passing with revisions at the last possible defense date for my Master’s program. Furthermore, my main task my first year of my Ph.D program was finishing electives via approved coursework on top of ensuring I graduated from my Master’s program that Fall 2020 semester or I could not continue the Ph.D program. It was not until my second year of my Ph.D program and I was finished with coursework that I could pursue additional research projects. However, I was only permitted to pursue my doctoral candidacy qualifier project and data collection for a follow up project as far as research activity goes. Additional projects I had planned on continuing with my first advisor were abandoned due to my first advisor leaving the program. I am currently in the beginning stages of planning future studies with my current advisor ([advisor name]) that I am willing to continue at [college/university], but it is unlikely that a postdoc will be funded to continue those studies right now.

3 Answers 3

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Far too lengthy and too negative.

All you need is a simple statement: My research output at the onset of my Ph.D. was hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, and further compounded by my advisor leaving the program.

That's it. People will get it.

If the rest of your CV is strong enough to warrant looking at you further, people will understand and just focus on what you have done since. They don't want someone who is going to dwell on all the wrongdoings done to them. Save the explanation of how it all went down when you go for drinks off the record (we all have some stories about stuff that went wrong). If the rest of the CV is mediocre, a lengthy statement of what could have/should have been likely wont make any difference.

Stay upbeat and focus on the positives. Leaves search committees with a better feeling about you as a candidate.

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    Absolutely. The magic wording for describing hardship in an application goes something like this "Despite challenging circumstances A and B, I was able to achieve X and Y".
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jan 4 at 7:57
  • 4
    Great advice. I imagine most readers will tune out of OP's paragraph before even noticing the key point of "advisor leaving the program". Commented Jan 4 at 8:37
  • @r1nano This is good overall. One thing I'm wondering is whether I should save the paragraph for the beginning or end of the statement. I've also considered bringing that up in my cover letters for other jobs but I'm not sure yet.
    – zzmondo1
    Commented Jan 4 at 12:03
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    The most important thing to remember about your cover letter and CV is that they are advertisements. That's why the last paragraph is so important here. Commented Jan 4 at 12:07
  • @zzmondo1 - I would suggest adding this wherever it is relevant in terms of flow. If you have enough interesting new results to discuss in your research statement, then this could just be a line in your cover letter. Just draw attention to what you have done, and be enthusiastic about it, don't worry so much about what you couldn't or didn't do.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jan 4 at 18:38
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Delete the paragraph entirely. Burn any paper copies and smash any hard drives that contain it. To be brutally honest it makes you come off as a whiner with zero agency that blames everyone else for their problems. I know that sounds mean; I phrased it that way for the shock value to drive the point home.

First off, no committee or hiring manager anywhere cares all about statements that involve could, should, would, might, etc. The care about what you did and accomplished.

"But bad things happened to me!" you say. I agree. But faculty members lead groups. You're responsible for your not only your own research and success, but the budding careers of your postdocs and students too. You must be a problem solver and tough and resilient in the face of adversity because many people depend on you. The committee wants to see evidence of resilience and resourcefulness, not that you have a tendency to play the blame game.

Second, as a general rule, never draw attention to your weaknesses. Faculty applications are extremely competitive. Actively advertising you have a sub-par (in your opinion) publication record harms your application with no upside. If your record isn't strong enough you won't get hired - no number of statements and paragraphs trying to explain it away will save you. And you don't even know for sure if your publication record is considered weak anyway, maybe the committee thinks it's fine.

Third, another general rule is never air your grievances. Similar to the above, it draws attention to your complaints instead of your successes. It unfortunately doesn't matter how justified you are - the committee doesn't have the facts. They'll think "seems reasonable, but there's always two sides to this story." They know you're biased in your favor so they'll naturally consider how things look from the other side. They'll wonder things like "why didn't they move with their advisor?" and "why did they halt data collection, are they not self sufficient?"

... I don't know if my present situation is all that bad ...

Now this is the right attitude! Advertise your accomplishments as best you can, highlight your strengths and ambitions, and hope for the best!

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  • I might edit this into my original post, but part of the reason I'm likely going to go with the light one sentence mention that @r1nano suggested is because my current advisor's letters of recommendation always mention my advisor leaving the program. As for why I couldn't go with her, it was because she's at her new university's department of education rather than psychology. I later learned (after I told my grievances to the director of graduate studies) that she couldn't have been my primary advisor even if she wanted to because she was at another institution and department.
    – zzmondo1
    Commented Jan 5 at 1:29
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I find this statement too wordy and difficult to follow. It reads like an excuse, rather than an explanation. I understand the compulsion to explain (I faced this same issue for different reasons), but it can end up reading like a complaint, or knocking yourself too much.

Where I am we have the concept of "relative to opportunity". It is important to separate what were limitations on opportunity, and what was a result of your choices/achievements. Eg the fact that you were doing your Masters during your PhD is a consequence of not doing well at your Masters - not a lack of opportunity.

Importantly, including such a statement in a job application needs to increase your chances of getting the job - and preferably the entire application should show why you would succeed if the lack of opportunity were removed. As @R1NaNo pointed out, a simple statement of limitations is best. Elsewhere you want to highlight your successes to show that given opportunity you will be able to produce the outputs.

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  • Good points. I should note that the delay during my Master's was not due to me not doing well in this case (even though that's true of coursework in my Master's). The delay was because I wrote my thesis proposal for my original idea. When COVID hit, I was told to just defend a pilot study I did my first year in the program as my Master's thesis.
    – zzmondo1
    Commented Jan 4 at 12:00

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