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I am considering coming back to academia for a faculty position after a successful stint as an entrepreneur. I think I'm a strong candidate for many of the job posts I want, having a good body of research behind me, and proven tech transfer and teaching experience.

As it is common for academic job posts, I'm being asked to write a Research Statement. This is a first for me, as I got most of my previous research jobs using my professional network, which I cannot tap at the moment because I want to stay within a specific geographic region.

What worries me is that I'm kind of a jack of all trades having a very diverse research background, from Digital Signal Processing to Compilers to Machine Learning to Healthcare. This is because I guided my career more from a standpoint of where and with whom I wanted to work rather than what I was going to be doing.

My question is then: How do I make the best of a diverse research background in a Research Statement? Perhaps do I:

  • Try to put all my research under a wider umbrella to present it as a unified direction?
  • Just plain admit that my research interest has been varied?
  • Selectively mention only the research more relevant to the position?
  • Something else...

I understand this question lends itself to many good answers, being borderline subjective. However, the academic community of SO has been incredibly supportive in the past, so I will take my chances. I will appreciate all answers by voting up all I consider beneficial, selecting as answer the one I like the most. Thank you all. _/\_

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  • You don't tell us what level of job you're applying for. Presumably, you're looking for a faculty slot, and not a postdoc. Is that correct? Apr 18 at 15:33
  • Yes. That is correct. I will update my answer. Thanks @ScottSeidman
    – El Marce
    Apr 18 at 15:35

2 Answers 2

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Coming from industry back to academia, the main research-related concern of the hiring committee will be whether or not you have remained engaged enough with research that you can amass a strong enough research record for tenure. So, I think you should not omit any publications.

It is perfectly fine for a research statement to have multiple sections. Mine starts with a high-level overview of the field, to help non-expert readers (experts can skip that section). This also shows them that I am good at explaining things, and hence would probably be a good teacher.

You can then have one section for each branch of your research, "from Digital Signal Processing to Compilers to Machine Learning to Healthcare." Mine has sections about abstract homotopy theory, applied statistics, data science, research with undergraduates, and scholarship of teaching and learning.

It is good to include lots of ideas you have for future work, as well as summarizing the research you've already done.

Depending on the job, they might expect you to win grant funding. If so, you could write about which aspects of your research you intend to get grant funding to continue.

It is also important to convey the impression that there is some theme connecting all these bits of research together. For those of us with broad interests, that can be tricky, but do try. They want to know that you have a Research Program, that will continue to produce good research for years to come. But, if you devote some of your research time to interdisciplinary research, that's ok to mention, too. For example, my research statement emphasizes the pure math stuff because that's my strongest suit, and then discusses the other stuff I do as side projects, things related to my teaching, and things related to service. I try to give the impression that, even if I only did the pure math stuff, it would already be a sufficient research program, and the rest is bonus. I also point out that I have broad interests and happy to collaborate with a wide variety of people, on a wide variety of topics.

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There is no single best strategy because there's no guessing what's in the mind of the search committee.

You should read the job posting carefully and spin your cover letter and CV to fit that job. We're not talking about lying about your experience, but about emphasizing areas that would make you a better candidate.

The problem is that many times the job ad will not give any clues about what they are looking for in terms of narrow vs. broad experience. The same ad could mean that they are looking for someone with a very narrow specialty that the department currently lacks, or that they are looking for a generalist who can support a wide range of undergrads and/or teach a wide range of subjects. And sometimes you get search committees who are looking for a generalist but will settle for a narrow specialist, or vice-versa.

My best advice is to read the job ad carefully and make use of any clues to tailor your CV appropriately. Having a broad range of experiences is in fact something that search committees often look for, and is your strength. If in doubt about what the committee is looking for, I would play to that strength.

Then keep applying to as many jobs as you can.

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