The Essentials of Writing a Research Interest Statement: A Guide for Scholars

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If you’re a scholar in between jobs, you may be preparing to apply for a new position, whether a PhD, postdoc, or faculty post. In many ways, it’s like applying for an industry job—you need a great resume or CV that showcases your experience and skills, and you need to present it professionally, conveying your competence to the hiring manager. However, it’s also a bit more involved than that. For any academic position, you’ll need to assemble a group of core documents, among them your CV, two or three references, and a research interest statement. 

Your research interest statement is an integral part of your academic job application. Potential employers will read it to assess whether your scholarly aspirations are a good fit for the role. It’s separate from your CV, which is meant to highlight your achievements and qualities to indicate that you’re a competent researcher. The purpose of your research interest statement is to demonstrate that your interests align with the employer’s, regardless of your research skills.

Since your research interest statement is representative of your professionalism and writing abilities, you may wish to hire an experienced proofreader to review your work. Order our combined proofreading and editing service to ensure you’re submitting a polished document. 

The purpose of a research interest statement

Your research interest statement will tell potential employers about your background, interests, writing skills, and academic specialties. It’s also an opportunity for you to clearly outline the trajectory of your academic career and the nature of your research. Of course, your CV will provide a more formal look into your academic achievements, but your research interest statement allows you to formulate it in your own words, adding any details that might give you an edge.

Ultimately, the employer will be assessing whether your investigative goals are compatible with their own research and department. Unless they are, you won’t be considered a good fit for the position, even if you’re a fantastic researcher. 

Structuring a postdoc or PhD research interest statement

Your research interest statement should be around one to three pages in length. Some institutions impose a word count limit, but even if the one you’ve chosen doesn’t, be sure not to make your statement too long. 

Since your CV is included in your application, take this opportunity to discuss your academic research goals instead of reiterating what’s already in your CV. You have limited space to convince the employer that you’re the right person for the position, so you want to add as much value as you can. A standard research interest statement should follow the framework below: 

  • Begin with an introduction that offers a brief preview of your statement’s content and gives the reader an idea of what you will be discussing. Introduce the text, but don’t outline it as you might in an academic paper—you just want to help ease the reader into the text.
  • Next, write the first body paragraph. This section should outline your past and current academic endeavors, including research projects and jobs. Mention any achievements or awards you have earned, but aim for quality over quantity—you want to offer valuable details that aren’t already in your CV. You should also explain why you’re passionate about your discipline. If you have an interesting backstory that relates closely to your choice of career, you can briefly note that here.
  • In the next paragraph, talk about your goals for the next few years. If you’re a prospective PhD candidate, describe some of the areas in which you wish to expand your knowledge. In case you’re applying for a postdoc position, write about some of the questions you want to explore in your research and how your goals align with those of the institution. Be detailed—if you’re too broad, the employer won’t have a good idea of how well your interests match up with theirs.
  • Finish with a conclusion. Use this segment to advocate for yourself by telling the employer why you’re the best candidate for the position. What makes you unique? How do you stand out from the competition? Consider your best qualities and attributes and sell them here.

Guidelines for faculty posts

Compared to a research interest statement for a PhD or postdoc position, one for a faculty post should be longer (around two to five pages) and include more long-term goals in addition to short-term objectives. After all, a faculty post is of longer duration than a PhD or postdoc position, so you want to assure the employer that your future goals align with their needs as well.

The achievements and research you discuss in your statement don’t necessarily have to be from your past. If you’re currently working on a highly promising study, feel free to include some of its early findings and emphasize its anticipated contributions to the field. If applicable, describe how your contributions to the department may lead to any grants or funding. 

Extra tips for writing a great research interest statement

  • Tailor your statement to every position you apply for. You should research each institution and look at potential supervisors whose areas of interest align most closely with yours. In each of your statements, describe how you would benefit from working with these supervisors. Personalizing your statement will show employers that you have an in-depth understanding of what they’re looking for. It will also demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and your willingness to make an extra effort. If your research interest statement isn’t customized for the particular position, the employer may assume you just sent a generic application to various organizations, which will tarnish their impression of you.
  • Review your statement after taking a break. Once you’re done writing the initial draft, leave it alone for a while, then return to it for further revisions. After some time has passed, you’ll come back to your statement with a more discerning eye and a fresher perspective. It’s much easier to notice mistakes or awkward passages after you’ve distanced yourself from your writing, be it only for a few hours.

Beyond all these tips, make sure your writing is as consistent and error-free as possible. Given how important it is for your application to be polished and refined, we strongly recommend that you hire expert academic editors and proofreaders to lend you a hand. 

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