What is a research statement?
A research statement is a short summary of a person’s academic or research interests as well as their current work, and the perfect introduction when reaching out to potential advisors and/or graduate programs. At the undergraduate level, much of this description will be about what you want to study in grad school. Understanding how to communicate your research experiences, findings and future directions is one of the most important duties of a STEM specialist!
How is a research statement structured?
A useful framework for constructing a research statement is the inverted pyramid. Start with the big picture or theme that defines your interests, and then work your way down to the specifics of your proposed project. Let’s give it a try…
Step 1. Broad research interest
You probably already know your broad research interest. For most of us, this is a big concept or “unsolved mystery” that first drew us to the field.
For example: The evolution of human altruism
Step 2. Specific question
What do you want to know that will shed light on your broad research interest? If you had to ask one question about this topic, what would it be?
For example: Is altruism uniquely human, or is it the expansion of a broader primate pattern?
Step 3. Approach
What tools will you use to answer your question? Is there a certain model organism or type of data you will use to solve a new problem?
- Comparative primatology
- Wild chimpanzees
- Behaviors, particularly those that may involve empathy
Step 4. You!
What will YOUR research tell us? This is where you synthesize your interests, question and approach to tell us what broad impact YOU will have on the field.
For example: I hope to study a close genetic relative in order to track the evolution of our own species, and pinpoint the precursors to more complex human behaviors such as cooperation and culture.
Put it all together and you get…
“Broadly, I am interested in the evolution of human altruism. Specifically, is this behavior uniquely human, or is it the expansion of a broader primate pattern? To answer this question, I study one of our closest living relatives, wild chimpanzees. I combine behavioral and physiological sampling to investigate conflict-related behaviors in which bystanders aid individuals in distress, suggesting that perhaps these interactions are driven by empathetic sentiments and/or complex social knowledge. In exploring the proximate factors that prompt altruistic behavior in a close genetic relative, I hope to track the evolution of our own species, and pinpoint the precursors to more complex human behaviors such as cooperation and culture.”
Ta-da! A brief yet comprehensive summary of my research interests, packaged and ready to go for the holiday season when crotchety family members are most likely to ask what good is all that chimp-chasing?
PDF download: How to write a research statement