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IV. Branding Your Research Statement for the Academic Job Market

Aug 06, 2017 by Dr Sally

As this blog series explains, your academic brand reflects who you are and who you will become as a researcher and professor. A research statement is your opportunity to explain to the job search committee the scope of your scholarly work and why it is important to your discipline of study. A branded research statement clearly explains your identity as a researcher, what you research and why, where you see your research headed, and why this work is significant to the needs of your field. Creating an academic brand statement, exploring what it is that motivates you, and what larger questions you continually return to provides you with language for your research statement.

Gather and study as many research statements in your field from peers and colleagues as you can. The genre conventions of a research statement are similar across fields, but there are significant variations. Ask mentors and advisors to read your research statement drafts for coherence, but also for adherence to expectations in your field.

Your research statement should be a two-page, single-spaced document. As you progress further into your career, your research statement may become longer, but for a recently minted PhD or EdD, two pages are the general rule.

Here are the key components of your research statement, although you may find different models in your field.

Introduction to Your Research Agenda

Your research statement should begin with your brand statement or a modified version of it. Although the statement is about your research, it is a personal document written in the first person. One way to begin your research statement is to tell the story of how your research interests began, what you did first, what you are doing now, and the common threads, ideas, or motivations that link these. After stepping back, you may realize that your undergraduate thesis, your Master's research, and your PhD work address a similar big question. Explaining the big questions or problem your research seeks to answer is an effective way to ground your audience as they read further.

Another way to begin your research statement is with the metaphor you used to develop your brand statement. For example, as mentioned in a previous post, the scientist who conceptualized herself as a “bridge builder” begins her research statement by restating that: “I bridge the gap between managers in the field and scientists. My research focus is on answering immediate questions managers have in the field and how to facilitate the discovery of answers that will quickly aid them in their conservation efforts.”

Current Research Focus

After you introduce and explain what drives your research, explain your current research. If you are applying for entry-level positions, you will likely describe your PhD dissertation or postdoctoral research. Do not use the abstract of your dissertation. The members of the job committee want to understand why your research is important to you, the department, and the field. The committee will be made up of people with various research interests and agendas. Do not assume they will understand why your research is important or what it is you would bring to the department if they hired you. You are the specialist and you need to explain what your research does in language that is understandable to people who are close to your field, but who do not necessarily share your specialties.
 Additionally, walk your readers through your research methods. Your research statement paints a picture of you engaged in inquiry. What does it entail to do this kind of work? Where do you do your research? How long does it take? Explain how your approach or research methods are unique and necessary to fill the gaps that exist in your field.

Importance and Significance

Explain the importance and significance of your research in enough detail that it is understandable to people within and outside of your field. Rather than saying that your research is novel, exciting, and creative, describe this by providing enough explanation and context for search committee members to reach these conclusions for themselves. Make strong connections between your research and real-world applications.

When discussing your current work, name the grants or fellowships you have been awarded that support this research. Briefly explain with whom you collaborate and groups with whom you interact. Also mention what publications have come out of this research and what publications are forthcoming. Do not list what you have already listed on your CV. This is the opportunity to bring your research to life for the committee.

Future Research Projects and Goals

Provide an explanation of where your work is headed. To determine if you are a good “fit” for a tenure track faculty position, the job search committee needs to understand what work you have accomplished, as well as what work you plan to undertake. Map out your trajectory for upcoming research projects in the next few years and explain how your current and past research lead to these future research projects. If you plan to branch out into new areas or develop new collaborations, mention these and link them to your brand.

Departments are committed to the success of their junior faculty members so help them understand how you are equipped to succeed as an active scholar-researcher in their department. No one benefits when a junior faculty member fails to achieve tenure-not the junior faculty member, not the department, not the students.

Conclusion

Your research statement needs a strong conclusion. End your research statement by explaining how your research, training, and experiences set you up to succeed as a researcher at their institution.

In the conclusion, make readers aware that you have plans to adapt your research to their location and their context. Explain how and when you will apply for external and internal grants to fill in funding that you may need. Express that you are looking forward to accomplishing these goals and sharing them with students and colleagues. If there are colleagues with whom you might collaborate, now is the time to mention them. End with a strong restatement of your brand and why it is important.

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