Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What goes in a Research Statement?

I am applying to a Big Industrial Lab now (New Leads Option 2), and it requires a Research Statement.

I have some idea of what a Research Statement for an academic job should look like - you should present what you want to do as you lead your newly formed lab into the future. I have ONE sample from a guy who is now a professor at a top school, and he talked about what he did for his thesis (without any specifics really, just "I worked on this problem"). And then he talked about what he wanted to do to continue that.

I am kind of at a loss because I want to kind of continue what I have been doing, but I really kind of want to branch out. But I have been so tunnel-visioned lately, that I really haven't thought about what I'd like to work on in the future, and of the things that interest me, I actually don't know anything about them. It just sounds cool.

Additionally, this is NOT for an academic job and I do not have to lead my own group. Instead, I would be joining Big Industrial Lab, for which I would plan to insert myself into other projects that sound interesting before pushing onto some tangent that I find interesting on my own. I don't know if this is something acceptable to say (probably not), but I certainly don't have anything like a grant proposal in my pocket to describe, and I'm not sure they expect that. Or do they?

So....yeah, I don't know how to approach this. Help?


ScienceGirl said...

New professors are usually recommended to stick to their thesis sub-field so they can plan to make rapid progress without learning a new field (and branch out post-tenure if they wish). If your big research lab is a lot like academia (which in CS some are but some are really not), it might be best to stick to the same advice.

You say that you would plan to join other projects first; do you know what the expectations are for when new researchers start their own projects? Or is there a small time allocation to "explore" things until you make them your primary occupation?

PhizzleDizzle said...

That is good advice. I think I will stick to extensions of my thesis for this, just so I know what I'm talking about.

I doubt I would really HAVE to work on what I write anyway, I think the culture is to insert yourself wherever and do whatever once you're there. In an ideal world I'd work on a few of my most interesting thesis extensions and also insert myself into a few other projects and go from there.

Mrs. CH said...

I agree that sticking with your PhD research is probably the way to go for the statement. Afterall, they're not going to force you to stick to exactly what you say, so it's all about how you can write.

Can you find out the types of projects that are being done at the lab right now? Can you maybe work it in to your statement that, with your skills in X, Y, Z, you can do A, B, C, with certain projects?

I gotta say, I'm really glad to be "watching" you go through this whole process of finding a job. Even though we're in different fields, it still gives me an idea of how things work "out there". So, thanks for sharing!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I second the advice to find out what they're doing, so you can give specific examples of how your expertise would complement and enhance ongoing projects. If you have a good feel for the fact that this is how you would work at first, I'm sure they'd be happy to see that you're being realistic and know that you're not going to be spending 100% of your time on your own projects from day one!

Once you've got that down, try to find a way that you could logically advance one or more of the existing projects into a new project that your unique skills will allow you to lead, but that they wouldn't be able to do without you.

At least, that's what I'd do ;)

GirlPostdoc said...

You should check out this link.

The Chronicle, a news magazine for academics has a whole host of forums and one of them is for career advice. I found a ton of advice from faculty there.

BTW thanks for the post.

PhizzleDizzle said...

MCH - and I am glad that you blog about your transitional life too, figuring out what to do next. Solidarity baby, solidarity. It just helps to know I am not the only one struggling to figure out the rest of my life.

Cath: That's good advice too - I just sent a draft to advisor trying to kind of incorporate that stuff, and I hope he thinks it's ok. I suppose it's probalby bad to send your advisor a draft of a chapter, a draft of a research statement, and a thesis outline all within a week though - because I haven' heard back about any of them :).

GirlPD - Thanks for that link . Somehow I ALWAYS forget about the Chronicle even though it is such a good resource.