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The faculty application has three required documents: a research statement, a teaching statement, and a diversity statement. In this blog, I will focus on the research statement and how I prepare my research statement for a faculty application.
Overview of Research Statement
When we are applying for a faculty position in a research-based university/institution, a research statement is one of the essential documents. A research statement is composed of a new research program/ research plan, three projects/ aims as a short-term, mid-term, and long-term goal for the next five years, the plan to get research funding, and hiring a postdoctoral researcher and predoctoral researcher. Similar to other documents, the first paragraph is abstract to describe your vision for the next five years as a faculty in research. Usually, the abstract is a crucial paragraph to convince the committee to continue to read your research statement. Additionally, sometimes there is a limitation on words or pages in the research statement. Creating an extended version of the research statement as a template is better, and you could easily customize each research statement based on it.
After the abstract/vision paragraph, we also need to introduce our previous research experience, including pre-doctoral research and post-doctoral research. Additionally, the proposed research plan is better to work in a different field/topic from all previous research; otherwise, some people might doubt that you are an independent researcher. An excellent research proposal would combine the expertise from Ph.D. work and postdoc research to develop a new platform/ field; for instance, I did breast cancer study at Cornell University in my Ph.D. research and mRNA technology at MIT/Boston Children’s Hospital in my postdoc work. In the research plan, I could propose to apply mRNA technology as therapeutics in breast cancer treatment. In this way, I will not compete with my Ph.D. advisor and postdoc advisor, and also I could demonstrate that I am an independent principal investigator in conducting a new research program.
The central part of the research statement is the research plan, where we usually propose three different aims/projects for the next five years. These aims should include one short-term goal, a mid-term goal, and a long-term goal. Short term goal is the project you could accomplish in the first 1-2 years, and the mid-term goal could be done within three years. In other words, we could define the three projects by the risk and reward:
- Short-term: low risk, low reward
- Mid-term: medium risk, medium reward
- Long-term: high risk, high reward
Why do we need to propose three different goals? If I propose three easy projects, then the committee might think I do not have the creativity to do novel research. If I propose to develop three new technologies or to cure a rare disease, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the committee might comment that my proposal is tremendous but impossible to accomplish in five years. The committee wants to find a candidate who could survive and succeed in academia, so we have to propose a low-risk project to ensure we can keep publishing papers with the support of the starting package. Additionally, we need to prepare preliminary data to prove the concept in the grant proposal. A strategy is to propose a high-risk project based on the low-risk and medium-risk ones. When we are applying for grants, the published data in low/medium risk projects could be used to increase the chance of receiving the award. Last, when we propose the research plan, it is better to check the research of each faculty in the institution or department. The proposal should avoid competition with current faculty’s research and provide an edge to collaborate and help other’s research because no one wants to recruit a competitor as a colleague and everyone prefer the new hire could benefit their research. Therefore, we could propose any potential collaboration within the department/institution and also how we utilize the core facility to accomplish the projects.
Timeline for Research, Funding, and Hiring
We need to set a timeline for research progress, grant application, and hiring in the research plan. For example, we could propose that I prepare to hire one postdoc and one Ph.D. student when I start my lab in the institution. In the first year, project 1 will be finished and prepared for manuscript submission. At the same time, I will submit an NIH R21 grant application to support the rest of the projects. If I could receive any awards, I would hire more postdocs to work on projects 2 and 3. Why do I need to add a timeline to the research statement? It will demonstrate that this candidate is mature and independent to manage his/her own lab to track research progress and assure the funding and labor force to support research.
The research statement is essential when applying for a faculty position in a research-based institution. Here are some tips on how I prepare my research plan. I hope this blog will be helpful for those who are applying for the faculty position in the U.S., and I will write more blogs in preparation for the teaching statement and diversity statement. Please follow my blog and share this blog if you like it.