The Research statement is a key part of admission to doctoral study. Reviewers of Research statements tend to look for three major features:
- Conceptualization of research. The first key feature is to how the applicant characterizes research. In the case of the GSLIS doctoral program, for example, we would want to see an understanding of research as an active investigation to create new knowledge, not as a program to improve library skills or to expound on policy. Research that might lead to imprvements in practice or policy is highly valued, but there should be a clear picture of the research aspects per se, even for participatory action research.
- Fit with the program. It’s important to know whether the kind of research that’s envisioned could be supported within the program and could contribute to it. For example, we have a strong group in Community informatics, so research framed in that way makes sense for both the applicant and the program. However, we have less going in the closely related area of Development informatics. There are specific initiatives in São Tomé and Principe, for instance, and strong collaborations with the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, but we’d need to hear more about how the applicant’s goals meshed with the research side of those. It helps to show how the applicant’s research fits with specific research projects or faculty interests when it does, although that’s not always possible.
- Articulation of a research plan. The GSLIS site lists some important questions regarding the applicant’s research plan. What’s important there is not so much the specifics of the plan, but the ability to assemble and communicate one. Those straightforward questions can be difficult to understand in relation to a particular area of interest.
Once a student is admitted, it’s quite likely that the specifics of the plan will change, and often the entire field of interest shifts. That’s a beneficial outcome of living within an active research environment in a large research university.