Writing a Research Statement

  • A research statement is a short document that provides a brief history of your past research experience, the current state of your research, and the future work you intend to complete.

    The research statement is a common component of a potential student's application for post-undergraduate study. The research statement is often the primary way for departments and faculty to determine if a student's interests and past experience make them a good fit for their program/institution.

    Although many programs ask for ‘personal statements,' these are not really meant to be biographies or life stories. What we, at Tufts Psychology, hope to find out is how well your abilities, interests, experiences and goals would fit within our program.

    We encourage you to illustrate how your lived experience demonstrates qualities that are critical to success in pursuing a PhD in our program. Earning a PhD in any program is hard! Thus, as you are relaying your past, present, and future research interests, we are interested in learning how your lived experiences showcase the following:

    • Perseverance
    • Resilience in the face of difficulty
    • Motivation to undertake intensive research training
    • Involvement in efforts to promote equity and inclusion in your professional and/or personal life
    • Unique perspectives that enrich the research questions you ask, the methods you use, and the communities to whom your research applies
  • Before you begin your statement, read as much as possible about our program so you can tailor your statement and convince the admissions committee that you will be a good fit.

    Prepare an outline of the topics you want to cover (e.g., professional objectives and personal background) and list supporting material under each main topic. Write a rough draft in which you transform your outline into prose. Set it aside and read it a week later. If it still sounds good, go to the next stage. If not, rewrite it until it sounds right.

    Do not feel bad if you do not have a great deal of experience in psychology to write about; no one who is about to graduate from college does. Do explain your relevant experiences (e.g., internships or research projects), but do not try to turn them into events of cosmic proportion. Be honest, sincere, and objective.

  • Your research statement should describe your previous experience, how that experience will facilitate your graduate education in our department, and why you are choosing to pursue graduate education in our department. Your goal should be to demonstrate how well you will fit in our program and in a specific laboratory.

    Make sure to link your research interests to the expertise and research programs of faculty here. Identify at least one faculty member with whom you would like to work. Make sure that person is accepting graduate students when you apply. Read some of their papers and describe how you think the research could be extended in one or more novel directions. Again, specificity is a good idea.

    Make sure to describe your relevant experience (e.g., honors thesis, research assistantship) in specific detail. If you have worked on a research project, discuss that project in detail. Your research statement should describe what you did on the project and how your role impacted your understanding of the research question.

    Describe the concrete skills you have acquired prior to graduate school and the skills you hope to acquire.

    Articulate why you want to pursue a graduate degree at our institution and with specific faculty in our department.

    Make sure to clearly state your core research interests and explain why you think they are scientifically and/or practically important. Again, be specific.

  • Your final statement should be succinct. You should be sure to thoroughly read and follow the length and content requirements for each individual application. Finally, stick to the points requested by each program, and avoid lengthy personal or philosophical discussions.

  • Ask for feedback from at least one professor, preferably in the area you are interested in. Feedback from friends and family may also be useful. Many colleges and universities also have writing centers that are able to provide general feedback.

    Of course, read and proofread the document multiple times. It is not always easy to be a thoughtful editor of your own work, so don't be afraid to ask for help.

    Lastly, consider signing up to take part in the Application Statement Feedback Program. The program provides constructive feedback and editing support for the research statements of applicants to Psychology PhD programs in the United States.