Writing the Research Plan

In science, many things have changed since 2002, when “Writing a Research Plan” was written, but many things have also stayed the same. Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed: It was hard to get a tenure-track faculty position 12 years ago, and it’s still hard today. In fact, with the number of tenure-track faculty positions remaining flat and the number of scientists receiving Ph.D.s steadily rising, obtaining a tenure-track post is almost certainly harder today than it was then.

The fundamentals of faculty hiring also haven’t changed, or not much. Today, “[h]iring committees desperately want to avoid making a serious mistake by investing institutional and intellectual capital in the wrong person,” as I wrote then. So, your main job as a faculty applicant remains the same: to convince the hiring committee that you can do the job well, and that life with you in their midst will be pleasant and stress-free. The latter point is often overlooked.

One of your most powerful tools for accomplishing these things is your research plan, in which you should, as I wrote, “[p]rovide the committee a compelling, reassuring, believable image of what their life will be like when you are working down the hall.” So “[t]ell them a story—a believable, credible story—about what your lab will be like 5 years from now: well-funded, vibrant, productive, pursuing a valuable, ambitious but realistic research agenda that meshes well with the department’s mission and with the other research going on in the department.” In the 12 years since I wrote that, “Writing a Research Plan” has remained among our top 10 most popular articles. Enjoy.

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