Selling your experience in academic job applications - research

Posted in: Academic Career, Advice, Applications, For PhDs

This post was written jointly with Dr Amy Birch, Researcher Development Manager at the University of Bath.

The next instalment of our mini-series on selling your experience in academic job applications.

Selling your research experience, potential and future plans effectively is an essential component of academic job applications. Before we look at the mechanics of how to present your research experience in academic CVs, personal statements and research statements, there are three key components you need to think about and be clear on; selling your research experience well is virtually impossible otherwise:

1. How do you define yourself as a researcher? This includes both your current areas of expertise (and this needs to be framed as ‘I am an expert in’ rather than ‘I am a PhD student/postdoctoral researcher in’) but also crucially, what is your vision for future research? What do you want to be known for as a researcher? What will your research niche be? You need to be able to articulate your vision clearly and succinctly.

2. What have you achieved as a researcher? What are your measures of success? This could include outputs (publications, patents, data,), conference presentations (especially invited talks), evidence of securing funding (ideally as a PI, Co-I or named applicant but also ‘small pots’ of funding such as travel grants), prizes and awards, management and supervision of students, recognition of your work outside the academic setting (government committees, forums, networks or discipline-specific forums or networks)

3. Your contribution to the research field. While your publications tell a story and are the dissemination tool for your work, it is also vital to identify what you have contributed scientifically to actual research, which is separate from your publications. What has changed in the field because of the research you have done? What new knowledge or perspective do we have now as a result of your work? What has been done differently because of the approach, methodology, or model you have developed?

Selling your research experience in a CV

A CV is a key element of an academic job application and needs to include a full record of your research achievements and outputs. This should include:

- Full lists of publications and conference presentations. You can subdivide this and include papers that are ‘submitted’ or ‘in preparation’. Particularly at an early career stage it’s vital not to leave anything out. Always start with the most recent publication and work backwards. For multiple author papers it can help to put your name in bold. Include full details such as title of journal and title of the paper, dates and page numbers. If you have a long list of publications this could come at the end of the CV, though it can be good to include refences to key publications earlier in the CV
- Lists of prizes and awards
- Lists of funding (make any larger grants prominent but also include smaller pots such as travel grants or funding for public engagement activities)
- Full details of research projects including PhD. This should include title of the project, name of PI/supervisor, a brief (3-4 line) synopsis of the project including aims and key findings, a few bullet points on the actions you took to complete the project. You can also flag up key achievements, such as papers, collaborations or new techniques or discoveries
- Research visits and collaborations. These can be included within projects, or, if particularly important or numerous, could be sub-sections of their own
- Additional activities such as organising research seminars and conferences, reviewing papers and membership of committees both inside and outside of the university
- It’s common to start an academic CV with a brief summary of your research interests – keep this succinct and tailor it to the Department you’re applying to

Selling your research in personal statements and research statements
As noted in last week’s post, academic job adverts can vary a lot in terms of the documents they request; give them what they ask for and do also take up the offer of an informal conversation about the post to find out exactly what they’re looking for from the post and the application materials. An informal conversation will get you on their radar before you even apply and give you more insights into the focus of the role, any particular specialisms they’d like the ideal candidate to have and the research they would be interested in.

Some academic job adverts will ask for a separate research plan. This should include the areas that you want to work on, with project aims, why the research is important and what it would contribute to the field, as well as plans for securing funding and dissemination. It is vital to research potential funding sources and talk about how your research fits with funder priorities (talk to academics in your field about this and search for funding opportunities on Research Professional). Make your aims clear and specific and balance ambition and realism.

It’s also vital to align your research interests and plans with your prospective department and university. Again, an informal discussion can really help with this, and you should also look at the Department’s research and consider where your research aligns and adds value. Are they wanting to strengthen their research portfolio in areas that fit perfectly with your expertise? Are there groups or individuals inside and outside of the department you could collaborate with? (You can absolutely name names in your application). Do they have the facilitates and equipment you would need to carry out your research? Do they emphasise external partnerships? Look at the wider university research strategy – these are often open access on web pages – and align your research aims and vision with these.

You can also discuss your research achievements and future direction in a personal statement or cover letter, perhaps going into more detail if a separate research statement isn’t requested. These documents also need to address your motivation for applying for the post; again, strong alignment with the department’s research areas and priorities will help here, and you should also emphasise why this position is the right one for you at this stage in your research career.

Posted in: Academic Career, Advice, Applications, For PhDs


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