How to Write About Your Research Interests 101

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readMar 6, 2023

Wondering how to write about your research interests without loosing all your hair from stress in the process? Don’t worry — you have the power to make it an enjoyable — and enlightening — process! If you’re keen to secure admission into your dream graduate program, then tailoring your application to align with your passion for research is absolutely essential.

In this blog post, we take a deep dive into what exactly goes into writing about one’s research interests and provide invaluable guidance on how to do so to stand out from the competition. By taking the time and putting some thought into crafting this vital component of your application, you will be setting yourself up for success. So get ready because here come our top tips on how to write with flair about your most passionate research pursuits!

Understanding the purpose of your statement of purpose

Many prospective graduate students apply to graduate school without having a clear idea of how to write about their research interests nor having determined which topics or questions they would like to explore during their studies. This is a fairly normal situation. Many of my clients struggle with this challenge. While some people are concerned that they may be held to their still-developing thoughts, others have not yet truly invested time into the thought process.

Yet, no need to panic. The best way to decrease the anxiety related to learning how to write about your research interests is to take a step back and consider the purpose of your statement of purpose.

It’s important to realize that you are applying to graduate school to learn more, and your statement of purpose should never be about what you already know. The purpose of your statement of purpose is to provide a glimpse into your research interests at a particular moment in time. It is meant to demonstrate your research potential and it should not be seen as the presentation of a long-term commitment to research a precise set of ideas or questions.

So take a deep breath and relax! When starting to write your thesis, nobody will suddenly appear out of nowhere with your SOP or research interest statement in hand, accusing you of lying. As you navigate your way through graduate school, your understanding and perspectives will inevitably expand in countless ways. Many prospective students end up working on something entirely different than what they wrote about in their SOP.

And believe us, nobody gets sued or judged for changing their mind. In fact, admissions committees expect applicants’ ideas to take a slightly different or brand-new direction as they take more courses and become more knowledgeable of their target field, so there is no need to worry if you are unsure how committed you are to your current research interests.

Yet, not being clear on what your research interests are can be problematic, as the research process and field of study that you choose will ideally be an area in which you are passionate about and have at least some knowledge, so it is important to take the time to research and explore various topics before applying. The goal is to commit for the time being to a certain set of questions or a topic.

Keep in mind that admissions committees are more concerned with how the applicant communicates their research interests than with any specific content of the research itself. Furthermore, since many programs require students to pursue individualized study plans or take part in interdisciplinary collaborations during their studies, applicants need to demonstrate their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively.

Thus, admissions committees are looking for applicants that can present their research interests in a compelling way and illustrate how they can add value to the program.

To make a good impression on the admissions committee, you need to emphasize your comprehensive understanding of and passion for your field. Learning how to write about your research interests is all about learning to showcase these qualities in detail, thus demonstrating that you have what it takes to excel in research work. If your statement does not include any pertinent experience or qualifications, then you might come across as inexperienced. To avoid this issue and make a convincing argument for why you are well-suited to the chosen career path, be sure to provide specifics on what makes the field exciting for you and back it up with relevant background information.

(Would you like to know what PhD admissions committees are looking for? Watch this quick video to find out key elements to highlight in an application)

What are admissions committees considering when looking at your research interests

Graduate admissions committees consider a variety of factors when evaluating an applicant’s research interest statement. Most notably, they assess the depth and breadth of the student’s knowledge in their chosen field or discipline and their ability to communicate why their research interests are relevant to that particular area.

They also look at how well an applicant understands current literature in the field, the research methods and approaches they plan to take, and their overall commitment to pursuing a graduate degree. In addition, committees may evaluate an applicant’s creativity in developing new research ideas or questions as well as their ability to collaborate with other faculty members or students.

Finally, the committee will consider how well an applicant can articulate a clear vision for their future research plans, indicating their interest in long-term scholarship. Taking these factors into account, graduate admissions committees gain an understanding of how well an applicant is suited to pursue a graduate program and contribute to the university’s overall research strength.

Writing about your research interests might involve… preliminary research!

When writing your statement of purpose, it is important to narrow your research interests as much as possible. Start by researching and familiarizing yourself with the particular field or program you are interested in. Ask yourself questions such as, What kind of research is currently being done? What topics are most commonly discussed? What topics are most relevant to your goals and interests?

Once you have a better understanding of the field, start by focusing on specific topics, ideas, or questions that you are passionate about. You can do this by asking yourself what kind of research requires your unique skillset. What kind of research questions do you find yourself most drawn to? What innovative ideas or solutions can you bring to the field?

If you are still not clear about which tangent to follow in your SOP, take the time to begin familiarizing yourself with the ongoing questions and issues in your field: read recent journal publications, and attend conferences when applicable. Additionally, reading related literature reviews will enable you to construct a language-based framework for expressing your ideas that aligns with prevailing trends and discourse.

By asking yourself these questions, you can narrow your research interests and better define the scope of your research interests. This will help you present yourself as a well-rounded and knowledgeable candidate for the program.

When writing about your research interests for an admissions committee, it is important to be concise and clear. First, create a brief overview of the research topic that you are interested in. When possible, provide examples of how your research interests overlap with the topics being explored by the program or institution for which you are applying. Demonstrate a strong understanding of the research methods and theories that apply to the topic. Additionally, if you have already conducted any research in this area, provide a summary of the findings. Finally, outline your long-term research goals and explain why they fit within the context of the program.

Learning how to write about your research interests is also learning to define your goals

Connecting your research interests to achievable goals is an important part of writing a statement of purpose. It helps to demonstrate that you have thought through the research project and how it can be accomplished in the timeframe of PhD studies. By including realistic, achievable goals, it also shows that you understand what is possible and have considered the potential obstacles that may arise. It is important to avoid being overly ambitious in your statement of purpose as this can lead to unrealistic expectations and a loss of focus, potentially leading to failure to achieve the desired outcomes.

Additionally, presenting achievable goals in your statement of purpose demonstrates that you are confident in what you are proposing, yet also realistic about the challenges that need to be overcome. By doing so, you will provide a strong indication that your research project is well-planned and worth investing in.

It is also important to demonstrate that your research interests are well-aligned with the graduate program you are applying to. This can be done by researching the faculty members and research groups of the university or program and looking for professors whose research focuses on topics related to yours. Once you have identified a few faculty members or research projects of interest, you can begin to explain how your research interests dovetail with their work. In doing so, you can demonstrate that your research is compatible with the program’s offerings and that it will contribute positively to the program’s research goals.

Finally, connecting your research interests to your career goals is essential. Your research will allow you to gain expertise, develop ideas, and build knowledge. This experience can be used to create meaningful connections between courses taken during the program and career paths that may come afterward. Additionally, it can serve as a way to form relationships and build networks that may help you establish a successful career. Make sure to share your short-term and long-term goals after graduation are clearly connected to your interests.

In conclusion

In this blog post, we explored the importance of properly conveying your research interests when writing a graduate school essay. The ability to do so can make all the difference between having your application being accepted and overlooked in the shuffle.

While learning about how to write about your research interests may seem like an especially daunting task, it doesn’t have to be with a little preparation and understanding. We hope you found this post helpful in demystifying the process of writing about your research interests when applying to graduate schools. If after reading our post you are still feeling overwhelmed to write up a stunning graduate school essay that showcases your research interests, fear not! I am here to help and take some of the stress of applying away.

The Admit Lab’s mission is to empower you with the tools needed for success by making sure your story stands out. So don’t waste any more time — check out our PhD application services today!

Got questions? Sign up for a consultation, or send us your draft for an estimate. It’s FREE!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Follow me on Instagram and TikTok for tips and tricks on navigating the grad school application process and weekly live Q&A sessions!

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on March 6, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/