Tips For A Winning PhD Research Statement

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readFeb 13, 2023

The process of creating a winning PhD research statement can be daunting and grueling, but if you take the time to put together an outstanding research statement there’s no telling how far you could get in graduate school!

That’s why we’ve pulled together some top tips to help make you stand out from the crowd. From understanding what a PhD admission search committee looks for to presenting your skills professionally, these tips will ensure that your application documents truly shine.

So, whether you’re new to the world of academia or already know it like the back of your hand; our advice is sure to give you an edge in this highly competitive scheme. Read on and get ready for success in your academic career!

What Is A Research Interest Statement?

A research interest statement is an important part of a PhD application and provides insight into your future research interests, research accomplishments, knowledge, writing skills, and research work experience. Not only is it useful to make a persuasive case for yourself but it is a great opportunity to explain your goals and objectives, the proposed approach, how the results of your research could contribute to the field, and any other relevant information that could help demonstrate to faculty members that you are an excellent candidate for the PhD.

This essay should be written in an easy-to-understand manner and clearly articulate your research projects, provide evidence of your understanding of your research topic in a broader context, and demonstrate your commitment to producing academic publications.

What Is The Difference Between A Research Interest Statement And A Statement of Purpose?

A research statement is a document that outlines an individual’s research agenda and accomplishments. It typically includes details about their past research experience, current research interests, and how they envision their future trajectory. A statement of purpose is a document that outlines an individual’s academic and professional goals. It typically includes information about the applicant’s educational background, career objectives, and desired area of study.

While both documents are important in applications to graduate programs, a research statement is more focused on current and future research plans, while a statement of purpose is more focused on career aspirations. Both essays require careful thought and consideration to effectively communicate an individual’s goals and objectives. It is important to keep these differences in mind when crafting either document.

(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)

Is This an Essay That Is Always Required in PhD Applications?

Although not a common component of the application in the U.S., the research interest statement is often required from graduate students by many universities in Europe as part of the PhD application process. The exact content and format of the essay will vary depending on the target institution but typically requires you to briefly describe the research that you plan to pursue during your PhD program.

This document can help graduate school admissions committees get a better understanding of your research goals, verify if you are aware of the most current trends and developments in your field, and quickly determine if you are PhD material or not.

Regardless of the requirements, it is important to keep in mind that your research interest statement should clearly explain why you are applying for the PhD program and what makes you a good candidate for it. Additionally, it should be well-structured and your ideas and questions should be thoughtfully laid out.

What Is The Difference Between a Research Statement and a Research Proposal?

A research statement and a research proposal are two different documents that serve distinct purposes. A research statement is typically a document that provides a brief history of your research interests and experience. It is used to demonstrate your knowledge and skills within a specific field of study, as well as the commitment you have to pursue a research project.

On the other hand, a research proposal is much longer and more formal. It includes an introduction, objectives, methodology, timeline, budget, and potential funding sources for a research project. It is used to provide detailed information about the project, as well as to convince others that the proposed research is worth pursuing.

Ultimately, the research interest statement is more of a personal document used to market your skills and experience in a specific field, while the research proposal is a formal document used to outline the scope and methodology of a project to potential future colleagues in research.

Both documents are important for different purposes, so it is important to understand the differences between research statements and research proposals.

Each should be tailored to fit its intended purpose, so researchers need to understand the differences and be able to create documents with detailed information for each.

What Should A Research Statement Include?

It should include your previous work, such as any prior publications, presentations you have made, or any other completed work. It should also include your current areas of interest, the types of questions you would like to find answers to, and any plans for future faculty collaborations.

Furthermore, it should explain how your past experiences have shaped your academic goals and how it all ties in with the work of current faculty in your target program.

Most programs will provide you with guidelines for crafting an effective essay. Although rarely containing a direct question, these guidelines may ask for specific details to be included. Be sure to adhere strictly to the program’s instructions; you must follow them!

How Long Should It Be?

A research statement should generally be around one to two pages long, although the exact length can vary depending on the institution. Keep in mind that your document is meant to showcase your capabilities as a researcher and should be written in a way that is both concise and comprehensive. Make sure to organize ideas and concepts with rigor!

Focus on the research project, your qualifications, and the contributions that you can make to the field of study. Be sure to explain why you are the best person to carry out this research and how you plan to go about achieving your goals.

How to Write an Outstanding Research Statement for PhD Applications?

It is important to be as specific as possible when discussing your interests and to explain how your work fits into a larger academic conversation. Additionally, it is important to highlight any accomplishments you have achieved in your research, as these will demonstrate the depth and breadth of your knowledge.

Finally, be sure to provide an outline of how you plan to accomplish your research goals with a few specific examples, as this will demonstrate your commitment and dedication to achieving them. With a well-written statement, you can make an impactful impression on the admissions committee and increase your chances of acceptance into the program.

What Are PhD Admissions Committees Looking For In a Research Statement?

Admissions committees are looking for research statements that demonstrate a passion for research and the ability to think critically. They want to see that you have the ability to develop and execute a research idea from conception to completion. You should be able to explain why your research topic is important, highlight the larger implications of your domain of inquiry, show how this research contributes to the field, and how you plan to go about achieving your goals.

Additionally, admissions committees are looking for evidence of creativity in developing novel approaches and evidence of dedication to pursuing your work. Your research statement should also make clear that you can work collaboratively with other researchers and provide thoughtful feedback on the work of your peers.

Finally, admissions committees want to see that you are able to communicate effectively about your research in both written and oral formats.

What Are Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Research Statement?

When writing a research statement, it is important to avoid making broad generalizations or assumptions about the research field. It is also important to be clear and concise. Avoid jargon and overly technical language that could confuse readers.

Additionally, it is important to avoid making unsubstantiated claims or exaggerating results. Finally, it is important to be sure to focus on the research topic that you are proposing and avoid any tangential topics or unrelated information. By avoiding these pitfalls, you will be better able to create a clear and concise research statement that effectively conveys your research ideas.

The last mistake is not proofreading your statement. Even if you think you have written a perfect statement, it is important to review and ensure that there are no mistakes in grammar or spelling; these small errors can easily lead to an unsuccessful application!

With careful attention and consideration of these mistakes, you can create an effective research statement for your PhD application.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing Your Research Interest Statement?

You should dedicate a significant amount of time to writing your statement. This document serves as an introduction to your research interests, motivations, and goals.

It is an important factor in determining whether you are an ideal candidate for the program or not. It should be given the same care and attention as an undergraduate or graduate thesis. It should be thoroughly composed and edited with the help of advisors and mentors to create a clear, concise, yet comprehensive presentation of who you are and who you will be as a future researcher.


Now that you know all there is to about research statements, it’s time to get writing! This document can be daunting but spending the necessary time on it will be worth it when you eventually submit your flawless application. If you need help getting started or even just want someone to review what you’ve written so far, PhD application services can assist you in ensuring that your research statement perfectly reflects everything the admissions committee wants to see. Good luck and happy writing!

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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.

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Originally published at on February 13, 2023.



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: