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Research program/plans for academic positions

SL Forsburg susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu
Tue Jul 9 15:44:11 EST 1996

Rachelle J. Bienstock wrote:
> When applying for an academic position you are asked for
> an outline of your research program or plans.  How detailed should this
> description be?   Should it be written in a format like a grant proposal?
> How specific and how long should it be?  

The research proposal has a couple of jobs to fill.  First, it has to 
explain to the search committee memeber who studies something 
COMPLETELY different why the problem you work on is important,
timely, and exciting.  Second, it has to summarize what you've done
previously--so don't shy away from using the first person.  Third, it 
has to 
show that you've thought things through, know where you're going, 
and have ideas of how to get there.

A common format is about 4-5 pages, with one page of intro/summary,
a page+ of what's happened till now, and the rest on where are you 
going.  It can help if you can tie everything together.  For example,
if you can find a common, general theme to the work you've done as
student and postdoc, that gives a thread.  Even if it is something
as general as "how cells respond to their environment" or "how
cells grow".

One common failure is to make it so specific that only the
afficionadoes have any clue what you are talking about (at least make
the first page accessible!).  This annoys the other people--why would
they want you as a colleague if they don't understand what you are

The other common failure is discussing EVERY possible  experiment that
 could ever be done to tie together cancer, birth defects, and the
secret of life  :-).  Ie, don't be unreasonably ambitious.  People
who sound like they think that they can do everything  provoke the
search committees to amusement, or worse, annoyance...
for most of us, we start out with
a tech, a student, maybe a postdoc.  Coming from a big lab of 20
postdocs it can be hard to scale down our expectations.

> Should it include equipment
> and budget information?
No, that can wait.  You don't want to limit yourself yet.
Have a sense of what you must absolutely have, what you must
have access to, what you can share, and what would be nice but
is not essential.  But don't worry about that to start with and don't
put it in the plan.  First, you want them to give you an interview!

Remember, the committees are going through 100-400 of these 
applications.  As with grants, they will appreciate cogent,
well written, and brief descriptions that can communicate
excitement even to the non-specialist, and make the specialist's
mouth water at what a fantastic colleague you would be.  So 
spend time on it, have people read it, and polish, polish, polish!

hope this helps.


Susan L Forsburg PhD
MBVL, The Salk Institute
susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu

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