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We all know that it is possible to write a research statement which is so long it becomes counterproductive. At some point people will give up on reading it.

But can you write one (let's say for job applications) which is so short that its length alone makes a bad impression on the reviewers? I certainly suspect this to be the case.

It would be very useful if in answers people could specify which hiring environment (which country, which type of school) they have in mind. It would be particularly interesting to hear a perspective from someone who's hired for tenure-track jobs at a liberal arts college in the US, but I'd welcome info about any sort of job or grant.

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Define "too long". –  Michael Lugo Nov 10 '09 at 17:11
Long enough to damage your prospects at whatever you applied for, or at least so that each additional page has no marginal value. –  Ben Webster Nov 10 '09 at 17:16
I am still having difficulty writing a research statement.. it's a total different level than writing a paper.. In a paper you know exactly what you are writing about and you have a result. In a research statement, you wouldn't know whether you will end up doing it.. you could write what you have done about the research but there is no definite conclusion of anything. My research question are produced at the spur of a moment when the question arises from reading something or thinking of a problem.. and imo one cannot write what happens to this research in 2-3 years. –  Jose Capco Nov 10 '09 at 19:06
It pretty much depends on agency. US postdoc jobs ask for short proposals, Russian experiences seem to be similar. In European big calls (like ESF) you anyway get strict limits so you try to fill exactly up to limits. Some European research institute are less constrained, e.g. Max Planck which urges you to write some detail; bilaeral proposals between scientists from pairs of countries where I have the most experience were also allowing any size. My worst outcome so far was from one of the proposals which was shortest so far (though it was very bold proposal in its scientific objective). –  Zoran Skoda Apr 5 '10 at 12:53

4 Answers 4

Sure -- I read lots of these, and if it were less than a page I'd wonder why the person didn't have more to say about their research. In fact, a long research statement, so long as it has a short, well-written introduction, presents no problem at all, in my experience.

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I agree with JSE. You should write your research statement so that someone who stops reading after the introduction still gets a lot out of it. The people who make it to the end of a long (say 8-10 page) research statement are probably the ones who are considering hiring you. Even if the work is strong, an overly short research statement might make me concerned that the candidate does not possess the requisite stamina and follow-through for an academic career.

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I'd guess that if it is under 2 pages you had better have proven some really wicked theorem.

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If I understand correctly .. when one writes a research statement, it does include a background for mathematicians who do not come particularly from your field of research.. isn't it a given that a background containing definitions and terminologies alone is 1.5-2 pages long. –  Jose Capco Nov 10 '09 at 19:10
Yeah. You would generally like to have a nice introduction for the nonexpert, as JSE states in his answer. –  Richard Kent Nov 10 '09 at 19:19

If you could prove Fermat's Theorem in 2 pages, no one would complain.

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If you could prove Fermat's Theorem in 2 pages, you'd never have to write a research statement again. –  Ben Webster Nov 10 '09 at 17:43
Longer proofs can also justify a short research statement. Andrew Wiles's research statement could perfectly well be "I proved Fermat's last theorem and I plan to continue working in number theory." But if you're not Wiles, you'd better say more. –  Andreas Blass Aug 8 at 14:48

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