My question is rather straight forward. I am currently applying for postdoctoral positions in (pure) mathematics. I am almost done writing my research statement and it seems to come out to about seven pages. Is that too long?

A similar question has been asked here, but it seems to deal with applications for graduate school.

In my research statement I have described my previous work (which has resulted in four published/submitted papers and two currently in progress), as well as some short term and long term projects that I plan to work on. Part of the reason that the statement is turning out to be so long, is that I work in two (a priori disjoint) fields of (pure) mathematics, often applying one to the other. So it takes about two pages to describe the motivation and the necessary background.

So, again, is seven pages too long? Do you have any specific advice about preparing a statement for research on an intersection of different fields?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Community Wiki, please. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Oct 24 '12 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ What has your advisor said? You should ask him/her to look it over first. $\endgroup$ – KConrad Oct 24 '12 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ In my opinion this is an ill-posed question. -1 but not (yet) voted to close. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 24 '12 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ It's always useful to try to shorten your writing. Often, this forces you to be more precise, while improving the style. $\endgroup$ – Arend Bayer Oct 24 '12 at 13:27

Unsurprisingly, your research statement addresses at least two very-different audiences, and in your specific situation, maybe three or more. The usual entirely-true cliche is that most people on the postdoc-hiring committee will not themselves read beyond the first page or so of the whole thing, so you should be sure to make your big points, of course necessarily in rough terms, just on that first page. In usual scenarios, there is also the cadre of "specialists" whose strong support is necessary, if not sufficient, to get the postdoc offer, and the rest of the thing is written for them.

For people in a "new" field, or in a novel interaction of two existing "specialties", I'd think you'd want to as-quickly-as-possible make the point that there is at least some interest for specialists in both those specialties in your application/combination of them... or you may find yourself with "no constituency at all", rather than the union of the two.

There are two sorts of "persuasion" that successful research descriptions typically have. Often enough, proving one's adherence to some orthodox school of thought/research, in effect sanctioned by famous people at the best institutions, is a useful/necessary assertion of pedigree. At the same time, in some ways opposite to the spirit of that, is making a persuasive argument that one will do interesting things with the materials described, so that it will be stimulating (not merely "prestigious") to have you around. The conflict with certifying your orthodoxy is that progress and constructive innovation typically involve not doing things as always done before, no matter by whom.

So whatever the length of your research description is probably fine, if you just prioritize things so that the first page is an adequate representation of your ideas for non-specialists, and the rest is persuasive, rather than merely "descriptive"... the latter lending itself to boredom and not-being-read.


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