Preparing Your Research Application Material

Applying for a research position can involve multiple moving parts. When is the deadline? Do you need a resume, cover letter, research statement of interest, or transcripts? We know it can be overwhelming to prepare the required documents for applying to research positions! But remember to take a step back and release a breath – You got this!

Here are some tips from the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors on preparing your research application material before applying.

Step 1 – Breaking Down the Application

Start your research journey by researching! Look at the application and examine all the components. It’s very important to look at the position and use the description of the research role to your advantage. The description holds key elements of requirements and what you will be doing, so use that to answer specific questions or concerns you may have before applying. Here are some questions to think about as you read the description of a research opportunity:

  • What is the role? Is this research something I’m interested in?
  • Are there specific requirements? If so, do you meet them?
  • When is the application deadline? Do you have time to prepare a strong application?
  • What do you need to apply?

Asking yourself these questions is a great start to your research journey! You want to be prepared when it comes time to apply, so looking through each application and breaking down the moving parts is so important.

Step 2 – Make a Plan

After looking through the application, it’s time to make a plan!

We recommend starting off with a list. What do you need to submit your application? When you know what you need, this will give you an idea of what you need to edit or create before you can apply. With this information, you can create a deadline for yourself! If you are applying for a research position that requires a resume and cover letter and has a deadline in a month, give yourself 3 weeks to get those written and reviewed. This deadline is your “buffer” deadline that will hold yourself accountable for getting those application materials created and reviewed by someone with a week to spare. We always recommend submitting a little early as it keeps you from putting it off and then rushing to submit something that might not be as great.

Step 3 – Prepare the Parts

Every research application will differ from each other and what they require. Many will require a resume, but others may include one or more of the following:

  • Cover Letter
  • Research Statement of Interest
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of Recommendations or References

Below are some tips for each part and some resources to help you along the way!

A resume is a one-page professional document that shows off your qualifications, skills, and experiences that show you are fit for the role you are applying to. For a research role, you want to showcase the technical skills and experiences you have!

Tip: For your research resume, you can include relevant coursework and/or your academic experiences, such as class projects, to show your previous academic experience that relates to the research topic.

Need help creating or editing your resume for a research role? I recommend making a 1:1 appointment with a Career Peer Coach. The peer coaches can help you edit your resume and tailor it specifically for the research role you are applying for!

You can see resume information, examples, and templates on our website as well as in the Wildcat Career Guide, starting on page 13. There is also a great resume checklist you can use as your guide while editing your resume.

A cover letter is a one-page document that is more personable but professional. You are sharing:

  • What role you are applying for
  • Why you are interested in the research role
  • What experiences/skills you have that show you are fit for the role

A cover letter is quick, about 3 – 4 paragraphs, and you want to keep it mostly focused on what you are bringing to the role if you were brought on the research team.

Similar to above, you can meet 1:1 with a Career Peer Coach to get feedback on your cover letter or to create one.

You can also see a cover letter example on pages 24 and 25 in the Wildcat Career Guide and use the cover letter checklist on our website.

A research statement of purpose, also called a research personal statement , is similar to a cover letter, but you are writing more in an essay format with more personal information about your interest and goals.

Tips for a Personal Statement:

  • Explain why the research opportunity is a good fit for your interests.
  • Use a positive tone, active voice, and first person (“I” not “we”).
  • Use concrete examples and stories. Be clear and concise.
  • Be specific about outcomes/achievements from your experiences.
  • Proofread! Proofread! Proofread! And have a friend/mentor review your draft.
  • If there are specific prompts, address and emphasize them directly.
    • Example from an REU: “Brief narrative that discusses your interest in this program, and your long-term career goals (your background and your interest in research — what projects have you been involved with in the past, if any; and do you prefer experimental or theoretical work).

We have a great resource on our website that goes into more detail about writing a research personal statement and includes an example! Need support starting or adding to your research statement? You can schedule a 1:1 appointment with an Undergraduate Research Ambassador to get support and resources to finishing your research statement!

Transcripts are more than likely the easiest part of a research application. Typically, they require your unofficial transcripts, which you can easily access on your student portal. Some programs may require official transcripts, which you can order from the registrar office.

For more information on finding your unofficial transcripts or ordering your official transcripts, visit the Registrar Office Website.

For letters of recommendation/reference for research, there are a few different people to ask:

  • Your Professors
  • Supervisors
  • Coworkers

Asking for a letter of recommendation/reference is completely normal! When possible, I always recommend asking in-person. If you are asking a professor, ask to speak to them after class or set up a time during their office hours.

No matter who you ask, you want to ensure that you are direct and explain what you are asking for and why. Explain the research role and why you think their voice is valuable.

If they say yes, I always recommend asking if they want a copy of your resume and the research description so they can use it as notes or a guide when creating your letter of recommendation.

Here is a great article on some Dos and Don’ts of asking for a letter of recommendation.

In conclusion, embarking on the journey of applying for a research position involves careful planning, thoughtful preparation, and attention to detail. By breaking down the application into manageable steps, researching the role, and creating a well-structured plan, you set yourself up for success. Each component of the application, from resumes to cover letters, and research statements, plays a crucial role in showcasing your qualifications and enthusiasm for the opportunity.

Remember, the key is to be proactive and give yourself ample time to craft and refine your application materials. Utilizing resources such as the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors, examples in the Wildcat Career Guide, and the guidance available on our website can support you in your next steps in your research journey!

By Sarah Randolph
Sarah Randolph