Writing a research vision document

Eva Lantsoght
5 okt ’23

When you are applying for a faculty position or when you are working on your tenure and promotion package, you are often asked to write your research vision.

If you didn’t write a research vision before and you are currently not planning on applying for a new position or promotion, please don’t leave the classroom just yet. Thinking about your research vision is a valuable exercise – whether you are at the end of your PhD and thinking about what’s next, or whether you are a seasoned professor.

A clear research vision will help you make decisions on the type of collaborations to take on, which types of funding to pursue, and what, overall, you want to work towards with your research.

Before you get started with crafting your research vision document, you need to think about the core of your research. Cathy Mazak calls this your academic mission statement, and when I did her exercise, I found it very insightful. I particularly like how short and focused her template for writing the statement is. With all credit to Cathy Mazak’s work, here is the template she has proposed:

I use [methodologies/theoretical frames] to study [population] [phenomenon] [context] in order to [change you want to see in the world].

From your academic mission statement, you can write your research vision. In today’s post, I’d like to share eight tips on how to write a coherent and compelling research vision, which is also useful for you in making decisions and figuring out where you want to go with your research:

1. Reflect on your academic identity

Before writing your research vision, start by thinking about yourself as a researcher. What are you passionate about? What is the change you wish to see in the world? What do you enjoy doing? Which methods and skills are you good at?

2. Identify your niche

Can you answer me in one sentence what you are the absolute expert at in this world? We all have are specific niche, which is often the result of your previous training and where you studied, combined with the topics you have been and want to address.

3. Define research questions

All research starts from strong research questions, so outline the big research question you have based on what you’d like to achieve in the next five to ten years, and then identify various subquestions. You can link these subquestions then to projects to pursue (and the related opportunities for funding) as well as to various graduate student thesis projects.

4. Describe your research impact

If you achieve the change you wish to see in the world, who will benefit from this? What will your students learn in class from you thanks to your findings? How can your ideas be implemented in industry or in policies? How will society at large benefit from your work?

5. Fit your work into the broader scope

How does your research vision work towards achieving one or more of the UN sustainable development goals? How does it align with your university’s academic mission, and/or with policies and long-term goals set by the government?

6. Be practical

To achieve your research vision, what will you need to do? Which types of funding do you need to apply and obtain? How many people do you need in your team? Which equipment do you need to bring?

7. Plan at various levels

In your research vision statement, you can show your short-term, middle-term, and long-term goals that you want to achieve to work towards your vision on a step-by-step basis.

8. Write for your reader

If you are writing for yourself, you may not need to explain everything. If you are writing for a university-wide panel of professors, then avoid jargon and make sure that your language is clear to understand. Don’t write a dull text, but write something that sparkles with enthusiasm – you want to show how you can achieve that change you wish to see in the world.

Crafting your research vision may be something that takes time – you may want to reserve a good chunk of time to reflect on how you can make this world a better place through your research. It also needs time and iterations between your first draft and your final document. You may want to discuss your vision with your supervisor and colleagues, and get their input and suggestions along the way. Ultimately, once you have your research vision, it is good practice to revisit this often and see if you are still passionate about the same topics, if you are working in alignment with your vision, and to check if there are any important goals you should reserve time for in your upcoming year.

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