Many of us have had several research experiences prior to graduate school. These experiences may have been within or outside of the discipline in which we have chosen to pursue our dissertation research. For some lucky few, all of these research experiences connect to one another and center around a clear research focus and trajectory. However, for the majority, our research interests have changed over time and may be only remotely related, or not at all. Your research opportunities may also have been limited to those supervisors or faculty members with funding, and their research interests may be very distant from yours. Below are some suggestions to weave together your research experiences to a funder:
– Outline and describe your research experiences chronologically. With each experience, brainstorm how the research focus or techniques connect to the experience immediately before and after it. Drawing these small connections may help you to develop a bigger picture about your research interests and goals.
– Consider the broader applications of each research project to society, culture, or health. While the research approaches may be different, their implications could connect together. This may be particularly useful in the sciences, as many diseases are the product of multiple biological issues. As an example, you may have worked on several brain areas or molecular pathways, but all may be disrupted in a disorder like schizophrenia. Even though understanding schizophrenia is not the major goal of the research, connecting your experiences to a certain theme may make your narrative more cohesive.
– For those that have dramatically changed disciplines, outline techniques or skills you have developed beyond the focus of your research. These could include opportunities to teach or present your research, draft manuscripts or poster outlines, or collaborate with academics on your research. Many of these practices are central to academic research across disciplines and highlighting your enthusiasm for them could help to connect research experiences that cannot be related.
Making these connections across your research opportunities may take some time and thought. However, taking extra steps to outline your research trajectory will help to illustrate your career interests and goals to a funder.