Research Agendas

Research Agendas are not required by every school, but they make great practice for every grad student (as well as tenure-tracker!) because they help you think beyond the “I have to finish Chapter 2 of my diss” mentality that usually accompanies the year (preceding) going on the market. They also help you see the “bigger picture” of your research — how it adds to your field, and what directions you see if taking you in the future.

For job seekers, the research agenda is important because it is a document that many research-intensive schools will want to see as part of the application process. Basically, the reason they want this is because they want to know that you are a good enough researcher to get tenure at their research-intensive school. For some schools (think Big Ten, etc.), “resaerch-intensive” may mean that you are required to publish a book (sometimes two!) before going up for tenure in your sixth year there. Usually, but not always, your first book will be a modification of your dissertation, so they want to know how you plan on extending your research *beyond* your dissertation.

Schools that aren’t research-intensive rarely ask a job candidate for a research agenda, but it’s still a great document to prepare now because, likely, you’ll have to create one as part of your third-year review (at many kinds of schools, although probably not at teaching-intensive schools like community colleges). So start now.

This document may sound daunting, but it’s really just serving to tell the story about your area of interest. You can google “research agenda” and find lots of advice and examples. Most of them will be for academic careers in the sciences, such as this one. The advice is still mostly relevant, however, for humanities scholars, since the point is to show you know what you’re doing when it comes to research, and that you can hit the ground running once you are hired.

I found a great checklist of things to include in a research agenda (pdf) and how to write one on the University of Washington website. There are examples of research agendas in the humanities in the Academic Job Search Handbook, but I need to find my copy so I can bring them to our workshops! Aim for one to one-and-a-half pages, single-spaced, for this document (at least to start). Follow the Format and Content recommended in the linked PDF. It’s pretty spot-on, and includes a summary of your dissertation, which you need anyways.

Keep in mind that sometimes the Future Research (or, um, even the dissertation summary) will be a fiction. What I mean is that sometimes you may have to guess how your future research will play out — that’s not the same as lying, so don’t freak out. Use this as an opportunity to start thinking about yourself as a scholar BEYOND your time in grad school and writing the diss. Remember that this document isn’t a contract; think of it like a proposal to yourself. What do you want to work on next and how does that relate to your current work? Sometimes you will become the scholar you forecasted, and sometimes you will end up changing your focus to become something slightly different. Both are OK in terms of research agendas.

(Heck, I didn’t really know what kind of scholar I was, and couldn’t clearly articulate what my research agenda was until I was in my third year on the tenure track. This isn’t a great, or very organized, way of approaching your career, but sometimes it happens. And it’s OK. But it will also reflect your current ability to apply for certain kinds of jobs. We’ll talk more about that f2f.)