Research Application Essay Sample

Guidelines for Writing your Research Application Essay

Essays should be a maximum of 1,250 words and a maximum of four pages.  Do not exceed either 1,250 words or four pages.  Essays should be double-spaced, in 12-point font or equivalent size with standard margins. In-text citations are not included in the word limit, but are included in the page limit. You may include one additional page for references, images, or figures, if applicable; this one additional page of supplementary material is not included in the word limit or page limit.

The following are guidelines for writing your Research Scholarship application essay. These ideas will help you to think about how to structure your essay and what to include in it. They are not meant to be step-by-step instructions, nor are they given in any particular order of importance. If there is anything unusual about your timeline, project, or circumstances, please talk about this as well. In addition to reviewing these tips, you may wish to attend an information session before writing your essay.

Write your essay in your own voice

It is very important that reviewers get a sense of your passion and understanding for your project. Do not cut and paste from papers or other proposals – it will be obvious to reviewers if you do and it will not convey your own understanding of your research. Write clearly and in your own voice describing your project and its relationship to research in your field of study.

Balance your essay

Be sure to talk about the project itself as well as the educational benefits of the research. As you are writing the personal side of the essay it may help in your draft to tell the story of your motivations for getting involved. But in your final essay, pull out only those points that are relevant to your current experience.

Be specific about your role in the research

It is important that reviewers learn how you are contributing to the research, particularly if you have a role in a larger, ongoing project.

Describe how your faculty mentor guides/supports your growth and learning

If your research is of your own design, be sure to include how your faculty mentor helps you to make progress in your work. How does your mentor guide you so that you gain the perspective of the larger project as you contribute your work to it?

Describe how your research fits into a bigger picture

Include enough detail to convey your knowledge of the topic and so that reviewers can imagine what you are doing. Reviewers will be from a variety of fields, so it is best to address your essay to an intelligent non-expert. Define field-specific terminology and be sure to give the big picture of your research area. It will also be important to include enough detail that someone in your discipline will have confidence that you understand the field in which you are working well enough to be able to contribute to the project in a meaningful way.

Show your enthusiasm and commitment to the work

Your essay should convey an interest and commitment to the research. Awards cover either a six or nine month period – be sure that your essay provides evidence that you will stick with the project for that period of time, and that the project has enough depth to keep you engaged during that period. Reviewers will find your interest or passion in the research compelling, so find a way to convey that in your essay.

Talk about the impact of the research experience on your education, and describe any challenges to your participation in research

One of the goals of the Mary Gates Endowment is to invest in scholarships that help students to achieve their educational goals. Your essay should describe how the research will help you to further your own goals, and how it may help you address any difficulties you face in achieving those goals.

Properly cite the figures, graphs and/or images that you refer to in your essay

If you refer to a figure, graph or image in your essay that is not your own, be sure to credit the source. Essays with figures, graphs or images lacking proper citations will be marked down by reviewers. Information on proper citation format can be found at:

UW Libraries Citations Guide
Odegard Writing Research Center Resources

Please refrain from citing excessive sources not relevant to your project.

Ask your faculty research mentor and someone who is not involved with the research to review your essay

Your mentor will provide you the best feedback on your essay’s representation of the research you are doing and how it fits into a larger framework. Someone else – a peer, another instructor, or adviser – will be able to tell you if your essay is clear to an intelligent non-expert, and if you have conveyed a sense of enthusiasm and commitment for the work you describe. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to get feedback from these key people before submitting your application.

Additional Information for Previous Awardees

We expect that previous awardees have a deeper than average understanding of their research, are working at a high level, and can clearly articulate previous accomplishments as well as opportunities for new learning and achievements during a second award period.  We also expect a strong connection between the research and a student’s longer-term goals.

Acknowledge your prior award and cite the major learning goals and/or accomplishments you achieved under that award

Reviewers will want to know what you have already accomplished, as well as your plans for the new award period.

Describe what challenges you currently face, and how this new award will help you to take the next steps in your education

Be sure to describe your role in the research, and how it may have changed since your prior award. What new challenges do you need to overcome to take your work to a higher level? Will you be taking on additional responsibilities? If you are starting a whole new project and/or working with a new mentor, you may want to address the reason for the change, how the new experience will provide new opportunity for learning, and how your new mentor will contribute to that learning.

Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:

  • First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
  • Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.

Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest

Overview of Short Essay Samples

Geological Sciences Samples

In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.

Geography Student Sample

The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.

Materials Sciences Student Sample

For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.

Teach for America Student Sample

The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.

Neuroscience Student Sample

The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.

Medieval Literature Student Sample

This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.

Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample

The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.

Online Education Student Sample

Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.

Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample

This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field.  Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.

Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.

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