How to write a research statement for scholarship application

research statement is a short statement that provides a brief description of your past research experience, the current state of your research, and the plan.

Sample 1

Research Statement

Annika M. Mueller

Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University

I am a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the IQSS at Harvard University with an interest in contributing to a deeper understanding of individual decision-making. Human behavior is often characterized by deviations from perfect rationality and influenced by numerous factors that cloud the researcher’s view of underlying causalities. I employ field, lab, and lab-in-the-field experiments, develop survey tools and analyze large panel data sets to better understand economic decision-making and its psychological underpinnings, generating insights to inform theory as well as real-world decision-makers in the areas of public policy and management.

The majority of my current research applies to field and lab-in-the-field experiments to test insights from classical and behavioral economics in the contexts of economic development (Sub-Saharan Africa) and the design of innovation contests (USA/internationally).

This research statement is organized as follows: The first section discusses my work in the area of development economics/public policy, with a focus on my dissertation papers. The second section discusses my work in the area of contests/management from my postdoctoral work. Both sections include plans for future research in the respective areas.

Experiments in the Area of Development Economics

Current Work:

The two chapters of my dissertation, which together form the basis of my first job market paper, are derived from a series of experiments in Malawi designed to investigate social norms:
The first chapter of my dissertation explores the role of culture as a co-determinant of economic growth by investigating the prevalence of six widely discussed norms of distributive justice in poor, rural communities of Malawi. I do this using a lab-in-the-field experiment in the form of a one-shot two-person dictator game with a production phase. More precisely, subjects had the option of generating social surplus through sorting beans. The social surplus generated by two matched players would then be shared by the dictator, who would be randomly determined among them after the sorting decisions had been carried out by the participants. Alternatively, subjects had the choice to return all or part of the unsorted beans for money that would not go into the common pot but were theirs for certain. Subjects faced different rates of return for sorting, had different amounts of beans available for sorting as a proxy for differing opportunities to exert effort, and faced random income shocks in some treatments after carrying out their sorting decisions.

I find that decisions are guided by self-interest balanced with a multiplicity of norms. Interestingly, and despite a large influence of strict egalitarianism on sharing behavior, subjects in my sample react as intuitively expected to all experimental variations. Specifically, subjects reward their own and others’ efforts, take relative rates of return into account, and compensate themselves and others for income shocks and limited opportunities to exert effort.

The knowledge gained contributes to the debate on culture as a determinant of economic growth in important ways. Arguably, the link between norms of distributive justice and redistributive outcomes is closer in environments with a relative lack of formal institutions. Therefore, in such environments, norms set incentives for effort-based production more instantly, co-determining whether and which productive activities are encouraged in society. In this context, egalitarian norms have often been pointed out to inhibit the emergence of entrepreneurial activity in rural areas of developing countries. Despite the consequent importance of the relative prevalence of norms for rural development, previous evidence about sharing behavior in developing countries has generally not allowed for the distinction between various norms of distributive justice. Norms map a set of variables that can be identified in the real world, as well as in experimental settings, into an optimal distribution of effort-generated income. Thus, identifying underlying norms of distributive justice is of crucial importance for gaining a deeper understanding of the impact of cultural values on output, and ultimately development, since it allows for a better assessment of the generalizability/external validity of results. This chapter is an improvement over the current literature because studies that did focus on norms of distributive justice usually did not focus on effort-generated income; those that did tend to employ a design that lets subjects invest part of a windfall gain obtained in the course of the experiment, which is likely an unsatisfactory proxy for effort generated income. For the reasons outlined above, these may be serious omissions in the context of development.

Predicting the expected impact of values on behavior in the medium to long run remains difficult nevertheless, since sharing norms may not be independent of the current social environment of those who subscribe to them. Specifically, sharing norms may either be fully internalized or domain-specific to a particular informational environment, two options between which I discriminate in the second chapter of my dissertation. In this chapter, which together with the first chapter forms the basis of my first job market paper, I extend the experimental framework of the first chapter using imperfect information regarding the size of the pie and share taken by the dictator on the side of the receiver. The purpose is to investigate the origins of the high prevalence of equal sharing of effort-generated income that I found among the subjects of my first chapter, and, more generally, to understand how subjects balance their behavior between self-interest and norm-adherence if their degree of norm-adherence can no longer be fully judged by others.

I find that dictators act more selfishly under incomplete information, i.e. deviate further from the various norms of distributive justice in situations where their social image cannot be damaged by such action. This finding is significant for two reasons, which help us gain perspective on the findings of the first chapter: a) when norms are domain-specific to a particular informational environment, changes in community structures arguably lead to more abrupt changes in sharing behavior, and b) community structures are rapidly changing in the developing world (think, for example, internal migration, out-migration, and remittances, but also increased financial infrastructure such as the introduction of bank accounts).

The third chapter of my dissertation, which is co-authored with my colleagues at the University of Michigan, the IPA, and the World Bank, draws lessons from a randomized field experiment in rural Malawi that temporarily increased access to markets for previously isolated areas through regular subsidized transport. The cost of being isolated is a growing subject of research in development economics. Rural road investments have been pointed out to be critical for households to overcome spatial poverty traps. Over the past decades, many such investments in Sub-Saharan Africa seem to have been built on donors’ and governments’ assumption that the provision of roads that are passable for motorized vehicles will automatically lead to market provision of such transport and thus, poverty reduction and income generation. There is, however, a lack of rigorous evidence on these assumptions; namely the lack of randomized field studies evaluating the profitability of routes.

The randomized experiment summarized in this paper is the first of this kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and illustrates that improving the condition of roads does not necessarily generate transport provision at an affordable price for villagers. In other words, based on take-up, this experiment demonstrates that a bus provider cannot, at any price, break even on these routes. This result is strengthened by the fact that subsidized transport was provided regularly over sixth months. This contrasts sharply with an often encountered situation in real life in which a bus provider often does not possess the required funds to scout out a new area for more than a few days. Potential customers cannot predict the supply of transport well in such a case and hence (depending on the specifics of the area and its population), observed demand during such a scouting period may seem lower than actual demand would be if the regular supply of transport was available, leading the bus provider to underestimate potential demand for transport service and not provide services to potentially profitable routes. Given that in our study a regular bus schedule was communicated to all potential customers and this schedule was honored by the transport provider, we can conclude that in our case true demand was revealed and yet a bus provider cannot make a profit on these routes.

This explains why many rural roads in relatively good condition are currently not being used by motorized vehicles and has important public policy implications. It helps policymakers design solutions that increase access to markets through a) an increased understanding of why, despite massive investments in infrastructure, the expected outcomes on access to markets have often not materialized, and hence, b) an increased understanding of which data to collect to be able to assess whether rural road investments may crowd out investments in other sectors that may have a greater impact on economic and social development.

Future work:

A related paper I am currently working on with my co-authors is based on the same field experiment and looks at the income, health, and time-allocation effects of the transport subsidy (including spillover effects) over six months.  

I view all of the above-mentioned papers as works in progress that I intend to complete and submit for publication within the next eight months, and that may lead to further related projects. I have been to Malawi for a total of 1.5 years and have access to a large logistical network. I intend to harness this research capital, as well as my contacts with government officials and villagers, during the next years of my career for several additional projects.
Specifically, I intend to conduct another lab-in-the-field experiment in Malawi in Spring 2013 in which I look at how stable spiteful preferences are and am also currently going through the IRB approval process for a methods paper for which the idea stems out of my experiences during the piloting.

Experiments in the Area of the Economics of Contests

Current work:

Two papers coming out of my first year at the Harvard-NASA tournament lab deal with creative workers in an open crowdsourcing contest setting. The first, which is also my second job market paper, is a field experiment that investigates the impact of various levels and combinations of cash, job market signaling, and peer signaling incentives on the participation, effort, and performance of creative workers in a real innovation tournament on an open crowdsourcing platform. Over the last decade, there has been an increased focus on the optimal application and academic study of non-monetary incentives, including signaling. But while contests feature a multitude of such incentives, no prior field experiment, to our knowledge, has disentangled the effects of signaling (in the form of the revelation of the rank-order of contestants) from monetary incentives on the composition of entrants in public contests.

Theoretically, the outcome of a tournament can reveal information about the abilities of the entrants. This revelation can bring status and prestige to the winners (e.g. in the case of the X-Prize) and thus act as a reward. However, for entrants who do poorly the revelation can be damaging. In effect, publicizing the tournament outcome creates a personalized entry
fees for entrants so that those with lower ability opt-out. All in all, our model shows that the ability-dependent incentives created by the public nature of some tournaments imply that entrants in such tournaments will be more able and exert more effort than those in an equivalent private tournament.

We test the implications of the theoretical model with data from a field experiment that features a real-world, non-trivial, prestigious innovation task by randomizing coders across contests that differ only concerning incentives offered. Specifically, we offer various combinations of three types of prizes on two levels: high and low cash prizes, public announcement of the results to their peers or not, and an optional announcement of results to potential employers in some treatments.

All participants were part of the Top Coder community of programmers and competed over 4 days to produce the highest performing algorithm to solve an abstract computer science problem. Cash prizes were offered for the top five solutions in each treatment cell, totaling $500 and $1500 in the low and high cash treatments, respectively. The results were made public in the public announcement treatment by publishing a “glory page” on the Top Coder website listing the rank-order results of the top five participants in the respective treatment cells. The winners in the optional job market signal treatment were offered a reference letter including their rank order in the tournament that could optionally be sent to Google and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory recruitment headquarters. Both organizations participated in organizing the tournament and are popular potential employers for members of the Top Coder community.

Our data include a high-quality objective skill measure which enables us to understand how individuals of different skill levels react to different incentive mixes. In addition, survey data allows us to investigate how effects differ for people driven by different self-reported motives for participation. Our results are supportive of the theoretical implications. Publically announcing results increases participation by high-ability entrants by about 30% over when there is no announcement. We can also verify our hypotheses regarding signaling and the opting-out of low-ability entrants and identify situations in which cash as an additional incentive can be used to compensate such entrants for the expected cost of sending a negative signal about their ability. Given that tournaments are a historically important and increasingly popular mechanism to elicit innovation; our findings highlight a low-cost mechanism by which to control entry.

The second paper looks into the sorting and participation dynamics of differently motivated software developers in different types of contests on an open crowdsourcing platform over three years. To examine these dynamics we have put together an extensive panel data set on contest characteristics/incentives and participation information, coders’ motives for participation at the time of joining, current motives, and information about why these have changed from when they joined the platform (if they did). One feature of the data that is particularly novel is that the classification of contests regarding subjective incentives (such as the status gained from winning a particular contest) that we use stems from a meta-contest we launched among platform members for this purpose. This feature allows us to explicitly consider a multitude of non-pecuniary besides pecuniary motives and incentives for driving observed behavior.

We confirm that observed behaviors are consistent with an evolution of motives. Consistent with there being a “life cycle” of non-monetary motives, we observe sorting patterns that initially intensify following early work motives and eventually wane. In many cases, workers eventually stop participating. This study is significant for multiple reasons. Despite wide recognition in the (open source) innovation literature that the appeal of non-pecuniary incentives appears to be especially conspicuous for creative workers, model-based analyses and considerations of institutional designs that focus on individuals’ motives are static. Additionally, compared to literature in other fields on dynamics similar to the ones we consider (about individuals’ career paths), we have a relative wealth of data on non-pecuniary motives and incentives, as well as on how they evolve. Our findings highlight that institutions designed to harness non-monetary motivates may need to carefully contend with the possibility of muted incentives or accelerated attrition; “staging” or life cycles might therefore be inherent factors in managing crowdsourcing platforms.

Future work:

I have two other works in progress. The first is a lab experiment on a modified trust game that partially untangles the multitude of facets of trusting behavior as measured in a traditional trust game. The second is a project with colleagues from the Peking University HSBC Business School on a follow-up study to their paper on gender signaling in all-pay auction experiments.

There are also plans with my co-authors at Harvard and LBS to collaborate on future projects. One question which particularly interests us is the so-called “alliance formation puzzle” in contests, which we hope to investigate using a field experiment.

To summarize, at this point in my career, my primary interests are in experimental economics applied to the field of economic development and management. I have pursued these interests to date by conducting field experiments in two very different contexts, and lab-in-the-field experiments on social norms. In the immediate future, I would like to go further with lab and lab-in-the-field experiments in the realm of social norms. In the long term, I see myself working on expanding my expertise in these areas through a mixture of experimental and empirical work.

 

 

Sample 2

Statement of Research Interest

Shah Asaduzzaman

Research Area and Approach

My primary research interest is in the area of networks and distributed computing systems. New generations of networked computing systems, aided by the global presence of the Internet infrastructure, are playing an increasingly important role in society. Such increasing reach is making the demand for robust operation of such systems more stringent than ever. Failures or anomalies in these systems can now have enormous costs and serious consequences on our society. On the other hand, the dramatic increase in heterogeneity of networked devices such as handhelds and embedded computers is making the building of integrated information systems ever more challenging.

Investigating the principles underlying the design and implementation of such robust and
pervasive networked computing systems are the general goal of my research. How to build a
a reliable system using unreliable components and how local algorithms based on local knowledge can derive globally emergent system characteristics such as reliability, availability, efficient resource utilization, and quality assurance, are the central questions that drive most of my research activities. Because real-world systems are complex, answering these questions requires careful design and implementation that attends to the details of the real scenario. I also use theoretical analysis and simulation that allows exploration of design parameters in wider ranges and isolation and helps to understand the impact of each parameter on the observed behavior of the system.

Current and Past Research

Postdoctoral Research

My general research agenda as a postdoctoral fellow is to investigate ways to construct of efficient and robust peer-to-peer overlay networks for various applications including video streaming, distributed services, and location-based search. Part of my postdoctoral research is funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from Fonds Quebecoise de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies (FQRNT).

In one of the projects, I investigated the ways to seamlessly integrate the server and peer-to-peer resources in internet-based video streaming platforms. As part of this project, I have devised a clustered peer-to-peer overlay that efficiently carries the bulk content among server nodes in wide area deployment and at the same time creates a robust delivery network among locally available peer-to-peer resources. The proposed architecture and its evaluation have been presented in papers C2 and J1.

In another project, I have extended the idea of clustered overlays to design an adaptive and efficient overlay for a fully decentralized platform for location-based search. This extends the previously designed distributed indexing schemes for geographic databases. The new design allows autonomous management of local information and self-organized growth and retraction of the overlay network, without the presence of any special coordinating entities. The details are presented in the technical report C8. Currently, I am working on generalizing the search infrastructure for metric space data.

Based on my recent understanding of clustered overlays and their application in location-based routing, I have investigated how off-the-shelf geographic coordinates of peers can be utilized to create efficient routing overlays. The results and arguments in favor of this concept are presented in articles C1 and C9.

In another direction, I am investigating the mechanisms to provide access control in the cloud-based content sharing platforms, like Amazon S3, Google docs, or YouTube, without trusting the cloud service provider as the gatekeeper. Recent works suggest that the use of cryptography may provide an elegant way of access control in such untrusted environments. The research goal here is to devise a complete set of protocols that serve as an efficient mechanism for enforcing flexible access control policies in a decentralized manner in absence of a trusted centralized entity.

Ph.D. Thesis

In my Ph.D. thesis, I introduced a new bi-modal architecture for a geographically distributed and cost-effective service hosting platform. Hosting platforms based on dedicated resources,
although able to provide controlled performance, lacks scalability in case of highly variable user demands. Peer-to-peer platforms on the other hand self scale with user demand by utilizing public resources, but are unable to provide any performance guarantee for the applications. The proposed architecture utilizes a combination of statically provisioned dedicated resources and widely available opportunistic public resources to provide quality assured services. The core idea
is that through dynamic management of a combination of these two classes of resources, one can gain from the scalability of the public resources and achieve assured quality services by masking their unreliable behavior with the controlled performance of the dedicated resources. The project was partially funded by JW McConnell Doctoral Fellowship from McGill University.

I explored the combination of two different platforms and applications. In the first case a A combination of a dedicated cluster of computers and idle capacities of user computers have been exploited to build a platform to serve compute-intensive applications with response time guarantees. The proposed resource management policies for this platform have been presented in conference articles C6, C7, C10, and journal articles J2, and J3. In the other case, a platform with a geographically distributed collection of compute servers inter-connected with a combination of private dedicated links and best-effort links over the Internet have been utilized to serve distributed stream processing applications that require simultaneous allocation of computing and communication resources. Evaluation of the resource allocation policies of this stream processing platform has been presented in conference papers C2, C4 and in the journal paper J5. In both cases, I have observed that by designing appropriate resource management policies, the combination can be utilized to increase the overall resource utilization and throughput of the system as well as to increase client satisfaction in terms of fulfillment of the service agreements.

Future Research Directions

I envision my future research to span across some interrelated sub-areas of networked and distributed computing systems. The unifying theme of the research will be the construction of efficient and robust distributed computing platforms with self-organized autonomous entities. In continuation of my current focus on peer-to-peer organization of distributed systems, my near-term plan is to work on the research issues that include the following –
• Peer-to-peer networking platforms for service hosting, with emphasis on routing locality
• Real-time message routing in peer-to-peer networks for games and virtual environments
• Exploiting social acquaintances for content routing in peer-to-peer content-sharing networks
• Privacy and access control in social networks
On another track, extending my Ph.D. research in resource management in distributed systems,

I have a plan to work on.

• Energy-efficient task scheduling in cluster/cloud computing platforms

• Discovery and composition tools for web services

• Distributed stream processing for sensor networks

Additionally, I have interested to work in the area that studies the structure and dynamics of large-scale networks in general, ranging from the transport network to social interaction networks and biological signal networks. The main motivation here is to reveal the underlying properties of these self-organizing networks and exploit them for improved performance, reliability, and security of the evolving and self-organizing networked computing systems