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PhD Cover Letter: PhD Application Example in the UK

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It’s not important whether you are trying to keep your student discounts long into your 30s or answer some questions nobody could in the history of humanity. It can all be achieved with a properly crafted PhD application. 

The places are very limited, and there are dozens of equally good candidates. This guide about PhD cover letter will focus on some important steps that you need to think about when crafting the letter.

The first thing you ought to do is check the requirements of the institution that you’re applying to, firstly to make sure they require a cover letter, and secondly to see what sections they’d like you to cover. They differ from school to school, course to course.

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Below, you'll find a tailored PhD cover letter example:

PhD Cover Letter Example

Mohammed Whittaker

97 Castledore Road



[email protected]

Dean of Philosophy

Nottingham Trent University

50 Shakespeare Street

June 1, 2021

RE: PhD Philosophy and Public Policy Programme

As an MA Philosophy Distinction graduate from UCL with a narrow focus on the Right to Privacy and the way surveillance, crime prevention and other governmental acts violate it, I am excited to apply to a PhD Philosophy and Public Policy programme at an institution so focused on evaluating global surveillance policy and influencing real, positive change. 

I completed my MA writing on the philosophical and moral basis of modern human rights, with a focus on the right to privacy in the digital world to assert whether the Declaration of Human Rights and other conventions could be being violated by national internet privacy laws such as the Investigatory Powers Act. During this time, I also worked as a Teaching Assistant, which allowed me constant feedback from the new generation of philosophers on these themes, which really helped guiding the process when I was selected to assist on interdisciplinary research with Sociology and Psychology colleagues:  ‘I Have Nothing To Hide: Understanding and Perceptions of Privacy, Rights to Privacy, and Surveillance in the UK’.  Having surveyed a sample of 3,800 subjects, we probed how strong innate feelings of rights are, and how easily apathy towards pursuing one’s rights can be affected by highlighting violations and abuses against the subjects. The results of the study are due to be published in the Journal of British Philosophy.

I am especially interested in the Evidence and Policy part of the course, as I am a firm believer that not only do certain regulations violate our human rights, they do not bring about the outcome that is touted as the justification for them. I am conscious of my need to expand my skill set and approach in the light of my ambition to advocate and advise non-governmental and governmental bodies on necessary concessions and compromises. 

When dealing with issues of global technology, it seems like the law and public policy are always playing catch-up. However, an approach based on classic philosophical themes seems to suggest that these measures are misguided and harmful to all. During my PhD study, I would like to stop focusing on the past and theory, and further explore the possible practical consequences of a world without privacy which we seem to be sliding towards, drawing on the body of knowledge in behavioural sciences My previous publications spanned from the root of the rights discussed, through their applications to modern situations, to analysis of the moral and rational shortcomings and violations. By delving into the exploration of possible behavioural consequences, which will no doubt have deep imprints on the future of mankind, I believe this publication will become a comprehensive treatise on the subject.

In the future, I hope there will be a government interested in listening to these concerns, but until then, there are a number of non-governmental organisations working to make a change, as well as some legal challenges that could use the assistance of an extensive authority on the subject. By allowing me to study the possible future consequences of this line of public policy, we will be able to better influence the imagination of future decision makers, as well as all citizens.

I invite you to find the publications listed in my CV and see the strong base, committed continuity and passion I devoted to the subject so far. I would love to discuss any finer or broad points with you.

Best Regards,

For sure you have already written your academic CV . Now you'll see how to write a top-of-the-class PhD cover letter. Follow these cover letter tips and craft your own, step by step.

1. Begin your PhD cover letter with a professional header and salutation

What to include in your cover letter for PhD ? Let's start from the beginning. Most likely you will be applying through an automated system and pasting this cover letter into a box, but if not, compose the header like in any other business letter: 

  • Right-align your contact details (including email and phone)
  • Left-align your hiring manager’s details
  • Put down the date
  • State the subject of your PhD cover letter

If possible, try to address the cover letter directly to the person dealing with it. In this profession, surname may be better than first name, initially. Reference against this PhD cover letter example:

PhD cover letter example—header

Professor John Smith

Dear Professor Smith,

You can adjust every cover letter created in the builder to meet the job requirements. Choose the name of your profession and the company to which you’re applying, and the builder will automatically adapt the content for you. Create a cover letter faster than you ever thought possible and apply for the job in record time.

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2. Open the PhD cover letter with your motivation

Open your cover letter by stating clearly what position you are applying to and why. Quickly summarise your academic qualifications up to now, and show that you know exactly why you’re applying here, and not somewhere else. 

Show how your path has naturally led you here, and you will be off to a winning start.

PhD cover letter example—opening paragraph

As an MA Philosophy Distinction graduate from UCL with a narrow focus on the Right to Privacy and the way surveillance, crime prevention and other governmental acts violate it, I am excited to apply to a PhD Philosophy and Public Policy programme at an institution so focused on evaluating global surveillance policy and influencing real, positive change.

3. State your academic interests and background in your PhD cover letter example

Here is the space to evaluate more on the educational path that has led you here, and to set the stage for showing your Master’s education segues perfectly into this next step. Show how your findings situate themselves in the body of knowledge on the subject.

Highlight what is original about your thesis or approach, and how it expands the body of knowledge on the subject. Mention any other publications that supplement your thesis, even the ones that are planned or due to be published. 

PhD cover letter example—academic background

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4. Explain the areas of interest in the PhD programme

Highlight your specific interests within the course programme and how they relate to you developing your research further. This will show you have done in-depth research into the course programme and chosen wisely.

PhD cover letter example—programme interest

I am especially interested in the Evidence and Policy part of the course, as I am a firm believer that not only do certain regulations violate our human rights, they do not bring about the outcome that is touted as the justification for them. I am conscious of my need to expand my skill set and approach in the light of my ambition to advocate and advise non-governmental and governmental bodies on necessary concessions and compromises.

5. Show research / thesis aspirations in your PhD cover letter

It’s time to start tying up all the ends and showing how your previous background and research, combined with the teaching you will receive on this programme, and your own efforts, will combine to spawn something new, novel, and useful to the discipline.

Balance your track record with your future plans, and try to be specific about what you expect to get from your research. Make sure it is realistic, as well as interesting.

PhD cover letter example—research goals

6. prove your professional aspirations and close your cover letter for phd.

If you have specific professional plans, highlight them and how your PhD will allow you to pursue them. Once again, be realistic, but bold. 

Once you are done rounding out your professional aspirations, close your cover letter out with a call to action—a request for some attention to your previous work, and perhaps a more in-depth discussion of how you imagine it. 

PhD cover letter example—closing

6. format your phd cover letter properly.

An PhD cover letter is one of the documents you'll submit as part of a PhD application, and most likely you want to sound professional and mature. Clear formatting lays at the core of a professionally-written document. Follow these tips for a well-formatted cover letter :

PhD cover letter length

Consult your university resources for the length and type of the cover letter they expect. Sometimes, there is no cover letter required.

Use the CV format

Your PhD CV and cover letter must have the same style. They are two parts of one document. You won’t be allowed to continue your research if you can’t continue an application neatly.

Use an elegant font

Choose a font size between 10 and 12 . Pick a readable, but elegant font that matches your CV font —think Arial, Calibri, Noto, Garamond.

Use even margins and white space

Pick a simple cover letter template without fancy graphics. Use white space between sections and paragraphs to guide the reader’s eyes. Center your PhD cover letter on all sides using even, 1-inch margins. If your university has a word limit for cover letters and you are running out of space, consider pulling out some bullet points.

Target each PhD cover letter

Tailoring your PhD cover letter is key . This should go without saying. There will be only a few places where you can reasonably apply, and you ought to find out as much as you can about all of them before you even start writing the first cover letter for PhD.

A cover letter alone simply won’t be enough—you need an impactful CV, too. Create your CV in minutes. Choose a professional CV template and quickly fill in every CV section using ready-made content and expert advice.

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Does this answer how to write a cover letter for PhD application? Got any more questions on what to include? Did you find the PhD cover letter example helpful? Let us know in a comment!

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Our editorial team has reviewed this article for compliance with Livecareer’s editorial guidelines . It’s to ensure that our expert advice and recommendations are consistent across all our career guides and align with current CV and cover letter writing standards and trends. We’re trusted by over 10 million job seekers, supporting them on their way to finding their dream job. Each article is preceded by research and scrutiny to ensure our content responds to current market trends and demand.

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Since 2005, the LiveCareer Team has been helping job seekers advance their careers. In our in-depth guides, we share insider tips and the most effective CV and cover letter writing techniques so that you can beat recruiters in the hiring game and land your next job fast. Also, make sure to check out our state-of-the-art CV and cover letter builder—professional, intuitive, and fully in line with modern HR standards. Trusted by 10 million users worldwide.

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Cover Letter for PhD Application: Guide for Writing One & Example From a Real PhD Student

  • Klara Cervenanska , 
  • Updated March 27, 2023 9 min read

When applying for a PhD research position, you usually need to submit certain documents, including an academic CV and a cover letter for PhD application .

A PhD cover letter, also referred to as an academic cover letter, should be carefully crafted, well-formatted, and contain specific sections.

We'll show you how to do exactly that, along with a sample of an academic cover letter from a real person admitted to a PhD program at Lyon University in France.

And if you're not sure how to go about writing your PhD CV, check out this article: CV for PhD Application: How to Write One Like a True Scholar (+CV Example) .

Table of Contents

Click on a section to skip

What is an academic cover letter?

What to include in a cover letter for phd application, how to write a cover letter for phd application, how to format an academic cover letter, phd cover letter sample.

An academic cover letter is a document that PhD candidates submit alongside their academic CV when applying for a PhD. 

Essentially, it's a cover letter for a PhD application.

It's not exactly the same as your regular business cover letter. Nor is it the same as a personal statement or a motivation letter .

The purpose of a cover letter for PhD application is to explain to the reader, who's likely a researcher or a professor, what you can contribute to their institution and/or field.

Moreover, in a PhD application cover letter, you should explain why you're a good match for the research position on the program.

Differences between academic cover letter and business cover letter

Both these documents serve different purposes and people use them in different settings:

  • Academic cover letter is used when applying for positions in academia — most often for a PhD. More emphasis should be on education, research background and scholarly accomplishments. Moreover, it should explain what your contribution to the institution or field could be. It should also point the reader to your academic CV.
  • Regular (business) cover letter is normally used when applying for any kind of job . Hence, more emphasis should be on skills and past experience while being tailored to a specific job position. You should also explain why you're a good fit for the position at the given company. It should point the reader to your resume.

There are also other documents people often mistake for an academic cover letter. These include:

  • Motivation letter is especially relevant for fresh graduates when applying to a university, a non-profit organization, or voluntary work. A motivation letter focuses more on your interests and motives for applying.
  • Personal statement. Also used in an academic setting. It's always written by an applicant, often a prospective student, applying to college, university, or graduate school. You explain why you've chosen a particular course and why you'd be good at it. Other names include a statement of purpose or a letter of intent .

Like every cover letter, an academic one also needs to include specific elements and content sections. These are:

  • Header. Here, provide your contact information, such as your name, address, phone number, and email in the header of the document.
  • Formal salutation. In an official letter like this one, you should address the reader in a professional and formal way. If you know who'll be reading your cover letter, go with Dear Dr. [Surname] or Dear Professor [Surname] . If you don't, go with Dear Sir/Madam .
  • The specific PhD program or position. Clearly state in your letter which research position you're applying for or the name of the PhD program. A cover letter is usually read before a CV, so you need to make sure everything is clear.
  • Your motivation. Explain why you're interested in the specific PhD position — it's one of the key elements you should include.
  • Your academic background. Now, we don't mean you should list in detail every single university course you ever took. Instead, focus on the most relevant course for the PhD and describe in detail what you learned, any projects you worked on, why it was interesting (and optionally, what knowledge gap you identified). In this way, you also show a certain level of understanding of the field.
  • Your ambition. Briefly mention what your ambitions, intentions, and plans are regarding your contribution to the field when securing your PhD position. How is your research going to enrich the field? How will the institution benefit from it?
  • Conclusion. Keep the conclusion short. Contrary to a regular cover letter ending , there's no place for reiterating everything here. Simply thank the reader for your consideration and prompt them to read your academic CV.
  • Formal sign-off. Just pick from the usual: Sincerely, Respectfully, Regards... Then throw in your full name in the following line.

And that's all you need to include!

Now, let's take a look at how to write your cover letter step-by-step.

Applying for a PhD will be a lot less stressful if you follow these tips on how to write a cover letter for a research position:

Consider researching the background of the organization, department, ongoing research projects, and their past and current projects. All that before you start writing your cover letter. Knowing these things will help you tailor your letter to the specific PhD opening.

Before you actually start writing, try to sit down and take a moment to think first. Assess how your past experiences helped you prepare for the PhD position and scribble down those that are most relevant and significant for the specific program. These include any research experiences, research projects, courses, or internships.

In the first few sentences of your letter, you need to convey some basic information about yourself and what specific position you're applying for. The opening should also state firmly why you're a strong candidate for the position/program, by using a persuasive and convincing wording. Here's an example: "As an MChem Chemistry graduate with a narrow focus on the sustainable synthesis of biologically active molecules from the University of Dundee, I am excited to apply to a "Synthesis Of Small Molecule Inhibitors Using Enzymes" PhD programme at an institution with such a strong foundation and numerous research groups in this field."

This is the place where you may explore more extensively on the educational journey that brought you here. Set the foundation for demonstrating how your Master's degree and research experience seamlessly translate into the next phase — the PhD program. Emphasize how your thesis contributes to the field's body of knowledge. Mention any other publications that support your thesis. And, if you can, identify any knowledge gaps or topics that can be explored further.

This paragraph provides the opportunity to neatly tie in together everything the reader has learned about you so far. You can show how your previous experience, coupled with what you'll learn during the PhD program, will come together to produce something novel to enrich the field. First, identify the courses or topics within the PhD program that interest you the most and how they relate to you developing your research further. Second, introduce your future research aspirations and goals. Third, point out how this future work will enrich the field and what will the intellectual merit be.

When ending your PhD cover letter, briefly refer your reader to your academic CV and encourage them to examine all of the remaining projects, courses, publications, or references . Finally, thank the reader for their time and consideration and let them know you look forward to hearing from them. Sign off.

Put the letter in a drawer and don't think about it for a day or two. Then, when you read it again, you'll have a fresh pair of eyes to see the cover letter in a new light. Maybe you decide some things are redundant, or you think of something that's more relevant. Or you know, find a typo here and there.

Just like an academic cover letter needs to contain certain content components, the formatting should also align with the structural expectations for this type of document.

How long should a cover letter be? How to finish a cover letter? And what about the cover letter font and spacing?

Here's a recommended academic cover letter format:

  • Length. While STEM PhD candidates should aim for half a page to one page, humanities candidates can do 1–2 pages.
  • Font. Use one of the classics: Times New Roman, Calibri, or Arial. Just no Comic Sans, we beg you. Keep the size between 10–12 points. Also remember to keep the text clean — no underlining, no bolding, and no color. However, you can use italics if appropriate.
  • Spacing. Cover letter spacing isn't complicated. Just single-space your text, make sure there's a space between each paragraph, and leave a space between the concluding paragraph and your formal sign-off.
  • Margins. The only rule here is that the margins on your cover letter should match those on your CV.
  • Consistence with your CV. Your academic cover letter should match your academic CV in all formatting aspects — including the cover letter font and spacing. For example, Kickresume lets you choose a matching template for your CV and your cover letter, so no need to worry about this.

If the institution provided any instructions for formatting your academic cover letter, don’t get creative and follow their guidelines.

Finally, to help you tie everything we talked about together, here's a cover letter sample from a real person admitted to a PhD program at Lyon University in France.

These things ensured Herrera's cover letter was successful:

  • She clearly states her motivation in the opening. In the first two paragraphs, Herrera introduces herself and her motivation to apply for the given PhD program.
  • She describes educational and research background thoroughly. The main body of the letter is dedicated to describing Herrera's educational background, research projects, internships, and skills acquired throughout the way.
  • She presents research aspirations in the letter. Herrera writes: "I have a history of proven results and profound findings. Given opportunity, I’m confident in my abilities to earn similar ground-breaking results while being part of your team."

Even though this example lacks some of the key elements, such as mentioning the specific PhD program or identifying the topics within the PhD program that interest her the most, this PhD cover letter still managed to impress the University of Lyon.

Lyon University PhD Student Cover Letter Sample

Klara recently graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. After having written resumes for many of her fellow students, she got an opportunity to write full-time for Kickresume. Klara is our go-to person for all things related to student or 'no experience resumes'. At the same time, she has written some of the most popular resume advice articles on this blog. When she's not writing, you'll probably find her chasing dogs or people-watching while sipping on a cup of coffee.

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PhD Cover Letters

What Is a PhD Cover Letter?

What key points should i include within my phd application letter, tips to improve your phd application letter, example phd cover letter, final thoughts, phd cover letters.

Updated October 11, 2023

Edward Melett

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A PhD cover letter is an important part of your PhD application. Your cover letter (which may also be referred to as a motivational letter) focuses upon what makes you a great candidate and why you should be invited for interview.

This article will cover what a PhD cover letter is, when it would be used and how you can write a notable cover letter for your PhD application.

Your cover letter is your first opportunity to explain to the committee why you should be selected to study for your postgraduate doctorate. It not only demonstrates your personality, but it can also explain in your own words why the hiring panel should choose you as a PhD student.

Like most cover letters , your PhD application letter should complement, but not repeat, your CV. It should explain and expand on the details referenced within your CV or application form .

You should tailor the content to your chosen PhD topic – this will enable you to focus your specific expertise and academic achievements on your learning capabilities.

It should be noted that when it comes to submitting your application to study for a PhD, you may be required to submit a personal statement as well as a cover letter. Each university will have its own criteria, but note that a cover letter is different from a personal statement.

Your personal statement will focus upon your interests and your ambitions, whilst your PhD cover letter will be looking at your tangible achievements , such as your academic and professional experience.

If you are required to draft both statements, then try to keep this in mind during the writing process.

academic cover letter for phd application sample

There are no rules for what to include within your PhD cover letter but, broadly speaking, your submission should include references to the following:

Who you are – what your personality is and what sets you apart from other potential PhD candidates. Your cover letter should be a sales tool that should make any committee want to choose you to join their team.

Your skills and achievements (along with any evidence to substantiate your claims).

Your research into the specific academic institution (why you want to attend that specific school and what makes it a good fit for you).

Your understanding of your research project and what you believe its impact may be upon your sector (this will demonstrate not just your knowledge of the research but will showcase your passion and motivation for the project).

How your specific skills are relevant to the application. Have you undertaken any work experience relevant to that field? Have you been inspired by what previous alumni have achieved?

As with all applications, writing a great cover letter is a skill. It requires you to tread the balance between explaining in detail who you are and why you should be chosen, while remaining concise. It needs to showcase your personality while remaining professional.

It’s a difficult writing skill and one which shouldn’t be rushed. You should take your time to craft your application letter – the more time that is spent on it, the greater your chance of success.

A practical tip is to use the ‘top-down’ approach . This is a writing skill often used by marketers and PR professionals whereby you incorporate the strongest arguments/details at the top and work your way down.

You need to ensure that if a committee member stops reading your cover letter at any point, then they have already noted the most pressing details.

How Do I Write My PhD Cover Letter?

An easy way to focus your thoughts when writing your application letter is to consider it as a way of telling your story, at least in relation to the PhD you are applying for. By this, we mean that your letter should have a clear beginning, middle and end.

Using this format as a guide, here are some examples of how to start writing your PhD cover letter.

Starting Your Cover Letter

As with any form of professional correspondence, do your due diligence and be confident that you know who to send your application to.

As previously mentioned, each school will have its own application criteria – for some, it may need to be addressed to a specific professor, whilst others may direct you to a department or someone responsible for all recruitment.

Make sure you find out their name – along with correct spellings and titles. This is your first chance to make a good impression, so you must pay attention to the details.

Introducing Yourself

A good place to start is to introduce yourself first. Ask yourself, who are you and why should the committee continue to read your application letter?

This is your opportunity to explain what PhD you are applying for and why you want to study further. You may want to start your storytelling in this section.

For example:

I became interested in this subject when I met [name], who is one of your alumni. They inspired me to want to continue my learning and further my knowledge, which has been developed through my professional experience at [company name].

As you can see from this example, the letter is starting to explain why the candidate wants to apply for the application, what inspires them to continue their learning and gives a look into their achievements. The result is that it makes the reader want to continue reading the letter.

Showcasing Your Skills and Achievements

The middle section is where you talk about what you have achieved and how you want to further your development and make an impact on your field of study.

This section should refer to your CV and provide greater insights into what you already know and why you would be a great candidate for the PhD programme.

You could use this section to briefly introduce what topic you believe would make a great research project.

As you can see from my enclosed CV, I have an extensive professional history within my sector. From my experience at [company name], I was able to focus upon my key specialisms, which led me to develop an interest in [project]. I believe that, due to the ever-changing nature of the profession, there is scope to continue the research into [subject] and I’m keen to combine my practical and theoretical knowledge in my research. I believe this is of value to not just myself and my peers but also my wider profession because of [detail].

Again, this is demonstrating a level of professionalism while starting to showcase exactly why you should be chosen to join the PhD programme. It shows that you’re not just thinking of yourself, you’re also considering the wider implications that your research may have upon your field of study.

Ending Your Cover Letter

As you draw towards the end of your cover letter, you may wish to reiterate why you want to study at this specific institution. Showing you have researched the university’s research reputation can go a long way to impressing hiring panels.

It may be globally renowned, or perhaps it’s a good fit for your specific area of interest. Maybe there’s a specific professor you would like to work alongside or maybe you’ve seen the career advancement of previous alumni. If you have a personal reason why you are a good fit for the school, then state it here.

Additionally, we would also recommend explaining what you plan to do with your research upon its completion. Hiring panels will be keen to find out how you plan to use your expertise and what your long term ambitions are.

I am particularly interested in joining the PhD programme at [school] because of your reputation as global research leaders. Throughout my career, I have strived to work alongside the best because I believe in the importance of peer learning. I am keen to work alongside your distinguished professors to carry out my research in [subject]. I believe that I am the right fit for your institution because of [x,y,z] and through my correspondence with [named contact of the previous alumni], I am aware of the help and support that you provide to your PhD applicants. Following on from the completion of my doctorate, I plan to use my knowledge to do [x,y,z].

As you sign off your cover letter, make sure you include a call to action. Encourage the panel to get in touch with you to arrange a formal interview or direct them to your CV so that they can be reminded of your experience.

You need to end the letter with no doubt that you are a good fit for the PhD programme and that you are an ideal candidate that they need to snap up.

I hope that this letter has given you some insight into my dedication to my learning and that you will consider my application. I would like to draw your attention back to my CV which is enclosed with this letter, which demonstrates my professional and academic history. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

If you have addressed the letter to a named contact, use ‘Yours sincerely’. If you have been directed to address your letter to a general department, then formalities suggest that you should use the sign off ‘Yours faithfully’.

Keep it concise . Where possible, it shouldn’t exceed two pages of A4. They can find out more detail about who you are during the interview stage; this is merely to whet their appetite and excite them to want to find out more about you.

Don’t reiterate what has already been written on your CV . Instead, they want to know how the experience on your CV has made you a more rounded individual. How has it shaped your interest in your chosen study and what is compelling you to continue to further your learning?

Provide evidence . If you are highly regarded within your professional sector, then demonstrate this – are you involved in any sector groups or have you been recognised with any awards? The whole purpose of your potential research project is to provide evidentiary proof of your hypothesis so if you are going to make bold statements about your career history, then the first thing any PhD supervisor will want to know, is 'Where is the evidence?'.

Check for errors . Remember that your letter is a professional representation of who you are. Before submitting your PhD application, make sure that your cover letter is free from grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. It’s a sister document to your CV so try to ensure consistency between the two documents – use similar formatting, a professional font (Ariel or Calibri are good choices) and ensure that your margins are coherent.

academic cover letter for phd application sample

Below, is an example of a cover letter for your PhD application. We hope that it inspires you and helps you to understand more about what you should be including when it comes to writing your own letter.

Remember that this is an example only and your cover letter should be tailored to your circumstances.

Recipient Name Recipient Job Title Recipient Address Date Dear [name] Cover letter for application to join the PhD programme at [school]. I am writing to you to showcase my interest in continuing my academic study through the PhD programme in [subject] at [University]. I am keen to join the doctoral programme within your [department] because I believe that its rich history of academic research is a perfect match for my academic aptitude and my extensive career history. I’ve long been interested in [subject] and I recently met with [name], who is one of your alumni. They inspired me to take the leap and submit this application because I’ve long been interested in developing my knowledge honed through my professional experience at [company name]. I studied [subject] at [university] and throughout my academic history and work experience, I’ve developed a strong interest in the niche field of [topic]. My BA thesis was based upon [subject] and since completing my undergraduate studies, I’ve been able to put my theoretical knowledge into practice through my work at [company name]. As you can see from my enclosed CV, I’ve been able to hone my skills into key specialisms which have led me to develop an interest in [project]. I believe that there is scope to continue the research into [subject] due to the ever-changing nature of the profession and I’m keen to combine my practical and theoretical knowledge with my research. I believe this is of value to not just myself and my peers but also my wider profession, since it could help others to understand the importance of [subject]. I wish to continue my academic career by completing my doctorate, which has always been a long-term ambition of mine. I cannot imagine a better place to study than [university]. I have always been inspired by the achievements of this academic institution and I wish to work alongside your teaching staff to research my hypothesis which is [details]. In particular, I would like to work alongside Professor [name], who was highly regarded by our mutual acquaintance [alumni name]. With my theoretical knowledge and my professional expertise, I am confident that I can complete my chosen research project to a high standard. I am a dedicated hard worker and have long been regarded within my sector through my involvement with [professional bodies]. I have also been recognised along with my peers for our work through the achievements of many industry awards including [details]. Following on from the completion of my doctorate, I plan to use my knowledge to help educate fellow professionals, and thus improve awareness and understanding of our sector. I hope that this letter has given you some insight into my dedication to my learning and that you will consider my application. I would like to draw your attention back to my CV which is enclosed with this letter, which will demonstrate my professional and academic history. I look forward to hearing from you in due course. Yours sincerely, [Signature] [Name] Encl. Curriculum Vitae

This article has been designed to give you some insights into what to expect from your PhD application.

To read more about PhDs, we recommend that you read our postgraduate pages , which contain numerous articles about PhDs, MBAs and further study.

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Cover Letter Example For a PhD Application (2023)

Do you need to write a cover letter for a PhD position? Check out my example for a PhD job application!

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Cover Letter Example

For a PhD Application

[Julia McGill] [Number, Street Name] [Cambridge, MA 92872] [(123)-456-7890] [Email Address]

[October 12, 2022]

[Alex Spencer] [Recipient Job Title] [University] [Number, Street Name] [Cambridge, MA 83726]

Dear Mr. Spencer,

With reference to the subject areas listed on [ URL ] under section [‘ Degree Programs ’], I am writing to express my interest in the Computer Science program at the [ University ] starting in August 2023. I recently completed my bachelor’s degree with a specialization in Big Data Engineering, and this doctoral program is exactly what I seek to leverage my experience within the field of professional scientific research.

To shortly introduce myself, my name is [ Julia McGill ] and I am currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Amsterdam with an expected completion date of November 2023. After speaking with several of my professors, I am convinced to continue my research on [ subject ]. In my master thesis, I use [ Professor X ]’s research findings on [ subject ] and the prospect of working closely with such a reputable advisor allows me to discover more important findings. In addition, this doctoral program also supports my career goal to become a professor at a university or research institute.

I will graduate summa cum laude (4.0 GPA) with relevant coursework in software engineering, systems programming and operating systems. At university, I developed analytical skills and learnt how to deal with complex problems in a systematic way. During my internship as a research assistant at [ University ], I led a team of 10 undergraduate students for two projects in machine learning. We designed a new algorithm to increase run time by 25% and for more efficient logical problem solving in the future. I received recognition for my contribution and was awarded 1st place in the Engineering Design Competition.

I would like to draw your attention back to my enclosed recommendations and resume, which demonstrates my professional and academic history. If you need any additional information, you can reach me at [ Phone number ] or [ Email Address ]. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards, 

Julia McGill

academic cover letter for phd application sample

academic cover letter for phd application sample

  • Writing an Academic Cover Letter for a PhD Application
  • Applying to a PhD
  • The aim of an  academic cover letter  is to convince the supervisor that you are a strong candidate for the PhD position on offer.
  • Your cover letter should be  half a page to a full page  in length; it should be concise and to the point.
  • Your PhD cover letter should include your  personal details , the position you’re applying for, your  motivation  for applying, what you know about the project, what  relevant experience  you have and what makes you suited for the position.

The two documents crucial to get right when  applying to a PhD  are your CV and covering letter.

In this article, we’ll set out the core guidelines you should follow to create an effective academic cover letter.

What Is An Academic Cover Letter?

An academic cover letter is a written document that accompanies your CV and application form when applying for a PhD.

It’s different from a CV as instead of being a structured summary of your skills and experience, it is a summary of why you believe you are suited for a particular PhD programme. As a result, all academic covering letters should be tailored for the specific position you are applying for and addressed to the supervisor who is overseeing the project. They also shouldn’t repeat what is already stated in your CV, but rather expand on the details most related to the position you are applying to.

Note:  An academic cover letter is sometimes referred to as a PhD application letter, but never a motivation letter. The latter is different in that it concerns the reasons as to why you want to undertake research, while a cover letter focuses on demonstrating your suitability for a programme. This is an important distinction to note.

What Is the Purpose of An Academic Cover Letter?

The aim of an academic cover letter is to convince the PhD supervisor that you are the perfect candidate for the PhD project.

Academic cover letters should complement your CV and sell you as a person – will your potential supervisor be excited to work with you after having read your cover letter?

What Should I Include in My Academic Cover Letter?

You should demonstrate that you have the skills which make you suited for research. It is essential that you recognise these skills in you and that you use them to promote yourself.

1. Your Personal Details

Include your name, address, email address and phone number in the top right corner of the letter. This is so the supervisor can reach you should they have questions or require any further information.

2. The Position You’re Applying For

Help the supervisor establish exactly which PhD position you are applying for as there may be several positions being advertised at one time. If they provide a reference number as part of the project description, it would be a good idea to include it in brackets.

3. Why You’re Interested in The Position

Use this section to explain your motivations for applying to the specific PhD and where your research interests stem from. Is it related to the dissertation you produced as part of your final year undergraduate dissertation, etc?

Whatever your motivation for applying to the PhD, make sure that your enthusiasm comes across clearly. The supervisor will appreciate how great a role self-drive plays in completing PhD projects and you will want to convince them you have the level of drive required to be successful.

4. What You Understand About the Project

Besides explaining your motivations for undertaking the project, show that you possess a basic understanding of it. In doing so, make sure you reinforce each point with some level of evidence; avoid making general statements or talking loosely around the research subject. This will show the PhD supervisor that you’ve taken the time to research the background to the project.

5. What Relevant Experience You Have

In this section, briefly discuss your academic background and any relevant experience you have within the field of research. Don’t worry if you have little experience in this area as this will be the case for most applicants. If this the case, then use this section to explain how you will be committed to the PhD research project. If you have experience in conducting research, explain what your role was, the analytical methods you used and any other aspects of your work which may be relevant. Similarly, discuss any teaching experience if you happen to have it.

6. Closing Statement

Keep this short and concise. Thank the supervisor for taking the time to read your application and let them know that you’re looking forward to hearing from them.

How Long Should My Academic Cover Letter Be?

Your academic cover letter should be between half a page to one full page .

To keep it effective, make it as concise as possible and only discuss points which are either relevant to the project or the aspect of being a doctoral research student. This may feel difficult to do, especially if you have much you want to include, but keep in mind that your cover letter can also be used as evidence of your communication skills, more specifically, whether you can convey important information in a clear and logical manner. As this will be a key skill of any research candidate, the prospective supervisor will take it into account when evaluating your capabilities.

How to Format an Academic Cover Letter for A PhD Application

Your cover letter should be written in paragraph format, with bullet points only reserved for situations where a list would improve clarity. This is because a cover letter is one of the few places where you are expected to show your personality, so using too many bullet points will diminish your ability to do this. The best way to approach writing your application letter is to see it as a very short personal essay.

Use a common font like Times New Roman or Calibri, and if possible, avoid the use of highlighting, underlining and tables as they become too distracting. Keep your font size between 10 to 12 points and your margins to at least 0.5 inches around all edges. Try to match the font size, type, line spacing and margin size to your academic CV for neat and consistent presentation.

Your cover letter should be addressed to the PhD supervisor, starting with a “Dear [academic title] [surname]”, for example, “Dear Professor Williams”.

Hopefully, you now know what it takes to write a successful cover letter for a PhD application. While a strong cover letter will go a long way to helping you stand out, you will need to learn how to create an equally strong CV if you really want your application form to excel. To this effect, we recommend you next read our step-by-step guide for creating effective academic CVs .

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