Academic Cover Letters
What is this handout about.
The long list of application materials required for many academic teaching jobs can be daunting. This handout will help you tackle one of the most important components: the cover letter or letter of interest. Here you will learn about writing and revising cover letters for academic teaching jobs in the United States of America.
What is an academic cover letter?
An academic cover letter describes your experiences and interest as a candidate for a specific position. It introduces you to the hiring committee and demonstrates how your academic background fits with the description of the position.
What do cover letters for academic teaching jobs typically contain?
At their most basic level, academic cover letters accomplish three things: one, they express your interest in the job; two, they provide a brief synopsis of your research and teaching; and three, they summarize your past experiences and achievements to illustrate your competence for the job. For early-career scholars, cover letters are typically no more than two pages (up to four pages for senior scholars). Occasionally, a third page may make sense for an early-career scholar if the application does not require a separate teaching statement and/or research statement. Digital versions of cover letters often contain hyperlinks to your CV or portfolio page. For some fields, cover letters may also include examples of your work, including music, popular articles, and other multimedia related to your research, service, or teaching available online. Typically, letters appear on departmental or university letterhead and include your signature. Above all, a strong cover letter presents your accomplishments and your familiarity with the institution and with the position.
How should I prepare to write my academic cover letter?
Like all writing, composing a cover letter is a process. The process may be as short as a few hours or as long as several weeks, but at the end the letter should present you as a strong candidate for the job. The following section has tips and questions for thinking through each stage of this writing process. You don’t need to answer all of these questions to write the letter; they are meant to help you brainstorm ideas.
Before you begin writing your cover letter, consider researching the institution, the department, and the student population. Incorporating all three aspects in your letter will help convey your interest in the position.
Get to know the institution. When crafting your cover letter, be aware of the type of institution to which you are applying. Knowing how the institution presents itself can help you tailor your letter and make it more specific.
- Where is the institution located?
- Is it on a quarter-system or semester-system?
- What type of institution is it? Is it an R1? Is it an R2? Is it a liberal arts college? Is it an HBCU? Is it a community college? A private high school?
- What is the institution’s culture? Is it teaching-focused or research-focused? Does it privilege experiential learning? Does it value faculty involvement outside the classroom? Is it affiliated with a specific religious tradition?
- Does it have any specific institutional commitments?
- How does the institution advocate for involvement in its local community?
- What are the professional development opportunities for new and junior faculty?
Learn about the department. Knowing the specific culture and needs of the department can help you reach your audience: the department members who will be reading your documents and vetting you as a candidate.
- Who is on the search committee? Who is the search committee chair?
- What is the official name of the department?
- Which different subfields make up the department?
- Is it a dual appointment or a position in a dual department?
- How does the department participate in specific types of student outreach?
- Does the department have graduate students? Does it offer a terminal Master’s degree, Ph.D., or both? How large are the cohorts? How are they funded?
- Does the department encourage or engage in interdisciplinary work?
- Does the majority of the department favor certain theoretical or methodological approaches?
- Does the department have partnerships with local institutions? If so, which ones?
- Is the department attempting to fill a specific vacancy, or is it an entirely new position?
- What are the typical course offerings in the department? Which courses might you be expected to teach? What courses might you be able to provide that are not currently available?
Consider the students. The search committee will often consider how you approach instructing and mentoring the student body. Sometimes committees will even reserve a position for a student or solicit student feedback on a candidate:
- What populations constitute the majority of the undergraduate population?
- Have there been any shifts in the student population recently?
- Do students largely come from in-state or out-of-state?
- Is there an international student population? If so, from which countries?
- Is the university recruiting students from traditionally underrepresented populations?
- Are students particularly active on campus? If so, how?
Many answers to these questions can be found both in the job description and on the institution’s website. If possible, consider contacting someone you know at the institution to ask about the culture directly. You can also use the institution’s course catalog, recruitment materials, alumni magazine, and other materials to get answers to these questions. The key is to understand the sort of institution to which you are applying, its immediate needs, and its future trajectory.
Remember, there is a resource that can help you with all three aspects—people. Reach out to your advisor, committee members, faculty mentors, and other contacts for insight into the prospective department’s culture and faculty. They might even help you revise your letter based on their expertise. Think of your job search as an opportunity to cultivate these relationships.
After you have done some initial research, think about how your experiences have prepared you for the job and identify the ones that seem the most relevant. Consider your previous research, internships, graduate teaching, and summer experiences. Here are some topics and questions to get you started thinking about what you might include.
Research Experiences. Consider how your research has prepared you for an academic career. Since the letter is a relatively short document, select examples of your research that really highlight who you are as a scholar, the direction you see your work going, and how your scholarship will contribute to the institution’s research community.
- What are your current research interests?
- What topics would you like to examine in the future?
- How have you pursued those research interests?
- Have you traveled for your research?
- Have you published any of your research? Have you presented it at a conference, symposium, or elsewhere?
- Have you worked or collaborated with scholars at different institutions on projects? If so, what did these collaborations produce?
- Have you made your research accessible to your local community?
- Have you received funding or merit-based fellowships for your research?
- What other research contributions have you made? This may include opinion articles, book chapters, or participating as a journal reviewer.
- How do your research interests relate to those of other faculty in the department or fill a gap?
Teaching Experience. Think about any teaching experience you may have. Perhaps you led recitations as a teaching assistant, taught your own course, or guest lectured. Pick a few experiences to discuss in your letter that demonstrate something about your teaching style or your interest in teaching.
- What courses are you interested in teaching for the department? What courses have you taught that discussed similar topics or themes?
- What new courses can you imagine offering the department that align with their aim and mission?
- Have you used specific strategies that were helpful in your instruction?
- What sort of resources do you typically use in the classroom?
- Do you have anecdotes that demonstrate your teaching style?
- What is your teaching philosophy?
- When have you successfully navigated a difficult concept or topic in the classroom, and what did you learn?
- What other opportunities could you provide to students?
Internships/Summer/Other Experiences. Brainstorm a list of any conferences, colloquiums, and workshops you have attended, as well as any ways you have served your department, university, or local community. This section will highlight how you participate in your university and scholarly community. Here are some examples of things you might discuss:
- Professional development opportunities you may have pursued over the summer or during your studies
- International travel for research or presentations
- Any research you’ve done in a non-academic setting
- Presentations at conferences
- Participation in symposia, reading groups, working groups, etc.
- Internships in which you may have implemented your research or practical skills related to your discipline
- Participation in community engagement projects
- Participation in or leadership of any scholarly and/or university organizations
In answering these questions, create a list of the experiences that you think best reflect you as a scholar and teacher. In choosing which experiences to highlight, consider your audience and what they would find valuable or relevant. Taking the time to really think about your reader will help you present yourself as an applicant well-qualified for the position.
Writing a draft
Remember that the job letter is an opportunity to introduce yourself and your accomplishments and to communicate why you would be a good fit for the position. Typically, search committees will want to know whether you are a capable job candidate, familiar with the institution, and a great future addition to the department’s faculty. As such, be aware of how the letter’s structure and content reflect your preparedness for the position.
The structure of your cover letter should reflect the typical standards for letter writing in the country in which the position is located (the list below reflects the standards for US letter writing). This usually includes a salutation, body, and closing, as well as proper contact information. If you are affiliated with a department, institution, or organization, the letter should be on letterhead.
- Use a simple, readable font in a standard size, such as 10-12pt. Some examples of fonts that may be conventional in your field include Arial, Garamond, Times New Roman, and Verdana, among other similar fonts.
- Do not indent paragraphs.
- Separate all paragraphs by a line and justify them to the left.
- Make sure that any included hyperlinks work.
- Include your signature in the closing.
Before you send in your letter, make sure you proofread and look for formatting mistakes. You’ll read more about proofreading and revising later in this handout!
The second most important aspect of your letter is its content. Since the letter is the first chance to provide an in-depth introduction, it should expand on who you are as a scholar and possible faculty member. Below are some elements to consider including when composing your letter.
Identify the position you are applying to and introduce yourself. Traditionally, the first sentence of a job letter includes the full name of the position and where you discovered the job posting. This is also the place to introduce yourself and describe why you are applying for this position. Since the goal of a job letter is to persuade the search committee to include you on the list of candidates for further review, you may want to include an initial claim as to why you are a strong candidate for the position. Some questions you might consider:
- What is your current status (ABD, assistant professor, post-doc, etc.)?
- If you are ABD, have you defended your dissertation? If not, when will you defend?
- Why are you interested in this position?
- Why are you a strong candidate for this position?
Describe your research experience and interests. For research-centered positions, such as positions at R1 or other types of research-centered universities, include information about your research experience and current work early in the letter. For many applicants, current work will be the dissertation project. If this is the case, some suggest calling your “dissertation research” your “current project” or “work,” as this may help you present yourself as an emerging scholar rather than a graduate student. Some questions about your research that you might consider:
- What research experiences have you had?
- What does your current project investigate?
- What are some of the important methods you applied?
- Have you collaborated with others in your research?
- Have you acquired specific skills that will be useful for the future?
- Have you received special funding? If so, what kind?
- Has your research received any accolades or rewards?
- What does your current project contribute to the field?
- Where have you presented your research?
- Have you published your research? If so, where? Or are you working on publishing your work?
- How does your current project fit the job description?
Present your plans for future research. This section presents your research agenda and usually includes a description of your plans for future projects and research publications. Detailing your future research demonstrates to the search committee that you’ve thought about a research trajectory and can work independently. If you are applying to a teaching-intensive position, you may want to minimize this section and/or consider including a sentence or two on how this research connects to undergraduate and/or graduate research opportunities. Some questions to get you started:
- What is your next research project/s?
- How does this connect to your current and past work?
- What major theories/methods will you use?
- How will this project contribute to the field?
- Where do you see your specialty area or subfield going in the next ten years and how does your research contribute to or reflect this?
- Will you be collaborating with anyone? If so, with whom?
- How will this future project encourage academic discourse?
- Do you already have funding? If so, from whom? If not, what plans do you have for obtaining funding?
- How does your future research expand upon the department’s strengths while simultaneously diversifying the university’s research portfolio? (For example, does your future research involve emerging research fields, state-of-the-art technologies, or novel applications?)
Describe your teaching experience and highlight teaching strategies. This section allows you to describe your teaching philosophy and how you apply this philosophy in your classroom. Start by briefly addressing your teaching goals and values. Here, you can provide specific examples of your teaching methods by describing activities and projects you assign students. Try to link your teaching and research together. For example, if you research the rise of feminism in the 19th century, consider how you bring either the methodology or the content of your research into the classroom. For a teaching-centered institution, such as a small liberal arts college or community college, you may want to emphasize your teaching more than your research. If you do not have any teaching experience, you could describe a training, mentoring, or coaching situation that was similar to teaching and how you would apply what you learned in a classroom.
- What is your teaching philosophy? How is your philosophy a good fit for the department in which you are applying to work?
- What sort of teaching strategies do you use in the classroom?
- What is your teaching style? Do you lecture? Do you emphasize discussion? Do you use specific forms of interactive learning?
- What courses have you taught?
- What departmental courses are you prepared to teach?
- Will you be able to fill in any gaps in the departmental course offerings?
- What important teaching and/or mentoring experiences have you had?
- How would you describe yourself in the classroom?
- What type of feedback have you gotten from students?
- Have you received any awards or recognition for your teaching?
Talk about your service work. Service is often an important component of an academic job description. This can include things like serving on committees or funding panels, providing reviews, and doing community outreach. The cover letter gives you an opportunity to explain how you have involved yourself in university life outside the classroom. For instance, you could include descriptions of volunteer work, participation in initiatives, or your role in professional organizations. This section should demonstrate ways in which you have served your department, university, and/or scholarly community. Here are some additional examples you could discuss:
- Participating in graduate student or junior faculty governance
- Sitting on committees, departmental or university-wide
- Partnerships with other university offices or departments
- Participating in community-partnerships
- Participating in public scholarship initiatives
- Founding or participating in any university initiatives or programs
- Creating extra-curricular resources or presentations
Present yourself as a future faculty member. This section demonstrates who you will be as a colleague. It gives you the opportunity to explain how you will collaborate with faculty members with similar interests; take part in departmental and/or institution wide initiatives or centers; and participate in departmental service. This shows your familiarity with the role of faculty outside the classroom and your ability to add to the departmental and/or institutional strengths or fill in any gaps.
- What excites you about this job?
- What faculty would you like to collaborate with and why? (This answer may be slightly tricky. See the section on name dropping below.)
- Are there any partnerships in the university or outside of it that you wish to participate in?
- Are there any centers associated with the university or in the community that you want to be involved in?
- Are there faculty initiatives that you are passionate about?
- Do you have experience collaborating across various departments or within your own department?
- In what areas will you be able to contribute?
- Why would you make an excellent addition to the faculty at this institution?
Compose a strong closing. This short section should acknowledge that you have sent in all other application documents and include a brief thank you for the reader’s time and/or consideration. It should also state your willingness to forward additional materials and indicate what you would like to see as next steps (e.g., a statement that you look forward to speaking with the search committee). End with a professional closing such as “Sincerely” or “Kind Regards” followed by your full name.
If you are finding it difficult to write the different sections of your cover letter, consider composing the other academic job application documents (the research statement, teaching philosophy, and diversity statement) first and then summarizing them in your job letter.
Different kinds of letters may be required for different types of jobs. For example, some jobs may focus on research. In this case, emphasize your research experiences and current project/s. Other jobs may be more focused on teaching. In this case, highlight your teaching background and skills. Below are two models for how you could change your letter’s organization based on the job description and the institution. The models offer a guide for you to consider how changing the order of information and the amount of space dedicated to a particular topic changes the emphasis of the letter.
Research-Based Position Job Letter Example:
Teaching-based position job letter example:.
Remember your first draft does not have to be your last. Try to get feedback from different readers, especially if it is one of your first applications. It is not uncommon to go through several stages of revisions. Check out the Writing Center’s handout on editing and proofreading and video on proofreading to help with this last stage of writing.
Using the word dissertation. Some search committee members may see the word “dissertation” as a red flag that an applicant is too focused on their role as a graduate student rather than as a prospective faculty member. It may be advantageous, then, to describe your dissertation as current research, a current research project, current work, or some other phrase that demonstrates you are aware that your dissertation is the beginning of a larger scholarly career.
Too much jargon. While you may be writing to a specific department, people on the search committee might be unfamiliar with the details of your subfield. In fact, many committees have at least one member from outside their department. Use terminology that can easily be understood by non-experts. If you want to use a specific term that is crucial to your research, then you should define it. Aim for clarity for your reader, which may mean simplification in lieu of complete precision.
Overselling yourself. While your job letter should sell you as a great candidate, saying so (e.g., “I’m the ideal candidate”) in your letter may come off to some search committee members as presumptuous. Remember that although you have an idea about the type of colleague a department is searching for, ultimately you do not know exactly what they want. Try to avoid phrases or sentences where you state you are the ideal or the only candidate right for the position.
Paying too much attention to the job description. Job descriptions are the result of a lot of debate and compromise. If you have skills or research interests outside the job description, consider including them in your letter. It may be that your extra research interests; your outside skills; and/or your extracurricular involvements make you an attractive candidate. For example, if you are a Latin Americanist who also happens to be well-versed in the Spanish Revolution, it could be worth mentioning the expanse of your research interests because a department might find you could fill in other gaps in the curriculum or add an additional or complementary perspective to the department.
Improper sendoff. The closing of your letter is just as important as the beginning. The end of the letter should reflect the professionalism of the document. There should be a thank-you and the word sincerely or a formal equivalent. Remember, it is the very last place in your letter where you present yourself as a capable future colleague.
Small oversights. Make sure to proofread your letter not just for grammar but also for content. For example, if you use material from another letter, make sure you do not include the names of another school, department, or unassociated faculty! Or, if the school is in Chicago, make sure you do not accidentally reference it as located in the Twin Cities.
Name dropping. You rarely know the internal politics of the department or institution to which you are applying. So be cautious about the names you insert in your cover letters. You do not want to unintentionally insert yourself into a departmental squabble or add fire to an interdepartmental conflict. Instead, focus on the actions you will undertake and the initiatives you are passionate about.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Ball, Cheryl E. 2013. “Understanding Cover Letters.” Inside Higher Ed , November 3, 2013. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/11/04/essay-cover-letter-academic-jobs .
Borchardt, John. 2014. “Writing a Winning Cover Letter.” Science Magazine , August 6, 2014. https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2014/08/writing-winning-cover-letter# .
Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education. n.d. “Basic Classification Description.” Accessed November 1, 2020. https://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/classification_descriptions/basic.php .
Helmreich, William. 2013. “Your First Academic Job.” Inside Higher Ed , June 17, 2013. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/06/17/essay-how-land-first-academic-job .
Kelsky, Karen. 2013. “How To Write a Journal Article Submission Cover Letter.” The Professor Is In (blog), April 26, 2013. https://theprofessorisin.com/2013/04/26/how-to-write-a-journal-article-submission-cover-letter/ .
Tomaska, Lubomir, and Josef Nosek. 2008. “Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Cover Letter to Accompany a Job Application for an Academic Position.” PLoS Computational Biology 14(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006132 .
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When you're applying for a faculty position with a college or university, the cover letter is your first chance to make a strong impression as a promising researcher and teacher. Below you'll find some strategies for presenting your qualifications effectively in an academic context.
November 2, 1998
Dr. Naomi Sellers Chair, English Search Committee Box 58 Baxter College Arcadia, WV 24803
Dear Dr. Sellers:
I am writing to apply for the position as assistant professor of English with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition that you advertised in the October MLA Job Information List. I am a graduate student at Prestigious University working on a dissertation under the direction of Professor Prominent Figure. Currently revising the third of five chapters, I expect to complete all work for the Ph.D. by May of 1999. I believe that my teaching and tutoring experience combined with my course work and research background in rhetoric and composition theory make me a strong candidate for the position outlined in your notice.
As my curriculum vitae shows, I have had excellent opportunities to teach a variety of writing courses during my graduate studies, including developmental writing, first-year writing for both native speakers and second language students, advanced writing, and business writing. I have also worked as a teaching mentor for new graduate students, a position that involved instruction in methods of composition teaching, development of course materials, and evaluation of new graduate instructors. Among the most satisfying experiences for me as a teacher has been instructing students on an individual basis as a tutor in our university Writing Lab. Even as a classroom instructor, I find that I always look forward to the individual conferences that I hold with my students several times during the semester because I believe this kind of one-on-one interaction to be essential to their development as writers.
My work in the composition classroom has provided me with the inspiration as well as a kind of laboratory for my dissertation research. My project, The I Has It: Applications of Recent Models of Subjectivity in Composition Theory, examines the shift since the 1960s from expressive models of writing toward now-dominant postmodern conceptions of decentered subjectivity and self-construction through writing. I argue that these more recent theoretical models, while promising, cannot have the liberating effects that are claimed for them without a concomitant reconception of writing pedagogy and the dynamics of the writing classroom. I relate critical readings of theoretical texts to my own pedagogical experiments as a writing teacher, using narratives of classroom successes and failures as the bases for critical reflection on postmodern composition theory. After developing my dissertation into a book manuscript, I plan to continue my work in current composition theory through a critical examination of the rhetoric of technological advancement in the computer-mediated writing classroom.
My interest in the computer classroom has grown out of recent experience teaching composition in that environment. In these courses my students have used computers for writing and turning in notes and essays, communicating with one another and with me, conducting library catalogue research and web research, and creating websites. I have encouraged my students to think and write critically about their experiences with technology, both in my class and elsewhere, even as we have used technology to facilitate our work in the course. Syllabi and other materials for my writing courses can be viewed at my website: http://machine.prestigious.edu/~name. In all of my writing courses I encourage students to become critical readers, thinkers, and writers; my goal is always not only to promote their intellectual engagement with cultural texts of all kinds but also to help them become more discerning readers of and forceful writers about the world around them.
I have included my curriculum vitae and would be happy to send you additional materials such as a dossier of letters of reference, writing samples, teaching evaluations, and past and proposed course syllabi. I will be available to meet with you for an interview at either the MLA or the CCCC convention, or elsewhere at your convenience. I can be reached at my home phone number before December 19; between then and the start of the MLA convention, you can reach me at (123) 456-7890. I thank you for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.
Points to Remember
- Use the form of address and title of the contact person as they appear in the job notice.
- Refer to the job title as it appears in the notice, and state where you learned of the position.
- Mention your major professor by name, especially if he or she is well known in your field. Also, mention your expected completion date.
- Make a claim for your candidacy that you will support in the body of the letter.
- For a position at a small undergraduate college, emphasize teaching experience and philosophy early in the letter.
- Describe your dissertation and plans for future research. Emphasize links between your teaching and research interests.
- Mention specific teaching experience that is relevant to the job notice or is otherwise noteworthy.
- Refer to relevant materials available on the web.
- State your willingness to forward additional materials and to meet for an interview.
- Mention any temporary changes in contact information.
Academic Cover Letters
A cover letter is central to your academic job application. It allows you to explain the narrative of your academic career and demonstrate the cohesion of your application packet. Since it is often the first document read by the hiring committee, the cover letter acts as an initial writing sample and an introduction to your other application materials (CV, teaching philosophy, writing sample, letters of recommendation, etc.). The letter must therefore go through numerous drafts in order to show the hiring committee that you are a strong writer and a good fit for the position. Be sure to ask for feedback on these drafts from your advisor, professors in your field, colleagues, or a consultant at the Writers Workshop before including it in your application.
Keeping your audience and tone in mind is essential in crafting your academic cover letter. Even if you are still a graduate student finishing your dissertation, you should not present yourself as such. To persuade the committee that you are the ideal candidate for the position, write your cover letter as a potential colleague (rather than from the perspective of a graduate student or someone desperate for the job). Since most hiring committees are diverse in terms of areas of expertise, be sure to explain your terms, minimize jargon, and tie technical points to the larger aims of your work. Finally, it is especially important to cater your cover letter to the position by addressing all of the qualifications listed in the job ad. Connecting your experience to the institution you are applying to will help show your enthusiasm for the position and demonstrate how you will use your knowledge and skills to benefit the institution as a whole.
- 1 ½ – 2 pages, single-spaced (STEM letters should not exceed 1 page)
- 1-inch margins
- Font 12 point (possibly 11 point)
- Minimal white space
- Begin with “Dear Members of the Search Committee:” or address the letter to the individual indicated in the job ad
Content by Paragraph
An academic cover letter typically follows the 5-7 paragraph format outlined below. This structure may vary depending on your discipline, where you are in your career, and what type of job you are applying to.
- Start with the full name of the institution/position (“I write to indicate my interest in the position of X at Y institution”)
- Your current status (ABD, PhD, Instructor)
- Your defense date and/or graduation date
- Be sincere and specific by responding to the qualifications listed in the job ad
Dissertation / Current Research
- How/what it contributes to your field
- Major themes/areas/issues covered
- Field-specific content
- Your conclusions/outcomes
Future / Related Research
- Show that you have a coherent research trajectory by describing current/future publications (journal articles, articles in edited collections, plan in place to turn your dissertation into a book, etc.)
- Demonstrate your productivity and commitment to a broader research agenda
- Document your path to tenure (if applicable) and success at their institution
- May be 1-2 paragraphs, depending on type of position
- Define terms as needed
- Connect to your research if applicable
- Provide examples showing how you demonstrate your teaching philosophy / pedagogical approach in the classroom (or plan to)
- Describe learning goals, projects and their purposes, classroom values, etc.
- Include classes you have taught as TA, Instructor, etc. or classes (appropriate to the institution) that you would like to teach
- Expand on the statement above in an additional paragraph
- Move these teaching paragraphs before the dissertation/research paragraphs
- Demonstrate that you are a collaborative colleague
- Show that you offer more to the department and institution than only research/teaching
- Avoid listing your service work–that’s already on your CV
- Highlight the work that contributes to your field, teaching, department, etc.
- Respond to job ad and institutional needs
- Usually short, ~3-4 sentences
- Reiterates your interest in the position and primary qualifications
- When/how to expect any materials sent separately
- Some fields – availability for interview
- Some fields – contact information
- Again, sound like a future colleague!
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- Teaching Philosophy Statements
- Diversity Statements
You can find additional information and sample academic cover letters through the Graduate College Career Development Office , Purdue Online Writing Lab , and Inside Higher Ed .
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How to Write an Academic Cover Letter With Examples
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Submitting your application.
When you are applying for a faculty position at a college or university, your cover letter will differ significantly from the standard business cover letter.
Your cover letter may be reviewed by Human Resources department staff to determine if you meet the basic qualifications for the job. If it does, it will be forwarded to a search committee comprised mostly of faculty members and academic deans.
These individuals will be accustomed to reading more lengthy academic cover letters and resumes or curriculum vitae (CV) than would be customary in the business world. They will also often be more interested in the philosophical foundations for your work than the typical business recruiter.
Kelly Miller / The Balance
Tips for Writing an Academic Cover Letter
Your initial challenge will be to pass through the Human Resources screening. Review each of the required qualifications included in the job announcement and compose statements containing evidence that you possess as many of the skills, credentials, knowledge, and experiences listed as possible.
Address as many of the preferred qualifications as possible.
Give concrete examples to support your assertions about your strengths.
Your faculty reviewers will typically have an interest in your philosophy and approach to teaching and research within your discipline. They will also be evaluating how your background fits with the type of institution where they work.
Research the faculty in your target department to assess their orientation and expertise. Emphasize points of intersection between your philosophy and the prevalent departmental philosophy.
If you possess traditionally valued areas of expertise that are not already represented by the current faculty, make sure to point those strengths out in your cover letter. It's important to tailor your letter to the orientation of the college and adjust the mix of emphasis on teaching and research based on the expectations in that setting.
Colleges will typically want to hire new faculty who are passionate about their current research and not resting on past research credits.
Describe a current project with some detail and express enthusiasm for continuing such work.
Try to do the same with any evolving teaching interests.
Highlight any grants and funding you have received to undertake your research activities. Incorporate any awards or recognition which you have received for your teaching or research activities. Some text should also be devoted to other contributions to the college communities where you worked, such as committee work, advising, and collaborations with other departments.
Your cover letter should be written in the same basic format as a business cover letter. An academic cover letter is typically two pages compared to a single page for non-academic letters.
Here’s an example of the appropriate format for a cover letter and guidelines for formatting your letters.
Academic Cover Letter Example
You can use this sample as a model to write an academic cover letter. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online), or read the text version below.
Academic Cover Letter Example #1 (Text Version)
Robin Applicant 123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345 555-555.5555 email@example.com
April 5, 2021
Dr. Sylvia Lee Chair, English Department Search Committee Acme College 123 Business Rd. Charlotte, NC 28213
Dear Dr. Sylvia Lee,
I am writing to apply for the position of assistant professor of English with an emphasis in nineteenth-century American literature that you advertised in the MLA Job Information List. I am a Dean’s Fellow and Ph.D. candidate at XYZ University, currently revising the final chapter of my dissertation, and expecting to graduate in May I am confident that my teaching experience and my research interests make me an ideal candidate for your open position.
Over the past five years, I have taught a variety of English courses. I have taught a number of American literature survey courses, as well as writing courses, including technical writing and first-year writing. I have extensive experience working with ESL students, as well as students with a variety of learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dysgraphia, and disabilities like ADD and ADHD. I pride myself on creating a classroom environment that accommodates the needs of my students while still promoting a high level of critical thought and writing skills. Some of my most satisfying experiences as a teacher have come from helping struggling students to grasp difficult concepts, through a combination of individual conferences, class activities, and group discussion. I know I would thrive as a teacher in your college, due to your belief in small classroom size and individualized support for students.
Not only does my teaching experience suit the needs of your school and department, but my research interests also fit perfectly with your description of the ideal candidate. My dissertation project, “Ferns and Leaves: Nineteenth-Century Female Authorial Space,” examines the rise and development of American female authors in the 1840s and 1850s, with a particular focus on patterns of magazine publication. I argue that, rather than being submissive to the requirements of the editor or publisher, female authors, in fact, developed a more transparently reciprocal relationship between themselves and their readers than previously has been assumed. I apply recent print-culture and book-history theory to my readings of novels, magazine articles, letters, and diary entries by various female authors, with a particular focus on Sara Willis (known by her pseudonym Fanny Fern). I plan to develop my dissertation into a book manuscript and continue to research the role of female writers in antebellum magazine culture, with a particular focus on the rise and influence of female magazine editors on literary culture.
My research interests have both shaped and been shaped by my recent teaching experiences. Last spring, I developed and taught a course on the history of print culture in America. I combined readings on theory and literature that addressed issues of print with visits to local historical museums and archives. My students conducted in-depth studies on particular texts (magazines, newspapers, novels) for their final papers. I believe my interdisciplinary teaching style, particularly my emphasis on material culture, would fit in well with the interdisciplinary nature of your English department.
I am therefore confident that my teaching experience, my skill in working with ESL and LD students, and my research interests all make me an excellent candidate for the assistant professor of English position at ABC College. I have attached my curriculum vitae and the two requested sample publications. I would be happy to send you any additional materials such as letters of reference, teaching evaluations, and past and proposed course syllabi. I will be available to meet with you at either the MLA or C19 conference, or anywhere else at your convenience. Thank you so much for your consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.
Robin Applicant (hard copy letter)
Academic Cover Letter Example #2 (Text Version)
Betty Applicant 567 North Street, Boston, MA 02108 555-555.555 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Robert Smith Chair, Department of Biology Acme University 123 Business Rd. Business City, NY 54321
Dear Dr. Smith,
I am writing to apply for the position of Assistant Professor of Biology with a focus on molecular biology at XYZ University, as advertised in the March issue of Science. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of XYZ in the Department of Molecular Biology, working under the advisement of Professor Linda Smith. I am confident that my research interests and teaching experience make me an ideal candidate for your open position.
My current research project, which is an expansion on my dissertation, “[insert title here],” involves [insert research project here]. I have published my dissertation findings in Science Journal and am in the processing of doing the same with my findings from my current research. The laboratory resources at XYZ University would enable me to expand my research to include [insert further research plans here] and seek further publication.
Beyond my successes as a researcher (including five published papers and my current paper in process), I have had extensive experience teaching a variety of biology courses. As a graduate student at Science University, I served as a teaching assistant and guest lecturer for both biology and chemistry introductory courses and won the university award for outstanding teacher’s assistant. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of ABC, I have had the opportunity to teach Introduction to Biology as well as a graduate-level course, Historicizing Molecular Biology. In every class, I strive to include a blend of readings, media, lab work, and discussion to actively engage students with the material. I would love the opportunity to bring my award-winning lesson planning and teaching skills to your biology department.
I am confident that my research interests and experience combined with my teaching skills make me an excellent candidate for the Assistant Professor of Biology position at XYZ University. I have attached my curriculum vitae, three recommendations, and the two requested sample publications. I would be happy to send you any additional materials such as teaching evaluations or past and proposed course syllabi. I will be available to meet with you at the ASBMB conference or anywhere else at your convenience. Thank you so much for your consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.
Betty Applicant (hard copy letter)
It’s important to submit all your application materials in the format requested by the college or university. You may be asked to email, mail, or apply online via the institution’s applicant tracking system.
You may be required to provide references with your application, so be prepared to submit a list of references. The institution may also request transcripts, teaching evaluations, and writing samples.
Send only what is requested. There's no need to include information that the institution hasn't ask for.
However, you can offer to provide additional materials like writing samples, syllabi, and letters of recommendation in the last paragraph of your letter.
Follow the instructions in the job posting for submitting your application. It should specify what format the college wants to receive.
Here are some examples of what you may be asked to include with your cover letter and resume or CV:
- A cover letter, CV/resume, and contact information for three references.
- A cover letter (PDF format) of interest indicating your qualifications and reason for application, Curriculum Vitae (PDF format), and a minimum of three professional references, including phone and email contact information.
- A letter of interest, a Curriculum Vitae, a teaching vision statement, a research vision statement that specifically indicates how you would interact with or collaborate with other department faculty, and three references.
- A cover letter, CV/resume, and contact information for three references. Please upload these as ONE document in RTF, DOC or PDF format.
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Internship and Career Center
Cover letter template for academic faculty and teaching positions.
Below is a general template for use when crafting a cover letter for academic teaching positions. Before getting started, you will also want to review the academic cover letter samples .
Optional – include header (similar to your resume and other supporting documents)
[Mailing date] [Search committee mailing info, including department and address] [Dear Professor _____________________, or Dear Search Committee Chair and Members:] [Paragraph 1: simple introduction.]
I am writing to apply for the position of [official title] announced in the XXX [e.g., Chronicle of Higher Education]. I am completing a Ph.D. in XX from the [department name] at the University of California, Davis. I will defend my dissertation, "[dissertation title]” and expect to graduate in [month]. OR: I am finishing the first year of my postdoc with XX [your PI's name or in the lab of XX], where I am working on X, Y, and Z [briefly describe, but leave the bulk of the research description for the below sections]. [Paragraph 2: principal research area(s) and dissertation - this paragraph along with paragraph 3 would follow the introduction when applying for a faculty or teaching position within a R1 university emphasizing the research over the teaching. For Liberal Arts Colleges and State Universities, research and teaching paragraphs should be somewhat balanced in length. For teaching-only Community Colleges, a research statement might be included towards the bottom of the cover letter, but only in the context of staying on top of the discipline in order to perform more effectively as a teacher. ]
My principal research area is X [area here], with a focus on [focus area(s)]. [3-4 sentence summary of dissertation here]. I've used X method/technique/approach to explore W and Z. [Paragraph 3: other research areas, contributions, and future directions - this paragraph would be included for R1, Liberal Arts College or State University.]
My immediate research priority is to expand this manuscript into a book. I will direct future research toward [1-2 sentences on next project]. [Add additional sentences on your broader research agenda, how you would apply this to your new institution]. [Paragraph 4: teaching experience and interests - this paragraph would follow the 1st paragraph when applying to a State University.]
During my [number] years at X [campus], I have taught [identify what you have taught, particularly as it relates to the institution you are applying]. [Add 2 or so sentences on any pedagogical training, innovative approaches you have taken in the classroom, technology you've used, areas you are particularly interested in exploring, and/or specific new class or seminars you would like to teach at their institution]. [Paragraph 5: closing.]
I have enclosed my CV, a writing sample, and a teaching philosophy state [or whatever they ask for…]. Three faculty recommendations will be mailed under separate cover [or by Interfolio , a dossier service]. I will attend the XX conference in [city] this year, and I can always be reached by phone or email. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, [your signature] [your email] – include if you don’t use a header [your phone number] – include if you don’t use a header
A couple of notes:
- The tone of the cover letter should be that of a potential colleague. It should showcase your knowledge, contribution to the discipline. The cover letter should be used to outline your academic accomplishments and to share a five year vision for where you are heading into the future.
- You want to present the perspective of an independent researcher and teacher, not simply a list the coursework and tasks you've completed as a graduate student or postdoc.
- Note that you do not have to separate your dissertation and other research interests (i.e. paragraphs 2 and 3).
- Understand the different missions of the institutions for which you are applying.
Adapted from a template provided by Robert P. Newcomb, Ph.D., Department of Spanish & Portuguese, UC Davis
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Cover letters for faculty job applications
The cover letter serves as an introduction to your application package and answers the following questions: Who are you? When will you defend your dissertation (if you’re currently ABD)? Why are you interested in applying for this assistant professor position? Why are you interested in this institution? What is your dissertation research about? What are your research plans? What kind of teaching experience do you have? How will you contribute to our department and institution? Why is the school a good fit for you and vice versa? A strong cover letter will be tailored to the institution to which you’re applying. For the humanities and social sciences, it is typically two to three pages long, and for STEM fields, it is typically one to two pages but will vary depending on the specific discipline.
The purpose of a cover letter
Sometimes called a “ letter of intent ” or “ letter of interest “, a cover letter is an introduction to the rest of your job application materials. The purpose of a cover letter is to quickly summarize why you are applying to an organization or for a particular position, and what skills and knowledge you bring that make you the most suitable candidate for that position. The cover letter is often the first impression that a prospective employer will have of you, especially if they do not know you, or have not heard about you from their network of contacts. First impressions count, and so getting your cover letter right is a critical step in your job application process. Like all your job application materials, it may take time and focus to write your cover letters well. You will likely have several drafts before you come up with a final version that clearly articulates your skills and your understanding of the employer and the job requirements.
While your CV briefly states your skills, knowledge, experience, and (most importantly) what you have achieved using your abilities, the cover letter gives you an opportunity to create a narrative that shows the path you have taken in your career or education, emphasizing the skills you’ve used along the way, and explaining why the position you are applying to is the next desirable step on this path.
Timeline: Getting Started with your Cover Letter
Step 1: The first step to writing a good cover letter is to first have a good CV. Your cover letter expands upon some of the information you include within these documents, and describes the role you have played in achieving your academic goals (i.e., showing how your experiences have made you the best candidate for the position).
Step 2: The next step is to find an open position that interests you. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cover letter, as each should be tailored to each job you apply to, but there will certainly be parts of the letter that will stay much the same, and be appropriate for multiple jobs. A 1-3 page cover letter might be the norm when applying for a tenure-track, faculty position, but you need to check with your own department to find out what the norms are in your field.
Step 3: Go through the job ad and carefully note all of the requirements and skills the employer is looking for. Based on your background research of the employer and the people you have spoken to who know about this employer (whether a business or a university department), try to identify the two or three most important skills that the employer is looking for. You should then try to create a cover letter that illustrates that you have these skills and have used them effectively.
When applying for faculty positions, especially those that involve both teaching and research, you will be expected to spend some time in your cover letter talking about your research and goals, as well as your teaching – even though you may have covered these in more detail in your research statement and teaching philosophy documents. How much time you need to spend talking about teaching and research will depend on the nature of the position and your field of study. For some humanities and social sciences applications, you will not be asked for a separate research statement, and this information will need to be integrated into the cover letter. Cover letters for scientific positions will generally be shorter as more (but not all) of the information about research will be covered in the research statement. Academic letters also need to cover everything that non-academic cover letters address, however, because you need to show that you are not only a good academic, but that you are a good person to work with who is committed to working at that particular institution. Make sure that you address the requirements of the position as stated in the job ad. Speak to faculty in your department to get a sense of what is expected in cover letters used in faculty job applications for your discipline. See if any faculty you know have been involved in search committees, and find out what they looked for in cover letters.
Explore other application documents:
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Cover Letter Examples and Tips for Students
By Med Kharbach, PhD | Last Update: November 25, 2023
In today’s competitive job market, the ability to write an effective cover letter is more than just a skill – it’s a necessity. A cover letter is often the first point of contact between a job seeker and a potential employer, serving as a critical platform to showcase one’s skills, experiences, and suitability for a position.
It’s not merely an introduction to your resume; it’s a personal statement that can set you apart in a sea of applicants. Understanding this, I recently delved into an insightful lesson from Google Applied Digital Skills on how to write a compelling cover letter . The lesson was not only informative but also incredibly practical, emphasizing the significance of this essential skill in the professional world.
Building on this, I realized the immense value in providing students with concrete examples to guide them in crafting their own cover letters. It’s one thing to understand the theory behind a great cover letter, but it’s another to see this theory put into practice. Therefore, I’ve compiled a 3 sample cover letters tailored for various scenarios – internship applications, part-time job pursuits, and graduate program submissions. These samples serve as practical templates, offering students a clearer vision of how to translate their qualifications, experiences, and aspirations into compelling narratives that resonate with potential employers or admissions committees.
By examining these examples, students can gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively communicate their unique stories, align their skills with specific job or program requirements, and ultimately, make a strong case for why they are the ideal candidate.
What is a Cover Letter
A cover letter is a personalized document that accompanies your resume, serving as an introduction and a pitch to potential employers. It’s your opportunity to narrate your professional story, highlighting your skills, experiences, and enthusiasm for the job. Unlike a resume, which outlines your qualifications in a structured format, a cover letter allows you to connect your abilities directly to the employer’s needs, showcasing how you can contribute to their organization.
A cover letter is a chance to demonstrate your understanding of the company and its values, and to express why you’re the ideal candidate for the role. In essence, a cover letter is a crucial tool in your job application toolkit, bridging the gap between your resume and the job you’re aiming for.
Related: Best Free AI Resume Builders
Cover Letter Tips
Here are some bullet-point tips for students on writing effective cover letters:
- Research the company : Understand the company’s mission, culture, and current projects. Tailor your letter to reflect how your skills and interests align with their values and needs.
- Customize each letter : Avoid generic letters. Customize each cover letter for the specific job and company you’re applying to.
- Start strong : Begin with an engaging opening line that grabs attention. Mention how you found the job listing or if you have a mutual contact.
- Highlight relevant skills : Focus on skills and experiences that are most relevant to the job. Use specific examples to demonstrate how you’ve applied these skills in the past.
- Show enthusiasm : Express genuine interest and enthusiasm for the role and the company. Explain why you want to work there and what you find exciting about the opportunity.
- Be concise : Keep it short and to the point. A cover letter should typically be no longer than one page.
- Use a professional Tone : While it’s important to show personality, maintain a professional tone throughout the letter.
- Include major achievements : Mention one or two key achievements that are relevant to the job. Quantify these achievements with data or specific examples when possible.
- Link to work samples : If applicable, include links to your work portfolio, projects, or any relevant work samples.
- Conclude effectively : End with a strong closing statement. Reiterate your interest in the position and mention your eagerness to discuss your qualifications further in an interview.
- Proofread : Always proofread your cover letter. Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. If possible, have someone else review it as well.
- Follow application instructions : Make sure to follow any specific instructions given in the job listing, such as including certain information or formatting the letter in a particular way.
Remember, a cover letter is your chance to make a great first impression, so take the time to craft it thoughtfully and carefully.
Cover Letter Examples
Here are three different sample cover letters, each tailored for a distinct type of student application: an internship, a part-time job, and a graduate program. These examples can serve as a guide for students to understand how to adapt their cover letters to various contexts.
1. Sample Cover Letter for an Internship Application
[Your Name] [Your Address] [City, State, Zip] [Your Email] [Your Phone Number] [Date]
[Employer’s Name] [Company Name] [Company Address] [City, State, Zip]
Dear [Employer’s Name],
I am writing to express my keen interest in the [Internship Position] at [Company Name], as advertised on [Where You Found the Job Posting]. As a junior majoring in [Your Major] at [Your University], I am passionate about [relevant field or topic]. I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to [specific project or aspect of the company] and to learn from the best in the industry.
During my coursework and extracurricular activities, I have developed [mention specific skills relevant to the internship, such as analytical skills, communication skills, etc.]. For instance, in my role as [Previous Position/Role], I successfully [mention a relevant achievement or project]. This experience honed my skills in [relevant skills] and ignited my interest in [specific aspect related to the internship].
I am particularly drawn to [Company Name] because of [mention something specific about the company or its projects that appeals to you]. I am eager to bring my background in [Your Field/Study Area] and my experience in [relevant experience] to your team. I am confident that my proactive approach and commitment to excellence will be a valuable asset to your [specific department or project team].
Thank you for considering my application. I am looking forward to the opportunity to discuss how my skills and experiences align with the goals of [Company Name]. I am available for an interview at your earliest convenience and can be reached at [Your Phone Number] or via email at [Your Email].
Sincerely, [Your Name]
2. Sample Cover Letter for a Part-Time Job Application
I am writing to express my interest in the [Part-Time Position] at [Company Name], as advertised in [Where You Found the Job Posting]. As a student at [Your School/College], I am eager to apply my skills in [relevant skills] and my enthusiasm for [industry or field] in a real-world setting.
My previous experience in [Previous Job/Role or Relevant Experience], where I [describe what you did], has equipped me with valuable skills that I believe are well-suited to the demands of [Part-Time Position]. For example, [mention a specific responsibility or achievement]. This experience taught me the importance of [mention a key learning point], which I see as directly relevant to the role at [Company Name].
I am particularly attracted to the opportunity at [Company Name] because of [mention something specific about the company or its culture that appeals to you]. I admire [Company’s unique feature or its reputation in a specific area] and am excited about the prospect of contributing to such a dynamic environment.
I am confident that my [mention specific skills or attributes], along with my strong work ethic and ability to balance multiple responsibilities, will make me a valuable addition to your team. I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn and grow while contributing positively to [Company Name].
Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss my application in further detail. I am available for an interview at your convenience and can be reached at [Your Phone Number] or [Your Email].
3. Sample Cover Letter for a Graduate Program Application
[Admissions Officer’s Name] [Department Name] [University Name] [University Address] [City, State, Zip]
Dear [Admissions Officer’s Name],
I am writing to apply for the [Name of Graduate Program] at [University Name], as detailed on your website. With a deep interest in [specific field or area of study] and a strong academic background in [Your Undergraduate Major], I am eager to pursue advanced studies that align with my passion for [specific interests related to the program].
During my undergraduate studies at [Your Undergraduate College], I engaged in [mention any relevant academic or research experiences]. For example, my thesis project on [Your Thesis Topic] allowed me to delve deeply into [specific aspect of your thesis], which further fueled my interest in [specific area of the graduate program]. This project not only honed my research and analytical skills but also highlighted the importance of [mention a key learning outcome].
What draws me specifically to [University Name] is [mention specific faculty, research opportunities, or aspects of the program that attract you]. The [specific feature of the program or department] aligns perfectly with my academic interests and career goals. I am particularly excited about the prospect of working with [mention any specific faculty members if applicable] and contributing to [mention any specific research groups or projects].
I am confident that my academic background, combined with my dedication and enthusiasm, will enable me to make a significant contribution to the [Name of Graduate Program]. I am particularly keen on exploring [mention specific areas of interest within the program] and am excited about the opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge further at [University Name].
Thank you for considering my application. I am looking forward to the opportunity to discuss how my background, interests, and aspirations make me a suitable candidate for your program. Please feel free to contact me at [Your Phone Number] or [Your Email] should you need any additional information.
In conclusion, crafting a compelling cover letter is a skill that students can master with practice and attention to detail. These sample cover letters provide a framework, but the real magic lies in personalization and authenticity. Students should remember to showcase their unique skills, experiences, and enthusiasm for the position or program they’re applying to.
A well-written cover letter can make a significant difference, opening doors to new opportunities and setting the stage for a successful career or academic journey. Encourage students to approach their cover letter writing with creativity and confidence, ensuring they make a memorable first impression on their path to achieving their goals.
When it comes to resources for writing cover letters, there’s a wealth of information available online and in print that can guide students through the process. Here are some valuable resources:
1. Online Writing Labs (OWLs) :
- Purdue OWL : Offers comprehensive guidance on cover letter structure, content, and style, along with sample letters.
- Harvard Writing Center : Provides tips on how to write effective cover letters and includes several examples.
2. Courses and Career Websites :
- Udemy Courses : Features courses and tutorials on resume and cover letter writing, often led by career experts.
- Glassdoor Blog : Offers advice on crafting cover letters for various industries and roles, along with do’s and don’ts.
- “ Cover Letter Magic ” by Wendy S. Enelow and Louise M. Kursmark: A detailed guide with cover letter samples for different scenarios.
- “ Knock ’em Dead Cover Letters ” by Martin Yate: Offers cover letter strategies and includes over 100 samples.
4. Templates and Tools :
- Canva : Provides creative and professional templates that can be customized.
- Microsoft Office Templates : Offers a range of cover letter templates suitable for various job applications.
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Meet Med Kharbach, PhD
Dr. Med Kharbach is an influential voice in the global educational technology landscape, with an extensive background in educational studies and a decade-long experience as a K-12 teacher. Holding a Ph.D. from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Canada, he brings a unique perspective to the educational world by integrating his profound academic knowledge with his hands-on teaching experience. Dr. Kharbach's academic pursuits encompass curriculum studies, discourse analysis, language learning/teaching, language and identity, emerging literacies, educational technology, and research methodologies. His work has been presented at numerous national and international conferences and published in various esteemed academic journals.
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