How to write a cover letter for a postdoctoral application
This post contains an example of a successful cover letter for a postdoctoral application.
- Quick takeaways for writing a cover letter
- The most important thing to keep in mind when writing a cover letter
- Why I applied to only six total postdoc positions
Example of a Successful Cover Letter for a Postdoctoral Application
Dear Professor X,
I am applying for the postdoctoral position available in your laboratory for the Y project. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Physics at Ohio State University, advised by Prof. Z. I will be graduating in May of 2018 and available to start this position thereafter. Due to my experience building and deploying the fourth mission of the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA-IV), I am well placed to make strong contributions to detector development, testing, calibration, and deployment of the Y mission scheduled for flight in 2020.
Working on the ANITA project for my Ph.D. has given me the opportunity to develop strengths and skills that are transferable and relevant to a long-duration balloon experiment in the particle astrophysics field such as Y. For the ANITA-IV mission, I have played a leading role in the development, testing, and commissioning of new hardware and electronics, ensuring a timely launch during the early onset of the polar vortex and remotely operating mission-critical electronics on the payload during its flight. I was deployed in Antarctica for two months, including a month prior to launch and a month post-launch. I gained experience working in the unique environment of the NASA LDB facility on Ross Island and succeeded in combating the challenges of a balloon experiment.
This postdoctoral position would be an excellent opportunity to contribute to the development and commissioning of silicon detectors which are at the heart of the Y instrument. This is well-aligned with my interest in learning new detection techniques and in making contributions that are critical to the Y project and the physics it is trying to probe. My work on the ANITA-IV instrument led to almost tripling the livetime of the experiment, as described in the pre-print found at https://arxiv.org/abs/1709.04536 and currently under review by Nuclear Instruments and Methods A. I wrote this paper as the corresponding author on behalf of the ANITA collaboration. I would strive to achieve the success of a similar or greater magnitude for the Y project.
Kindly consider my application for this postdoctoral position. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you at your convenience.
This cover letter was part of my application for a postdoc position in the Physics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I was selected for an interview and visited MIT on a cold, cold day in the month of February. Good thing the MIT buildings that I ended up in were mostly all connected so I was indoors, albeit the numbering of these buildings made no sense. Oh well, more on that later.
Quick Takeaways for Writing the Cover Letter for a Postdoctoral Application
- If you do not know the name of the professor who is hiring then stop right here and find that out! It’s about what you know and who you know. If you don’t know them already, chances are low for getting an interview.
- The cover letter should be no more than a few powerful paragraphs. Don’t make any paragraph too big a block of text.
- In the very first sentence, you should say what you are writing them for, that is, to apply for a position. Be specific. Say which position with what project.
- Then say who you are.
- Follow this up with when you will be graduating and when you can start the position.
- Finish the first paragraph with a strong statement about why you are more than perfect for the job.
- The next paragraph is all about elaborating on why you are perfect for the role. Elaborate away but as succinctly as you can. Any experience you speak about should be relevant to the particular role you are applying for. Keyword: relevant . No one cares about the other stuff you know.
- The professor(s) will KNOW if you are just sending them a generic cover letter that you send to every other school just with the school’s name changed. Trust me, they know. It takes work and time to make sure each cover letter is perfect for that particular role.
This is why I applied to only six total postdocs and fellowships!
People thought that was crazy. But I got interviews for ALL but one of them. That is a high success rate for applying to postdocs.
If you are not writing a cover letter specifically for a given role – you should really ask yourself if you even care enough to bother applying for that role. This is what I did and ended up applying to so few places.
The truth is I don’t care about everything and that’s a good thing.
By the time you are applying for postdocs, it is not cute to like everything anymore. You want to be highly skilled, choosy, passionate, opinionated, and annoyingly specific, in order to make a strong case.
For the cover letter sample provided here, I was selling my background in a particle astrophysics balloon-payload experiment in Antarctica to apply for a job doing a different particle astrophysics balloon-payload experiment in Antarctica. The detection methods (RF antennas vs Si(Li) detectors) and science questions (ultra-high-energy neutrinos vs dark matter detection) addressed by each experiment were actually quite distinct from each other, however, there was enough in common between them (broadly, both were in the field of particle astrophysics, both balloon payloads, both in Antarctica) to make a case for the postdoc.
- The third paragraph should be like a very short research statement – packed with strong statements about what it is you’d like to do and why the role is well-aligned with your goals. Mention achievements that are, again, relevant to the position.
- It is nice to put a big achievement near the end so you are leaving them with a reminder that you are an absolute goddess.
- I always end by asking them to kindly consider the application and that I look forward to hearing from them – which is pretty standard.
I outline what happened with each application in my book . There is a story and important lessons associated with each one. I do want to stress here, though, that applying to fewer places helped my case of making strong applications at each place.
You can also read about my experience applying cold and without knowing the hiring team in this post .
Story of a terrible phone screen and the mistake on a cover letter that you cannot afford
One response to “how to write a cover letter for a postdoctoral application”.
The second sentence should specify your current position, place of work and mentor. If you are not immediately available for hire, it is useful to mention when you will be able to start. End the first paragraph with just one or two concise sentences that hint at why you are the ideal candidate for the position you will expand on these points next. In the second paragraph, elaborate on why you should be considered for the postdoc not just any postdoc, mind you, but this particular postdoc in this particular lab. Yes, it is infinitely easier to use the same cover letter for the dozens of postdoctoral positions for which you are applying, but that is not going to cut it. These uniform letters are easy to detect and usually dismissed as lazy and insincere. If you fail to convince the PI that you are taking the postdoc search seriously, then the PI is not likely to take you seriously. It is essential that you customize your letter, emphasizing how your background is aligned to the PI s studies and the specifics called for in the advertisement. Consider this the first demonstration to your future PI that you are resourceful and thoughtful if you fail to do your homework, it does not build confidence that you will be diligent with your project. Equally important to convincing the PI that you have the right stuff is conveying your excitement for learning something special that is studied by his or her lab. Strive to balance what you would give to the lab and what you would gain from it.
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