If you’re applying for a job in academia, it’s time to put everything you know about cover letters to the side. Why? Well, because this niche has some rules of its own (compared to the private sector) when it comes to job search, the interview process and preparing your CV/cover letter combo.
We’re here to help you navigate this. To start, take a look at several essential cover letter writing tips, Then, review our academic cover letter sample.
It’s Okay to Stray From The Standard Three Paragraphs
A business cover letter is usually three paragraphs, and one page long at most. That won’t be the case with your academic cover letter. In truth, your letter will likely be closer to two pages.
In fact, not only will your letter be longer, you should avoid significant amounts of white space. Think of a letter, written in paragraph style, with lots of detail. That is precisely what your cover letter should be.
Finally, the tone absolutely matters. Even if you are a graduate student seeking your first position as a research assistant, you should write your letter as a potential colleague. Your writing should exude professionalism and confidence in your skills as a researcher and lecturer.
Align With The Department Faculty Review Team
Your entire application packet, including your cover letter, will be read and discussed by faculty members from the department at which you are applying.
That’s why you should take the time to learn about the culture and philosophy of the department. Educate yourself about the major research projects they have underway. Then, show where your own research goals and philosophies intersect with those.
Lead Off With The Right Answers
Forget about writing a wordy cover letter introduction where you go on and on about your philosophies and interests. Instead, keep your introductory paragraph succinct.
- Who you are,
- What your current position is
- What your duties in that position are
- The research field you’re in
- Your key contribution to that field.
Try something like this:
‘My name is Dr. Debra Smith. I am currently an associate professor of Mass Communications at the University of South Florida. My focus is on media ethics. In addition to teaching classes at USF, I am researching the use of rhetoric to impact the behavior of large groups.’
Next, continue with a statement of interest in the position at hand, and your qualifications. Perhaps something like this:
‘Because there is such a tight connection between effective communication and public welfare, I look forward to joining your interdisciplinary faculty as a lead researcher at the University of Miami School of Public Policy and Social Justice.’
Academic Cover Letter Sample (Word version)
Here is a cover letter example that you can use as a guide when you write your own cover letter. Keep in mind it is somewhat abbreviated as most academic cover letters will be closer to two pages. However, this letter covers much of what you should address.
Academic Cover Letter Example (text version)
Dear Dr. Baker,
My name is Dr. Ellis Howard. I’m a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, and a biology research assistant at the college of Ecology and Animal Science. I am currently conducting field research on the impacts of flooding on freshwater shellfish in the Ohio River and will be graduating with honors in May of this year.
My research has led me to be very interested in doing work that promotes biodiversity in rivers in the upper Midwest. That is why I am submitting my application for Research Assistant and Adjunct Biology Professor. I am confident that my research experience and dedication to preserving habitats will make me a perfect addition to the faculty at the Denver College of Life Science Research.
Although my research has led to my working entirely in the field in very remote locations, I still dedicate a lot of effort to maintain my connections to other students, faculty, and researchers in the college of Ecology and Animal Science. I currently teach two online courses: “Intro to Biology” and “Ecology For Business Majors”. I have also completed research projects relating to marine life diversity. Those studies have been published in the Scientific Journal of Marine Life, and have been peer-reviewed.
I have attached my CV. That document has links to items I have published. You may also contact me at our convenience for letters of recommendation. I look forward to the faculty review.
Dr. Ellis Howard
Final Tip: Be Inclusive
This is good advice for any industry, but the academics field tends to be ahead of the curve when it comes to social issues. So be sure to write your letter in a gender-inclusive manner. Find the preferred pronouns of the recipient and use those.
If you aren’t sure of the correct pronouns to use at any point in time use they/their. If you have been in the field for years and are cleaning up your old CV, be sure to remove any phrasing that may not have aged well.