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The PhD was the easy part. As ridiculous as that may sound. I have some good news, however. The postdoc itself is not the hard part. It’s the interesting, exciting part you were waiting and slogging for all this time.
Getting a postdoc appointment is the hard part. Luckily, this guide will blow all the uncertainty away. Doesn’t matter if you’re going to be a vaccine inventor, or the next Emile Durkheim, we won’t help you get where you want to be.
We’ll help you get where you need to be.
In this guide:
- An postdoc school cover letter sample that gets the top jobs.
- A guide to formatting cover letters for postdoc posts.
- Expert writing tips collated from successful Ivy League applicants.
First, see a sample postdoc cover letter.
Postdoc Cover Letter Example
This postdoc cover letter sample comes from Sam, who is due to complete his PhD in 2021, and is applying for a research position. Let’s see how he presents his arguments.
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Sam Marks PhD
37 Sunset Boulevard
New Haven, CT 06520
New Haven, June 26, 2020
Professor B. Hawthorne
Faculty Search Committee
Stanford, CA 94305
Dear Professor Hawthorne,
I am writing to apply for the position of Postdoctoral Researcher at Stanford. I am completing my PhD in Clinical Psychology and Criminology at Yale University under the direction of Professor Mark Fisher with an expected graduation date of May 2021.
Within my research, I have focused on a multidisciplinary approach to examining the nature of self harm and how social support networks affect the likelihood of self-harm being fatal. The thesis ‘Cry for Help: Non-Suicidal Self-Harm Characteristics’ takes 128 participants aged 15-39, 50% male and 50% female. Analyzing quantitative statistical data on the angle and depth of NSSH, the comparison versus factors such as time of contact with therapist, standardized family awareness of issues, number of social support network points as well as self-reported severity of suicidal ideation found the following.
It was found that severity of suicidal ideation didn’t reliably predict the severity of NSSH, i.e. its actual objective risk to life. However, it was found that gender was a reliable predictor of location of NSSH, with females mostly harming their arms and legs, while males were more likely to harm their chest and private areas. It was also found that the combined strength of social support was a significant predictor in the severity of NSSH, i.e. depth and angle. Early time of contact with a therapist was not affecting severity of NSSH, but had a significant correlation with frequency of harm.
With the NCHS reporting a 30% increase in death by suicide in the United States between 2000 and 2016, it is a highly pressing issue to reverse engineer the factors that lead to heightened risk, and many scholars consider NSSH a stage in the development of fatal suicidal ideation. The next part of my study intends to look at the relationship between strength of social support for young males and risk of online political and religious radicalization, another great risk to our civilization in these uncertain times, and there aren’t many better places to conduct this study than Stanford. My approach is highly informed by the modern machine learning cross-factor analysis that has been innovated by Professor Musk, and upon which I based my own analysis.
I am well-prepared to do my part teaching as well as researching, having taught a range of courses in Psychology, Criminology, Sociology and Statistics, such as ‘Radicalization: Social and Scientific Factors’ which has been wildly successful with the undergraduates at Yale, and grew from 7 students signed up in 2018 to over 55 in 2020. All in all, I have taught 400+ undergraduates and mentored 20+ master’s students, and achieved increasing participation in courses designed by me year and year, and higher than average results on all previously-established courses.
I am enclosing my curriculum vitae, research and teaching statements, as well as copies of transcripts. I also attach letters of reference from Dr Smith, Dr Jones, and Robert Martinson. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I could provide additional information or materials that will aid you in the evaluation of my application. I am available for interview during the next Criminology conference at Stanford, or by phone or email at any other time.
Sam Marks PhD
Let’s hit the books.
How to Write a Postdoc Cover Letter
1. Use a Professional Cover Letter Format
Presenting your findings clearly is paramount in any postdoc position. Your findings do not matter if you cannot present them legibly. The same is true for your postdoc cover letter. You must be well-organized.
Don’t lose marks on your cover letter format:
- Match your resume font—go for the classics. Helvetica might be too wild in a postdoc cover letter.
- Use 1-inch margins on all 4 sides.
- Use 1.15 line spacing. Leave a line between each section, and between paragraphs.
- ‘Align Left’ the text, and don’t use justification.
- How long should a cover letter be? Consult the institution you’re applying to.
Check all of this again at the end. Sometimes formatting can get messed up while working, especially when copy and pasting.
Let’s run down what to include in your cover letter for postdoc positions.
2. Address Your Postdoc Cover Letter
Paste your resume header with your contact details. Make sure to include your address, most institutions still prefer physical replies. Underneath, write down the date and city, and below, the details of the department head or faculty search committee.
When addressing a cover letter, make sure you get all the academic and honorary titles correctly whoever you’re writing to, just think how you’d feel if somebody underestimated you and addressed you by the wrong title after all this study. Imagine how professors would feel if you do it to them.
Check against our template:
Postdoctoral Cover Letter Header
[ Your Full Name]
[ Postdoc Title ]
[ Physical Address ]
[ Phone Number ]
[ Email Address ]
[ Date ]
[ Department / School Head ]
[ Academic / Honorary Titles]
[ Academic Department ]
[ College Name ]
[ Address ]
[ City and Zip Code ]
Expert Hint: Sending your postdoc cover letter electronically? Check our email cover letter guide which will clue you up on. At ResumeLab, there is also always more cover letter tips, dos and don’ts to know.
3. Identify The Post You’re Applying To and Introduce Yourself
Start your cover letter by right away stating why you’re writing to them. State the specific position title and where you saw it advertised (don’t send a general cover letter). If you received a referral from someone at their institution, this is also the place to mention that, so they’re aware right from the get-go.
Give the status of your thesis and expected graduation date of applicable, as well as the name of your supervisor. Address the head of the relevant faculty by their proper title and surname.
Here’s an easy template:
Postdoc Application Cover Letter Sample: Introduction
Dear [proper academic title] [surname]:
I am writing to apply for the position of [position title] at [institution name]. Given my [X]+ year research and teaching background at [past institution names], I have contributed to the understanding of [your specialization/main field] through my research into [research subject], and I am completing my PhD in [Course] at [institution name] under the direction of [thesis supervisor] with an expected graduation date of [month and year].
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4. Make Your Case
Next, you should include several paragraphs (consult the institution for how long the cover letter should be) that will describe how your research and study in graduate school as well as extracurricular activities prepare you to take the postdoc that you’re applying to.
These will typically devote some space to discussion of your previous/current thesis or research, another about your future research plans, and another about the teaching experience you have that you could bring to benefit the institution.
If you have been successful at securing outside funds for your research, that’s a huge thing to mention. If you’re applying for a teaching position, you should focus on the positive outcomes you achieve for your students.
Expected length varies not only by discipline, but especially by institution, so if they don’t make it clear in the job ad, consult with them and ask. Something seen as surplus or not enough to their requirements will be quickly discarded.
Remember that there won’t be many postdoc applications, so your postdoc cover letter must stand out. It will do so effectively by focusing on making a cogent argument of how your passion for the job and interest in that particular institution developed.
It must seem like a natural, logical choice that you work there. Both to them, and to you. If it doesn’t to you, perhaps there are better places you could apply.
Postdoctoral Cover Letter Example: Second Paragraph
Within my research, I have focused on a [approach / problem/ challenge] to examining the nature of [nature of your study]. The thesis [title of your thesis] takes [number of participants / samples] ...
5. Close Your Postdoc Cover Letter
By now, you should have made all the arguments you were going to make. You have built a logical argument, you may have even almost convinced them. Don’t waste their time writing elaborate thanks for their time. Be to the point
Run through the list of supporting documents they require and indicate you have enclosed them all. If you’re going to be at the institution for any reason in the near future, indicate that you are available for an interview then.
Sign off your cover letter with your full name, phone number and email address.
Fill in the [blanks]:
Postdoc Application Cover Letter Sample: Third Paragraph
I am enclosing my curriculum vitae, research and teaching statements, as well as copies of transcripts. I also attach letters of reference from [Referee 1], [Referee 2], and [Referee 3]. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I could provide additional information or materials that will aid you in the evaluation of my application. I am available for interview during [say when], or by phone or email at any other time.
[Digital copy of your handwritten signature]
[Your full name]
Now you know how to write a cover letter for postdoctoral positions. Good luck!
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When writing your cover letter for postdoc positions, make sure to:
- Format it properly: elegant font, even margins, spacing, a legible header with all the information.
- State the post you are hoping to take, and your credentials and tenure in this regard.
- Show exactly why, in detail, you are the best match for this position, by referencing your relevant activities and achievements.
- Show how this position is a natural progression for you to grow, teach more people, and expand the body of knowledge.
- Sign off and ask for an interview.
Do you have any more questions about writing a cover letter for postdoc jobs? Did you find our postdoc cover letter sample helpful? Leave us a comment, I’ll be more than happy to hear from you!