Academic Cover Letters
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.
Distinctions between Academic and Business Cover Letters
A cover letter for an academic job has a function similar to one for a business job, but the content differs significantly in quantity and kind. While the general advice for business cover letters—such as tailoring your letter for the specific job and selling your strengths—still applies, a cover letter for an academic position should be long enough to highlight in some detail your accomplishments during your graduate education in research, teaching, departmental service, and so on. The typical letter is thus usually one and a half to two pages long, but not more than two—roughly five to eight paragraphs.
The First Paragraph
In the opening of your letter you need to convey some basic information, such as what specific position you are applying for (using the title given in the job notice) and where you learned of the opening. Since a cover letter is a kind of persuasive writing (persuading a hiring committee to include you on a list of candidates for further review), the first paragraph of your letter should also make the initial claim as to why you are a strong candidate for the position.
Tailoring for Your Audience
In an academic context knowing your audience means reading the job notice carefully and knowing the type of institution to which you are applying. Most graduate students have studied a broad range of material within their discipline before specializing in a narrow field for the dissertation project. Since it is rare to find a job notice specifying your exact qualifications, you need to emphasize those aspects of your graduate training that seem particularly relevant to the position advertised.
- Job notice: If you've written a political science dissertation on populism in early twentieth-century US national politics, you probably won't respond to a notice seeking a specialist in international politics during the Cold War. But you may wish to apply for a position teaching twentieth-century US political parties and movements. In this case you would want to stress the relevance of your dissertation to the broad context of twentieth-century US politics, even though the study focuses narrowly on the pre-World War I period. You might also highlight courses taken, presentations given, or other evidence of your expertise that corresponds to the job notice.
- Type of institution: Often the job notice will provide a brief description of the college or university, indicating such factors as size, ownership (public, private), affiliation (religious, nonsectarian), geography (urban, suburban, rural), and so on. These factors will influence the kind of information emphasized in your letter. For example, for a job at a small liberal arts college that focuses on undergraduate teaching, you would emphasize your teaching experience and pedagogical philosophy early in the letter before mentioning your dissertation. On the other hand, for a job at a large research university you would provide at least one detailed paragraph describing your dissertation early in the letter, even indicating your plans for future research, before mentioning your teaching and other experience.
If you're still working on your dissertation, you should mention somewhere in the letter when you expect to be awarded the Ph.D., even being as specific as to mention how many chapters have been completed and accepted, how many are in draft version, and what your schedule for completion is. Last-paragraph tips include the following:
- Mention your contact information, including a phone number where you can be reached if you will be away during a holiday break.
- If you will be attending an upcoming major professional conference in your field, such as the MLA convention for language and literature professionals, indicate that you will be available for an interview there. Be sure to mention that you are available for telephone or campus-visit interviews as well.
- If you have some special connection to the school, type of institution, or region, such as having attended the school as an undergraduate or having grown up in the area, you may wish to mention that information briefly at some point.
- Mention your willingness to forward upon request additional materials such as writing samples, teaching evaluations, and letters of recommendation.
Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue Career Wiki.
After years of working towards an advanced degree and thousands and thousands of pages of writing, you may be feeling less than excited about putting together a job application for an academic position. That’s fine – let us help. Below we have included a free to download academic cover letter sample in a Microsoft Word file. Feel free to download and edit it to fit your own experience, background, and circumstances.
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Academic Cover Letter Sample
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Academic Cover Letter Sample
Academic Cover Letter (Text Format)
Dr. Jane Smith
American State University
Palo Alto, California, 94301
October 30, 2015
Dear Professor Jane Smith,
I am writing to apply for the postion of Assistant Professor of Anthropology: Evolutionary Social Science, as advertised on the American State University website. I am a graduate from Hayward University, and am currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Osford where I am due to complete my PhD requirements by May 2016. I am working on a dissertation under the direction of Dr John Jacobs. I believe that my previous teaching experience, partnered with my research in human behaviour and signalling theory make me a strong candidate for the position.
As my Curriculum Vitae demonstrates, I have taught a variety of ethnographic writing courses. My doctoral dissertation examines human cognitive ability and the socioecological underpinnings of behavioural variation, using qualitative survey-based research methods. I also run an ethnographic writing course at the University of Osford, mentoring undergraduate students in ethnographic data collection, analysis and writing. I seek to engage students by examining ways they can actively participate in class discussions, often using app technology and new collaborative platforms. I look forward to individual conferences with students, ascertaining their research direction and assisting in the composition of their theories and experiments.
I am aware that the rate of crime in New Haven is higher than average, and I am keen to use my skills to assist and protect the community to the fullest extent possible. My training and personal characteristics make me a perfect fit to handle both tough situations and present a pleasant face to the New Haven community.
Prior to my academic career I worked as a photographer and filmmaker for various organizations for 5+ years. In 2012 & 2013, I taught a Visual Anthropology International Exchange program in Bangladesh using sound recording, photography and film. I believe these skills provide me with a broad perspective of ethnography, enhancing my research methodology and passion for student engagement.
I have enclosed my curriculum vitae, statements of teaching philosophy, research interests and reference letters. I would enjoy discussing this position with you in the weeks to come. If you require any additional information, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your time and consideration.