Best writing practices for an academic cover letter
The purpose of an academic cover letter is to express your interest in a particular position and introduce you to the hiring committee. It should answer the questions those on the committee will likely have, like how your academic background, experience, and achievements in teaching and research make you a good fit for the role.
What makes an academic cover letter different from a standard cover letter?
Like a business cover letter, a cover letter for academia is, at its core, a piece of persuasive writing. When developing your academic cover letter, you’ll still want to focus on the strengths you promise to bring to a specific role. However, there are a few things that make an academic cover letter different from a standard one.
Academic cover letter structure is typically longer than a standard cover letter. This is because there are generally more requirements listed in the job description, and you need to be able to cover them all.
Even early on in your academic career, you may end up with a two-page letter. More advanced academics may write up to four pages, depending on their area of expertise.
You might have noticed that academic cover letter examples also focus much more on education and how it’s prepared the applicant for the role they’re applying for. You’ll use your letter to address your teaching experience, the research you’ve completed, and what your educational background might add to the institution.
Additionally, if you’re affiliated with a specific institution, you’ll write your academic cover letter on university letterhead. This is very different from the business world, where you would use standard cover letter and resume templates instead of submitting an application to a potential new employer on your current employer’s letterhead.
Research the institution to which you’re applying to get a sense of its mission, commitments, needs, and culture. This will help you tailor your cover letter to address how your background and expertise can help the institution’s leadership in their efforts.
What other elements should be present?
Whether you’ve mostly applied for corporate positions or this is your first job application in any field, writing an academic cover letter can be challenging. Here are some specific elements you should include that you may not find in most cover letter articles.
Highlight why you’re interested in academic projects
Academic institutions want employees and faculty members who can contribute something unique to the students and the institution as a whole. The hiring committee understands that those who aren’t deeply passionate about research and teaching likely won’t be enthusiastic about doing so.
As such, your cover letter must show the hiring committee why you’re interested in academia and the particular field you want to teach or research. Hiring personnel generally believe that passionate applicants will work harder on projects and are more likely to stand the test of time when they encounter inevitable challenges.
Emphasize your educational background
Your education is what ultimately prepares you for a career in academia. Your graduate and doctoral studies give you the knowledge you’ll pass on to others through teaching. They’re also what fuels your passion for research and likely where you got your first chance to conduct or even lead in-depth research projects.
While it’s important to discuss your teaching experience, the hiring committee will want to know that you’ve obtained a quality education and taken advantage of every opportunity to develop and explore topics that interest you.
By emphasizing your educational background, you can show the hiring committee you’re ready to take on the rigors of academia.
Discuss any publications, presentations, or conferences
Publishing papers and making public presentations about your work reinforces your status as a scholar. This can help you get more opportunities to work with other prominent researchers or receive grant money. At the same time, the prestige you garner from publishing or presenting your research gets transferred to the institution.
If your work has been made public in any way, don’t hesitate to discuss this fact in your cover letter. It can go a long way toward making you a more attractive candidate.
Mention grants and funding you’ve received
Grants provide the monetary resources institutions need to continue carrying out critical research. However, as anyone who has ever filled out a grant application understands, they aren’t easy to get. Many academics are often applying for the same grants, and rejections are common.
For this reason, discussing the grants and funding you’ve received for your own research can pique the hiring committee’s interest.
Highlighting your past funding demonstrates that you know what goes into a grant application and have been successful in the past. It can also excite those on the hiring committee, as they’ll likely believe you’ll be able to repeat that success if you’re given a position at their institution.
Discuss relevant academic organizations and memberships
Joining academic organizations and clubs accomplishes two goals. First, it demonstrates your passion for and commitment to the profession. When the hiring committee sees that you’re a member of prominent field-related organizations, they’ll think of you as someone who’s dedicated to constant learning.
Furthermore, becoming a member of various organizations related to your field of study allows you to develop relationships with other like-minded academic professionals.
Hiring committees may prefer candidates who are well-connected, as this could open up additional opportunities to participate in research or garner funding for important projects.
The purpose of an academic cover letter is to express your interest in a particular position and introduce you to the hiring committee. It should answer the questions those on the committee will likely have.
Dos and don’ts for academic cover letters
When writing a cover letter for academic positions, consider the following tips to make sure you’re submitting your best work:
- Do read the job posting thoroughly, as it will help you decide which points to cover
- Don’t include too much information about your teaching philosophy if the institution has already requested this in a separate document
- Do include a reference to the other materials you included in your package in your closing (this is especially important if they were specifically requested in the job description)
- Don’t simply rehash your resume; instead, expand on what’s there by highlighting the skills and experience that make you a great fit
- Do take the time to proofread your document to ensure clear and error-free writing, as this shows you’re ready for the high-level writing you’ll be required to do if offered the position
- Don’t get too unconventional when it comes to the design of your cover letter or resume examples — the university letterhead will provide enough flair
By adhering to these cover letter tips and best practices, you can write an academic cover letter that points to you as the ideal candidate for the position.
Put your best foot forward in your next academic cover letter
Academic cover letters are typically longer and more education-focused than standard cover letters. Though they can be tricky to write, the process becomes much easier when you know what elements to include.
As you draft your letter, highlight why you’re interested in academia as a career. Discuss your published works, public presentations, and research funding, and mention your academic affiliations.
Make it a point to cover all points in the job description without repeating information found in other application documents. Careful proofreading will help you submit a clear, well-thought-out letter that presents your best and most authentic self to the hiring committee.
Lastly, try using cover letter templates to get acquainted with what a well-written academic cover letter looks like. With a clear example of the structure and content, you’ll be able to craft an exceptional letter that stands out from the rest and makes you more likely to be considered for your dream role.