The academic cover letter and the academic curriculum vitae, or CV are two of the most important documents that an academic seeking a new position will ever write. The reality is that for any one open academic post the search committee may receive several hundred cover letters and CVs of potentially well-qualified candidates. Typically the responsibility of the first review of applications to narrow down the applicant pool to twenty to thirty top candidates is divided such that each cover letter and CV may only be read by one or two people. Statistics indicate that approximately half of academic applicants gloss over the cover letter and consider it’s writing to be a mere formality component of their overall package. The actuality is that the cover letter is extremely important and it can be used to showcase the applicant’s enthusiasm, interest and knowledge of the school and specific program, and other special qualities for consideration of the academic search committee.
The academic cover letter should contain a few key components. The cover letter should be addressed to a specific individual as outlined in the position announcement with their name spelled correctly and their title and department accurate. If this information was not immediately available, do some research to determine to whom to address the letter. Sometimes calling the school department is necessary. The first paragraph of the cover letter should give the details of how you found out about the position and details about your degree program and your major professor, especially if they are well known in the field.
The second and third paragraphs should highlight why you are interested in the position and how your experience addresses the need of the school. Be sure to include your teaching and research experience, along with any industry experience. Try to pinpoint your interest in the position to some specific details about the school or the program. In the last paragraph of your cover letter, thank the search committee for their time, provide details of the enclosures, and offer to provide more information or documents as required.
Also indicate that you are looking forward to meeting with the search committee. Ensure that you carefully review your cover letter for errors, and get a critical review from a trusted person.
Example of a Good Academic Cover Letter
With an idea of the key components of a successful cover letter, do some research and review as many academic cover letter examples as you can find. Especially seek examples that best fit your academic specialty. Below is an example of a good cover letter. Details have been altered to protect privacy.
Name of search committee chairperson
Dear Professor XXXXXX:
I am responding to your recent posting in the Water Environment Federation for a tenured faculty position in the Environmental Engineering Department at Purdue University. I am currently in the process of completing my doctorate degree at Iowa State University in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in the College of Engineering. The emphasis of my thesis research is biological reactor design for anaerobic treatment of industrial wastewaters. Dr. Richard XXXXX is my major professor for my research.
I enjoy teaching very much, and have discovered that Iowa State is an academic institution that places a high value on teaching as well as research. I have been a graduate teaching assistant for a water quality and air pollution undergraduate course. In addition, I co-developed a new laboratory course in bioreactor design.
I am also keen on finding an academic post that allows for significant research opportunities as well as teaching opportunities. While at Iowa State, I authored several research grants and played a key role in the award of a grant from American Society of Water Treatment in excess of three hundred thousand dollars. In addition, Iowa State is in the process of applying for a U.S. patent on one of my bioreactor designs. I would very much like to continue research to contribute to furthering technology applications.
My degree program will be completed in May of 2012. I have enclosed my curriculum vita, including a list of references, publications, and poster and oral presentations. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Very truly yours,
The above academic cover letter sample has all of the elements of a successful cover letter. The applicant did their research to tailor the letter to the university seeking to fill the position. The first paragraph gave the background details of the applicant’s degree, university, and whom they worked under. The second and third paragraphs provided details on their academic and non-academic experience and how their experience makes a good fit for the university. The last paragraph provided a wrap-up of the enclosures, thanked the search committee, and provided a wish to meet the search committee soon. In addition, the cover letter was fit to one page which is always appreciated by search committees that have to review many application packages.