How to write a postdoc cover letter (with example)
Updated 4 June 2023
When applying for competitive postdoctoral positions, creating a compelling CV and effective cover letter is vital for your job search. As a limited role typically found in academic environments, postdoctoral jobs provide the experience and foundation for various career paths. Whether you plan to apply to your current university or are considering roles on a broader scale, a high-quality cover letter quickly communicates your capabilities, experience and academic skills. In this article, we cover what postdoctoral jobs are, detail how to write a postdoc cover letter and provide tips alongside a template and an example to help you.
What is a postdoc?
Postdoctoral positions are roles typically found within universities that students may apply for following a PhD or similar doctorate-level qualification. Postdoctoral researchers aren't students, though this role is usually in an academic or educational setting. Some research centres and private companies may also offer postdoctoral positions as an entry-level role for researchers to develop their skills. Postdoctoral positions are valuable for different career paths, including graduates looking to teach in academia, individuals furthering their experience in research roles or people looking to find work in specialised industries. These are temporary positions that usually last between one and six years.
Postdoctoral researchers use their expertise gained from studying a PhD to research a particular topic independently. Depending on the organisation sponsoring the role, researchers may also supervise students and PhD candidates and manage their own research. Most postdoc positions are within STEM fields and follow on from PhDs to help you gain skills and experience to either work as a researcher or continue in academia.
How to write a postdoc cover letter
Learning how to write a postdoc cover letter and CV is a priority if you plan to apply for a postdoctoral position. These documents provide valuable insight into who you are and why you're a valuable addition to a particular research project or programme. Here are the steps to writing your cover letter for postdoc jobs:
1. Provide your contact details
Including your contact information at the top of your cover letter is standard across most industries. This information makes it easy for employers to contact you if you reach the interview stage. Your full name, address, phone number and email address are standard additions to a cover letter. Ensuring this information matches the details on your CV helps to improve cohesion and provide a professional impression.
2. Use a suitable greeting
When you apply for postdoctoral roles, you may be applying to professionals you already know, or you may research the name of the individual reviewing applications. For example, if you're applying for a role at the same university where you completed your PhD, you may be able to enquire within the school about the person's name to address your cover letter. The head researcher or supervising academic are typical hiring managers for postdoctoral roles.
3. Write an introductory paragraph
Your introductory paragraph provides insight into why you're writing the cover letter and who you are. Being your initial introduction to a potential employer, the first paragraph includes the position you're applying for, where you learned of the opportunity and a brief description of yourself and your work to date. For example, you might mention the topic of study for your PhD and reference the university you studied at.
4. Detail your experience and qualifications
The main body of your cover letter provides space for you to explain why you're a good fit for a postdoctoral role. Using the job posting, write about the aspects of the role that are most relevant to your past research. Including a summary of your current research also illustrates your experience in relation to the job you're applying for.
5. Conclude with relevant information
Your cover letter ends with relevant information about where to find your CV, final details of why you're a good fit for the role and your availability. Your conclusion is a good place to thank the reader for their time. End with a professional sign-off followed by your name to end the letter.
6. Proofread your cover letter
Before sending your cover letter, reading and reviewing the information ensures you haven't made any mistakes. For example, you may be able to condense your cover letter down to fit on a single page, or there may be spelling errors you didn't notice before. Asking a friend, family member or mentor to check your cover letter may provide a fresh perspective to ensure your letter is as professional as possible.
Tips for writing a postdoc cover letter
When you write a postdoc cover letter, ensure you provide all the necessary information to the hiring manager. A concise letter that explains your capabilities, experience and why you're a strong candidate for the role is more likely to attract their attention. Here are some tips to consider when writing a postdoc cover letter:
Research the company or facility ahead of time
Researching the organisation advertising the position is vital when tailoring your cover letter. For example, a university may specialise in a particular area of research related to what you've studied. By doing your research, you better communicate why you're a good fit for the job.
Tailor your cover letter to each application
Effective cover letters are specifically made for each job application, from the skills you list to how you talk about the research and specialisation of that research team. Starting each cover letter with the same template but tailoring how you speak to each potential employer helps establish your value to them specifically. If you talk about the particular specialisations of their research or school, this indicates additional effort and interest.
List your experience and research in detail
As a role that's focused on professional-level research, potential employers for postdoctoral positions want to know about your experience as a researcher. While other cover letters may touch on experience, the primary focus of a postdoc cover letter is how your past research connects to their ongoing projects. Senior researchers can gauge how valuable you might be to a project by using the information you provide.
Postdoc cover letter template
Below is a template you can use to help you write your postdoc cover letter:
Dear [hiring manager],
[Describe your interest in the postdoc position, explain why you're applying and reference your past experience. You can also mention any connections you have with the university or organisation at this point]
[Summary of existing research]
[Explain why you might be a good fit for the postdoc role based on your existing research and the specialisation of the lab]
[Conclude with the key skills and experience that make you an asset, mention where your CV can be found and offer the opportunity to get in contact for further information]
Postdoc cover letter example
Below is an example of a postdoc cover letter to give you an idea of what to include in your own:
123 Main Road, Bristol, Avon
Dr Melissa Sykes
General University 345 Country Road, Bristol, Avon
Dear Dr Sykes,
I am writing to you to express my interest in the open postdoc laboratory position at General University. As a graduate of the university PhD programme specialising in biochemistry for agriculture, I would value continuing my postdoctoral studies as a part of your team. You may remember meeting me at the graduation party at the end of the previous school year.
In my research, my core focus was on examining the benefits of biochemicals in aeroponic agriculture environments for commercial usage. As a part of my studies, I worked on developing aeroponic-safe solutions for use with various vegetables on an industrial scale. As the overuse of resources and space in commercial agriculture is a serious concern, my work revolved around implementing measures to improve yield in aeroponic environments through biochemical growth chemicals that are safe for human consumption.
I hope to continue my research to further develop this concept as a member of a wider research team. As your lab is one of the leading centres in biochemicals and agriculture, I would highly value the opportunity to continue my long-term research at General University. I believe that my unique expertise may be valuable to your future projects, bringing a new perspective to sustainable agriculture solutions.
As a self-motivated learner with over eight years of research experience, I am highly committed to delivering quality research in a high-level setting. I feel that my skills in grant proposal administration, tutoring and research could all be beneficial to your lab environment. I've included my CV and am currently available most weekdays to further discuss my abilities and research. Please don't hesitate to let me know if you have further questions.
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