While a good cover letter makes an explicit connection between how your past experience will help you succeed in the postdoc position, a great cover letter sparks the PI’s interest and ensures they read your CV. Here are some tips to make sure your cover letter is a great one.
Before you start writing, learn as much as you can about the position and the lab. Do some research on the department’s website and talk to your mentors about the group. It’s also a good idea to take a look at their recent papers to familiarize yourself with the kind of work they do. Once you have a good understanding of the position and group, you can determine which of your qualifications would be most applicable. Be sure to emphasize them in your cover letter.
The Cover Letter Format
A cover letter starts like a formal letter with the date at the top followed by the name and work address of the job poster. This is followed by the salutation. For a postdoc position, you will often be addressing your letter to the PI. However, if it is not clear from the advertisement who the job poster is, you can always address the letter to “members of the search committee).
The opening paragraph should explain why you are writing this letter. Indicate the specific position you are applying for and where you saw it advertised. If another professor at the university or someone the PI knows suggested that you apply for the position, mention it here. Follow it up with a short description of yourself that will allow the reader to place you academically. This could be something like “I am in the final year of my PhD in (field) at (name of university) and will be graduating/defending/finishing in (month). My dissertation is titled (title) and is supervised by Professor (name)”.
The Body Paragraphs
The bulk of your cover letter will be spent demonstrating how you are the right candidate for this postdoc by highlighting your qualifications and showing how they will benefit this specific project. One of the biggest mistakes you make is not tailoring this section to each position you apply for.
In a postdoc cover letter, it is common to dedicate one paragraph to your dissertation or current research project. Summarize your research topic, your key findings or arguments and why they matter to the field.
Now, this next step is important: you must translate your dissertation and previous research to the postdoc project. What expertise will you bring to the project by virtue of your past research that no one else can? Give specific examples that show you understand the proposed projects. Work in reference to you major awards and accomplishments while doing so. Depending on the requirements of the position, it might also be relevant to discuss your teaching experience here. Remember, the theme throughout the body paragraphs should be how your research experience will make this postdoc project successful.
The Final Paragraph
This last paragraph covers some job applicant formalities. In it, you should write that you have attached your CV and other necessary documents in your application. Mention that you look forward to hearing from them and are available to discuss the position further in an interview. Finally, thank them for their consideration before signing off.
Once you have written your postdoc cover letter, ask your supervisor or a mentor to review it for you. They are likely to have had some experience hiring and will be able to make valuable suggestions from the other side of the table. They can also check that your cover letter is formatted according to the conventions of your field.