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How to write a Cover Letter for your PhD Application


  • The aim of your cover letter is to convince the supervisor that you are a suitable candidate for the PhD position.
  • Your cover letter should be half a page to a full page in length; it should be concise and to the point.
  • Your cover letter should include your personal details, the position you’re applying for, your motivation for applying, what you know about the project, what relevant experience you have and what makes you suited for the position and last, a closing remark.

The two documents crucial to get right when applying to a PhD are your CV and covering letter.

In this article, we’ll set out the core guidelines you should follow to create an effective cover letter.

What Is the Purpose of A Cover Letter?

A cover letter is a written document that accompanies your CV when applying for a PhD.

It’s different from a CV as instead of being a structured summary of your skills and experience, it’s written specifically with the PhD position you’re applying for in mind. As a result, all cover letters should be tailored for the specific position you are applying for.

The primary aim of your cover letter should be to convince the PhD supervisor that you are a suitable candidate for the PhD project.

A cover letter should complement your CV and sell yourself as a person – will your potential supervisor be excited to work with you after having read your cover letter?

What Should I Include in My Cover Letter?

You should demonstrate that you have the skills which make you suited for research. It is essential that you recognise these skills in you and that you use them to promote yourself.

1. Your Personal Details

Include your nameaddressemail address and phone number. This is so the supervisor can reach you should they have questions or require any further information.

2. The Position You’re Applying For

Help the supervisor establish exactly which PhD position you are applying for as there may be several positions being advertised at one time.

3. Why You’re Interested in The Position

Use this section to explain your motivations for applying to the specific PhD. Do you have a natural interest in it? Is it related to the dissertation you produced as part of your final year undergraduate dissertation etc?

Whatever your motivation for applying to the PhD, make sure that your enthusiasm comes across clearly. The supervisor will appreciate how great a role self-drive plays in completing PhD projects and you will want to convince them you have the level of drive required to be successful.

4. What You Understand About the Project

Besides explaining your motivations for undertaking the project, demonstrate that you possess a basic understanding of it. In doing so, make sure you reinforce each point with some level of evidence; avoid making general statements or talking loosely around the research subject. This will show the PhD supervisor that you’ve taken the time to research the background to the project.

5. What Relevant Experience You Have

In this section, discuss any relevant experience you have within the field of research. Don’t worry if you have little experience in this area as this will be the case for most applicants. If you don’t have any experience, then use this section to explain how you will be committed to the PhD research project. However, if you have some experience in conducting research, explain exactly what your role was, the research and analytical methods you used and any other topics that may be relevant.

6. Closing Statement

Keep this short and concise. Thank the supervisor for taking the time to read your application and let them know that you’re looking forward to hearing from them.

How Long Should My Cover Letter Be?

Your cover letter should be between half a page to one full page.

To make it effective, keep it as concise and straight to the point as possible. Remember, you will submit your CV with it so only include information that either expands on the material already included in your CV or isn’t included in your CV at all.

Tip – Make sure to get the title of the supervisor correct. Are they Dr. or Professor? It might seem like a minute detail, but if you get it incorrect, you will give the impression that you lack attention to detail. Given that you are applying for a PhD position, this will not fill them with confidence.

Want to know how to make a great CV to go with your cover letter? If so, refer to our CV for a PhD Application article.

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