PhD Cover Letter & Writing Guide

Master the art of crafting an impeccable PhD cover letter with our comprehensive guide, tailored to showcase your academic prowess and aspirations.
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Embarking on a PhD journey is a significant academic milestone, and the first step often begins with articulating your research goals and aspirations in a PhD cover letter. 

This document serves as a window into your academic pursuits, highlighting the depth of your research and the contributions you envision for your scientific field. 

Considering the weight it carries in the admissions process, crafting a compelling PhD cover letter is paramount. This guide will provide insights and tips to ensure your passion, dedication, and scholarly potential are unmistakably evident to the admissions committee.

Key Takeaways

  • A PhD cover letter is a vital component of your academic application, showcasing your research interests and dedication.

  • Your opening statement should be compelling, highlighting your academic journey and key achievements.

  • Do a deep dive into your academic background and research expertise and align them with the program's focus.

  • Clearly articulate your vision for the PhD, emphasizing the synergy between your goals and the program's offerings.

The Best Format for a PhD Cover Letter

teacher cover letter

Before you start writing your cover letter, it’s a good idea to go over all the important elements, as well as the standard format and layout. In fact, just as every research endeavor follows a methodology, your PhD cover letter for any industry should also be structured meticulously. 

Here’s a breakdown of the optimal format for a PhD cover letter: 

PhD Cover Letter Format

  • Contact Information: Begin with your name, university affiliation, phone number, and academic email. If you’re under the guidance of a research mentor, their details can be beneficial as well. 

  • Greetings: Directly address the admissions committee or a specific faculty member by name, showcasing your genuine interest and dedication. 

  • Introduction: Craft a compelling introduction that highlights your zeal for the chosen field and any pivotal academic accomplishments. 

  • Body: Dive deep into your research experiences, academic accolades, and the research domains you’re eager to delve into. Aim for clarity and conciseness. 

  • Conclusion and sign-off: Round off by expressing your eagerness to enhance the university’s research landscape and, finally, extend gratitude for their consideration.

In addition to that, you should also use a specific layout for your PhD cover letter to make it look professional. 

To achieve this, you should:

PhD Cover Letter Layout

  • Stick to a formal academic letter format

  • Choose a clear, professional font such as Times New Roman or Georgia

  • Ensure the font size is between 10-12pts

  • Uphold 1-inch margins on all sides

Aim for a succinct cover letter, ideally confined to a single page, ensuring it’s devoid of any extraneous elements. 

The following PhD cover letter entry-level template will assist you in crafting a well-organized document:

retail cover letter

PhD Cover Letter Structure

Now that you have an idea of what to include in your cover letter and how to set it up, it’s time to go over every section of your document in detail.

#1. Header Essentials

The header of your PhD cover letter is crucial, as it provides the essential contact details. It needs to be clear and short. 

Make sure to include: 

Mandatory Header Information

  • Name

  • Phone number

  • Professional email address

  • Institution you attended

  • Major or field of study

Following this, it’s imperative to specify the institution you’re applying to for your PhD. If you’re transitioning to a different university, highlight this to showcase your intent to broaden your academic horizons

Here’s a sample of how this section should be structured:

Header Example

Dr. Alex Morgan BA/MS in Biology from Boston University (555) 123-4567 123 Science Lane, Boston, MA 02215

Applying to: Harvard University Department of Biological Sciences 12 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138

#2. Addressing the Committee

If you want to start off your cover letter strong, you must give it a personalized touch. To do this, you may need to do some research. If you know the name of the committee chair or a key member, feel free to use it: “Dear Dr. Smith.” 

However, in most cases, specific names might not be available. In such instances, generic but still formal and respectful greetings are appropriate. 

Some suitable options include: 

Addressing the Committee Examples

  • Dear Selection Committee, 

  • Dear Admissions Committee,

  • To the Graduate Admissions Board, 

  • Dear Committee Members, 

#3. Opening Statement

Your opening statement is the gateway to your PhD cover letter, setting the stage for everything that follows. Begin by clearly stating the purpose of your letter: your intent to apply for the PhD program. 

Following this, delve into a brief overview of your academic background. Highlight where you’ve studied, your major, and any significant accomplishments or recognitions you’ve received.

Here is an example of an opening statement for a PhD cover letter: 

Opening Statement Example

I am writing to express my keen interest in the PhD program in Biological Sciences at Harvard University. Having successfully completed my BA/MS in Biology from Boston University, I have been deeply involved in groundbreaking research on cellular mechanisms, which was published in the “Journal of Advanced Biology."

#4. Academic Background & Research Expertise

In the heart of your PhD cover letter should lie the section that showcases your academic prowess and research capabilities. This is where you get the chance to shine and demonstrate that you are the best fit for the program. 

Start by detailing your educational background, ensuring you highlight any honors, awards, or distinctions you’ve received. 

Next, delve into your research expertise. Describe the projects you’ve been a part of, the methodologies you’re familiar with, and the results or findings that were significant. If you’ve had the opportunity to present your research at conferences or have any publications, this is the place to mention them. 

Your key strengths and specific interests related to the field should also be highlighted. Perhaps there’s a particular area of study you’re passionate about or a specific research question you’re eager to explore further

Here is a good PhD cover letter sample for this section: 

Academic Background & Research Expertise Example

During my tenure at Boston University, where I pursued my BA/MS in Biology, I developed a keen interest in understanding cellular responses to environmental stressors. My thesis was heavily influenced by the NCBI’s groundbreaking findings on muscle stem cell adaptations. In it, I explored the intricate processes of muscle cell regeneration under various external conditions. Furthermore, I had the privilege of collaborating on a team project that delved into the behavior of pluripotent stem cells in response to environmental stress, another topic inspired by NCBI’s research. 

#5. Articulating Your PhD Vision

After mentioning all of your relevant accomplishments, you should go into why you chose this specific PhD program. 

Discuss the unique aspects of the program that resonate with your academic interests. Perhaps there’s a particular faculty member whose work you admire, or maybe the program offers resources that will be instrumental in your research. 

Keep in mind that the selection committee is evaluating not just your suitability for the program but also whether the program aligns with your aspirations and needs. Therefore, let them know what draws you to that program.

Here is an example of what this section could look like:

PhD Vision Example

Harvard’s PhD program in Biological Sciences stands out due to its focus on advanced cellular biology and esteemed faculty members like Dr. Jane Smith. Her work on cellular responses resonates deeply with my research at Boston University. I see Harvard as the ideal environment to further my studies and contribute to groundbreaking research in the field. 

#6. Invitation for Further Discussion

At the end of your cover letter, you should extend an invitation for further dialogue. This is where you express your eagerness to discuss your qualifications, research interests, and how they align with the program’s objectives. 

A well-crafted call to action can be instrumental in paving the way for a potential interview or discussion. 

Here’s an example of a good call to action:

Invitation Example

Thank you for considering my application. I would be honored to discuss how my background and aspirations align with Harvard’s prestigious PhD program. I am available at your earliest convenience for further discussion. 

#7. Professional Sign Off

The sign-off of your cover letter is the final impression you leave with the selection committee, and it should exude respect, gratitude, and professionalism. 

With that in mind, there are two fundamental elements of a professional sign-off, and they are:

Elements of a Professional Sign-off

  • Formal Closing: Opt for a formal and universally accepted closing such as Sincerely, Kind regards, or Best regards.

  • Name and Title: Under the closing, type your full name. It's also a good practice to include your current academic title or designation, adding to the clarity and formality.

Now that you have all the information you need to craft a cover letter of your own, here's a biological science PhD cover letter example to help you out in those efforts.

4 Essential Strategies for Writing a PhD Cover Letter

No matter if you are writing a cover letter for a PhD scholarship or a PhD cover letter as an industry professional, here are a few tips that can help you draft a perfect one:

PhD Cover Letter Tips

  • Tailor your cover letter to the specific PhD program, highlighting how your interests align with their offerings. 

  • Maintain brevity, ensuring your cover letter is concise yet impactful, and avoid unnecessary jargon. 

  • Balance showcasing your hard skills, like research accomplishments, with soft skills, such as collaboration or communication. 

  • Always proofread your cover letter meticulously to eliminate any errors and avoid looking unprofessional and sloppy. 

Final Thoughts

Crafting a PhD cover letter is a meticulous process that requires careful reflection on one’s academic trajectory and aspirations. This guide has provided a structured approach to ensure your application stands out to selection committees. 

As you articulate your academic achievements and future goals, it’s imperative to maintain a tone of professionalism and clarity. A well-composed cover letter not only showcases your qualifications but also underscores your commitment to advancing in your chosen field

Henry Garrison
Henry Garrison
Senior Content Writer
Henry Garrison is a senior content writer, but he is also a guitarist, a baseball fan, and a family man. He has years of experience in the industry, and he loves challenging himself and thinking outside the box. His passion is writing high-quality content that helps thousands of people land their dream job! He has had his fair share of editing content too, and loves to help out everyone in the team.

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