Academic Cover Letters
Academic cover letters vary in length, purpose, content and tone. Each job application requires a new, distinct letter.
For applications that require additional research or teaching statements, there is no point repeating these points in a cover letter – here, one page is enough (brief personal introduction, delighted to apply, please find enclosed X, Y, Z documents).
Other applications ask for a CV and a cover letter only, in which case the letter will need to be longer and require more detail. Others ask explicitly for this detail in the form of a supporting statement that sets out how you fulfil the job criteria. Aim for a maximum length of two pages, though for roles at associate professor level and above it may extend to 3-5 pages. In all cases it is important to use the space effectively and show that you can prioritise according to what they are looking for.
In all cases:
- Your letter is a piece of academic writing – you need a strong argument and empirical evidence
- Write for the non-expert to prove that you can communicate well
- Make sure you sound confident by using a tone that is collegial (rather than like a junior talking to a senior)
- Demonstrate your insight into what the recruiting department is doing in areas of research and teaching, and say what you would bring to these areas from your work so far.
- Give quantifiable evidence of teaching, research and funding success where possible.
What is a Teaching Statement and Why Do You Need One?
When making an academic job application, you may be asked for a teaching statement (sometimes referred to as a ‘philosophy of teaching statement’). These statements may also be requested of candidates for grant applications or teaching awards.
A teaching statement is a narrative that describes:
- How you teach
- Why you teach the way you do
- How you know if you are an effective teacher, and how you know that your students are learning.
The rationale behind a teaching statement is to:
- Demonstrate that you have been reflective and purposeful about your teaching. This means showing an understanding of the teaching process and your experience of this
- Communicate your goals as an instructor, and your corresponding actions in the laboratory, classroom, or other teaching setting.
Format and style of a Teaching Statement
There is no required content or format for a teaching statement because they are personal in nature, but they are generally 1-2 pages, and written in the first person. The statement will include teaching strategies and methods to help readers ‘see’ you in a lab, lecture hall, or other teaching setting. The teaching statement is, in essence, a writing sample, and should be written with the audience in mind (i.e. the search committee for the institution(s) to which you are applying). This means that, like a cover letter, your teaching statement should be tailored for presentation to different audiences.
Articulating your teaching philosophy
Consider your experiences as both teacher and learner, and always keep your subject at the forefront. Consider all opportunities that you have previously had to teach, mentor, or guide, and determine instances that were both successful and perhaps not so successful. Understanding why and how learning happens is an important part of your teaching philosophy.
Here are some general areas to focus on in your teaching statement:
Goals: Convey your teaching goals. What would you like students to get out of your courses? What matters most to you in teaching and why?
Strategies: List effective teaching strategies. How will you realise your goals? What obstacles exist to student learning and how do you help students overcome them?
Evidence: Specific examples of your teaching experience are powerful in a teaching statement. Provide evidence that your students have learned (or not) in the past.
Some applications ask for a short research statement. This is your opportunity to propose a research plan and show how this builds on your current expertise and achievements. It forms the basis for discussions and your presentation if you are invited for interview.
- Tailor each statement to the particular role you are applying for
- Make sure there are clear links between your proposal and the work of the recruiting institution
- Write about your research experience stating the aims, achievements, relevant techniques and your responsibilities for each project
- Write as much (within the word limit) about your planned research and its contribution to the department, and to society more broadly
- Invest time and ask for feedback from your supervisor/principal investigator or colleagues.