The academic cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself and to discuss your dissertation project, teaching experience, publications, research interests, and the courses you would be interested in teaching.
Always include a cover letter when sending your curriculum vitae for an academic position. Tailor your cover letter to the position you are applying to. To do this, find out as much as you can about the hiring process, the position, the institution, the department, and the context in which each operates.
How is an Academic Cover Letter Structured?
Use a formal business letter format. Note, an academic cover letter can run multiple pages.
What is the Content of a Cover Letter?
Tailor your letter to the specific institution and department. Visit the department’s website to become familiar with the course offerings and any special programs. If you are applying for a research-oriented position, begin by discussing your research and dissertation. If you are seeking a teaching-intensive job, you may wish to open with your teaching experience.
Your letter should, ideally, be addressed to a specific individual. Alternatively, you can address it to a search committee; be sure to use correct titles.
State why you are writing, the position for which you are applying, your current institutional affiliation, and where you found out about the opportunity.
Research and/or Dissertation
Provide evidence of the quality of your scholarly research. Include the title, a clear description of the project, and the direction you would like your future research to take. If sections of your dissertation have been published, if you have a book contract, or if you have presented sections of the dissertation at conferences, mention that here. Try to relate your research to the needs of the institution if possible.
Discuss your teaching experience and philosophy. Mention types of courses you are willing and able to teach, the titles of some of the courses you have taught, and your title (adjunct, teaching assistant, lecturer). For a search committee to assess what teaching load you can handle, they need to have a clear sense of your prior teaching experiences. Be specific:
- Did you create a new syllabus or did you use an existing curriculum?
- What type of course(s) did you teach (e.g., large lecture, small discussion seminar)?
- How many students/sections did you teach?
- Did you hold office hours? Grade papers? Guest lecture?
In addition to being evaluated on the quality of your research, you will be evaluated on your potential to be a productive scholar while in the teaching position. Use this paragraph to discuss future research projects and courses you have developed or will develop that are specific to their needs. You will also be evaluated on your potential to be an active member of the academic community, so include any related professional experience.
At this point, thank the search committee, and reaffirm your interest in the position. You may also include the names of those writing letters of recommendation and indicate that your dossier will be forwarded under separate cover.
- The Academic Job Search Handbook
- The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career
- The Chronicle of Higher Education