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Winning Cover Letter for a PhD Fellowship/Position

Updated on July 8, 2014

The cover letter is the first document taken up by the selection committee. It will inform them whether you are the right candidate with required qualification, expertise and interest. Additionally, the cover letter also displays your writing skills. It is common in the hiring process that based on the cover letter they will decide to see other related documents such as CV and recommendation letters. Therefore, constructing an exceptional cover letter is important and challenging for candidates aspiring for PhD position. This hub provides you with some helpful tips to write a successful cover letter for a PhD fellowship.

First step is to understand the structure of the cover letter and to prepare a rough draft about your educational background, technical expertise and interests that directly match the advertised position. Next step is to arrange them logically. Final step is to edit and proof-read. The length of the cover letter is one page in length with three to four paragraphs.

First paragraph

The opening paragraph is also called as an introductory paragraph of the cover letter. It should be short containing the source of the fellowship (advertisement), your name, current position and your interest in the particular fellowship/laboratory.

Body of the cover letter (second and/or third paragraph

There will be many applicants for a single PhD fellowship. The body of the cover letter is used to convince the selection committee that you are the best fit for the position. Many candidates will be having the same level of education and experience that you hold. Thus, you should express your accomplishments in a unique way to make your cover letter as exceptional.

Elaborate your academic and technical skills and indicate how they will be contributing for this particular research position. Candidates applying for PhD fellowships may or may not have publications. If you have one, include a statement about it. On the other hand, many applicants will have experience working in a small project or dissertation during their master’s program. If that is your case, write briefly about the objectives, techniques adopted and the outcome of the study.

Importantly, express your passion in the research field. Explain briefly why you are interested to work in a specific area of research in a particular laboratory. Remember that PhD course is aimed to train candidates in research with higher level of skills. Thus, include a couple of sentences how the fellowship will help you to build your research interests and career.

Last paragraph

The closing paragraph should highlight the documents (CV, reference letter contacts) that you are enclosing with the cover letter. Indicate how you will arrange for the reference letters. Additionally, write a thank-you note for going through your letter and your willingness and availability for an interview.

Important tips

  • Google search for sample cover letters and use the best template to construct your cover letter by keeping the above-mentioned tips.
  • Avoid sending the same cover letter to multiple advertisements. Your goal is to secure an interview. Therefore, it is crucial to customize your letter for specific position that you wish to apply.
  • Use right ‘action words’ to describe your academic achievements, research skills and techniques. For example, to state your education success use words ‘accomplished’, ‘earned’, ‘obtained’, etc. To highlight research skills and technical expertise, appropriate action words would be ‘solved’, ‘mastered’, ‘computed’, etc.
  • Finally, don’t forget to format your letter with right font size, checking for spelling and grammar.

Below hubs, though it has been written for post-docs, it will be help you to write CV, use of appropriate action words and reference letters.


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