A post-doctoral fellowship is the next step on your path to a professorship or a head-start on your career. The competition for academic jobs is fierce, and you need to put your best foot forward to land a position. Your curriculum vitae showcases your professional accomplishments; focus your cover letter on your personal qualities that will lead to success as a post-doc.
Open with a personal greeting to the professor with whom you are applying to work. While graduate school applications are directed to a program, most post-docs are under the direction of a specific professor.
State that you are applying for a post-doctoral fellowship in your first sentence. Many professors are busy and have their attention divided; focus their attention on what you can accomplish in a post-doc whenever possible.
Introduce yourself and your major professional accomplishments. Mention any connections or meetings you have had with the professor.
Discuss your dissertation work within the context of the work you plan to do as a post-doc. These paragraphs should focus on how this post-doc is a natural continuation of the research you did in your dissertation. Include how your prior work will drive the research goals and milestones you set out in the accompanying research proposal for your post-doc.
Mention major publications you have, especially ones in high-profile journals in your field. When a professor looks for a successful post-doc candidate, they look for someone who has proven they can publish high-profile work.
State clearly how you plan to play a role in the university's academic community as a post-doc. Include specialized classes you will teach, volunteering or community initiatives meaningful to you. Though research is a major focus of your post-doc, a successful post-doc candidate shows interest in serving the campus community as a whole, as you will once you are a full professor.
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