Knowing how to write a cover letter for a postdoctoral position is considered a critical phase in this process. It may be true that your experiences and skills are beautifully outlined in your curriculum vitae, however, your cover letter often will dictate whether your application will stand out and be unique. First impressions are everything and cover letter gives you the opportunity to tell your story and show your personality somehow. We shall discuss some do’s and don’ts of writing a killer cover letter here.
Start off right. Address your potential future Principle Investigator (PI) properly, as “Dr. (insert surname here).” If you begin your letter with “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern,” your application could be dismissed as generic and untailored for the position. You need to invest time to learn about the PI and his/her research and try to customize the letter as much as possible.
After the salutation, the first statement should be a formality that states why you are writing to the PI. Keep it short and to the point. Something along the line of, “I am applying for the postdoctoral position available in your laboratory that was recently advertised (where).”
The second sentence should specify your current position, place of work and mentor. State your availability from the get-go as well. End the first paragraph with just one or two concise sentences that hint at why you are the ideal candidate for the position, you will expand on these points in the next paragraphs with your personal experiences and such.
In the second paragraph, elaborate on why you should be considered for the postdoc, be careful not to sound general again, you have to talk about that particular position and navigate your story towards the exact position you are applying for. It is essential that you customize your letter, emphasizing on how your background is aligned to the PI’s studies and the specifics called for in the advertisement. Consider this the first demonstration to your future PI that you are resourceful and thoughtful. You have to sound eager and excited to be learning something new which is studied by the PI team. Strive to balance what you would give to the team and what you would gain from it.
In the next paragraphs, it is time to talk about a few key achievements, such as your most important paper or two, a grant or fellowship, or other notable honors (presentation at a conference, training you have taken part at etc). Remember that your C.V. will cover all your experiences in detail, so what you mention in the cover letter are few bold accomplishments and some statements explaining your personal experiences and learning outcomes from each position in a story format kind of thing.
End your cover letter with the same professionalism you used at the opening. You need to thank the PI for the time and consideration, provide your contact information, and it is always nice to end with a relevant and inspiring quote as well. All this needs to fit in one single page or one and a half page at most. So preciseness is the key here.
Some of the don’t of writing a cover letter is: do not use email stationery with backgrounds or pictures, choose the right font, A plain, boring font like 12-point Arial or Helvetica will usually do, proofread your letter and use short but interesting sentences and avoid sounding generic. Do not be heavy on the flattery because then your real talent and productivity will be questioned. Last but not least do not use humor and slangs and do not end a letter with an exclamation point. Hope these small tips will be of a help when writing a postdoctoral cover letter.
Source: http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/asbmbtoday_article.aspx?id=48927 / Bill Sullivan