Academic Cover Letters for Statistical Science Faculty Positions

Originally Posted: September 8, 2015

Academic job cover letters are field-specific, and many online resources are geared toward the humanities and wet lab sciences. I've had quite a few trainees ask me for advice on writing (bio)statistics cover letters.

Here are my thoughts, but I also always encourage trainees to seek out samples from their peers who were successful on the job market. Additionally, it is a good idea to have a faculty mentor read all of your materials, including your cover letter. 

General Comments

For many search committees, the most important piece of your application is your CV.  Therefore, while your cover letter should be professional and free of typos, don't overthink it.

Length of one page for fresh PhDs and postdocs.

I generally do not think it's a good idea to name specific faculty you'd plan to collaborate with in your letter. You're unlikely to be familiar with department dynamics, and are more likely to accidentally demonstrate your lack of knowledge (e.g., naming a research inactive faculty member) than help yourself. Some faculty also think this makes candidates look too much like they are still graduate students and not an independent investigator.

It does not matter if your cover letter is on letterhead.


These are my suggestions for cover letter structure at research-intensive universities.

Paragraph 1: Tell what job you are applying for (they may have multiple hires that year), your current position and advisor if applicable, plus where you got your doctoral training and with whom, if you're not currently a doctoral student. Summary sentence about your work and why you'd fit into their department.

Paragraph 2: Describe briefly some of your key research projects. What did you do that was important to the field? Did it contribute to a substantive area as well?

Paragraph 3: Have you won national awards, impressive university citations, or had unique honors? Mention those here. Brought in grant funding? Also here.

Paragraph 4: Briefly summarize teaching experience. Might be only 1-2 sentences. If the position does not have a teaching component you may decide to leave this out.

Paragraph 5: Short closing paragraph. Potentially list who will be sending reference letters.

If you are applying to teaching-focused institutions, paragraph 2 will instead highlight your teaching and pedagogical accomplishments. Study each university to see how much their faculty emphasize research, and thus, how much your cover letter should focus on research. You also may want to link how you will involve undergraduate students in your research.

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