CVs and covering letters
For academic jobs you will typically be asked to send any or all of the following:
- Application form
- Cover Letter
- Research Statement
- Teaching Statement (more common in the US than the UK)
Before starting to put together your application materials, think carefully about the position you are applying for. The answers to the following questions should influence how you present yourself on paper:
- What is the balance between research and teaching?
- Will I be working on someone else’s research or my own independent research?
- Is the position fixed-term/contract or permanent/open-ended?
If possible try to also find out more about the position using either the contact given in the job advert or your own contacts. Try to find out why the position is being advertised (for example, has someone retired? is the department growing?) and a bit about what they are expecting from their new hire, such as to teach existing courses or develop new ones.
- Length is unimportant – can run to several pages
- List items in reverse chronological order within sections (most recent at top)
- Don’t need personal details such as photo, gender, marital status
- Use simple, easy to read formatting and layout
- Avoid institution-specific terminology e.g. the codes of courses you’ve taught if you are applying outside LSE
These are typical section headings for academic CVs. You don’t need to use all of them – if something is not appropriate for your CV leave it out:
- Name and contact details
- Research areas
- Research positions/academic appointments
- Awards and research grants
- Teaching experience
- Conference presentations
- Organisational and administrative experience
- Professional affiliations/memberships
- Additional skills (e.g. languages, IT)
It’s crucial to present your publications clearly as this section will be one of the most important on your CV. You should:
- Include ‘in preparation’ or ‘planned’ publications (within reason) and state which journal you plan to submit them to and if possible when
- Be clear about the status of other publications e.g. ‘under review’, ‘accepted for publication’
- Separate out different types of publication. The highest impact publications for an academic selection panel are likely to be any peer-reviewed journal papers. Have these (planned or already published) in a separate section listed first. Group other types of publication together e.g. newspaper articles, book reviews etc.
Below are some examples of successful academic CVs that have been kindly donated by LSE PhD students. These are based on real applications but some names and details have been changed:
You might also find examples on the PhD students, job market pages or academic staff pages of your department. For example, International Relations.
Academic covering letters
- Length – generally 1 to 3 pages (shorter if you are also sending a research proposal)
- Use the layout for a professional letter (see examples on website)
- The first paragraph should state clearly what position you are applying for
- Avoid giving simply a chronological account of your experience – this is what your CV is for.
- Analyse the position to decide what parts of your experience will be of most interest to the selection panel E.g. For a research-only position they will be more interested in the impact of your research than in your teaching experience. Concentrate the content on your most relevant experience.
- Show that you are interested in and know about them in particular – don’t allow your cover letter to read as if it could be sent to any department/university
You should consider who will be reading your cover letter. For example, if you are applying for a lectureship your letter will be read by academics in the department to which you are applying. They are unlikely to be working directly in your area of interest. This means that you cannot assume that they will appreciate the novelty/value of your research and you will need to be explicit about this. So:
- Situate your work – how does it relate to what other scholars have done/are doing
- Draw attention to what is original about your thesis and your research activity and how it contributes to the field
- Mention key publications that are published/planned – these are the main means of assessing research quality in most academic markets
- If appropriate (e.g. for fellowships/lectureships) describe future research plans. You will need to persuade the reader that these are worthwhile, interesting and well thought through
- Mention any experience you have of securing research funding
- Convey your enthusiasm for teaching
- Indicate the breadth of your experience in teaching e.g. undergraduates, postgraduates, range of subjects
- Try to link your experience to them. For example, if you are applying to somewhere that teaches predominantly mature students, give evidence for why you would be able to teach that particular group well
- If you have received any training or mentoring such as PGCert or GTA training, mention this
Teaching Statements increasingly form part of the UK academic application package but they are common in the US and found in other countries. There is no standard UK format but these links might help you create yours (always check the requirements of the post, some set a page limit or word count and the UK style seems to be shorter than the US or Canadian guidelines). There is some guidance from North America here:
Example covering letters
Below are some examples of successful academic cover letters that have been kindly donated by LSE PhD students. All of these are real applications but some names and details have been changed:
Review your application materials
Once you have completed your application you can make an appointment with the PhD careers consultant to review the content.
Research statements and proposals
When applying for an academic position you will sometimes be asked to write a research statement or when applying for funding, supply a research proposal. In all cases adhere to what the selectors have requested in terms of length and focus. Here are some general tips:
- If they don’t specify a length, two sides of A4 should be enough.
- Think about your audience. How close are they to your discipline? Adapt accordingly.
- Make sure you address the question of why your research is worth doing. Don’t just assume that they will agree with you that it is. It is not enough for something to just be interesting to you. You must convince that others are going to be interested too.
- Situate your work in the wider discipline. How does it relate to other people’s work? What does it change or what could it change in the field?
- Strike a balance between your research track record (what you have already achieved) and your future research plans.
- Be specific about expected research outputs.
- Make sure the research you propose doing is both interesting enough to be worth doing but also achievable in the time frames involved.
- Although you may need to adapt it slightly as it was written by an engineer, Heilmeier’s Catechism is still a useful set of questions to ask yourself when putting together a research proposal.