I have applied for several PhD positions but I was never able to reach to even interview stage. Now I wonder if my motivation letter is strong enough or not. I have written the following letter for a Physics PhD position in a research group. This research group is working on applications of topological materials in spintronics (fancy terms, you can just ignore them if you don't understand them). And I am very much interested to explore this field on applications side. I don't want to miss this PhD.

So, I want to request you to please read my letter of motivation and find what is wrong in it? Why I am not able to get a PhD? Also, as I am not a native English speaker, I would really appreciate if you highlight the grammar mistakes.

My profile:

BS: 3.51/4

MS: 3.8/4

1 publication in well known international journal (impact factor 2.617)

TOEFL: 100

GRE (not taken, as it is not required in Europe)

closed as off-topic by Herman Toothrot, problemofficer, scaaahu, corey979, user3209815 Nov 8 '18 at 15:12

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "“Shopping” questions, which seek recommendations or lists of individual universities, academic programs, publishers, journals, research topics, or similar as an answer or seek an assessment or comparison of such, are off-topic here. (See this post on meta for more information.)" – Herman Toothrot, scaaahu, corey979, user3209815
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 8
    For starters, your motivation letter is far too long. They have to skim through many motivation letters. If it doesn't fit on a standard A4 page with letterhead and wide margins, it's too long. – gerrit Nov 8 '18 at 13:00
  • 4
    Just a comment as no time for an answer, I don't think the motivation letter is the most important piece. Skills and experience are. Now most won't have much experience yet, but they'll want to see evidence that you have the skills it takes to do a PhD. – gerrit Nov 8 '18 at 13:08
  • 1
    I agree with @gerrit ... to find why your applications are not successful, look at you grades, your GRE scores, your experience. The fault is probably not in your "motivation letter". – GEdgar Nov 8 '18 at 13:44
  • 4
    This is not the appropriate place for editing, but I strongly recommend having a native English speaker review your letter. It contains many grammatical errors and phrases that, to a native speaker, are odd or incorrect. Motivation letters are not the most important component of an application but if this is representative of the rest of your application it would be at least a moderate red flag about your English ability and (more important) your attitude - you should not be satisfied with this letter, and it speaks to your judgement in sending it. – iayork Nov 8 '18 at 14:05
  • 1
    Welcome to AC.SE. Please take a look at our help center. Unlike other online communities, we like to keep our questions focuses so that you can get great answers and that those answers will be helpful to others. Right now, your question is very broad and require an extensive answer about the important aspects of a LoI, while the applicant of the answer will be only helpful to you. – StrongBad Nov 8 '18 at 14:26

I don't mean to be harsh, but the letter, to me, seems "over the top." If you take out most of the "superlative" adjectives in favor of the facts of the case it will be more convincing. It reads like you need to bolster your case with flowery language rather than the facts. This makes it harder to get the essentials of the case, but also makes the reader wonder if you are overstating the case.

For example, the second paragraph basically says your goal is to be a researcher, but in far too many words.

Likewise the sentence "My ride on the ladder of education has been pretty much self-motivated and innovative at a personal level." is too wordy and actually unneeded. The whole paragraph could be reduced to just a couple of sentences about what you have studied, avoiding all of the self-congratulatory wording.

Such language not only adds to the length it also makes the essentials harder to find while making the reader wonder whether you are overstating your accomplishments. Let the accomplishments stand on their own. Let others praise you in letters, rather than seeming to praise yourself.

While it isn't my field, you do seem to have some solid accomplishments. Put more emphasis on your future goals than praising your past work.

Note that this is just one person's reading. I don't agree with a commenter that the English itself is poor, but the phrasing is "too much".

  • 1
    +1. Additonally statements like I have been steadily developing management, communication and presentation skills are reminiscent of job application statements like I am a team player and my biggest flaw is that I work too much. It has become a cliché and sounds like a mere reiteration of "top 10 skills to have in the 21st century job market". Be specific and say what courses you actually did or what major reasearch experiences you had. – problemofficer Nov 8 '18 at 14:20
  • 1
    @problemofficer, yes, there pare many such examples here. I didn't want to give the whole catalog. – Buffy Nov 8 '18 at 14:24
  • 1
    You don't think the English is poor? You're ok with "I am a kind of persons"? "When I come to know that"? "did not only visualized"? "in next-level of electronics"? You're not doing any favors by giving this bad grammar a pass. – iayork Nov 8 '18 at 14:48
  • 1
    @iayork The grammar is not perfect, but it is almost always clear what OP means. Many non-native applicants do far worse. It also says nothing about their quality as researcher. I don't think that it is a major problem. – J. Doe Nov 8 '18 at 15:12
  • 1
    As you say, this isn't the best place for this. I think you will get better advice locally, using the comments here. Good luck. – Buffy Nov 9 '18 at 1:25

I mostly agree with Buffy that the letter is not very effective due to the "over the top" style of language it uses. Personally, there's a good chance I would stop reading at

always dreamt about being the creator of an extraordinary piece of knowledge

I hate this kind of phrasings with the passion of a thousand suns. They tell me literally nothing about you as a person (other than that you sound a bit obnoxious), and are more likely than not a blatant lie anyway. I am so much more inclined to invite people to interviews who say they enjoy doing research (a normal amount), who value the freedom that an academic job grants, or who want to learn how to do good science in order to become a professor or work in a research lab. You don't need to pretend to be Sheldon Cooper. In this letter, there are many similarly over-the-top formulations. Edit them all out. This would also have the advantage of making your letter much shorter, which is good.

That said, I think there are in fact some very good elements in the letter that you should retain. You talk about concrete research you did, and what courses you have done that would make you successful. This is very good, and exactly the kind of information I am looking for. Focus on these aspects. Edit out everything that you cannot support with data or quantify.

Finally, since iayork keeps mentioning the bad grammar: I agree that this is not ideal, but personally the grammar is far away from being so bad as to count as a real red flag. Most people who apply for positions with me are not native speakers, and neither am I. If this is the current basis of English, we will get to a level where we can write a research paper together, and this is what counts for me.

  • Dear Professor, thank you very much for the answer. I have edited the letter but I am still confused if the edited one worth anything or not. I do not want to make this question a "shopping" question but at the same time I need you help. – Sana Ullah Nov 9 '18 at 0:03
  • 3
    @SanaUllah I'm afraid we are not a personal editing service. The advice you received here is pretty much the extent of help we'll offer. If you have a different question you can always ask, but "here is a new version, is this better?" will get closed very, very soon. – xLeitix Nov 9 '18 at 9:57
  • Exactly. It would be against the policy of Academia. I better visit the nearest big city to find any native speaker. Thank you professor, you helped a lot. – Sana Ullah Nov 9 '18 at 11:20

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.