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A tenure track position I'm applying to (Netherlands) asks for a "motivation letter" in addition to the research statement. It doesn't give any details about what it should contain. Therefore my question is in general, what kind of information should one include in a motivation letter (for a tenure track professor position), and what kind of page length should one aim for?

One thing I can think of is to talk about my current employment and why this job would be better for me. Perhaps the purpose is to convince them that, if I was actually offered the position, that I would indeed accept it?

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The purpose is rather to convince them why you would accecpt it and that you are the right candidate for exactly this position offered (research, teaching) and that you have the right mindset for tenure, a professorship with its possibilities and duties and that you will become a successful and happy professor at that place in the netherlands (especially if you were not born in the netherlands and are no native speaker).

Therefore I would outline and epxlain:

  • why you apply for exactly this position (goals (though this should be described in detail in the research statement), chances and perspectives, interdisciplinary local collaborations with colleagues and industry you see, link to your previous work)
  • what is your philosophy of teaching, research, team work (international corpus of students at the local university, furthering female researchers,...)
  • do you plan to engage in administrative work at the university, improving the strategy of the university
  • what do you like about this place, local culture
  • (what is your marital-status (not mandatory), language skill)

The last point should be covered in your CV. But based on your CV no one can judge your motivation for exactly this position! So don't underestimate the importance of the motivation letter. The lenght of this letter depends a bit on the number of applicants and you should know this number roughly and what the attention span for the letters will be. Of course it should be longer than a recommendation letter.

A cover letter is obligatory and always added for applicaton to academic positions from PhD up to tenure. A motivation letter must show and deliver arguments why apart from other candidates with similar publication record, grades, qualification you are the best match for this position.

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I interpret the motivational letter as a cover letter.

Basically, tell about yourself, which positions did you hold, what degrees do you have. What did you do for research and teaching. (Preferably, of course, that your strengths fit the position description.)

Roughly translated to English and severely abridged it looks like:

Dear Madam or Sir,

herewith I apply for the position of Great Wizard of Oz at Oz University, Oz, Neverland.

I have obtained my BSc from Barnum Circus in 1999 and a PhD in the area of Levitation at Trinity College of Harvard in 2001. I have been working as a private military contractor at Boeing in the area of air transportation since 2002.

During my time at Boeing I have published 112 journal papers and 747 conference submissions. My research interests include flying, landing, diving, and soap bubbles. Sincle 2003 I have been teaching prospective pilots the art of landing (BSc) and turbulence mechanics (MSc).

I am looking forward to a personal meeting. If you happen to require some further documents or preprints of my works, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,
John Doe

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