I am applying to a PhD position (theoretical physics, Austria) and the application asks for a letter of motivation, a CV, and a statement of research interests.

Given that I have no publications/employment, my CV is just a brief list of some grades, my skills relevant to the position, and a description of some of my coursework. My research statement describes my interests and experience in the field and gives more details about my research experience and its relevance to the PhD project.

So what is a letter of motivation supposed to contain that has not already been addressed by the other documents? I am not familiar with European academic requirements here.

Many thanks for any guidance.

  • 2
    The distinctions you asked about in your question do not match the distinctions you asked about in your title. Your title mentions "statement of purpose", and this is nowhere mentioned in the body of your question. That said, my guess is that a "letter of motivation" is probably something non-technical (unlike your research statement) that might be similar to what in the U.S. is called a cover letter, but I'm sure there are others here who are much more knowledgeable about this than I am. Feb 3, 2020 at 10:34
  • @DaveLRenfro Sorry, that was a typo, the job advert mentioned a "research statement". Given this is for a PhD rather than an academic job, there is little technical I can say about my experience, which was why I was confused about the distinction. E.g. I have no publications, no conference presentations etc, and my statement is really just a description of why I like the subfield (plus a few details of about my dissertation).
    – user366202
    Feb 3, 2020 at 12:26
  • I didn't realize that you were applying to a program in which you work towards a PhD degree. For some reason I thought that "applying to a PhD position" meant you were applying for a job that requires a PhD, although I think the most reasonable reading of "applying to a PhD position" is exactly what you said in your comment. Anyway, this does sound a bit strange for applying to work towards a PhD degree. I guess you would be expected to discuss reasons for why you're interested in your field, what your future goals/hopes are, why this PhD program is a good fit for you, etc. Feb 3, 2020 at 13:49
  • @DaveLRenfro Indeed, in the end I emailed the professor who posted the advert and he said a similar thing (mentioning also that the cover letter should describe my technical knowledge and areas I am interested in). Which then begs the question of what should be in a research statement: perhaps European universities, given their longer Master's programmes, have higher expectations of research ability from their PhD students? If there are no more answers, I will probably just split my current statement in two, add some comments on why the university is a good fit, and hope for the best.
    – user366202
    Feb 3, 2020 at 15:46
  • You can search more answers here on what is expected for a research statement in Europe, but I just wanted to confirm your intuition that the research statement is a bit more like a research plan or proposal.
    – Dawn
    Feb 3, 2020 at 19:18


You must log in to answer this question.