I want to write to a professor for a postdoc position (advertised). I have read her recent paper that I wish to discuss in my cover letter. Is it ok to write her about additional experiments that could make the paper more meaningful?

I have gone through many online resources, on how to write a cover letter, and from what I have gathered, there should be some discussion on the work the professor has done to show genuine interest but I don't want to sound like I am giving her advice. Can anybody guide me?

  • 7
    Well, you wrote to apply for a position, even though none are advertised. And you wrote on the 9th of this month and it's now the 14th. Regardless of the contents of your letter, I think what "needs to be corrected" is your expectations. I would be somewhat surprised if you heard back at all, much less in 5 days.
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Apr 14 at 10:03
  • 1
    This is technically from/for UK positions, but is a very useful starter guide to writing academic cover letters (jobs.ac.uk/media/pdf/careers/resources/…). Commented Apr 14 at 12:59
  • 1
    @mini As per the help centre (emphasis mine): "for an overall assessment of your profile or odds of admission. We do not offer individualized advice;" You should update your question (or ask another) about a particular point you would like an answer about. Additionally if you wish general template/guide, there are plenty online such as the one you got linked above
    – JackRed
    Commented Apr 14 at 14:59
  • 1
    @AzorAhai-him- The question was changed after I answered
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Apr 14 at 18:57
  • 1
    if the position is advertised, are you sure there are no research proposal asked among the documents you should submit (such as cover letter, personal statement, resume, etc)
    – JackRed
    Commented Apr 14 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


Several things to keep in mind. What is the nature of the advertisement?

Is it (A) an actual position which you have to apply to through either a University hiring portal, or (B) by initiating contact with an application package to the PI... or is it (C) a broad statement on their website saying interested postdocs should contact the PI?

If (C), then you should not submit any formal cover letter but rather a brief professional email with a CV and 1 or 2 representative papers attached. In that email you should mention you are looking for a postdoc, a short statement that you are interested in the research area the PI is working on and leave it with an open question as to whether they have any upcoming postdoctoral positions, and if so, if they want to discuss further.

If (A) or (B), submit whatever application package is requested to the appropriate email/application portal. In your cover letter provide your brief introduction and statement of purpose.

In my opinion, there is no need to discuss at length a particular paper, and certainly no reason to discuss what you think are "improvements" to that paper to make it more "meaningful". You can dig yourself a hole in many ways; the PI is no longer working on that project; your suggested improvements are wrong; you come off looking as if you think you know better than the PI and their team, etc... besides the paper is published, it is what it is. Once you get an interview or are hired, and assigned a project, if appropriate, you can bring up potential follow up works which may improve that line of research.

The appropriate discussion is you addressing that you find the work interesting - please NO PRAISE of the PI (I know this is cultural, but in the US a letter with lots of praise about how esteemed my research group is.... is just awkward). Then say you have read some recent papers, you can list 2-3, and say you think you could both contribute to this general line of work and grow your expertise and career by joining the group.

Then list your relevant skills, in brief, and where you can see them fitting in with the group. Here you can identify briefly something you can add to previous work which has been lacking... e.g. if you are good with theory and the prior publications lacked it, you can say that is something you bring to the group. This is different than insisting that the specific prior work was less meaningful without theory, but rather that it is an extra dimension that makes you stand out.

  • Thank you . I appreciate your help.
    – mini
    Commented Apr 17 at 17:19

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .