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I am a grad student, graduating in the spring. In my application for postdocs, I include a cover letter that lists faculty members I want to work with. If there is one person that I am really interested in working with, should I just list that person? Or should I add another so that I sound open to working with other people too. More generally, if there isn't one specific person I am interested in, how many people should I list? How many is too many?

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At least in mathematics, I would recommend something like:

"I am especially interested in working with X, as her research in Y overlaps with my interests in Z and W. I would also look forward to interacting with V and U, as their work is also related to my interests in T."

This might be different in fields where mentorship is less fluid (e.g., the laboratory sciences, if you would choose one faculty member's lab to work in).

Indeed, in my own postdoc, I learned a great deal from my formal mentor -- and I also learned a lot from his colleagues in his research group.

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The mathjobs.org description for the University of British Columbia reads "The cover letter should give the names of up to three UBC faculty members whose research interests are closest to the applicant's." This is probably a good general rule: If any faculty members names are listed in the cover letter, there should be at most three.

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As @Anonymous says, you can certainly name several potential advisors, but not too many (it surely depends on how many people at the target department are working in closely enough related fields, or work together as a team in charge of a lab) and, like @Anonymous says, make clear why you are interested in each one. No, you aren't interested in all fields, at least not enough to do your thesis.

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  • The question is "how many is too many", so I think OP is looking for something more precise than what you write here. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 4:18
  • @FedericoPoloni , that depends on the stuff I mention
    – vonbrand
    Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 6:51

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