For an application cover letter, is it better to sign it with just my name, or with "Ph.D." after my name?

What I am not sure of is that at the beginning of the letter, I do state when and where I got my PhD from. For reference, I am applying for positions in mathematics.

  • 3
    Everybody who is applying for that job either has a PhD or will have one very soon. Why do you feel the need to draw attention to yours? Nov 18, 2015 at 11:12
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    @DavidRicherby I don't feel the need to attract attention to my PhD, I was only asking. The confusion comes from the convention in my department that everyone is referred to as "Dr." I got my PhD somewhere where it is very casual, we call the faculty by their first names. I was just not sure what to do. I don't know why you assume I feel like I need to draw attention to it, I was just unsure about what to do, which is why I am asking the question on here.
    – Felix Y.
    Nov 18, 2015 at 14:46
  • Although "everyone is referred to as 'Dr.'," how many of those people state that they are a 'Dr.'?
    – user2768
    Nov 18, 2015 at 22:18
  • @user2768 They seem to actually say "I am Dr.-" when introducing themselves to students.
    – Felix Y.
    Nov 18, 2015 at 22:31

4 Answers 4


In the U.S. mathematics departments I'm familiar with, writing "Ph.D." after your name would not be disastrous, but it would be a bad idea. It can look insecure, like you are worried readers will assume you don't have a Ph.D. if you don't remind them frequently, or pompous, like you feel having a Ph.D. is an important distinction that must be emphasized, and I see no upside to balance the risk of appearing insecure or pompous.

To clarify, I don't think merely listing "Ph.D." after your name would undermine an otherwise great application. Nobody is going to take it that seriously. However, it can be tricky to get the tone right in academic job applications, and some applicants inadvertently write things that could be read as insecure or pompous. (Indeed, it's natural to feel insecure, and it's easy to come across as pompous if you try too hard to convince the reader that you'd make a great hire.) The danger is that the reader might piece together several small things into an overall negative impression, maybe even subconsciously. From this perspective, it's safest to eliminate issues you can identify, even if they wouldn't be decisive by themselves, just in case they might reinforce other things you're unaware of.

Note that conventions for the post-nominal use of "Ph.D." may vary between countries or even universities, as well as between fields. This is a matter of culture, and you'll need to figure out what the culture is like where you are applying.


Since I am looking at tenure track cover letters in mathematics anyway, I just opened 12 of them, more or less at random, to gather statistics on this point. Of these letters:

  • Nine are signed Firstname Lastname
  • Two are signed Firstname Lastname PhD.
  • One is signed Dr. Firstname Lastname

The minority three had at least some of their schooling outside of the US.

Upshot: it is distinctly more common not to sign "PhD", it probably says something about your academic culture, and people play it either way. I have to disagree with @Anonymous Mathematician's assessment that putting a PhD after your signature would be "a bad idea". I have read (literally!) hundreds of cover letters over the last month, and I have never noticed up until now who does this and who doesn't. There are things that appear in cover letters that I find slightly annoying, and this is not one of them. But since you are asking: probably don't do it.

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    Anon. Math.'s point is just that adding PhD after your name can't increase your chances but might, in some circumstances, decrease them. Nov 18, 2015 at 15:56
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    @David: And my point is that I find it doubtful that it would decrease them. Not the most scintillating point ever, but... Nov 18, 2015 at 18:53
  • I agree that any effect is likely to be somewhere between minor and negligible. Nov 18, 2015 at 20:00

I disagree with the herd, here. When writing formal business letters, your signature block generally contains your name, title, and positions.

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It is not "bragging" to include Ph.D. on the line that follows your signature, and formality calls for it. You would not include Ph.D. in your actual signature-- that would look presumptuous.

So far as I know, I can't think of a case where using a formal style in a formal communication would count against you. I can think of many cases where handling a communication that calls for formality in an informal way would be inappropriate.

UPDATE (and feel free to revoke upvotes!): Frankly, the idea that omitting or including your title on a cover letter will have any impact on a search committee is ludicrous. If that's the factor in your application package that makes the difference between an offer and a no offer, your CV must be pretty good.

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    This is academia, and the OP is applying for a faculty position. It's, per se, not a formal business situation in the sense that academics are often rather dismissive of formality. If an honorific must be used – and this is just a personal opinion – signing off as "Dr. Jane Smith" sounds much less pompous than "Jane Smith, PhD".
    – Moriarty
    Nov 18, 2015 at 17:14
  • @Moriarty -- I disagree. A search committee process can be rather formal. A group of very busy people is assembled to review dozens, if not hundreds, of packages to make a recommendation that directly impacts the future of the department. Based on the recommendations of that committee, substantial university resources will be moved around. Next to dressing up in traditional costumes once a year for commencement, search committees are close to as formal as it gets. Nov 18, 2015 at 17:26
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    The question is not about writing business letters and "Ph.D" is a qualification, not a position. Nov 18, 2015 at 20:14
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    @DavidRicherby - Ph.D. is a TITLE, as well as a qualification -- and yes, the question is exactly about writing business letters, no more, no less. The fact that people don't realize this is why our engineering school now sees fit to require a 2-credit course in professional communication. Nov 18, 2015 at 21:12
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    The person writing the letter is not representing a business. The recipient of the letter is not a business. It is not a business letter. Nov 18, 2015 at 23:21

No. As much as you'd like to have some sort of a "kudos benefit" from having become a Doctor of Philosophy - just don't. They already know you're a Doctor of Philosophy, don't run the risk of sounding like a full-of-themselves Doctor of Philosophy... even if they don't interpret it that way - they might.

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    Or a "full-of-herself Doctor of Philosophy". As a woman in a male-dominated field, I do feel like I had to correct that.
    – Felix Y.
    Nov 18, 2015 at 14:47
  • @FelixY.: You could just edit the answer you know... anyway, edited it myself.
    – einpoklum
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:00
  • Off topic, but I really like Community's edit.
    – Felix Y.
    Nov 18, 2015 at 21:45

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