When you apply for a PhD, you will need to write not just a research proposal but also a letter of motivation. This letter describes why you wish to undertake a PhD and why you would be well-suited to researching your proposed topic. But what needs to go in this letter, and what tone is appropriate for it? To give you some ideas, today we're sharing a sample letter of motivation so you can see what your letter needs to contain.
It should be mentioned that a European-style motivation letter focuses on your academic background, as opposed to the US-style personal statement which discusses your life experiences. A motivation letter should be professional and describe your previous research experience, without giving too much personal information.
In order to strengthen your application as much as possible, your letter should include the following essential components:
- An introduction which states which program you are applying for
- Information about your academic background
- Why you want to do a PhD
- Potential impact of your proposed research
- Your future career plans
To see an example of what such a letter might look like, find our sample letter of motivation for a PhD application below:
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing to express my interest in the doctoral program in the psychology department at Humboldt University.
I am particularly keen to apply for the doctoral program in the psychology department as its research interests are an excellent match for my academic background. While studying for my BA in psychology at Manchester University in the United Kingdom I developed a particular interest in the neural structures which underpin memory. My BA thesis, supervised by Dr Barry King, was on this topic of semantic versus episodic memory activations in the prefrontal cortex, which engendered my interest in this complex topic. After completing my BA, I undertook an MSc in psychology at University College London. While studying there I came into contact with Professor Joanna Smith, whose enthusiasm and innovative experimental approaches to the study of memory were an inspiration to my work.
I now wish to continue my academic career with a PhD in psychology, and I cannot imagine a better place to study this than the psychology department at the Humboldt University. With the department's expertise in both memory processing and in research methodologies like fMRI, it would be the ideal location for my project on neural correlates of episodic memory. Further, I wish to work with Dr Jenny Henry in particular, as she is a world-leading expert in the use of fMRI techniques in the investigation of episodic memory, and I wish to utilise the connectivity approach which she has piloted in her recent work for my project.
This research has the potential to contribute to the academic understanding of memory processes, but more than this, it may have an impact on wider society and healthcare too. With an ageing world population and increasing levels of memory problems like dementia, understanding the neural basis for memory processing will allow the development of better pharmaceutical and therapeutic methods for the management of memory disorders.
I am confident that I can complete the research project which I have proposed, as I already have experience in fMRI, experimental techniques for the assessment of memory, and in running a research project. In my masters project, I designed the experimental methodology, recruited participants, assisted with the data analysis, and contributed theoretical knowledge to the write-up. I believe that these skills and experience will allow me to complete a larger-scale project like a PhD effectively.
After completing the PhD, I plan to pursue a postdoc placement within academic psychology, likely in the area of episodic memory processing. Driven by a lifelong interest in human psychology, I am keen to continue my education in this subject and to perform my own research which can contribute to the knowledge of the field.
Many thanks for your consideration.
You can find more advice on doing a PhD and on other academic topics here:
>> 8 Qualities Which Will Get You Through Tough Times In Your PhD
>> 10 Characteristics of Successful Students
>> Tips for a Successful PhD Application
>> How To Find A PhD Supervisor
>> 8 Things You Will Never Hear From Your PhD Supervisor
Several different templates are available on the net, it depends only on your taste!
I would like only one thing: write it in LaTeX. If you are not familiar with LaTeX or you don't feel comfortable with it, Theoretical Physics is not for you. Obviously I'm joking, but not completely...
Anyway, without too much efforts, on the net I found in particular this template that is really suitable for many purposes (actually, with some modifications, is the one I use for my letters):
As you can see this is very sober but direct and clear.
If otherwise you fell very comfortable with typing in TeX, I suggest you to try to emulate some template in LibreOffice downloadable on the net. In particular I recommend this one, in particular the one at page 23, but many others are really nice.
Therefore, I would like to quote also this answer from SE Academia that partially answer your question. In particular I stress the importance of these sentences:
What is unavoidable to write
Make your cover letter personal, remarkable (i.e., stands out from other cover letters), specific to you and specific to the position at hand. Be enthusiastic. Be specific. Show that you've put thought into the position and why you are applying.
Relate your specific skill sets and previous experience to the programme you are applying for. Relate the content of specific aspects of your CV to the programme:
"During my masters, I enjoyed working on the topic of A, which relates to your programme [in this way]"
"I worked three summers at company B, where I gained experience in topic C ..."
"I visited your university in March last year and was impressed by ..."
"I read paper entitled 'D' published by your group at 'E' and was interested in ..."
"I recently published a paper 'F', which I believe compliments work by 'G' in your department on 'H' ..."
Good luck for your application!