We are always looking for talented PhD students and postdocs who are able to secure their own funding through fellowships. These is also scope for undergraduate students wanting to do Summer placements.

For informal enquiries about potential projects, email me.

Dr Helder Ferreira
Biomolecular Sciences Building
University of St Andrews
North Haugh
St Andrews
KY16 9ST

tel: 01334 463425
fax: 01334 462495
room: B303
email: [email protected]

Guidelines to writing a cover leter (with thanks to Dr Vincent Dion)

– for prospective PhD and postdocs

The goal of a cover letter is to convince the group leader to open your CV. No more, no less. Consequently, you need to keep it short (~250 words or less) and to the point. People are more likely to read something short. Your letter must contain the answer to the following three questions:

  1. Why are you specifically interested in this lab? This has to be as precise as possible. Broad answers to this questions stating that you are “interested in the lab’s research topic” or that you “want to join an outstanding institution” are not compelling. Be specific. Why are you interested in our lab and not the lab next door? In other words, I want to know why you are applying to my lab as opposed to sending lots of letters to many people, hoping that something will stick.
  2. How is your experience relating to the topic of the lab? It is not a problem if your area of expertise is outside that of the lab – it can be an advantage. But then you will have to emphasize why you are applying, which brings you back to why you are interested in this particular lab. A common mistake is to repeat what is in your CV. It is not necessary, makes the cover letter longer, and generally does not help your case.
  3. What do you bring to the lab? This can be knowledge of a specific technique or field or some other skill. Listing the techniques you are familiar with is not necessary – this should be in your CV. Another way of phrasing this question is “What makes you stand out and be particularly well suited to join the lab?”

Some more tips:

Make the letter personal and custom-tailored. Too often letters are written so that the topic and institution can be quickly changed and the letter can be sent out to a great number of labs with little effort from the sender. A good way to make the letter personal is to explain the research topic of the lab in your own words. You will have to do it well (and briefly), however, as it can backfire if not done properly. Do not copy and paste from the lab’s website or papers. Writing a letter free of typos and grammatical mistakes is a good way to make a good first impression. Avoid overly flowery language (e.g., Dear Esteemed Sir) and using “Greetings” as an opening. Start the letter with why you are writing. Often letters start with “I am X from University Y”. This is superfluous information as it is at the bottom of the e-mail and/or in your CV.

Quality and care in a letter will take you time, but it will make an enormous difference: much fewer of your requests will go unanswered because you will have made it easy for the group leader. Remember that top labs want to hire passionate, motivated, and hard-working people. A well written letter should convey that you possess these qualities!