Letter of Motivation – your personal stage

Welcome to another “how to” section from your YSSC. We all may reach a point where we have to write an application, be it for a grant, a conference, a travel award or a job. Apart from CV, certificates, marks and letters of recommendation, many applications these days also require a letter of motivation.

Obviously you are motivated. Otherwise you would not even consider applying. But why? Things like: “I need the money!” or “I want to work in a famous institute!” may be unapologetically true, but phrasing them in such a manner might not guide you towards your goals. Putting your ideas into a less obvious and more sophisticated way is quite challenging. Yet this is very important, as apart from the content explaining your reasons to apply, the letter of motivation also displays your skills in expressing yourself, which gives some insights into your personality. This could be a crucial factor to distinguish two equally qualified candidates, as it shows which of them might suit better in a working group. The letter of motivation is your chance to build personal impressions in a more direct way than plain information in a CV or form will do. Your marks, CV and certificates will state you qualification, but they can only partly give insights into your personal characteristics.

Therefore, here are some bullet points to guide you through:

  • Make sure you are well informed about the subject you apply for: What is the group working on? What do they expect you to do? / What is the motivation of the organisation offering the grant (disease-related, basic science)?
  • State personal background/experiences related to the application and why they are a motivation to you: Are you working on a similar topic at the moment? If not, what is your motivation to change? Example: You have done in vitro work up to now, so to expand your knowledge you really want to do in vivo
  • Be specific about your reasons: Many jobs/grants will help you achieve accomplishments such as like learning a new technique, but what makes you want this position/grant in particular (location, people, duration of the contract, options to be promoted, family reasons, … )?
  • Mentions future plans: What do you want to do on the long run and how could having this position/grant may help you to get there (learning a new skill, getting experience in teaching or leading people, getting access to more advanced facilities to finish your publication, )? This point can be particularly interesting as it shows that you are thinking ahead, which makes you a strong candidate worth investing in.
  • Be aware of differences in what you are looking for (grant or job) and formal requirements. Formal errors can kill your application, no matter how much effort you have put on that. So have at least one other person to proofread it and double check all the requirements before you finally submit your application!

These are certainly just ideas, and there is more to consider depending on the purpose of your letter. To start off, make a cup of tea and read through the job description/grant regulations a number of times and think about why this has caught your interest. Sounds easy, but it is worth investing some time on it.

Best of luck and, as always, if you have any particular questions or would like to talk about this topic in more detail, please get in touch (yssc@neurochemistry.org).

From the YSSC