Tips for Improving your Economics PhD Motivation Letter
If you're writing a motivation letter to apply for a PhD in economics, then follow these tips to increase your chances of success. If you plan to start your PhD application this autumn, download our free guide "How to successfully apply to a PhD in Economics".
1. Be specific.
One bad habit that many people have when writing their motivation letter is being too vague. Saying that you enjoyed your economics undergraduate course or that you find economics interesting is too vague to be meaningful. After all, it can already be assumed that you enjoyed studying economics or you wouldn't be applying for a PhD. Instead, try to be more specific: mention which particular courses or topics appealed to you most, what you learned from them, and why you want to learn more about them.
2. Give concrete examples.
Another common mistake is to make claims without giving any evidence to back those claims up. For example, you'll often see people say “I work well independently” or “I am highly organised and good at managing all of my assignments”. But without demonstrating how these things are true, there is no reason for the hiring committee to give weight to your self-assessment. For better results, give concrete examples of your claims in action, such as “My high level of organisation was demonstrated when I completed my economics undergraduate courses while also working a part-time job, which required excellent time management skills.” or “In my second year, I successfully organised an undergraduate conference with 50 attendees.”
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3. Show your personality.
It is important to be professional in your motivation letter, so the letter should not contain jokes, sarcasm, or irrelevant personal information. However, you also needn't be dull and impersonal. You can and should allow your personality to shine through in your letter, and show how you are different from other candidates. Maybe you have strong opinions about a particular topic in economics, or perhaps you have taken an unconventional career path that involved working jobs as well as studying. In these cases, you needn't hide your individuality. Show how your background gives you a unique perspective on economic issues and your approach to academic work. Remember, the point of the motivation letter is not to show how similar you are to an imagined perfect candidate – it's to show off your unique personal approach and how you could be a great economics PhD student.
4. Focus on skills.
Another issue that some people have in writing a PhD motivation letter is the gulf in requirements between an undergraduate or master's course and a PhD course. In an undergraduate or master's course, you have to attend classes, complete assignments, and perform well in assessments. In a PhD, you will often have to come up with your own research questions, choose the best methodology to answer those questions, and motivate and organise yourself to complete your work. If you don't have direct experience with doing these PhD tasks, that's okay – you won't be expected to know everything before you even start the PhD. However, you do want to show that you have the capacity to perform this kind of work. In order to do this, you focus on the skills that you have – such as data analysis, writing, research, presentation, and so on. Try to give examples of how you have used these skills in the past to show that you're ready for the challenge of a PhD now.
5. Talk about your future plans.
Something that hiring committees like to see is that you are interested in working in the field of economics in the future. This means that you need to talk about what your plans are for after the PhD if you want to be accepted. For most people applying for a PhD, the interest will be in doing a postdoc once they have completed the PhD. Other people may know that they want to work in industry, or for an NGO or for the government. Any of these answers is fine, but the committee will want to see that you have thought about your long-term career. Do mention your long-term plans near the end of your motivation letter to show that you are serious about a career in economics.
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