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I am writing a cover letter - an excrutiating process. There are two sentences I am quite unsure about. The first one:

I hold a math Ph.D. from xxx that was carried out at a research group headed by yyy, a receipient of the Fields Medal, the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics".

Question 1) Is this sentence too long? Is it better to split it in two sentences? For example, would

I hold a math Ph.D. from xxx. Its work was carried out at a research group headed by yyy, a receipient of the Fields Medal, the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics".

be better?

Question 2) Does it sound presumptious? It is the second sentence in my cover letter, right after "I am writing to apply too...". I am applying to a post in the US outside academia. University xxx is not well known in the States, and the Fields medal is not well known to non-mathematicians (it is, however, widely regarded as the nobel of math, e.g. see wikipedia). So, I feel as if I have to explain that xxx is a solid place.

If it is presumptious, would you have a better way to express this?

The second sentence I am having trouble with is

I believe that the advertised post is an outstanding opportunity to contribute to, and further develop my career in, governmental policy planing and analysis.

This was my sorry attempt to put together the two sentences:

1) I believe that the advertised post offers an outstanding opportunity to contribute to governmental policy planing and analysis.

2) I believe that the advertised post is an outstanding opportunity to further develop my career in governmental policy planing and analysis.

Since the post I am applying to is just for a few years, I feel it is OK to say it is a stepping stone, not the end point.

would you have any suggestion on how to improve this? Or it is a bad idea to put something like this is a cover letter? It is the end of my first paragraph.

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One thing I don't see mentioned in the answers; it's a small thing, but incredibly annoying to some. Simply - be careful with the difference between to and too. –  Michael Kjörling Jan 25 '12 at 14:28
    
It does not help you to say "it's a stepping stone," neither would I say "further my career" or anything like that. The post is a chance to learn and to contribute, period. –  Pete Wilson Jan 28 '12 at 15:24
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2 Answers

Your question 1 is too long, but where you should break it is not where you broke it. The information about the professor is a sidenote and is a parenthetical remark if ever I saw one.

Also, you can't "carry out" a degree, and "I hold a degree that was earned" is verbose; "I earned my degree" would be more concise.

So my suggestion is:

I earned my math Ph.D. from xxx in a research group headed by yyy. (yyy is a recipient of the Fields Medal, the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics.")

Note correct spelling of "recipient" which was misspelled in your original.

On to your second problem sentence.

I believe that the advertised post is an outstanding opportunity to contribute to, and further develop my career in, governmental policy planing and analysis.

My issue with this sentence is that it focuses on what you would get out of the position, not what you would give to the position. It also seems tentative due to the "I believe" at the beginning. So I would simply say:

The advertised post is an excellent fit for my background, skills, and career goals, and I am certain I can make a valuable contribution to the project.

Of course, it is difficult to give advice at the sentence level without the advantage of the context in which the sentences appear. My rewrites may well not fit in with the tone of the rest of your letter.

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  1. Some people do not like it if you begin your letter with "I". They think you are ego-centric and they do not want to work with these kind of people. I contrarily think starting a cover letter with "I" is pretty straight forward, but again, that's maybe just me.

  2. The sentence is presumptuous (BTW: use a spell checker and a native speaker if you aren't one). Skip the "Nobel Prize" stuff. Either the people know the Fields Metal or they google it (unlikely) or they just don't care. You would only help the googling guys and I don't think it's worth it.

  3. Do you mean "planing" or "planning"?

  4. "believe" is a word I would try to avoid. It always provokes the "why don't you know" reaction. Use "Your advertised position is an ...".

  5. You do not want to develop your career, you want to develop yourself and your abilities. I also wouldn't use both verbs "contribute" and "develop"; pick one. You can still add another sentence like "contribute to your team/success" or nonsense like that if you really want.

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