Your Academic Cover Letter – The Second Project Paragraph

By TPII editor extraordinaire, Verena Hutter

~This is a continuation of our 2017 series on the Academic Cover Letter.~

After you’ve outlined your publications and planned publications, you’ll outline your second project. Two things right away:  I know that there are (still) advisors out there who tell their grad students to not think about that now, and instead focus on the diss. Or, tell them that turning their diss into a book counts as a second project. They are wrong on both counts. We won’t elaborate on what has already been said many times: You need a second project. (See also page 145, 213-4 in my book).

Your second project will be connected to your first project, but it needs to also show that you’re going into new directions, nobody wants to hire a one-trick pony (although, if we’re honest, there are a lot of them out there).

Don’t be this.

The idea of a second project may loom intimidatingly large, especially if you’re ABD, but chances are, you have thought about other projects, even if not in these terms. You may not have Niklas Luhmann’s 90.000 index cards, but chances are, you have a notebook, or a folder on your computer where you write down and explore new ideas. If not, I suggest starting the ritual of morning pages, which UNSTUCK graduates love to hate (it is very effective).

How specific should you be about your second project? It depends on where you are in your career. The idea is that by the time you get that tenure file ready, your second project is “at minimum proposed, under way, funded and have produced some high-profile conference talks, and ideally an article or two” (p. 145). So, if you’re ABD, nobody will expect you to have cranked out two articles for your second project, but they want to see that you have a plan for research output, that you’ve thought about funding, and where to present your next project.

Present your second project similar to your first project- tell us what it is about. Don’t use the word extend, when you talk about the project, and don’t start the para with “Like my first project, my second project will…”- be clear about the difference to your first project.

As always, don’t be vague. “My second project will explore gender in France” won’t tell us anything. At the same time, don’t go into every little detail, and by all means, don’t talk about how you will use so and so’s theory to show something- that’s grad student speak. At the end of the day, nobody will care too much about the second project (just like they don’t care too much about your dissertation), but they want to see that you’re going somewhere.

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