Getting the first lecturing job

Cambridge-students-on-gra-006I’ve mentioned this before but I’m part of a group of careers advisers from across the UK who work with research students and staff (we’re called the AGCAS Research Staff Task Group).  We’ve just shared the results of a survey we carried out called ‘Getting the first lecturing job‘ and I thought you may be interested in some of the findings.

We surveyed academic staff (lecturers, readers, professors) from higher education institutions across the UK and asked them a series of questions about what is required to get your first lecturing job.

We got 172 replies from 22 different universities, and of the replies 119 had been directly involved in recruiting academic staff in the last 5 years.

The survey asked academics to choose the top 3 key attributes of  good lectureship candidates in their discipline.  The results showed:

  • 77% respondents overall stated some indication of research excellence or experience was necessary for success (not a surprise that this was top).
  • 53% respondents overall stated some indication of teaching experience or ability was necessary for success (concrete experience was not always required but could include demonstrating, tutoring or lecturing).  This ranged from a low of 30% respondents in Biological and Biomedical Sciences to a high of 79% in Arts and Humanities where teaching ability was seen to be more important.
  • 31% respondents overall stated that team or collaborative working were important in good lectureship candidates.  This was stated most frequently in Physical Sciences and Engineering where 44% respondents mentioned this as desirable.
  • 26% respondents overall stated that good communications skills, whether for research or teaching, were essential to success.

Comments relating to research included:

Strong publication record in international journals: this is what the people are going to look at in the first place. (Physical Sciences and Engineering)

Solid academic record with ongoing interests developed by yourself, not on your previous supervisor. (Biological and Biomedical Sciences)

Comments related to teaching included:

Flexibility and breadth of knowledge and skills in teaching (i.e. beyond the very narrow focus of the candidate’s PhD), with genuine willingness to learn a new area if the job required it. (Arts and Humanities)

Enthusiasm about teaching — teaching a key part of the job, and should not be regarded as a necessary evil or distraction from research. (Physical Sciences and Engineering)

They were asked to give advice about how to impress at interview.  Key themes emerging were:

  • Candidates must clearly demonstrate past excellence in research (e.g. through publications, funding, collaborations) and show they have clear, realistic plans for future research
  • They must demonstrate that they have researched the department / university and can show how their research interests fit (e.g potential collaborations with existing members of staff) and / or how they can contribute to teaching.
  • It’s important to give a really good / inspiring seminar!

Do detailed research on the Department – explain why they need you. Prepare a research presentation that is not only for specialists (not a conference paper extract) Think of examples of innovation in teaching, challenges in research – be ready for these. (Arts & Humanities)

Identify researchers and teams in the School that they would be able to work with. Highlight existing industrial contacts and proposed sources of research funding. Identify areas of teaching where they can make a unique contribution. (Biological & Biomedical Sciences)

Explain why their research is important clearly. Answer the “so what” question clearly. Relate to the unit that the position is in. (Social Sciences)

Academics were asked what advice they’d give people who had a career break at some point.  There was a lot of awareness of policies to facilitate this but it was still perceived as a challenge.  Comments included:

Try to publish plenty before you go off, so there’s a stream of publications while on leave (Social Sciences)

Secure a non-stipendary association with dept & try to keep publishing at reduced rate. Maintain informal connections – e.g. attend some research seminars. Keep up with literature (Arts & Humanities)

When asked about the most significant changes in the last ten years most respondents focussed on the increase in competition for academic posts.

Unfortunately, the expectations have risen due to the volume of potential candidates.  This has had the effect of discriminating against “late bloomers.

As competition has increased and funding decreased in the UK, new Lecturers need to be able to hit the ground running, e.g. fully capable of setting up an independent research group whilst accepting limited teaching duties.

The full report will be published on the AGCAS website towards the end of October but I hope that’s given you something to think about until then.  Don’t forget you can find out more about what is required in following an academic career in that section on our website.

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