By Alice Kelly, Ph.D.
Alice Kelly is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. Her academic training has been in the UK and the US. She completed her PhD in English at Cambridge in 2014, with a year as a Fox Fellow at Yale, and before that she studied at Sussex, Reed College (Portland, Oregon), and Oxford. She has taught English and History in the US and the UK. Having applied for academic jobs on both sides of the pond, she understands the challenges and opportunities of being on the transatlantic academic job market. Alongside her academic research on twentieth century literature and culture, she advocates healthy writing practices. At Oxford she founded the TORCH Academic Writing Group, which she has written about in Times Higher Education.
This is the final post of a 4-part series by Alice Kelly on the UK job market. Previous posts are:
Great news – you’ve received the email inviting you to interview! Unlike the US system, British interviews do not usually have the two- or three-tier process of Skype interview or MLA interview, followed by a campus visit. Instead, you’ll be invited to interview directly at the university for usually one day. This will have a short lead-in time, maybe ten days or two weeks after you receive the invitation, so you need to start preparing immediately. If you can’t attend the university in person, you can ask whether a Skype interview is possible, although this can bring its own problems (ensuring a good connection, screen freezing, etc.).
There are different types of interviews for different jobs. For example, a one-year Teaching Fellowship will understandably have a shorter interview process (a 30-min panel interview and a 15-min teaching demonstration) than a permanent Lectureship (a 30-min panel interview and a 45-min presentation, followed by a question and answer session). Postdoctoral Fellowships may or may not require candidates to be interviewed. In my experience, only candidates for Lectureships will be wined and dined (I mean, ahem, taken to lunch or dinner). Candidates for Teaching Fellowships, Postdocs and Research Assistantships will be in and out fairly quickly – probably 1.5 to 2 hours.
Panel Interviews: These are usually thirty minutes, with a selection committee comprising of the Head of Department, somebody senior in the School (such as the Dean of Humanities), somebody from Human Resources (to check fair protocols are maintained), and sometimes another Faculty member from the Department.
The panel will ask you questions based around some usual themes, which you can usually work out by closely reading the Further Particulars. In preparation, reread your cover letter and write out potential answers for questions on:
- Your previous research (including methodology) and publications
- Your current and future research and plans for publication, including how they are timed in relation to the next REF
- Your teaching experience to date
- Courses or topics that you would be prepared to teach in their department
- Your motivation for this particular post – how your research and teaching experience fits into this department and university
- New ideas or skills you can bring to the post
- Your administrative skills
- Your record of public engagement/scholarship
- Do you have any questions for us?
Teaching Demonstrations: These may be anywhere between 15 to 60 mins. It is a slightly weird exercise if you have to pretend the panel is a group of students, but go with it. Alternatively, they may put you in front of an actual class. Just the same as with a teaching demonstration in the US, the challenge with the shorter slot is conciseness – how can you showcase a number of your skills as a teacher in one well-planned exercise? The challenge with the longer slots is devising and organising a series of interlocking, well-planned exercises, which keep students engaged. Obviously be attentive, organised and interesting throughout.
Presentation/Lecture: The UK version of a US job talk. Not all UK universities require this – it’s entirely up to the university. If so, you will be asked to give a 30-45 min talk on your work, which is usually open to anyone in the Department who wants to attend. You may therefore need to pitch your talk to those outside your field and use it as a means of demonstrating that your work has broader implications for the field. You may be asked challenging questions, but take them in your stride – they’re probably testing whether you’ve got anger management problems, rather than the content of your answer.
Tours: You’ll probably only get this if you’ll be at the university for longer than a year. Look interested and remember that you are being judged as a potential colleague for all the time that you are on campus.
Dinner with potential colleagues and/or other candidates: Dinner with potential colleagues – fine. Remember this is a more informal version of the interview, so you will be on all the time, and don’t get drunk. I’ve never been asked to have dinner with other candidates, but I’ve heard horror stories from others. Why anyone thinks this is a good idea, I don’t know. If it happens to you, go with it. Your fellow candidates will also not be appreciating the extra awkwardness of an already difficult situation, so take comfort in that and try to make it work for everybody.
After the interview: Unlike the US, you’ll be contacted fairly quickly – often that day if you’ve got the job, or within a few days if you haven’t. Don’t despair if you don’t get a call that day though. Sometimes one candidate has to interview later, so decisions will be on hold until then. If you’ve got the job, great! If not, you were on the shortlist and your time will come. Every application and interview is useful experience – and usually provides some great stories!
So that rounds up your series on applying for academic jobs in the UK. Hope you’ve enjoyed it. Tweet me your British job application wins and fails @DrAliceKelly