Interview with a former MWF, now with a position as a Post-doc Fellow in the UK; and a position as Assistant Professor in the UK (2016)
Interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014) – 3 interviews
Interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in the US (2014)
Follow-up interview with a former MWF in HEC in 2012-2013, who is Assistant Professor in the UK
From an interview with a MWF, now with a position as a Post-doc Fellow in the UK, and a position as Assistant Professor in the UK (2016)
What are your general impressions of trends/characteristics of the job market in your discipline?
My broadest impression is that the ratio of PhDs to jobs is continuing to get worse and worse. The number of tenure-track positions relative to the number of people finishing is just such a small proportion and significantly lower than it was at the time that I started my PhD in 2008. So I was applying mainly to jobs in the US and the UK and I probably did 50, 60, 70 applications in the US because the US job market started in the autumn and then the UK started in the spring so I didn’t do that many applications in the UK before having to, fortunately, stop. But basically the whole of the autumn I was just doing applications and not with success. I didn’t do any interviews from that and my impression was that most other people were doing the same. I was applying to pretty much everything in the hope of ending up with something. So, I was applying to jobs in a huge range of different kinds of institutions and in places where I found it hard to imagine myself ever living for a long period of time… all over the US in very rural areas, or very remote… And it seemed to me that that was the only way you could guarantee that you would end up with some kind of position - after this one year as a Max Weber Fellow, I tried to apply for everything that I was remotely eligible for and hoped that something worked out.
How many positions have you held between your PhD and the Max Weber Fellowship?
None, this was the first… I finished on the day I arrived here.
Can you tell us a bit more about your future position, so what are you going to be next year?
So I actually have 2 positions. So next year I’m going to be a postdoc, a research fellow in the UK and that would have been up to a 4-year position. But I also got a lectureship, so the equivalent of a tenure-track professor job in another university in the UK. And I had been concerned that they would make me choose between the two. In the UK it’s fairly common to say ‘’no, you must start straight away, we need you to start teaching’’ but in this case the department could see the advantages for them of me spending a year finishing off, well hopefully finishing off the book and getting a lot more research done before starting full-time teaching and the postdoc.
Let’s focus on the lectureship, if you agree. What was the main reason you applied for this particular position?
I believed myself, at least, to be in a more difficult position on the job market in the sense that, despite the fact that in history there has been a kind of international or transnational turn with a lot of people studying more topics that cross borders in some way or another, the job market hasn’t necessarily caught up with that… in the sense that most jobs are still advertised as being in the history of a particular country or region. So, previously and for most of the autumn when I was applying for jobs in the US I was applying for jobs that were the history of 1 of the 3 regions that my project covered. And I thought I was probably at a disadvantage in the sense that if you were a historian of one of those regions you could look at me and say, ‘’oh well he does a bit of this but he’s not really an expert in our particular field’’. There were very few jobs advertised as international history. But this was a job that was advertised as international history with a specialism in the region I am studying. So it really was as if I was writing my own job description. And it just happened that they advertised in November, which is very early for the UK. For example, last year I was applying for most things between January and March. There was almost nothing else advertised before Christmas and this year this happened to be one of a couple that were
What did your application include?
It was an online application… and I think essentially it involved a long statement… There was no cover letter but I basically used the same material that I would have used for a cover letter for the statement, and a CV. Most of the British applications they use some kind of recruiting website and they ask you for a CV but they also ask you to fill in details of your PhD, of your previous education separately as part of that process. So they’re always time consuming because you have to fit their particular specifications. But I think the main thing was just filling it in because the statement had no length.
On which parts of the application did you focus the most?
On the statement. The CV by that point was the same one I’d been sending but I basically moved things around to emphasize particular points that it seemed like they were looking for but the basic thing was fitting the statement… and again, I imagine this is something which I had become aware of is that all British applications will have a personal specification, which isn’t part of American applications. They’ll say that this person must have these attributes or be willing or equipped to do this set of tasks so I was trying to make sure that I hit all of those somewhere in the statement to show that. So I mentioned the Max Weber Teaching Certificate in the teaching section and that my research covered the areas that they were looking for and conference presentations. They had a whole list of personal specifications which I tried to cover in the statement.
Did they ask for reference letters as well?
They did. Well they asked for contact details and then they asked me, when they told me I had been invited for interview, if they could then contact them, so it wasn’t immediate… They only asked the final ones shortlisted. At that stage they also asked for two course outlines. In their system the first year is primarily team taught and then there are 2nd and 3rd year courses that the lecturers design and teach. We were sent the details of those and asked to send proposals for a second year and a third year course.
How competitive was the selection process?
I don’t think they ever told us. I mean, I know that the shortlist was 6 people but I don’t think they ever told us about the total number of applications.
How many selection rounds were there?
There was the application, the invitation to interview, which is when they asked for the references and the teaching proposals, and the interview.
How long did it take altogether from the initial application until the final offer?
The initial application was due I think around the first week of December. The invitations were sent and second round was immediately before Christmas. The interview and offer were on the same day (January, 11th), so it was actually very quick.
What was the interview format? How long did it take? What kind of questions were you asked?
They suggested that we arrive the night before so on the previous day we had dinner with two members of the faculty who were not on the selection committee and the 6 candidates. So a slightly strange environment but the two members of the faculty were just repeatedly emphasizing, whether it was true or not, that they had zero input into the selection process. The main purpose of this was so that we could ask questions about the university and the department and so on that would have no effect, positive or negative, on our potential selection. The day after, all the six candidates were told to present for 15 minutes. So I did my presentation and I then had 5 minutes of questions and the questions were all asked by people who weren’t on the selection committee. My understanding afterwards was that everyone who was present at the presentations could tell the selection committee their views but the selection committee kept their questions for the interview itself. There was lunch with everyone who was present and then the interviews were in the afternoon. The committee consisted of the chair of the department, the most senior person in my particular field (which in this case was the reader in international history because they don’t have a professor in that field), the head of undergraduate teaching, the director of graduate studies, the person responsible for research and then one external person from the English department (who I imagine was there as the external monitor), as well as the department administrator who is not an academic. Essentially, they all asked questions directly related to their specific responsibility and in very straightforward ways. I had done some practice interviews during the previous year in my PhD programme where I really came out of it feeling really bruised and battered but that was not my experience with this one. For instance I was asked, “What’s your approach to undergraduate teaching?” and they said something like “obviously you don’t have much experience of teaching graduate students, what do you think are the main differences between teaching undergraduates and masters students?’’. The administrator asked me about my administrative experience and whether I would be able to incorporate administrative duties alongside teaching and research, so essentially they all asked really straightforward questions broadly related to their particular responsibility.
They seemed, to me, surprisingly uninterested in my research in the sense that the first question was from the senior person in international history who asked me how I understood the field of international history. I think, this is probably not relevant to anyone else but my impression was that international history is a field that is very ill-defined and this university to some degree treats essentially as the history of places outside of Europe and North America. And so whereas my research is international in the sense that it crosses borders which includes significant research in Africa, but also Europe and North America, I think they were concerned I didn’t fit their definition of international history. The interview seemed much more focused on my capacity to fulfill all of the aspects of the role, research and teaching so they asked more about the timeline for the publication of the book.
How much time are you expected to dedicate to research/teaching/administrative responsibilities?
There’s a significant teaching load but the advantage is that although you contribute to some team taught courses, you’re primarily responsible for designing your own courses and so they will be very closely related to the topics that I’m researching and writing about. And they certainly expect you to continue researching alongside that but in terms of a percentage or hours per week I don’t have a sense of that.
What is your perception of prospect for career development?
This university was very highly ranked in the last research excellence framework, and I think they’ve hired 6 or 7 people this year, so the department’s expanding very rapidly. I think it’s probably one of the best places to be in the UK and I hope that will be good from a career point of view. I knew I wanted to be a historian and I wanted to return to the UK and I feel like getting a job at one of the really good universities in the exact field that I’m in was all I was really focused on. The kind of questions about what might happen once I actually start or years in the future is not something I paid very much attention to.
Would be your main tip for the job search in your discipline?
Despite the fact that I’d done so many applications already, because this one was a job that I thought I was a good fit for and I really wanted, I spent a lot of time researching the department and the other faculties. That included contacting current members of the department and asking them about their current foci or the current aspects that the department was focusing on developing. So in my statement I think it would have clearly come across that I had spent a lot of time looking at this particular job and that I wasn’t just cutting and pasting another application. They have a particular project on oral history in the city which I think aspects my research would fit with. They didn’t have anyone studying Africa at the time, and they had done in the past. They didn’t replace their senior African historian. So those were all things, whether explicitly or implicitly, that I tried to put in the statement and show that I had looked closely at the department and how I would fit in to it.
What would be your tips for the interview?
So I have, obviously no insight into the workings of their committee. I think the instinct, for people preparing, or at least for me, was to focus overwhelmingly on the presentation and not enough on the nuts and bolts aspects of the role which, it became clear in the interview, is what they really wanted to ask about. And whether that’s purely the approach of this department or whether that has broader relevance to others I don’t know. But I certainly hadn’t thought much about the administrative duties of the role and hadn’t expected them to be interested in. I was kind of digging back into things I’d done as a masters student or a 1st year PhD student to try to find instances of, for example, conference organization… but I really had to think on the spot very quickly about things I’d done several years ago to show that I’d been involved in managing people and managing a budget and do those kinds of things. But it was very clear that in the interview several people had read the whole of my writing sample, which I didn’t mention before. I had to submit a writing sample at the 1st stage with the application, so a chapter from my PhD. A couple of them had read that very closely. And they all had read my very long statement very closely and they had picked up specific phrases or sentences from that in their questions. This is something I have messed up in the past interviews: because you send so many applications out, it is difficult to be really on top of what you’ve said to this particular group of people and that was clearly very necessary in this case.
In your opinion, what would be the don’t’s
This is not really what you should not do but I’m sure that I benefitted from doing a lot of applications. Even though the vast majority of them were obviously unsuccessful, such as cases in which I didn’t even get an interview or was asked for further materials or anything else, I think that I got better at expressing myself clearly and coherently and persuasively in the way that search committees are looking for. At the time, it didn’t feel like a good thing to me but I think it would have been a mistake for me if I had said ‘’well I’m only going to apply when there’s something I desperately want and it’s in the right place’’. I think by that point, I would have been a much weaker candidate if I hadn’t done all of the failed applications. In many cases I did essentially cut-and-paste… and it’s probably not a coincidence that in this case I spent most of a weekend researching the university, talking to current faculty, looking at their website and their current projects and so on… and I simply wouldn’t have time to do that for all the applications but I think it’s simply not a coincidence that that is the one that worked out.
What was the most helpful element of the job market trainings at the MWP you used when applying for your present position?
So I think the PhD programme I was in had very good training for the job market. And what I think my weakest area where I had received no guidelines on previously was the teaching statement which was something the ACS staff did a session on really early on, in September I think. And I think that my teaching statement was a lot better as a result… that was something I got from the Max Weber Programme that was different from things I’d learned before. Although it wasn’t directly relevant to this application, they didn’t ask for a separate teaching statement, I did incorporate paragraphs from it into the statement I submitted, because in that statement you had to cover everything about your relevance to the role.
Do you have something else to add?
Meeting all the other candidates was not something that you ever would do in the US where they would have a separate day for each person, so this was different. It was slightly unnerving spending the evening before your interview meeting your competitors, and I was certainly the most junior of the people there; most of the others already had lectureships. Of the 6 of us, there were 4 who are currently based at British universities and 1 from the US and me from here.
From an interview with a MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014)
General impressions of trends and characteristics in the job market
I think that, certainly, there are two things that I’m seeing in the UK at the moment. One of them is probably a shift towards more international history. I think there are a lot of departments that are looking to expand their global history provision and to perhaps move away from having so many posts in British and European history and move towards having more posts that cover issues around the world. I think that’s one trend that’s going on, and I’ve seen quite a few colleagues who have been successful in the job market by adding a kind of international global dimension to their work. So, for example, going from working on infanticide in England to working on infanticide in England and in India or, you know, adding in a country that is outside Europe. So that is one trend.
I think the other trend, which is one that affects me more directly, is that there is a very much greater emphasis on public engagement with research and the ability to deliver what they call impact. I don’t know if you’ve come across the term “impact” talking to anybody else who works in the UK; this is a measure of the public impact of research outside academia that is now used by the government in assessing research funding for universities. So, if you as a candidate in the job market can show that you have a thought-out idea of how your research might have public impact ‒ whether that’s through developing TV broadcasts, developing community projects, developing museum exhibitions ‒ all of those sorts of things really give you an advantage. So this impact thing in the UK is a very big deal, and if you can’t answer that question well for an interview, it’s going to disadvantage you.
Overall job market experience
After the Max Weber Fellowship, I had a 9-month contract to teach for an academic year at […] University, and then I got this post at […]. The year that I was a Max Weber Fellow, the job market was very slow. I think that year I applied for, I think, possibly four different post-doctoral fellowships. I applied for, I think, about six lectureships, and then I got this 9-month lectureship at […], which was a temporary post. And then the following year, the job market in the UK suddenly got a lot better. I think the […] job was the second lectureship that I’d applied for, and the second one I’d been interviewed for. I had the post by March, so I came off the job market quite quickly. I knew that I had this job six months before I actually started it.
The British job market has been very cyclical in the sense that before they do this research assessment exercise, which is the Research Excellence Framework (REF), there tends to be a lot of movement in jobs as universities recruit. So, last year you suddenly saw places like the University of […] employing six lecturers in the history department. The University of […] did the same. So that had a big impact. I think this year it’s probably going to be quiet because everybody is waiting to hear the outcome of the funding round, and they’re probably going to slow down.
Application for this particular post
There were six positions offered. I was eligible for two of them and I applied for both. This is a lectureship in public history with an emphasis on impact and public profile of research. I felt that I was quite well-qualified for this specific post because I had some previous career experience in television. And I had ‒ it’s completely outside of academia but I had it on my CV ‒ I had written a book for a general audience that had got some good reviews. This is a history book that was based on research but it was aimed at a wider audience than a more traditional academic monograph. That I thought put me in a good position to apply for this particular post. I had applied for a post in public history at another university the previous year, and had come very close to getting it and then lost out. So I thought, well this is obviously something where I know my CV is strong.
The application itself was fairly typical: CV and cover letter, and I think at the point when I was shortlisted they asked for examples of written work. That was fairly straightforward. I sent the CV and cover letter, and the cover letter was divided between a section on research, a section on teaching, and a section on public engagement. Obviously, I wouldn’t do quite such a big section on public engagement for every job, but because this is a public history role, I thought that was quite important. Before I put in my application, I emailed the head of department and had a conversation with her about what they were looking for, so I had a little bit of contact. I can’t remember if there was anybody in the department whom I’d met before but there was at least one person who had worked quite closely with my PhD supervisor in the past. I think that possibly meant that my supervisor’s reference had a certain amount of extra weight on the grounds that there were people around who knew her. I didn’t know anyone on the interview panel, I hadn’t met them before. So yes, I didn’t really have personal contacts.
Presentation and interview
I think it was a twenty-minute presentation with a few questions afterwards, and then there was a job interview. And the evening before, there was a dinner for the candidates with a couple of junior members of staff from the department. Now that is one of those things where they always say, “Oh, this isn’t part of your formal interview. It’s just an opportunity to ask questions”. But I do think that it is really simply important to go to those dinners and make a good impression. So, that was an unofficial part of it.
I thought the presentation went really well. I didn’t get any unexpected questions. I did stick to what they wanted. They had asked us, for example, to propose and present a module that we would teach that had to fit into a certain format and curriculum. So I had that, and I talked a little bit about what I would do with the module. We also had to present, as part of this twenty-minute presentation, a strategy for teaching an existing MA module that they had already run. And then I spent a lot of time talking about my research. I talked about my experience with publishing and my public engagement work. Again, with it being a post in public history it’s slightly different from a standard history post because I had to put more emphasis on the public side. I think that just in general, tailoring your presentation to what the institution is looking for is quite important. I had, for example, a proposal for some activity that I might do with a local museum. So I could say “I could come to […] and I know, because I’ve done my research, that your local museum has this particular collection that might be developed.
After the interview
At the end of the presentations the whole of the department did a kind of ranking exercise and said which of the candidates they thought was strongest. And that was then fed back to the interview panel. So I know now that I was at the top of the department ranking, i.e. the preferred candidate of the department as a whole.
I think I had the interview on Friday, and I was called Monday morning and offered the job. In fact, I didn’t take it straight away because I was waiting to hear from another institution that had already interviewed me but that hadn’t come to a decision yet. Then I emailed the other institution and said “You need to make up your mind because I’ve been offered something somewhere else”. And then they said, “Well, actually, we don’t think we’re going to employ you.” And then they said, “Oh, but who has given you a job?”, so that was quite entertaining. I’m glad I took this job in the end. I think I might have done that anyway.
This is my second year. At the moment my post is for three years, but I think it’s fairly likely to be made permanent. They haven’t promised me that just yet. This is just, again, this issue with funding rounds, and the fact that funding is uncertain until we get the results of the new funding allocations for research from the government. I think it’s probably all right. And so in terms of my job, theoretically 40% of my time is on teaching, 40% is on research, and 20% is administration, and that can kind of change from year to year. In my first year, I had a reduced teaching load, so I only had 75% of normal teaching, which takes into account the fact that all of the new lecturers have a lot of new preparations to do. Now, at the moment this semester, I teach two hours a week on a first-year undergraduate research skills module. I teach one lecture and one seminar a week, so again, two hours for a specialist second-year module. Then I do occasional lectures and seminars for other modules that are taught by a team, but that’s it for this semester and that’s partly because I’ve got a reduced teaching load because I have quite a big admin role and I have some time that’s paid for separately where I ‘m dedicated to developing some outreach work with schools about my new research project. So it’s not a very heavy teaching role at all. Next semester I’m going to have, I think, five hours of teaching a week plus other occasional things. Some people in my department would have more than that. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to develop quite interesting new modules and new teaching strategies. I’m teaching about history of film, and I’m teaching more and more with digital media.
Research the institutions and look at the kinds of things that they do and the kind of students that they have, and ask for advice about that if you don’t know. Look at what the department does. Identify some research and some projects that you can do at the specific university, and think about how you could fit into that specific university. At job interviews, people really like to hear how you could connect what you do to what they already do in the department. So I think that doing your research on the particular institution is really important. And I would say that making sure you have some ideas on impact and public engagement with your work is a selling point in interviews now. I think that that is increasingly something that you are expected to have thought about in the Britishjob market.
The most useful part of the MWP activities, for the job market, was that I had a chance to practice my job-talk in front of other fellows. After I did the presentation to the fellows and got feedback, I completely reorganized it into a different order. So when I went in to do the presentation I felt that it was a lot more polished than it would have been if I’d just not had that experience. I think it really was having the other fellows sit and give feedback on the practice presentation before I gave the real thing was really useful.
From an interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014)
Before the interview
I did a practice talk and interview at the EUI earlier in the week of the campus visit, and both were extremely useful as a way to prepare. Definitely worth doing even if you don't yet feel completely ready. I contacted the head of department ahead of time to get concrete details on how the day would unfold and check that the presentation was not supposed to include anything on teaching, as this was a bit unclear in their rubric. I arrived the night before, and there was no arranged dinner so I had dinner and looked over my presentation at the hotel.
At the presentation/interview
There were six candidates shortlisted, all of whom were interviewed on the same day. The presentations were in the morning, back to back, and then the interviews in the afternoon. Lunch was at one, with all the candidates mixed with faculty and grad students for sandwiches (standing up). I wore jacket and tie but saw a couple of candidates in suits.
My presentation was first, at 09:30. I waited in department secretary's office and was then taken down to meet the head of department who took me into the room. Seminar type room and an audience of about 30, all faculty. I was introduced by the head of department. I began with thanks and a joke (a lame one, but it broke the ice a bit). I spoke for 20 minutes on my research and future research plans, with bullet point notes and a 7-slide PP presentation, all images. I pitched at a pretty general level assuming little prior knowledge of my specific field or the main debates within it.
There were ten minutes for Q&A and questions were: How do I position myself with reference to the work of a couple of the paradigmatic senior scholars in my field? What do I add to the big picture of historiography on one of my main research themes, beyond my regional focus? How does my work react to or challenge the new literature on WW1? There were a couple of others that I forget. I tried to keep answers relatively brief to allow time for more. All faculty gave their view after each presentation apparently, and also voted at the end for their preferred hire, though I don't know how this then figured into the committee's decision-making process. After the presentation, I spent the time until lunch going over interview responses, walking around the campus, visiting the library. At lunch, I talked to faculty and grad students.
I had been advised, and I found it useful, that it's a good idea to think of the interview and the presentation as highly connected exercises i.e. you can use the presentation to set up the interview to an extent by framing your points in ways that do several things at the same time e.g. 'in my second main research theme, which I plan to fund with an AHRC grant, I do the following...' or 'This next image, which tends to work pretty well with students, illustrates X point'... In principle, this means the interview begins from a rolling start, in a direction you have helped set, and is (a bit) less stilted.
The interview was at 2 pm in the same room. It lasted for 30 minutes and there were four department faculty (the head of departments and head of 'school', plus two specialists in my field). Then there was the vice chancellor of the school of arts (i.e. the senior dean) plus someone from another administrative role focused on research 'impact' (i.e. how research reaches out to the general public in exhibitions, media activity etc.)
These were the questions. The vice chancellor asked: What's so special about you that we should hire you? (This was the first question, put pretty directly). What's so special about this university that you want to come here?...and later, as an interjection...If you were on the BBC for an hour what would you talk about? Department faculty member asked: What is my publication schedule over the next five years, in terms of outputs (should have mentioned REF but forgot and talked about my book projects) and also in terms of the historiographical interventions I'll make/am making. Departmental faculty asked: How does your work fit into the different fields you contribute to? Another department faculty: What is the presence of/view on the tradition of social history in your project? Department faculty: What are your external fund raising plans? Admin person question: What plans and ideas do you have to connect work to the wider university and the city of […]? Department faculty: What is the chronological range of your teaching ¾ can you teach courses a bit (or even well) beyond your period? Department faculty: Your course (which I proposed in the application) on […], what's the rationale, how do you plan to attract students to it? Some discussion followed on teaching in specific locales and motivating undergrads. My own question was on PhD advising: How is this going to develop? That was pretty much it although many of these questions developed a bit into conversation. I tried to refer in my answers back to some of the things I talked about in the presentation, while trying to remember that the deans/admin people had not actually been there in the morning.
At the end they checked that they had my contact details (on the spot I couldn't remember my mobile phone number) and said they would be in touch if they had good news either the same day or the next day.
After the interview
I got the e-mail that evening, and replied the next morning saying thanks/expressing happiness and looking forward to details of offer. I tried to negotiate on starting salary via e-mail with dean at the start of the following week, and also clarified details on salary progression. In that context I reached out to UK colleagues who had recently begun similar positions to get details on norms for negotiating. Starting salary was in a band about 7K wide, and factors for negotiation included post-docs held, prior teaching experience etc. They seemed open to an extended, clear and detailed discussion, but were not especially yielding. I forgot to ask them to pay for part of my moving costs, which was stupid.
I found these two web sites (web site 1 and web site 2) quite useful for basic advice.
From an interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014)
I got the email that I was shortlisted five days before the interview; therefore I had only five days to prepare. This is a new strategy of HR in UK universities. I was asked to submit two pieces of written work, two courses, one at undergraduate level (2nd year) and an MA course, that complement the department needs.
My interview was set for Tuesday, but they asked that I be there the night before to go out for dinner with fellow candidates and members of the department who would not be on the committee. It was very awkward at first and also they made the mistake of circulating an email to all candidates in which you could see their names so I had a very clear idea who my competition was several hours before the interview (it did not help with my psychology).
At dinner, people from the department were very warm but warned us that this was not part of the interview but simply a socialising event and an opportunity for us to ask about the department. All candidates were rather relaxed and we ended up talking about the TV show The Wire. Personally, I relaxed as people were talking about the university and how nice it is to live at […], and we were making jokes. You did not need to prove yourself there at all. I realised that they did not tell me anything I did not know about the department, I had spent days reading about the department, the school in general and the city of […].
At the interview
We were allocated spots from 9.30 am to 1 pm (I was at 11:15am) , where each candidate was asked to present, in 20 minutes, his/her current and future research as well as teaching arrangements if he/she was appointed to […], in front of the whole history department, with the PhD candidates as well. I went in the room, where the Head welcomed me, introducing my name, position and upcoming book (which I did not expect). The IT guy had set the power point which was minimal with only titles of articles and the book as well as two quotes. I was standing, no podium. I talked for 10 minutes about the upcoming book, then for 6-7 minutes on future research, two articles coming up, but mostly the second book project, even if it was in an embryonic state. It was vital to show I have a plan for the next 6 years, until the REF2020. The 20-minute presentation (make sure you respect the time) was followed by 10 minutes of Q & A in what was a friendly ambiance. They picked on my book, had some questions about methodology and then asked me about my edited volume and how it is different from other works.
Then we had lunch, again with other candidates, with whom by that point I was becoming besties. There, you could meet the whole department, I met two people that had attended the EUI, as either MW or PhDs and we ended up talking about how beautiful Villa la Fonte is.
The Committee interviews started at 1 pm, where they put all the candidates in the room and we waited until we were called by the Head. That was the most agonising moment, as you could see also the candidates coming out and their faces. My turn was 3.30 pm, the committee had seven members (one from HR did not speak), they introduced themselves and their roles within the department and school and started with the questions. The Head of Department asked: Why did you apply to […] and how do you see yourself fitting here? And then the last question from the Head was on my research. The Head of Research: What are the challenges of your multi-archival and multi- level analysis (referring to my presentation)? How will you work on your next project, which is on human rights? Why would you give up a two-year postdoc at Oxford? Head of the School of Archaeology: Do you know about the impact factor in the REF? What kind of impact would your work have? Prof […] (heavyweight): What is your 5 year plan? I see you are an […] Historian, how are going to fit with the department that has a different dimension? Also what kind of a historian do you think you will be in a couple of years? With whom in the department could you collaborate, and why? Could you reach out to other departments?
Then the committee moved onto teaching. The Head of the School of English: How would you attract PhDs? Pretend this is your first class for undergraduates and you have to introduce yourself and the module. Senior Lecturer in Modern History: Why will a student take your course on […]? Do you believe in exams? Then they asked me if I had questions. I asked two: about the possibly to supervise PhDs and I brought up the EUI experience of how much I enjoy it, and then I asked about research centres like […]. Both were opportunities to see my investment in the department in the long term but also highlight my experience in both areas.
At the end of the interview, the committee asked for my mobile phone (to make sure they have the right number) and told me that they would call me in the next two days. I received the phone call from the Head of the Department the next day around 9.00 when she offered me the post. I thanked her and asked for some time to think about it, as I had a fellowship at […] and I wanted to defer it. As soon as I accepted, there was pressure to do everything within 2 days at the most. I negotiated the salary and the teaching load. In the UK system there is not so much leeway, but it is worth a try.
From an interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014)
On general job market trends in History, in the UK
"Increasingly multiple postdocs needed before getting a permanent position. At the same time, there is a limited number of permanent positions. Britain is more open than other job markets, but there are too many PhDs. You have to have a PhD from a top university, and who your supervisor is matters. Having a book published as well significantly increases your chances, and not only any publisher but a good publisher. The job market is quite difficult, so you have to be extremely good. I would say that 1-5% of people are getting jobs, and many people who have a PhD are not between these 1-5%."
On requirements for positions
"In order to get a job at the Russell Group universities, you have to have: 1. Very positive thesis reviews, 2. Top names from your PhD thesis jury, 3. Book contract with a top university press, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Harvard University Press and, possibly, Palgrave McMillan. Furthermore, performance on presentations is increasingly important. You have to be able to present and answer the questions. You have to be a really good communicator. Shy, quiet, forgetting where they put their glasses style historians will have little chance. Since teaching and students are in the focus, you have to be a very good communicator, sophisticated presenter, as this suggests good teaching performance. There is a massive focus on students and evaluations."
On job interview
"Normally, there are two parts. Once you are shortlisted, there is a presentation that you give in front of the whole department. They asked me about: 1. Past publications, 2. Current and future research, 3. Teaching. You have to cover these three topics. Then Q&A, with all members of the department and PhD students. The interview in the afternoon was just with the hiring panel. It lasted 30 minutes and it was pretty standard. They asked about funding, looking for EU grants, asked whether I am thinking of applying for these grants, also about future publication plans, and how I can contribute to teaching. Then they asked what experience I have with innovative teaching, supervising students, tutoring etc. They also asked whether I am involved in any international network and they also asked a lot about the actual subject I work on [...] Do not forget that lunch is part of the interview!"
On current position
"The position was for 2 years in the first instance. There were lots of new courses each year and in the 3rd year, I was able to settle in and deepen the teaching. At the beginning, I was constantly preparing the teaching. You are able to get your own course only after they test you. You have to earn it. I also did a lot of teaching in fields that were quite different from my field of expertize. I was also supervising topics very widely. When it comes to expectation, in terms of hours, it was much more than I expected. I had only one day a week free. In terms of administrative work, I was organizing MA admissions, it took one day a week.I also did administrative dissertation programmes at the department, evening lectures on how to write a dissertation etc."
"Think about where you want to live, check how often a job appears in that place, start networking, and be realistic.Once you get a tenure tracked job, that’s it. Think about it before. What is the right environment for you: in terms of living, language, where you would like to have kids etc. Try to find a balance between the fact that you do not have much choice, where you are going to get the job and the fact that you do have particular skills they are looking for. Relax at the interview, as there is no reason to be nervous. Also, do not say ‘no’ at the interview, if they ask you whether you would be ready to teach a certain course or take on administrative positions."
From an interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in the US (2014)
On general trends in the job market in History, in the US
"The academic market is very problematic right now. It is very hard to find a job in comparison to 5 years ago. It has been tough, increasingly tough. It depends what kind of history you do. Transnational, global history is a hot topic, people are very interested. People who do research on more than one country, that is also super important. So if you have this kind of stuff, you have higher chances of finding a job. That’s my impression. European history is still doing well, but I think the jobs in European history are fewer then in American history. There is definitely a stronger interest in non-Europeanist fields, people who are doing Latin American history for instance. Eastern Europe, people are no longer interested, they are more interested, for instance, in Russia. The trends in the academic world reflect the broader trends in public interest in specific sites, so for instance, the Middle East is a very important topic, in terms of political and economic discussion. Automatically, in academia, they are more interested in hiring people who work on Middle Eastern topics.”
Follow-up interview with a former MWF in HEC in 2012-2013, who is Assistant Professor in the UK
The ACO is carrying out interviews with MW Fellows on the experience of job searching. As you may recall, two years ago you have been interviewed when you accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the UK.
The goal of this interview is to bring us up-to-date as to your experience since then.
So, what were the responsibilities you expected to take on? What relative weight was each to have? What information, if any, had you received about how you would be assessed?
Well the last two years since I spoke to ACO, I have held a lectureship in the UK. However, I have also been a (.....) Early Career Fellow simultaneously. This has postponed the full duties of a normal lectureship. My fellowship prescribes one day per week of non-research activity and the department in my university respects this. So my responsibilities on the one day: convening and teaching MA Contemporary History (including admissions and admin for c. 12 students per year); directing the centre for modern and contemporary history; some marking and undergrad supervision duties. In term time it's more than a day a week but over the year it works out. Then assessment: the 3 years probationary period coincides with the fellowship. Goals are set by agreement with department mentor and in line with norms on publishing and dept. service but with allowance for my fellowship situation. This is called professional development review and happens annually. I found this out at contract signing time and it was fleshed out later.
So, as for your responsibilities- can you tell me what exactly you found yourself doing as regards teaching? What this what you expected? To what extent did you experience any surprises in taking on this responsibility?
I convene the MA so this means having overall academic direction of MA students' degree: meetings about dissertation choices, essay results etc. Then I co-teach the core modules for two hours a week. Plus the usual marking (and second marking). I supervise Undergrad dissertations in my fields - from first meetings to completion. I also contribute teaching to colleagues' modules where asked to. This was broadly what I expected - it's a very limited load as there are no UG modules to teach - on the other hand the detail of UK academic teaching was sometimes surprising - e.g. all work is marked twice
And what about research? Was this what you expected?
Yes: the fellowship shaped my research and I had proposed the framework. So it was what I expected. In the department people have been supportive, although I am not around so much due to the fellowship ,the community life has not been so intense (as in MW for instance) – and the food is not so good!
Do you do something today that is different from when you began? How that it come about?
No my teaching and admin responsibilities have been stable, but I have been drawn into more activities in the dept. e.g. more UG responsibilities, or being on PhD student advisory teams etc. In research terms I have made slower progress than I hoped but I have also had some new projects to work on due to new networks/conferences etc
So before you told me that a professional development review happens annually - so I guess you went through your first review last year
What exactly happened? What was the outcome? What does this mean for the future?
I supplied my own review of the year, and weighed it against the previous year's stated goals. I met some and not others and also had new activities not previously stated as goals. My mentor asked some questions, made some pragmatic suggestions (focus on book, not conferences etc.) and we agreed on how to fill in the form. Then it is sent to the head of department and filed. It is a bureaucratic procedure and its helpfulness depends on the mentor-mentee relationship. Mine is helpful and encouraging so it is mostly useful as a chance to talk to him about my work. It’s perhaps important to not formally to be too ambitious when you begin the PDR review as if you set impossible goals, you cannot reach them. But behind the bureaucratic process, if the relationship is good it can be useful. If you constantly fail to meet goals or show little progress this could endanger your probation process I guess.
Just very last question - looking forward what do you see for the future? In one year's time and in five years’ time?
Ok: one year's time - I hope to get promoted to senior lecturer and finish the probation period at the same time. Key thing here is to finish my book. Five years’ time - I don't know yet institutionally, but complete second book for sure and have started new project. Remember in the UK every 5-6 years there is national research evaluation, so all research is somehow tied to this cycle as departments must submit research to be evaluated, ranked and have funding based on ranking
Page last updated on 18 August 2017