Academic Job Boot Camp – Saturday 19th May 2018

We are pleased to be running the Academic Job Boot Camp again this year. It follows the success of recent events. All early career historians are encouraged to apply, with preference being given to those who have already completed their PhDs.

  • Are you starting to think about applying for your first lectureship in history?
  • Submitting applications and never hearing back?

The Academic Job Boot Camp is a free half-day event for early career historians sponsored by History UK and supported by History Lab. It will help you to structure your academic CV, hone your cover letter, rehearse your job presentation and undergo a mock interview, as well as demystifying some of the processes around academic recruitment. The experience, feedback and advice you receive at the event is designed to improve your chances the next time you apply for an academic job.

How will the boot camp work? You will take part in a simulation of all stages of the job application process up to and including being interviewed as a shortlisted candidate. There you will be interviewed by experienced academics drawn from a dozen universities nationwide. You will also deliver job presentations to other early career historians.

You will receive feedback on your interview and presentation. You will have the opportunity to observe how others fare. The event will end with a roundtable, after which there will be drinks and a dinner(*) at a nearby pub and restaurant.

Itinerary (all locations at Institute of Historical Research):

13.00 Welcome (Wolfson II)

13:15-16:00 Mock Interviews (incl. feedback on interview and application, conducted by a pair of academics)

13:150-16:00 Job presentations (Lead by an experienced academic and in front of other early career historians who provide written feedback)

16:00-17:00 Dr. Sara Wolfson to lead a session on ‘Top Ten Tips for Securing an Academic Job’ (Wolfson I)

17.00-19.30 Networking event in a nearby pub and dinner(*)

This event is free and sponsored by History UK, History Lab Plus and the Institute of Historical Research.

* Please note that dinner will need to be covered by participants.

To participate, you will need to apply for an imaginary lectureship in a real history programme. Please read the job advert for the Imaginary Lectureship in History here and the further particulars for the job http://bit.ly/2o696yy, then submit a letter of application and CV to Sue Davison at Sue.Davison@sas.ac.uk.

Questions should be directed to Lucinda Matthews-Jones l.m.matthew-jones@ljmu.ac.uk.

The deadline is noon on Tuesday 1st May and applicants will be contacted by the end of that week to let them know if they have been successful.

My role as HUK’s ECR representative

Dr Simon Peplow is the new ECR representative on the History UK Steering Committee. He is currently Lecturer in History (Education and Scholarship) at the University of Exeter, and tweets as @simpep.
In this blog post, Simon sets out his views on how he sees this role and his plans for the coming year.


 

As another teaching term begins, I return to my busy calendar having actually been able to have some ‘downtime’ over the Christmas break, away from the usual teaching/marking/research pressures – albeit this being enforced downtime, due to developing a particularly nasty cold. Debate has raged (on Twitter, as it often does) over the hours that academics work, and whether you are ‘failing’ at academia if you either work on evenings/weekends or maintain a strict 9–5 working week. However, the point I wish to make here is simply that the ability to take some time off, safe in the knowledge that a job (and salary!) awaits our return, is for many of us not something we are able to enjoy during the summer months.

Having completed my History PhD at the University of Exeter in 2015, I have since remained here on short-term teaching contracts. While I have been, in many ways, fortunate that such opportunities were available, the pressures (both financial and psychological) of fractional temporary contracts and the inability to plan further than the short-term is something with which I have battled. An increasing amount of my time has been spent on job applications, chasing potential funding opportunities, and being unsure what the next academic year will look like until just weeks (or even days) before it begins.

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Prior to commencing my PhD, the one issue that I was repeatedly warned about was that it was a lonely existence; that the duration of my PhD years would be spent alone in empty libraries or dusty archives, only occasionally seeing others when we periodically emerged blinking into the light for a monthly research seminar or supervision meeting. Fortunately for me personally, the PhD experience was far from that, being a generally enjoyable period – with the usual intellectual/other challenges – and I consider many of those whom I met during those years to be among my closest friends.

However, I am aware that my positive PhD experience is not necessarily the case for others. I was reminded of my privileged position in this sense when reading Laura Sefton’s recent excellent comments on mental health and academic structures, demonstrating the often unacknowledged pressures of PhD study and the need for academia to become a more ‘accessible, inclusionary, and caring space’. Unfortunately, in my experience, many of the same pressures exist when transitioning into a more precarious ‘floating’ ECR position, when you might even have lost access to some of the support systems that previously existed.

Working Together Poster Edit

The History UK plenary and AGM in November 2017 focused on collaboration, and that is very much the spirit in which I see this ECR representative role. As I have previously noted in discussion of the ‘Academic Boot Camp’ event, it is all too easy to see academia as a competition against peers in the race to obtain a permanent job, and to consider yourself a ‘failure’ if one is not forthcoming. However, it is of vital importance that PhDs/ECRs/academics of all levels support each other where possible, and it is often through bodies such as History UK that such support can really make a difference. Indeed, in the last year, History UK has organised another instalment of the Academic Boot Camp to help equip PhDs/ECRs for the job market, further New to Teaching events have provided invaluable advice and support for those beginning or developing a university teaching profile, and other events and activities have supported historians at all stages of their careers.

It is in this vein that I hope to use my role to provide helpful advice and support for history PhDs/ECRs in the coming year. This will involve writing blogs and encouraging friends and colleagues to contribute posts and advice on a range of topics, such as balancing teaching and research, finishing the PhD, creating and obtaining a position on postdoc projects, the benefits of engaging with the public through research, and the many options available outside of academia. This is, of course, in addition to acting as a voice for PhDs/ECRs in History UK meetings and discussions – and I please encourage anyone to get in contact with any thoughts or suggestions. Due to a variety of factors, the pressures on academics at all levels are arguably higher than ever before – but, as always, the best way to get through them is with the help of support networks that can be provided by bodies such as this one.

Academic Boot Camp 2017

Simon Peplow is the new ECR representative on the History UK Steering Committee. His AHRC funded PhD was on the 1980/81 disturbances in England, examining the perception and role of public inquiries and local Defence Committees. He is currently Lecturer in History (Education and Scholarship) at the University of Exeter. Simon tweets as @simpep.


In May 2017, History UK ran the second instalment of their ‘academic boot camp’, which provided valuable interview experience for PhD students and Early Career Researchers (ECRs). A number of academics had kindly donated their Saturday so that around twenty of us, who had been shortlisted for an imaginary lectureship and subsequently travelled various distances to the Institute of Historical Research, could participate in and observe interviews and presentations, receiving detailed feedback and advice.

Charlotte Faucher detailed the first event of this type last year, including the range of questions she was asked, and some advice given on how to respond. My experience of this aspect of the workshop wasn’t hugely different, other than facing questions regarding how I might contribute an impact case study – emphasising the importance of effectively demonstrating the public significance of research. So, rather than simply repeating her thoughts, I will focus more on the presentation aspect – both of participants, and Dr Sara Wolfson’s ‘10 tips for getting an academic job’.

Participants were asked to produce a short presentation on ‘How Does your Research inform your Teaching Practices’? This type of question is standard for job interviews, inviting introductions to research, what applicants can offer in terms of teaching, and what form such teaching might take. Unfortunately, due to suffering from a cold, my own presentation could have gone better…but learning to adapt to things outside your control is itself an important lesson! Academics and other participants provided written feedback for each presentation, with recurrent themes appearing to be regarding structure, relation to the question posed, and ensuring that historians of other periods/topics can appreciate what is significant about your work.

After the traditional academic coffee break, interviews and presentations were followed by Sara Wolfson’s tips for securing an academic job, which included targeting conferences to increase your profile, obtaining funding to organise conferences/workshops, and the benefits (and potential risks!) of an active twitter profile. Having provided advice articles for jobs.ac.uk, Sara was also awarded the Times Higher Education’s ‘Most Innovative Teacher of the Year’ 2016, and her presentation included the importance of maintaining high-quality teaching; refreshing for those of us uncomfortable with advice obtained elsewhere essentially suggesting ‘putting the least amount of effort possible into teaching and focus on building your CV’. Whilst implementation of the Teaching Excellent Framework (TEF) has been at best controversial, universities should certainly consider teaching ability more so than they have in some previous cases.

Sara’s presentation was followed by discussions where other academics also provided suggestions and answered questions, and both sessions were extremely helpful. The main takeaway from these discussions was that there are many different pathways to obtaining jobs, both inside and outside of academia, and you must follow whichever you believe best. As Charlotte concluded about last year’s event, the knowledge that there are many different paths to success is indeed a reassuring reminder and key value of this workshop.

A subsequent pub trip and meal for those who could make it was only slightly ruined by my having to rush off mid-food to catch a train. This ‘networking’ (a word I personally hate) aspect was just as useful as the rest of the day in reminding that, whilst at times it may feel like you are the only one struggling with the difficulties of late/post-PhD life, this is most definitely not the case. Whilst we are conditioned to believe that ECRs are in constant competition for jobs, academia has been criticised for its tendency to ‘eat our young’ – and we shouldn’t be adding to that.

The value of this workshop has been echoed by those who attended it, variously described as ‘super useful’, ‘a great day’, and ‘very helpful’. It personally helped me to obtain a number of interviews this summer, as well as preparing me for what to expect when it came to actually arriving at various different university campuses on interview days!

Dion Georgiou described the value of the 2016 academic boot camp event.
Dion Georgiou described the value of the 2016 academic boot camp event.

 

The main training required by post-PhDs appears to be the ability to ‘hang on in there’. It is all too easy to be disheartened by a lack of success in job applications, particularly in the early days whilst often receiving the standard response that your application hasn’t been taken further and, ‘due to the high number of applications received’, no feedback will be provided. Ben Mechen recently explored the precarious nature of PGRs/ECRs, considering how such a position could affect the kinds of history we write. The lack of job security is one of the main reasons for more-than-qualified colleagues to move outside of academia, and will undoubtedly continue to be the case in a world where there are far too many excellent applicants for the jobs available.

For those determined to obtain an academic job; whilst it may appear to be a particularly bad time to be coming out of a PhD, it is important events such as this Boot Camp – and the confidence and relationships that can be obtained through attending – that, to continue the military theme, prepares PhDs/ECRs for the battles to come.

Getting Fit for Academia? Taking Part in the Academic Boot Camp

Welcome to the first in a series of posts on the History UK blog. This is an occasional series in which committee members, postgraduate students and guest authors post on the issues and themes that are important to HUK and to professional historians across the community. For our first guest post, we are very pleased to welcome Dr Charlotte Faucher who took part in our Academic Boot Camp which took place earlier this year at the Institute of Historical Research. Charlotte’s AHRC funded Ph.D was on the history of the French Cultural Institute (1910 – 1959) in South Kensington. She is currently a Teaching Fellow in Modern History at Warwick University. Charlotte tweets as @Cha_Faucher . An earlier version of this post can be found on the French History network blog.


In April 2016, History UK organised an “academic boot camp” in the form of an interview for an imaginary lectureship. This workshop aimed at giving feedback to those of us Early Career Researchers (ECR) who struggle with the academic job market. Interviews for all shortlisted candidates (around 25 of us) were held in the form of a workshop at the Institute of Historical Research on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

 

A team of wonderful historians from History UK had given up their time to give a few lucky ECRs the opportunity to go through a 20 minute interview (followed by 10 minutes of feedback). The participants then held a short research/teaching presentation which was observed by 5-10 other candidates who proceeded to give their feedback orally and on a piece of paper. A round table about the myths around job applications concluded the day and we were then all taken to the pub and to diner.

Besides being able to practice in front of people who had never heard of my research before and were not my friends, I received extremely useful feedback on my own interview, but was also able to observe one other participant’s interview as well many research presentations. Probably the most valuable insight of the day was how these helped me deconstruct some of my views on what makes a good interview/research presentations.

Here are the interview questions I got asked (which had been asked to candidates who had applied last year for a lectureship in history at the University of Loughborough) and some advice for answers that my panel suggested to me.

  • How do you maintain the attention of students in a big lecture theatre?

Here, it’s all about the examples. My panel was really looking for specifics on how I structure my lectures and how I feel this can impact on students’ attention, or what I do to keep them engaged. If you have not lectured to large cohorts very often, there’s no need to say so! Rather try and reflect on the (little) experience you have and demonstrate what makes you stand out as a lecturer.

  • Can you tell us about a form of innovative teaching or assignment that you’ve used in the modules you’ve taught or that you’d like to use in the future?

For this question, the panel was again expecting candidates to be reflexive and think both about specific forms of teaching or assignments and also to outline what the students had got out of them. They also suggested discussing some forms of resistance to these new methods that a few students might have expressed, or more generally, what were the problems related to these innovations and what you did to overcome them.

Another approach could be to link an innovative form of teaching to employability. This probably would not work for everyone’s teaching but it’s certainly a good point to be making if it fits in with the module objectives.

  • What are your four REF output?

The panel were not only expecting to hear about your publications but they also wanted to know when / where you were going to be submitting that book proposal, that article etc. This question is also a good opportunity for the candidate to expand on each of their outputs, giving the specific title and outlining the argument.

  • What makes your research four star?

For this question, we had to be familiar with the REF vocabulary but also go beyond merely repeating the REF criteria for a four star output (“Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour” in case you are wondering!) As the panel suggested, other ways to think about this question is to ask: why are people going to be citing your work in 10 years’ time? What is going to be changing your field and how is your research contributing to this change?

  • If your head of department was involved in an accident and you had to step up, what would you like your legacy to be?

Here, you want to show that you are aware of a department’ needs – and especially the department you are hoping to join.

Of course, these are just some of the questions you may get asked during an interview, and we all stumble on different things. For those of you going through the hoops of interview preparation, the French History network has a dedicated section on its blog where you will be able to read a list of interview questions compiled by fellow historians.

Following my mock interview, I joined in the academic presentation session. I heard about seven short presentations given by ECRs working on various topics and periods. Whilst I was impressed by everyone’s career paths and accomplishments, I also tried to focus on how participants were presenting their research: the structure of their presentations, the pace of their voices and how accessible they were making their research to other historians. These were also the points that the participants and I most often discussed in the feedback sessions which followed each presentation.

Finally the day ended with a round table on the myth of academic interview. We heard from a wide range of speakers including HR staff, academics at various stages of their careers as well as heads of departments. The session helped me better understand the recruitment process: I now keep in mind that my application is likely to be screened by HR before ending up in the hands of academics. This means that applicants want to make sure that they distinctively outline how they tick each “essential criteria” boxes for the job in their cover letters (as opposed to assuming that a CV speaks for itself).

A couple of lecturers also encouraged participants to broaden their search to jobs outside History departments as departments such as sociology, politics or law are sometimes on the look for historians.

Overall, hearing about the different professional experiences of those researchers keen to stay in academia and those with a permanent job served as a (reassuring) reminder for participants, but also for the whole profession, that there is no one single path to interviewing success.


If you would like to suggest a blog post (for example, on your impressions of an event, on research culture, on the changing academic landscape) we are always very happy to hear your ideas and encourage you to get in touch. Please contact us on: jwood@lincoln.ac.uk