News and Views

2020 Academic Job Boot Camp 

UPDATE – 2nd April 2020 – Please note that the academic boot camp has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation – we hope to run the event again in 2021, so please do check back for further news. 

Academic Job Boot Camp – Saturday 2nd May 2020 at Brunel University London. 

History UK is pleased to be running the Academic Job Boot Camp again this year, following its success in previous years. 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. You will be interviewed by experienced academics drawn from 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. 

You can read posts about the job boot camps in previous years, here, here, here and here. 

Itinerary (all locations at Brunel University London, exact rooms TBC): 

1-1.30: Lunch and Welcome. 

Please arrive at this event at 1pm. Please notify Simon Peplow if you have any dietary requirements. 

1.30-3.45: Presentation or Job Interviews.  

During the afternoon you will be asked to participate in four activities: 

  1. a 30-minute interview; you will be informed of the exact time of your interview on the day. 
  1. observing a 30minute interview; the time of this will also be made clear to you on the day. 
  1. give a 5minute presentation, followed by 3-4 minutes of questions; led by an experienced academic in front of other early career historians who will provide written feedback. 
  1. listen to presentations from other attendees, ask questions and provide written feedback. 

3.45-4.00: Coffee and Tea Break. 

4.00-5.00: Dr Sara Wolfson to lead a session on ‘Top Ten Tips for Securing an Academic Job’. 

5.00-7.30: Networking and dinner (*please note that participants will have to cover the costs of their own dinner). 

This event is free and sponsored by History UK and History Lab Plus. 

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 look at the further particulars for the job http://bit.ly/2o696yy, then submit a letter of application and CV to Sue Davison (Sue.Davison@sas.ac.uk). 

Questions should be directed to Simon Peplow (Simon.Peplow@Warwick.ac.uk). 

We have a limited number of travel bursaries that you will be able to apply for. We will cover part or full costs of travel. Please indicate whether you will be applying for a travel bursary, as well as the approximate cost of advance tickets, in your email applying for the job. We reserve the right to pay full or partial costs, depending on demand. 

The deadline for your application is noon on Friday 3rd April and applicants will be contacted by the following week to let them know if they have been successful. 

History UK statement on the closure of History at the University of Sunderland

It was with a feeling of dismay that History UK learnt of the decision of the University of Sunderland to close programmes in History.

We will not comment on the factors that may have led to Sunderland’s failure to recruit sufficient students for 2020 entry, when regional applications to study history have risen. Our sympathies are with the staff – staff who helped the subject climb seven places in the most recent Good University Guide league table, and who contributed to one of Sunderland’s best performances in the 2014 REF. Our sympathies are also with the department’s current students, whose studies will be harmed by this decision, and potential future students, from predominantly disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, who will be denied the opportunity to study history at their local institution.

The decision is all the more disappointing as it comes at a time when the study of history has never been more important for the health of our civic culture, and our sense of national self-understanding. Whether it is negotiating our new post-Brexit place in the world, evaluating our colonial legacies, or comprehending and contextualising contemporary social movements (from the #MeToo movement to populism, and from the climate emergency to a resurgence of anti-semitism), an historically-informed public debate is vital for our future. History departments and historians need to be part of that debate and both ought to be core to the activities of any university deserving the name.

This makes it imperative that History UK challenge and refute the central justification given by the University of Sunderland for their decision: that the discipline of History is not sufficiently ‘career-focused’. In making this argument, and deploying their Vice-Chancellor David Bell, to repeat it in the national media, the closure of Sunderland’s history department represents an attack on the entire discipline.

Arguments for the value of studying the humanities in general, and history in particular, have been made many times in the past, and the following represent a selection of key points worth emphasising:

  • The best potential employees in a modern dynamic economy are not, as all good employers know, those taught to perform a narrow and specific task, but confident, well-rounded, flexible, and, above all, thinking individuals.
  • History students gain a range of skills in information gathering, analysis, and communication that are relevant to almost all employment areas.
  • The best guarantor of employability, as a joint CBI-UUK report from 2009 argued, lies in developing precisely the ‘soft’, transferable, and person-centred skills which history degrees excel in providing.
  • As well as supplying a pipeline of skilled, creative, and dynamic graduates, history contributes directly to the economy through the heritage sector. A recent report from Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum showed that for England alone Heritage provides a total GVA (gross value added) of £31 billion and over 464,000 jobs.

As historians, we are keenly aware that we ‘have been here before’. Back in 2003, the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke was alleged to have argued that history lacked a ‘clear usefulness’, while in 2018 Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee, made a similar point. Both are wrong, and the continued popularity of history as a degree level subject shows that A-level students have a better understanding of its value than many MPs.

Our discipline faces many challenges, including threats to marginalise history teaching in secondary schools and the need to do more to attract BAME students to study our subject. Our task need not be made more difficult by those who seek to minimise their own role in the closure of a department by traducing the reputation of our discipline.

Karin Dannehl (Wolverhampton)

Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores)

David Stack (Reading)

Elizabeth Tingle (De Montfort)

Jamie Wood (Lincoln)

History UK Research Impact Workshop 2019

Dr Neil Fleming, Principal Lecturer at the University of Worcester, has provided the following post on our last annual research event on impact, which was held at the IHR in September 2019.


What is research impact? The rapidly changing environment in UK higher education means that it is a question few of us can ignore. ‘Research impact’ has been around since the long lead up to REF2014. Yet, it is evident that many researchers, established and new, remain uncertain about what it means in practice. At the same time, there is increasing importance attached to research impact in academic appointments, job appraisals, and university rankings and league tables.

To shed some light on the matter, History UK organised a workshop at the Institute of Historical Research, held on 4 September 2019. Expert scholars, reflecting all career stages, including several former REF panellists, were invited to reflect on research impact:

  • Dr Chiara Beccalossi (Lincoln)
  • Professor Dinah Birch CBE (Liverpool)
  • Professor Nick Crowson (Birmingham)
  • Professor Anne Curry (Southampton)
  • Dr J.D. Hill (British Museum)
  • Dr Charlotte Wildman (Manchester).

Their various and wide-ranging contributions and responses to questions are summarised below.

 

What is Research Impact? 

At its broadest, research impact is about the public benefit created by historians. More precisely, it is when research does something for someone else. It must be a distinctive and material contribution, though it can be indirect and non-linear as long as there is a connection. It needs to make a difference and to support this with appropriate evidence. Indeed, REF panellists prefer the idea of ‘making a difference’ to the simplistic idea of measuring ‘impact’.

The best source of advice is the REF2021 website’s criteria for Impact Cast Studies, along with the high-scoring case studies submitted to REF2014.

For understandable reasons, it is incorrectly assumed by some that research impact can be demonstrated through giving public talks and media presentations. First, it is the impact of research that matters and not necessarily the presence of an academic in some activity. Second, such activities on their own do not amount to research impact. They can, however, become ‘routes to establishing research impact’ if it is possible to calculate and supply evidence of the difference made.

 

Evidence

To measure research impact it is important to capture evidence. This needs to happen at the outset, so that data can be compared before and after.

The need for evidence can cause problems. Providing evidence for research impact on government policy is very hard to demonstrate. The same applies to the general public. This explains why viable and successful impact case studies tend to involve working with organisations.

Working with organisations still presents potential difficulties. There is the need to make participants aware that researchers will be collecting data on research impact. This may require building up a relationship over time. Hesitancy or even opposition are possible reactions, especially if there is already wariness about academic researchers getting involved in the work of non-academic groups.

The need to initiate and develop relationships with external groups and organisations means that preparing impact case studies for the REF that follows REF2021 should begin now.

 

Rising Expectations

The introduction of research impact in REF2014 meant that some leeway was then given to impact case studies. The expectation in REF2021 is that examples of best practice now exist on the REF2014 website, and so Unit of Assessment (UoA) panels will be tougher when it comes to the standards of measuring and assessing research impact in REF2021.

There is the additional factor of public policy. Scholars in the Arts and Humanities are under ever increasing pressure to demonstrate the public worth of their research. REF2014 provided an opportunity to do so, and so can REF2021.

 

Tips for Finding Case Studies

  • Local branch of Heritage Lottery Fund useful for information on available community projects
  • Utilising ‘citizenship’ teaching can help to engage local primary schools
  • Working with youth groups more straightforward as school curriculum and teachers too busy
  • Write a teacher guide to teaching an understudied subject
  • Stimulate the public to do their own research, especially groups that would not be otherwise reached
  • More permissive scope in REF201 for research impact in HE. However, avoid focusing on only one institution as this would not demonstrate the reach and significance necessary to obtain high scores

 

Impact Cast Studies: Things to Avoid 

  • Impact case studies should be interesting: avoid repetition, provide a strong narrative, and do not let an administrator write it!
  • Concentrate less on the pathway and more on the impact made, e.g., is reaching 2,000 children a lot, given normal and typical activities?
  • Avoid relying on the production of websites with lots of information: focus on the impact of the research
  • UoA panel members only have time to look at what is in front of them so avoid relying on inserted weblinks

 

Impact Case Studies: Top Tips

  • Would the group you claim has benefitted be able to understand what you have written?
  • Send case studies for informal feedback to appropriate ‘users’, i.e., colleagues in the community, cultural, museum sectors, etc.
  • All references in case studies do not need to be to 2* publications – as long as the research itself is at least 2* quality
  • UoA panel does not assess quality of the research after it meets the 2* threshold, it assesses the quality of the research impact
  • Research funding does not matter as long as the research that underlies the case study meets the 2* threshold
  • UoA panel tends not to read outputs associated with case studies unless there is a particular reason to do so
  • Avoid testimonials based on purely personal relationships; these should supply substantial and tangible evidence of impact on them/their organisation
  • Those giving testimonials may require guidance on what is supportive
  • Testimonials demonstrating research impact in a public debate should appear in the main body (and using footnotes) through selective quotations from media etc. (making clear that there is a fuller body of evidence that can be referred to)
  • Continued case studies from previous REF are eligible providing that they meet the criteria
  • Do not worry about any overlap with the ‘KEF’ as it is still in development

Neil Fleming (University of Worcester) is a former Research Officer (2017-19) and Steering Committee Member (2015-19), History UK.

Report – Teaching American History: Secondary School Teachers Panel at the 2019 BrANCH Annual Conference

We are delighted to share a report from the association of British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH), who received some funding from History UK to run an event at their conference this autumn:

Building relationships with secondary schools has long been an aspiration of the association of British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH). Thanks to History UK, we have now made an important first step towards realising that goal.  This October, funding from History UK enabled teachers from local secondary schools to attend the 2019 Annual BrANCH Conference at the University of Edinburgh to participate in the association’s first Teaching American History Panel.

Katie Hunter from St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School Edinburgh opened the session with an overview of American history curriculum currently on offer at Scottish schools, complete with reading lists and exam questions. The following panellists included academics who each proposed ways to translate the latest developments in the field of U.S. history into the classroom. Professor Robert Cook summarised the last half century of Civil War historiography before highlighting several “active debates” to engage students’ interest, including ongoing disputes over the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces in the United States. Dr Elizabeth Clapp then suggested ways to incorporate women into Civil War history lesson plans, from the activities of female abolitionists to concepts of gender in wartime propaganda.

Professor Tim Lockley (Warwick) introduced several databases, including Documenting the American South, which hold oral and written testimonies by former slaves in the American South. Dr David Silkenet (Edinburgh) finished with an overview of websites, including Essential Civil War Curriculum, which provide lesson plans created by historians that breakdown key topics in U.S. history into digestible segments to be utilised in classrooms.

The room then engaged in a lively plenary discussion regarding structural barriers which inhibit communication and collaboration between historians and teachers in the UK. Among these was a lack of institutional support – both financial and in terms of workload allocation –to enable teachers to participate in academic events. Another was the difficulty of encouraging exam boards to ensure that their questions reflect recent methodological and historiographical developments in the field of American history.

These are formidable challenges. Thanks to suggestions made by speakers and audience members during this panel, however, BrANCH has devised several initiatives to address them. For example, our members are currently creating teaching packs, including reading lists and source materials, which will be made available on the association’s website for the use of teachers at all levels of the education system. This December, moreover, the BrANCH committee will attend a follow-up workshop to discuss long-term collaborations with staff at the St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School. Finally, a Teachers’ Panel will be a regular fixture at BrANCH’s future conferences with a view to enabling the association to develop a network of relationships with secondary schools across the country.

Undoubtedly there is a vast gulf between how American history is studied within the academy, and how it is taught in secondary schools. This panel, however, revealed just how much enthusiasm there is among teachers and historians alike to close this gap. With the help of History UK, BrANCH has laid the foundation of what we anticipate will grow into a dynamic, mutually-beneficent relationship between our members and American history teachers throughout the UK.

 

Mental health and wellbeing in the history and heritage PhD community – three of three

In my previous post, the second in this series, I showcased some research into how social media is used by emerging and established academics, and used my own experiences to highlight how it does, or could, enhance the accessibility, for PhD students with a mental health issue, of some typical research activities. In this final post I’ll explore the other side of this coin by asking: What are some of the obstacles to using social media for this purpose? I’ll also share my parting thoughts about what we might do, as active participants in the HE community, to move towards a more inclusive environment for PhD students experiencing mental illness. 

Barriers to Inclusivity 

Although my own experiences of using social media during my PhD have had largely positive impacts on my mental wellness, I have also encountered some barriers to inclusivity. The first involved a Twitter exchange, where I had asked if it would be possible to speak at a subject-specific PGR forum by video-link. On that occasion the group didn’t feel confident to accommodate the request, which highlights a barrier also referred to by several of the scholars I have drawn on in my previous posts.  

“We don’t know how to do that…” 

Nandez and Borrego, Rowlands, and Boté all point to skills being a barrier to social media use among academics. Rowlands et al in particular provide evidence that social media use is greatest among those who identify as being an ‘innovator’, or ‘early adopter’ of new technologies. As a self-professed geek I would certainly put myself into one of these two categories, which is why I felt confident to set up the live stream of my original conference paper on this topic. But I recognise that not everyone shares this confidence, and that, in the face of the range of social media available, the desire to develop skills may well be tempered by feelings of being overwhelmed.  

Rowlands’ study also shows, though, that academics tend to be selective in the platforms they use (with almost two-thirds using only one or two tools) – suggesting perhaps that we don’t need proficiency in all platforms, but rather an awareness of the ones which are (to borrow a phrase) ‘trending’. 

“We don’t feel comfortable doing that…” 

I’ve already touched on this in my earlier comments about Bennett and Folley’s work on managing a hybridised digital identity, and my own insecurities about sharing too much about works in progress online – even to would-be collaborators. But, again, Rowlands’ work is pertinent here in highlighting that a lack of clarity about the benefits of social media constitutes a barrier to employing it for research purposes, in some cases.  

Like me, Bennett and Folley self-censored their digital selves to ‘fit’ their ideas of how others perceived them. They too were anxious about revealing their weaknesses or gaps in their knowledge, and fearful of receiving a critical reception. This aligns with Pantic’s findings on social networking and mental health, which suggest that inaccurate perceptions of others online (part of what we might call ‘Imposter Syndrome’) can contribute to reduced self-esteem in those who are predisposed to psychiatric illness. 

“We don’t have time for that…” 

Time to acquire skills and build familiarity with tools, and time to integrate social media into the research workflow are both highlighted as issues in studies of social media use among academics. Nandez and Borrego’s work on Academia.edu in particular demonstrates that academics’ intended use of the platform was greater than their actual use; suggesting perhaps that it seemed like a good idea at the time but was demanding to put into practice. The comments on their survey confirmed that this was in part due to respondents being ‘time poor’.  

As I mentioned in my earlier post, juggling ‘work’ and ‘social’ uses of social media can also be seen as a challenge. This has also been linked with time management by Leon and Pigg, who observe that “[digital multitasking can] evoke strong affective responses”, including guilt and shame, among graduate students. Such feelings can, of course, be indicators of mental unwellness.  

What can we do? 

So, what can we do to move towards a more inclusive environment for emerging academics, in which digital technologies play a part? 

I think that what my experiences, and the research that I have presented in this blog series shows is that social media are not simply tools for socialising among digital natives’ or sharing photographs of one’s dinner. They impact upon a broader range of research practices than I had appreciated before I began reflecting on my experiences, and in more nuanced ways. Likewise, I hope that I’ve been able to show mental health in a more nuanced light – not only a “crisis” affecting PhD students and HE institutions, but also a way of life, day-to-day for a significant section of the research community, whose needs might (in some cases) be addressed simply, by subtle extensions to existing practice, and by seeing social media and ‘traditional’ research practices as complementary bedfellows, rather than options to choose between. If I could offer any advice on what might be done to effect change then, it would, humbly, be this: 

  • Seek to understand the nuances of social media in heritage and other humanities PhD research; their potential, and their potential pitfalls 
  • Resist seeing social media and ‘traditional’ research practices as an either/or situation requiring a polarised choice; take an holistic view which values each for its own contribution to the academy 
  • Prioritise development of social media competencies and understanding around social media/mental health relationships (both positive and negative) within organisational strategy, in order to ensure that the mental health challenges of the present lead to a healthier, more inclusive research environment in the future. 

Above all though, I think that a lot can be achieved – in digital literacy and in mental health – by advocating for three things: 

Understanding the needs and potential for growth. 

Daring to talk. 

And challenging existing practices, to bring about change. 

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