Picture from https://www.pinterest.com/gbmcd/funny-interviewjob/
So I’m a few months into my new(ish) job, which I started at the end of April this year. Recently, a few of my friends have been applying for academic positions and we’ve been having some great chats about the interview process, so I thought I would add to this post https://ecooper2site.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/my-first-academic-interview/ and talk about my more recent interviews. That blog post also contains some links to some good blogs/websites I found useful for tips, so give it a look! Warning: this will be a long post!
So far, my career pathway has consisted of the following:
- Graduate teaching assistant in Human Geography at Lancaster University (2009-Feb 2014)
- Researcher at Ascentis (May 2014 – December 2014, done alongside my PhD/teaching)
- Senior Teaching Associate in Human Geography at Lancaster University (Feb 2014-January 2015)
- Lecturer in Human Geography at Northumbria University (January 2015-April 2016) (this is the interview that the above blog post is talking about)
- Lecturer in Human Geography at UCLan (April 2016-present)
Whilst in my position at Northumbria, I also underwent an interview for the permanent version of that role, so I will discuss this process first.
Interview #2: applying for the position you are already doing
This was a really strange experience for me, as you a) feel a wally for having to stand up in front of colleagues who already know you and try and promote your achievements, and b) you don’t quite know how much to push the detail, as the panel (in my case anyway) generally have a really good idea already of what you do. I decided to go for it and pretend I was still a new colleague. The danger of not doing so means you potentially lose the enthusiasm and the examples, which definitely matter in setting yourself apart from other candidates. My presentation task was exactly the same format as in the blog post above (15 minutes on ‘my research and teaching contributions to Geography at Northumbria’), with the odd obvious tweaks to also show what I had already done/made changes to regarding teaching content and research culture – and what I intended to do for the next year. Here is an example of how I adapted the teaching slide:
This all went well (so I was told!) and some of the questions from the audience (of about 10 colleagues) were:
- Aside from UK-based research councils, what other sources of funding can you target with your research? Would bigger players, such as EU money, be a possibility? My answer was yes, perhaps a little later in my career, but that the topics I research – such as sex work – are important for a variety of disciplines and therefore research funding is possible from health, legal, social and humanities perspectives/pots
- Would you be wanting to investigate issues such as human trafficking in your research? My answer discussed briefly the need to debunk the common assumption that sex work = trafficking, and so it is implicitly part of my research at the moment, but not a key direction for the immediate future
- What are the policing tactics in Blackpool regarding the brothels – how much do they intervene? I outlined this briefly, but *shameless plug alert* see my new paper for more details: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/27/1363460715616949)
A panel interview then followed, which lasted around 30 minutes. Preparation for this part of the interview had largely been writing lists of everything I had achieved so far in the department, including:
- a) research advances (writing up papers from my thesis; getting involved in the research group in the department; building networks inter and intra-faculty – with specific named examples)
- b) teaching achievements (introducing peer reading groups; making slight changes to module assessment; introducing a student Twitter competition; being nominated for ‘best lecturer’ from the student-led teaching awards. Again, it is important to justify the changes, to show you are a reflective teacher)
- c) additional roles undertaken (e.g. I was ethics rep for the department; started a Twitter account in order to promote research/teaching activities; took part in open days)
- d) how I had developed as an academic (what skills have advanced; what would I like to improve on, e.g. PhD supervisor training)
Here were some of the questions asked (I won’t put my answers for all of them):
- Why do you want the job; to continue your career here? I gave 3 reasons – one, outlining how I felt I had carved my own place in the department, but had still slotted into the research and teaching roles effectively (I gave a couple of examples about why I felt I had done so quickly); two, I briefly discussed the networks I had built for possible research collaboration and a little about the projects I had in mind with such colleagues; three, a personal reason
- What is unique about you – why should we give you the job? This was probably the most tricky question for me, as I didn’t want to come across as arrogant. I discussed the social media presence I had built and the new ways I had tried to get students to engage with the department and module content (e.g. a Twitter competition, with a prize for the best tweet about the fieldtrip module content); and my push for more independent learning skills being built into the programme. I also discussed my additional roles (that I had voluntarily worked open days, and taken on admin roles such as ethics rep etc).
- What would you say your best paper is/the paper you are most proud of? I changed my answer from when they asked me this last time, to discuss a new paper I was working on
- Could you tell us about your next journal article submissions – why these have been targeted? In the end, the journals I was planning for submission were not deemed high quality enough for me to secure the permanent contract, according to the measures they were looking at – the Web of Science journal citation list – so be wary of this
- What key issues does your research speak to, or your future research? Think about discipline-specific issues, plus wider relevance, and show that you have done your homework on potential impact at a variety of scales (give examples of how your work has begun to tackle said issues, or has the potential to – and why)
- Where would you target funding applications for the projects you are currently planning (and why)?
- Can you give an example of your proudest achievement from your teaching experience? What have you contributed so far?
- What skills have you developed as an academic while working here? I was *very* stumped on this at first, so think about it! I think I discussed the ability for me to know what a journal expected regarding publication, now that I had been through the process once
Interview #3: Applying for a lectureship as an external candidate
The application process was again very similar to the outline in my first blog, with a cover letter (included in ‘supporting information’) of a very traditional academic application form, which just asked for CV information, and no additional statements. If anybody would like to see a copy of my cover letter, please do ask! When offered an interview (another victory dance ensued!!), the letter stated that the format would be:
– A 5 minute (this was SO difficult!) presentation on your research as if part of a lecture for first-year geography students
– A panel interview
– A final interview with the Executive Dean at the end of the day
After some assistance from a colleague (the fab @planographer) – and do see if you can get some peer feedback wherever possible! – the 5-minute presentation format was as follows:
Slide 1. I introduced myself, and explained that the point of the presentation was to discuss my research interests and projects to date. I also said that: ‘But another key take-home message is the diversity of geography as a subject to study and its ability to understand and tackle a variety of social issues’…
Slide 2 – I then presented my research interests around these three said issues. Here is the slide:
The rationale for the set-up here was that the power of 3 is difficult to beat, especially for first-years, and that I situated myself as a social geographer; predominantly interested in the connections between society, and space and place. I then explained how my research slots into these 3 themes and then gave a very quick summary of my findings (slide 3), with some photos and a slide (4) on ‘what’s next’ (keeping this to two boxes – and taking care to relate this back to why geography is a great subject to study). Again, if anybody would like to see the full thing then please just ask. I was only asked questions from the audience about the research itself, relating to how many parlours there are in Blackpool, and policing strategies.
The panel interview
This included the associate head of school, the head of geography, a lecturer from a different school and a HR representative. Here are as many of the questions (and answers!) that I can remember:
- Why do you want the job? (a commonality across all 3 – so prepare this one well!) – again, I gave 3 reasons. Always name particular research clusters/people you want to work with, identify modules you can contribute to, and I also included reference to how I really felt the ethos of the University spoke to my personal feelings regarding academia and education – such as being committed to widening participation at University (e.g. foundation courses are offered). Another key thing to not forget is that they want to know what *you* can do for/bring to them, as well as what *they* can do for you (this will certainly be important in later questions).
- Why should we give you the job/what makes you stand out from the room full of candidates out there in the next room? I think I gave three reasons again here – one, that I felt that my research complemented several research clusters and would connect geography more readily with other UCLan researchers, both in its own Faculty and outside of it (and how/why this was necessary). I initially just mentioned the research clusters, but they prompted me to give more specific examples. As part of my preparation, I had already identified 2 individuals who had interests in sex work and community dynamics – so I discussed research projects that had been previously done at UCLan and how my work would be relevant to them/contribute to them. Secondly, I discussed my social media focus, and how I had noticed that the department didn’t have a strong web presence in this regard – and what I had done at my previous institution to improve theirs. Thirdly, I mentioned my past work experience – my CV includes several roles in University administration and I said that I therefore had a good understanding of how Universities work operationally, plus was very aware of the importance of excellent teamwork across the various administrative and academic teams. This also sent the message that I had juggled several different roles while completing my PhD; something definitely worth mentioning if you have also done so (voluntarily or paid).
- How is your research impactful? I made sure that I discussed both the local context here – i.e. my doctoral research uncovered some intricate detail about relationships between various agents in the community, and how these relationships could be improved; and the issues with localised regulation of sex work and what can be done to address these) and the national/international context (i.e. contributions to sex work regulation; theorisation of community dynamics more broadly). Looking back, I should have mentioned the ways in which this impact should/could be disseminated going forward (e.g. I am now considering training events, and finding ways of incorporating better quality outreach services to existing organisations)
- What will it bring to the Faculty/what projects are you working on? Here, I returned briefly to the previous projects conducted at UCLan, and mentioned my next steps for research (plus what funding I intended to go for, and why).
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years (this then got changed to 5 after my initial answer)? What contributions do you want to have made in your field? I always struggle with such questions – and I found myself blurting out that being in a temporary contract made it very difficult for me to think as far ahead as 10 years (this is when they switched it to 5!). What this did do, however, was make me feel like I had made a bit of a personal connection with the panel (or more of one). So when this got changed to 5, I discussed how I did not think about what I want for the future in job titles (e.g. ‘I want to be a Reader by the time I am …’).
1) I said that I wanted to have a paper out (or at least in press!) in Progress in Human Geography.
2) I hoped that I would be nearing completion of my next big post-doctorate project (I reiterated the details briefly of what project this would be)
3) I hoped that I was continually inspired by academia and the value of geography as a subject– so my final goal was to have carved my place at UCLan as a respected teacher, and to have seen off 5 rounds of happy, enthusiastic and successful geography students. A little cheesy, but genuine!
- What stage are you at with writing up publications from your thesis? Bear in mind the panel often has your CV in front of them, so make sure you know what dates you have put down as predicted submission!! This was a straight forward question – but one paper had been delayed since submission of my application and so I was also honest about the reason.
- You had a lot of teaching experience at your previous places of employment seemingly, with some considerable responsibility – how did you find managing the teaching load? This was a fairly generic managing workload question, so I mentioned my strategies for doing so, including: lots of colour-coded lists with deadlines on them, ensuring good working relationships with GTAs and the rest of the academic staff by having regular meetings and making use of the VLE, and setting myself small goals on a daily basis. Anything novel for managing deadlines/workload is worth a mention – especially if it enables a bit of humour! I love stationery shopping and so I’m sure I mentioned this obsession.
- What teaching content would you introduce here? Always go prepared with material you could potentially contribute to what already exists – and what new module content/modules you would introduce and why. Remember, key things on the minds of departments are employability and research-led teaching!
- What do you do to make your classes interesting? I discussed my in-class quiz questions, my strategy of ten-minute intervals (i.e. every 10 minutes, I switch the tone of a lecture, ranging from me talking, to them thinking about a question, to having a two minute break, to getting them to work on something in pairs etc), and including guest speakers/little snippets of research stories. I also said my general teaching ethos is do ‘anything to make the material relatable’ (which has involved me, rather embarrassingly, dressing up as an example!)
- How do you incorporate research-led teaching into your modules/sessions? I always make a point of including research examples from staff in-house in my teaching, as well as my own, and I invite guest speakers working on key research projects.
- What sort of support do you feel you would need from HR/the University in order to succeed in your academic roles? Rather a personal question, but I said that I would appreciate guidance on applying for research grants as I haven’t been a PI on a post-doc project yet. I also mentioned that I would want some training on being a PhD supervisor.
Finally, the interview with the executive dean was largely, I was told afterwards, to clarify the research plans I had and to see if I was somebody that would fit into the Faculty/department. I’m happy to say I got the job!
Tricky Trickster Questions
As an additional contribution to the bank of potential interview questions above, I did a bit of a social media survey on ‘what is the trickiest question you have been asked at interview?’ from my colleagues. Here were their responses:
Another response to my call was: ‘I asked a question to stump the panel’ – this candidate had done some homework on a relevant new government circular, and they asked what the panel thought this might mean for the area (the panel hadn’t heard of it!).
Many thanks to all who contributed! I hope this post has been helpful rather than terrifying for potential candidates, and do ask me for any additional clarification 🙂
Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing lots of victory dances from successful candidates in the near future!