If you’re preparing for an interview at a university for a lectureship, good luck to you! The UK system tends to involve a presentation, often to the whole department, and then a panel interview with a few senior members of staff. This can be very daunting, but it does get easier with practice.
I’ve attended quite a few job talks, from both sides of the table. Here are some thoughts on how you should prepare for the talk and interview, and some typical questions you might be asked.
The academic job presentation
For many academic lectureship interviews, you will be asked to give some form of presentation, probably on the theme of current and future contribution to research and teaching in the department. This post is mainly focused on earlier career academics who may be applying to their first lectureship.
This is a huge topic, and usually you’ll only have 15-20 minutes to get it all across. The goal here is not to give a potted summary of every paper you’ve written, but to give the departmental staff a flavour of your capabilities, expertise, and potential for collaboration with staff in the department. They’ll also be assessing your presentation skills and whether or not you would be a good lecturer. I think there are several key points you will want to highlight in a presentation such as this:
- Your publication and grant record (are you “REF ready”? Have your papers been assessed for the REF?)
- Your research strengths and skills
- How you can work with people at this university; your ‘fit’ to the department. Can you strengthen the research cluster? Do your skills fill a gap? Can you collaborate?
- External collaborations you bring with you
- Future research plans and how you will fund them
- Anything else on the essential person specification under research.
- Your experience in undergraduate teaching
- What modules on their current curriculum you could teach
- What new modules you would be excited to deliver
- How you could contribute to any post-grad teaching
- PhDs you could supervise and how you would fund them.
Lectureship interview questions
Here are some questions that could be asked at academic job interviews. These will usually comprise the head of department, senior staff members in your research cluster, an external (from another department or HR), and perhaps senior teaching or education leads.
It is critical to be well prepared. Do your research about the department and the university. What is the department known for? What are their key values? How many students are there? What is the undergraduate curriculum?
You should know the names and research areas of key people in the department that you think you could collaborate with. Ideally, I would send an informal email to the key contact listed in the job advert and ask if there is any specific teaching planned for this role.
- Why do you want this job? Why here, why now?
- Tell me about your current research.
- Tell me about your current research in a way that your grandmother would understand.
- What is your best paper? Tell me about it. Why is it important?
- What achievement are you most proud of?
- What four papers would you submit to the next REF and why?
- How would you contribute to this research cluster?
- What makes you different to the other candidates?
- Can you explain a time when you overcame a significant problem in your research?
Where are you going?
- Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
- Tell me about your next big grant application.
- What papers are you going to write in the next few years?
- What might be potential sources for funding for your research?
- What impact does your work have? Why is it beneficial for society?
- How can you increase the impact of your work?
- What experience do you have in increasing the impact of your work?
- Tell me about a module that you would design.
- How would you approach a first-year lecture for 200 students?
- We are proud of our teaching here. What makes your teaching special and different?
- What experience do you have of lecturing to undergraduates?
- How many undergraduates do you think we have?
- What courses on our curriculum could you teach?
- How would you make a dry subject like XX interesting for the students?
- What experience do you have of student assessment and marking?
- What experience do you have of managing a budget?
- What experience do you have of being on a committee?
- Can you demonstrate that you are a good team member?
- How would you contribute to the administration of the department?
Here, they may be looking for evidence of collegiality, as well as administrative or leadership skills, depending on the role that you’re applying for.
- When can you start?
- Do you have any questions?
- What are the main things you look for in a job?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Do you have any questions?
This is often asked at interviews. This is not the time to ask about pay, travel reimbursements, etc – you can negotiate pay if you’re offered the position, and logistical questions can be dealt with through HR. However it is useful to try and have a back-up question. If they’ve already answered all your questions don’t panic and just smile politely and so no.
Potential “any questions”:
- Ask about the tutorial system, pastoral care arrangements, etc
- Ask about potential for designing new modules.
- Ask about internal processes for developing grants and bidding for research funds.
- Ask about mentoring opportunities or systems
- Ask about PhD supervision and practices here.
Do you have any advice?
If you’re an experienced academic or have been through the hoops a few times, do you have any advice or suggestions for early career researchers on the job market? Please post in the comments below.