a lecture hall and a leaping figure

Are you a postdoc or fellow looking to make the lectureship leap? What do you need to know to become a lecturer? Other than your subject, that is


What type of lectureship?

All universities are different, especially in the UK with its heady mix of ancient and new universities. They’ve all got a different amount of teaching, research and contribution to the department (administration). Some lectureships are much more research intensive, where you don’t have to teach that much and others are primarily teaching jobs, so lecturer is definitely the job title there! I would say that you’re not going to get a lectureship without any teaching, those days are gone but its thinking about the balance teaching, research and admin (the 3 factors of lectureships). 

Make sure you understand what type of lectureships are available in your particular discipline and be awedfo where stye are advertised (jobs.ac.uk is always a good start). The other thing to think about is that if you’re in interdisciplinary science. Chances are you will be able to apply to both depending on the particular lectureship call.

Most calls for lectureships are addressing a hole that the department has. My top tip to ask when you’re looking for lectureships and you’ve found one is:

You need to ask that person who’s advertising (there will be a name on there somewhere for informal enquiries)”Why is this lectureship being advertised?”

If it’s new money because they’re funding a masters, guess what? You’re going to be teaching on that masters! If its someone who’s left and left a big teaching hole in department, you’re going to be filling that hole and they’re going to be looking for someone with expertise in that particular area.  It is really important to find out not only what type of lectureship but also why it is now vacant.  

Start with the form

If you are just starting to think about lectureships, download some application forms or job adverts that tell you what you need to apply. Again, different lectureships will ask you different things. If you start with the form, then you can almost use that as a shopping list for your postdoctoral contract.

“So, I’m here, the lectureship form says I need x, y, and z. So, I’ve got my two year contract to build those up to be able to apply in the future”. 

Being well informed about what universities are looking for and what you’re going to have to write in an application form gives you targets.

I need to build up some teaching experience in order to write a teaching portfolio or a teaching statement. “What is your teaching philosophy?” is the question that’s often asked (sounds scary). But it simply means “How do you like to teach?” What do you think works best? You build that up partly through practice, but also knowing some of the pedagogical words (see what I did there?). So doing some research in and around teaching a new discipline will stand you in good stead.

Postdocs tend to be pretty brilliant at research statements because that’s what you do every day. But filling in the form, being positive about yourself, putting yourself forward as a potential leader in your field, talking positively about your research or contribution so far and network are all things that people struggle with. So, making sure that you’ve got that form as a shopping list well before you need to apply means you are prepared for your career. 

Your network is key

No one is going to give you a lectureship on a plate and the job market is pretty tough. But using your network, it’s going to help you see opportunities earlier and understand what those opportunities mean because if someone in your network said why don’t you apply, you can go back and ask, “Okay, what’s the job entail? Why is it vacant? What’s the balance? What’s the day to day job of a lecturer in that university in that research setting look like? Do I have to keep office hours for my students? Am I predominantly spending my time with undergrads? Am I predominantly spending my time with perhaps finalists and master’s students? What does it look like for me in that particular role?” (They might not want all of those questions at once!)

Your network can be a great source of information, both for opportunities but also, how do I do this? Or what did you put on your lectureship form, because chances are, if you’ve been in academia a little while, there’ll be some people that you know, a little bit ahead of you. My caveat here is, if you ask a professor who’s been in post for 20 years, the job market looked very different 20 years ago! You need to find someone who is probably about three or five years ahead, who can really tell you what it’s like, how competitive it is, how they wrote their teaching and research statements, and how they applied to different lectureships. Your network is really going to be a key ingredient to your success here. It will also be a source of support going forward on your academic journey. 

Who are you going to be teaching?

When I’m working with candidates who are going for job interviews they have often forgotten to consider who they will be teaching. To often postdocs blindly assume:

“Oh well, they’re just like me they must have done these A levels at school, then they’ve gone to university, and they’ll be like me.”

They won’t, they’re very different. Different universities have different standards for their undergraduates coming in. So you might have someone coming in on a physics course who either didn’t do A level maths at all, or perhaps has a lower grade A level maths than you assume. Someone without that mathematical skill is going to find certain elements physics really tricky in their first year. So, if you’re picking up that first year class as a new lecturer, what do you need to know? Where are there going to be gaps? 

How do you find that out? You go to the student facing pages on that university or research institute’s website. How are they selling this course? You need to know that because you need to know exactly the diversity of students who you’re going to be getting. What range of qualifications will admit them onto the course. You need to know the capabilities of the students. And I’m the first say that A level grades are not an indication of capability necessarily, but it might give you an indication of people who’ve perhaps struggled more at school, but still passionately interested in the subject, you’re going to have to put in a bit more as a lecturer to make those people shine in that subject. The important thing to understand is what do they think that they are getting if they take this degree at that particular university. There’s a huge focus on certain universities employability post degree. 

You need to know who you’re going to be teaching. Then in your application, you can speak to that. Could you answer the interview question “What do you know about our students?”.

Do the numbers

What I want you to do is to go find out how many lectureships are being advertised currently in the UK in your field (or pick the country of your dreams – researchers are an international bunch).  The answer will be not that many. We have this huge raft of postdocs and early stage researchers and then you’ve got the fellows then you might have two or three lectureship a year advertised that you could apply for in your particular discipline which is really challenging. So, making that lectureship leap, is absolutely that, it’s a leap of faith!

 You will also find that like those beautiful London buses, you will get none going in the right direction for what feels like an age. And then you might get three in a row! Academic years have a hiring and firing cycle. Quite often you’re expected start in September / October for the academic year in the UK. There is the cycle associated with the Research Excellence Framework (REF)The universities have a huge push to try and hire people who have lots of great papers so that they will come out well in that particular schoolSo, the REF affects that. And don’t get us started on the political climate (Brexit). There are various factors, which mean that jobs tend to clump.

If you are going to wait till the end of your contract to apply for the next contract, then can I suggest you don’t?!

Have a look, be aware of what’s happening in the job market! Get yourself as ready as you can so that when those three buses come along, you’ll be able to go “yep I can apply to those three buses and then I’ve got my eggs in three different baskets going forward” – mixed metaphors!

Be as ready as possible. I’ve looked at that form. I’ve got my shopping list. I understand the different flavours of universities around me. I understand who I might be teaching. And my network has made me as aware as possible of what it’s like to be a lecturer and is giving me the opportunities. You are then ready to make the leap!

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