A group of rather successful philosophers currently or formerly employed at universities in the UK have put together a guide for students and other applicants from US universities who are interested in academic jobs in the UK, and kindly offered to allow me to post it here. The authors of the guide wish to remain anonymous because, apparently, human resources departments at UK schools get nervous about their employees dispensing advice. Though written by philosophers, much of the information and advice is applicable to those working in other disciplines. Feel free to add further suggestions in the comments.
A Guide for US Students Applying for UK Jobs
This is a guide compiled by current and former UK academics, primarily intended for students and other applicants from US universities who are interested in applying to UK jobs. This guide is obviously just a starting point, and the information is both incomplete and fallible. Every university is different, and they all have their own idiosyncrasies. Hopefully, this guide can be the beginning of a conversation that others can add to. Other useful information can be found here.
We should stress, though, that while we’re presenting this as a guide to applying to UK jobs in general, it’s probably best understood as a guide to non-Oxbridge jobs. Some of the advice will hold for Oxford and Cambridge, but not all of it.
1. Know your terms.
- Teaching Fellow – Roughly equivalent to visiting assistant professor. The difference between teaching fellows and temporary lecturers is that teaching fellows don’t have any research component to their contract, so they are only paid for teaching and administrative work. Teaching fellows will thus often have higher teaching loads than temporary lecturers (though not always). Teaching fellowships are also often 9-month contracts, whereas temporary lectureships are typically 12-month contracts.
- Temporary/1-year Lecturer – Roughly equivalent to visiting assistant professor. Often advertised as Temporary Lectureships. These jobs are often nicer than your standard US VAP position. They are, in effect, the same job as a non-temporary Lectureship, except they end after a year.
- Research Fellow – Same thing as a postdoc, for the most part. (Quarter-time appointments are sometimes listed as research fellowships, and these tend to be for fancy, well-established people. But if the add says it’s a two year research fellowship, that’s a postdoc.)
- Lecturer – Roughly equivalent to assistant professor, except without anything as robust as the tenure process to go through. Often advertised as Continuing Lectureships.
- Senior Lecturer – Roughly equivalent to associate professor. Confusingly, some UK universities are now incorporating ‘associate professor’ as part of their terminology, but the title ‘Professor’ is reserved for full professors. (No one will call you ‘ X’ unless you are full professor.)
- Reader – A step above senior lecturer, a step below full professor, no real US equivalent. Many UK universities are phasing out readerships.
- Professor – Roughly equivalent to full professor. Don’t apply for a UK job advertised ‘Professor’ if you have just finished grad school unless you want your application to provoke a hearty round of laughter in the vetting process.
- Module – Class or course
- Marking – Grading (terms for grades are different as well, just fyi)
- REF – The central research quality assessment procedure which all UK universities undergo (at the same time, approximately every six years). Performance in the REF determines how much government funding a university’s research activities will receive. The REF matters to UK academics a lot. They will talk about it a lot.
- AHRC – The Arts and Humanities Research Council. It’s the primary source of research funding for philosophy in the UK.
2. Know where to look. – Thankfully, PhilJobs has made looking for UK jobs (but not exclusively UK jobs) much easier, as many jobs turn up there. When it comes to UK-specific resources, jobs.ac.uk is the place to look. But you should also considering subscribing to the Philos-L mailing list. (Or, if possible, get a friend to subscribe and tell you about the jobs so you don’t actually have to get all the Philos-L mail. You can also check the Philos-L archives without subscribing to the list.) Checking the listings in the Times Higher Education Supplement and the Guardian may also turn up a few extra jobs.
3. Know when to look. – Basically, all the time. The UK job market doesn’t run on anything like the centralized schedule that the US market does. While most continuing lectureships are advertised during the academic year, temporary jobs – including really good ones – can be advertised pretty much any time.
4. UK postdocs can be a really good gig. – UK postdocs often have very little in the way of teaching or administrative responsibilities. These jobs, especially when hosted in departments with good research environments, can be a great way to get your foot on the academic ladder. There are an increasing number of them, so be on the lookout.
5. Your job talk will probably be short. And everyone else giving job talks will likely be giving them that same day. – Yes, it’s awkward. Yes, it’s not what you’re used to. If it makes you feel better, everyone feels this awkwardness keenly. Biggest piece of advice: do not try to pull off your pre-prepared one hour job talk in the half hour you’ve been given. This will end in disaster.
6. Your interview matters a lot. – Don’t blow it off. It isn’t a formality. At many UK institutions, your interview is more significant than your job talk. Be prepared to be asked about things you wouldn’t be asked about in the US, including the REF, your potential to attract grant income, and the potential non-academic impact of your research.
7. There will likely be non-philosophers on the interview panel. – Again, don’t blow these people off. Their opinion matters. How much it matters can vary between institutions, but it often matters a lot. With all the non-philosophers on the panel, don’t expect the interview to be anything like an APA interview. You aren’t going to be grilled by experts about the details your research. Rather, you’re going to have to explain what your research is and why it matters to very smart academics who will have little to no background in philosophy at all. And a lot more of the interview will be about your teaching, grant-capture, and administrative abilities. Prepare accordingly.
8. Publications matter, especially for non-temporary jobs. – While it’s certainly not the case that the candidate with the most publications wins – not by any means – most UK universities expect to see some evidence of ability to publish in good journals for a candidate they are seriously considering appointing to a continuing lectureship. Because the UK doesn’t have a tenure-track system, there is in some sense more at stake in these appointments (you’re in all likelihood giving someone a job for life, unless they do well enough to be able to leave.) It’s also fairly uncommon for UK academics to land these jobs straight out of graduate school. UK universities increasingly expect an established research record for jobs like this.
9. Two-body negotiations are not a thing. – Any advice you might’ve been given by your US advisors about a two-body problem doesn’t apply in the UK. Not only are UK institutions not in the practice of creating positions for partners, it’s actually illegal. Occasionally things can be fudged with a bit of ‘soft money’ to create a post-doc for a year or two, but don’t expect much (or anything). Couples who have managed to solve their two-body problems at UK universities either managed to each get hired independently or are job-sharing (which some UK universities allow, but others don’t – it depends.) There is no such thing as a ‘trailing spouse’ or a ‘spousal hire’ at UK universities.
10. In general, there’s a lot less room for negotiation. – Things are more egalitarian in the UK. There’s a national pay scale, and while you might be able to negotiate to be put higher on this scale, there are strict limits as to what is considered reasonable, and the salary constraints are often made explicit in the job advertisements. There’s also much less flexibility about asking for ‘perks’. You’re unlikely to get more travel money than your colleagues or a reduced teaching load just because you asked for it. That’s not how things work.
11. There is often a short deadline for you to make up your mind. – Sometimes, this is due to immigration rules (visas have to be applied for within a specific amount of time from the date the job was first advertised, so if either you or someone else on the shortlist needs a visa this can impose time constraints.) But it’s also just a normal part of the UK hiring process, and departments will often have very little control over it if the deadlines are set – as they often are – by HR or the Dean’s office. This means that begging for more time to the head of department very often won’t get you very far, and the head of department is often being completely truthful when they say there’s nothing they can do. Yes, it’s not what you’re used to in the US system. This isn’t the US system.
12. Don’t be a dick. – Please – please, please, please – don’t go on at length about how different the whole process is from the US process and how weird it seems to you. Yes, academic systems in different countries are different! It’s not the job of UK academics to justify these differences to you. You’re applying for a job in a different system. The onus is on you to figure out how that system works, and as a visitor to a different system it’s also worth trying to be respectful of a system you don’t really understand yet. In case you’re wondering, the US system seems pretty weird and confusing to those looking at it from the outside too.