A Guide for US Students Applying for UK Jobs

A Guide for US Students Applying for UK Jobs


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. Lecturer – Roughly equivalent to assistant professor, except without anything as robust as the tenure process to go through. Often advertised as Continuing Lectureships.
  5. 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.)
  6. Reader – A step above senior lecturer, a step below full professor, no real US equivalent. Many UK universities are phasing out readerships.
  7. 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.
  8. Module – Class or course
  9. Marking – Grading (terms for grades are different as well, just fyi)
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

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M K
M K
5 years ago

Trying not to get offended that you’ve included the map of the Republic of Ireland in your post on the “UK.” Although much of what you say would apply to Ireland also, especially the bit on ‘not being a dick.’Report

C
C
5 years ago

I think it’s also worth mentioning that publications matter quite a lot and that pedigree doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much. This could be due to a number of factors, but I think part of it has to do with the REF (when there’s money on the line, you’re more likely to go for numbers of lines on a CV and take fewer gambles). If you have a strong publication record and don’t come from the strongest programs, you really should consider applying to jobs in the UK. You might just get lucky and my experience is that it’s much easier to put an application together for a UK department.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
5 years ago

At some UK schools, search committees do not actually look at your letters. HR wants them on file but they won’t release them to the committee. This may be thought of as a good thing.Report

M K
M K
5 years ago

Cheers J, not said in a confrontational or attacking manner. I think you do Trojan work. Keep it up. Keep the faith.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Question: I filled out a CV form on jobs.ac.uk. Do departments ever look at those or do so many people apply for jobs that they don’t have to bother with that?Report

A UK job candidate
A UK job candidate
5 years ago

1. When you interview for permanent positions in the UK, you will almost always be asked whether you would take the job if you were offered it–often using some variant of the sentence ‘If you were offered this job would you take it?’ It’s probably a good idea to say ‘Yes’ to this one unless you don’t want to be offered the job.

2. Job talks are short, but there’s a lot of variation in the length. I’ve never heard of one longer than 30 minutes. 20 minutes (plus 10-20 minutes Q&A) is more common for permanent jobs in my experience. I’ve also been asked to give (many!) 10 and even 5-minute presentations on my research for some post-docs.Report

Tom Dougherty
Tom Dougherty
5 years ago

At Oxford and Cambridge, there are Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs), which are basically 3 year or 4 year research-only post-docs. However, because of the complicated collegiate structure of these universities, these are advertised by colleges in different ways and at different times, but many if not all are advertised in the Oxford Gazette or Cambridge Reporter (so far as I know). These positions are usually not subject-specific, and it may be that it’s not philosophy’s “turn” for a JRF at a college. But if a college is interested in a philosophy JRF, then my sense is that there is less competition from other philosophers for these positions than there would be for positions that were similarly attractive.Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

Whenever I’ve applied for UK jobs there’s a spot that asks about whether I have permission to work in the UK. I’ve assumed that, as an American, I don’t, and mark the box for “would need sponsorship.”

Two questions:
(1) Is this the correct box to check?
(2) Does this doom my application? I have a great sense of doom when I check it…Report

Steve Linton
Steve Linton
Reply to  Tom
3 years ago

(1) Yes
(2) No

Any serious UK University will aim to hire the best people regardless of nationality. However if we want to hire non-EU residents (roughly) we have to jump through extra bureaucratic hoops and make extra sure that we can prove why the candidate we want is better than any EU resident candidate and …. Hence the box.Report

Mike Otsuka
5 years ago

Job talks for permanent posts at both UCL and LSE are about 45 minutes. This is an American practice that this Yankee urged his colleagues to adopt when he arrived at each Department.Report

A UK job candidate
A UK job candidate
5 years ago

Tom #9,
(1) Yes, correct box (assuming you don’t have more than one citizenship)
(2) No. Americans who are not dual citizens get jobs here all the time. It does make it more difficult for the university to hire you, though.Report

A UK job candidate
A UK job candidate
5 years ago

#10,
Good work! I guess that’s a pretty recent development–I interviewed for a permanent position at UCL a couple of years ago, and the job talk was 30 minutes.Report

Aaron
Aaron
5 years ago

I’d love to see a similar post about UK PhD admissions.Report

Chris Bertram
Chris Bertram
5 years ago

People who are applying to for jobs in the UK also need to inform themselves about the UK visa regime and the very real risk that they will be denied permanent residence after five years. (And that even if they are successful, this may come after stressful and expensive appeals). The Miwa Hirono case ought to serve as a warning:

https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/miwa-hirono-my-home-office-hell/2019275.articleReport

Mike Otsuka
5 years ago

#12 UK job candidate: I was just referring to UCL’s and LSE’s Philosophy Departments. Other Departments in these universities do things differently. If your 30 minute job talk was for a permanent post in Philosophy, then this is a recent change, since the job talks were roughly 45 minutes when I was there from 1998 till 2012, if my memory serves.Report

Converse
Converse
5 years ago

This list seems about right. An incoming guide to the US could also be handy.Report

Elinor Mason
Elinor Mason
5 years ago

A slightly odd thing about the UK system is that it can seem that no effort is being made to recruit you – no-one shows you around or tries to make the place seem attractive. Try not to be offended, this is just part of the system. We are stuck interviewing the other people, so we can’t take you out to lunch. I don’t think it is a great part of the system, but that’s how it is. You might schedule a few extra days in town if you think you will be juggling offers, so you can get a sense of what it might be like to live/work there.Report

David Papineau
5 years ago

In response to C, June 8 10.44, I’m afraid I can’t see how the US system of attaching a lot of weight to ‘pedigree’ is more of a ‘gamble’ than the UK practice of taking publications to trump provenance. I can see that the US practice is unpleasantly elitist and a bad way of finding the best people, but that doesn’t make it a gamble, which I would say requires a high risk-reward ratio, and needn’t necessarily be sub-optimal. I wouldn’t say that a legal firm that only looked at candidates from Harvard and Yale law schools was taking a ‘gamble’ on its appointments.Report

Joseph O'Mahoney
Joseph O'Mahoney
Reply to  David Papineau
4 years ago

That is obviously not the point. If a law firm took a graduate of Yale law school who had no experience or demonstrated ability in the job over someone with a JD from Georgetown who has been an associate for 5 years and been extremely good at the job, e.g. better than an average Yale graduate, you would have to say that the firm was gambling that the Yale JD would be even better and risking that they might not be. Report

Matt
5 years ago

In my (admitted pretty limited) experience, significantly more weight is put on ability to get (and history of getting) grant funding in the UK than in the US. (This might be even more so in continental Europe, though I can’t say for sure.) Most people coming out of US programs will have very little experience with this. (My own thought is that this is a good thing, but that’s beside the point for now.) You should have something ready to say about your ability to get grant funding in the future, perhaps especially if you don’t have a history of having received such funding.Report

UK PhD student
UK PhD student
5 years ago

The truth is there just aren’t that many philosophy jobs in the UK these days. Most of colleagues from my PhD days have left to find work. It’s also important to keep visa issues in mind. We have a conservative government that hates foreigners. I’m a citizen here with a foreign wife. It’s very difficult to get the home office to allow her to stay, and you spend lots of money on visa applications. The stress is overwhelming too, because you never know whether the government will force your wife to leave, and then of course you too probably.

I’d say it’s not worth it unless you’re single and get a permanent post.Report

Chris Bertram
Chris Bertram
5 years ago

It might be worth mentioning too that the cap on Tier 2 visas (skilled workers) has just been breached and that the Home Office has confirmed that some applications have now been refused on this basis.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
5 years ago

I have a query (not for myself). Wrt Scotland are things likely to be different there from the rest of the UK given the victories of the Scottish nationalists (both in the Scottish elections and in the UK General Election) and the Devo -Max that had to be conceded to keep the Scots in the Union?Report

Chris Bertram
Chris Bertram
5 years ago

Charled Pidgen: no, or at least not yet. An independent Scotland would no doubt have its own immigration policy, but for the moment, immigration matters are handled by the UK-wide Home Office and its associated agencies.Report

Dodge_Slant-6
Dodge_Slant-6
4 years ago

I can’t imagine Philosophy being too different from what I’ve experienced teaching History here in the UK at a ‘Red Brick’ university for many years, but I can assure you, pedigree does matter. Since the effects of government austerity budgets began around 2010/2011 there has been very little hiring, and the few who managed to gain employment as junior lecturers or have attained highly coveted postdoc fellowships usually share a similar set of circumstances. They either have an ‘inside’ connection with that institution – whether through previous study there or collegial familiarity with the work of a leading academic in that department, or they are an ‘Oxbridge pedigree’. These are the only people attaining academic positions in British humanities today. It is a far contrast to the early naughties and late 1990’s when even humanities departments were flush with money, and the hiring was fast and furious. In those days people from even ‘Post-1992’s’ and ‘Glass Plate’ institutions were getting hired for lectureships in Red Bricks straight out of completing their viva’s. Today, with the very few academic positions available in the humanities, aspiring new historians need to be in a ‘trendy’ field, which has potential to generate outside funding and isn’t too terribly frightening or galling for the free-market espousing classes to stomach. (i.e. Marxist historians need not apply). The marketisation of academia has killed the humanities in British higher education, and what little is left is in peril. Report