This was the statement made by a friend of mine who was invited to deliver her first lecture on an important but sensitive lecture topic. This feeling is not uncommon amongst early career academics. Unlike professionals developing their careers in primary and secondary school teaching who tend to be more prepared having gone through teacher training, for those going into lecturing in academia, your training comes on the job, usually after you have started teaching! In many cases, after completing a Masters degree or a PhD/postdoc, you could land your first lecture invitation. So what should you keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation? The handy tips below will give you a good starting point.
STEP ONE – Find the guidebook: The first bit of research you’ll need to do if you are about to teach at University, college or school is the curriculum. At University, this will the course/module specification. Here it will be important for you to know what the anticipated learning outcomes are for the students within the year group. What type of assessment(s) have been designed for the course? How does the topic you are about to lecture on connect with the learning outcomes and assessment? Do you have the skills to deliver this material?
Previously we shared an article aimed at helping graduates prepare and perform at interviews. In today’s post, Emmanuel reflects on his experiences at academic interviews and offers advice for aspiring academics about to embark on this journey.
Before my first academic interview, my experiences of interviews were straightforward (industry and other sectors) – myself, a round table or similar and my interviewers. At those interviews, the questions centered around how much I knew about the company, a bit about me and my experience, why they should hire me etc. My experience of academic interviews was quite different.
My first academic interview was for a research fellowship in Northern Ireland to carry out a project on the molecular detection and distribution of bacteria in the gut from clinical samples. As you would expect, this was a specialised area and the interview format was no different from my previous experiences. It was about the specifics of the research area, my experience and what my technical skills were in relation to what experimentation was required for the position. No doubt, I had done my due diligence; researched my interviewers, the project, the institution, shortlisting plan and salary scales…having worked in industry previously, I went in prepared and the format was as I expected.
As academics, we routinely come across students – undergraduate and postgraduate – enquiring into how they can get into a PhD programme. Our advice is always the same, do your research! In today’s #studentchat, Mohammed shares some advice for undergraduate students contemplating undertaking a PhD.
Research is fun! Contrary to popular belief, it is much more than hours on end based in a laboratory carrying out monotonous work. It is a much more wholesome and rewarding experience but it is not without its challenges.
I have been fortunate to be involved in research prior to undertaking my undergraduate degree. Now you may wonder, why burden oneself with extra work, isn’t working towards a first or a 2:1 enough? A decade ago, the answer to that question would have been yes. However today it is almost impossible to get into a PhD programme without some form of research experience under your belt. With this in mind, I encourage other undergraduate students to look out for opportunities to carry out some type of research from the beginning of their studies. You may be thinking, “I don’t want to do a PhD, let me get out and make some real money!” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and no one should do a PhD if they do not really want to do it. However, for those interested, remember that research in itself can equip you with a range of transferable skills that are highly sought after by different employers.
For some time now we haven’t shared much on the doctoral front and as the season for new starters on the doctoral journey is nigh, hence is the need for a new post! Often I am left wondering whether these type of posts are supportive or detrimental to PhD candidates due to the complex and non-linear nature of the experiences. As one man’s meat is another’s poison so is the nature of the doctoral beast i.e. no such thing as a generic PhD.
I won’t belittle you with the suggestion there is a right or wrong way to do the PhD (who am I to know?) but I’m positive some things are particularly key in helping navigate the journey from the initial thinking phase, development of the proposal, getting the application through and starting on the road to “permanent head damage” as some people refer to it.
The seven steps I have chosen to discuss here are in no particular order and the first is to “know why you want to do the PhD and what your career options and end points are before you begin”. This is very important as far too often the idea is that once you complete your PhD, jobs will be lined up for you everywhere. That in itself is a fallacy as the job market can be just as brutal to PhD graduates as it is to graduates from first degrees. Believe me, one thing you do not want after your PhD and spending countless ££££ and $$$$ is #JOBLESS…..there is nothing as demoralising as knowing they you are a broke ass jobless DR.
The second step is that you’ll need to “get career and mentor advice early on”. This is very important! I have come across many PhD graduates who have spent between 5 and 10 years, sometimes even more on contract/temporary, rolling post-doctoral research careers which for some ends up in a blind alley career. In some of those cases, these over qualified individuals look for opportunities to change career paths, taking much lower salaries to break away from the unending slave-like performance that a lengthy post-doc could easily turn into.
Now it might be that you already know your career plan and you eventually would like to be an academic, working as a lecturer at a University beyond your PhD. If that is the case, my advise would be to seek opportunities to embark on a postgraduate teaching qualification. I was fortunate to have had a mentor who changed the course of my career taking me away from my obsession with returning to medicine and telling me that she saw a career as a lecturer or educator in me. Alongside this, came two senior academics who had convinced me on the importance of starting the teaching qualification during the PhD. I won’t deny how arduous the task was; doing a PhD, keeping a part-time job and doing a teaching qualification alongside it. Painful as it might have been, it was one of the best decisions I took as it paid dividend during my PhD and instrumental in me getting my first full-time lecturing role after the PhD.
So, having an idea where your career should or could go is important before and when you start your PhD. One thing that can help you with the support to build the network and find mentors to help your PhD would be joining a professional society. The importance of this cannot be overstated. For whatever field you choose to embark on your PhD studies, even if your PhD is on trying to understand the alignment of stars, or why pandas in captivity refuse to mate or best, the phenomena of witchcraft, there is a professional society that you can benefit from immensely.
The demand for a Masters degree is on the rise and with the efforts of many Universities across the globe to ‘internationalise the curriculum’, there is now even more interest and perhaps, reason to embark on a Masters degree. I remember undertaking my masters degree over a decade ago and I can comfortably say it was one of the best career decisions I (Emmanuel) have made as it determined the career path which I am on today.
The Masters degree, for those who are not very sure, is a higher level qualification which you can attain after studying for a Bachelor’s degree (traditional route) or other technical qualification (for those on polytechnic or college courses + some experience). Increasingly, Universities are considering individuals with extensive experience in a particular sector to study for Masters degrees on a part-time face to face or online/ distance learning basis; offering the opportunity to use qualifications, skills and experience from other ventures to showcase themselves as certificated “Masters” of that field.
So now you have a better idea what the Masters degree is about, how do you know what Masters course is for you?