June 2011

Guest post series by Ed Kaneen on his experiences at the Workshop for Aspiring Academics:

Finally, the session on teaching and curriculum design was given to TRS students by Mel Prideaux, a Teaching Fellow atLeeds. Given her background as a secondary school teacher, it was interesting to hear that part of her current job is to help new undergraduates adjust from the highly varied and interactive teaching methods in modern schools, to the more traditional lecture-style approach of universities. She went through the elements of planning a course and getting it approved atLeeds, noting the importance of objectives and learning outcomes as guides to that process. Most universities will follow a similar pattern, and it was observed that it is now compulsory for new members of the teaching staff to undertake a postgraduate teaching qualification. More and more universities are now offering part of this qualification to PhD students who are Teaching Assistants and it was unanimously agreed that such a course should be taken wherever possible, not only because it will look good on the CV, but because it will exempt the new lecturer from some of the compulsory classes.

One of the contrasts with the Edinburgh day was that the speakers were generally early-career researchers themselves, as opposed to Professors. While we did not, therefore, have the benefit of years of experience, we could hear about recent experience, which was important. The job market is increasingly difficult, and it was sobering to think that many of those attending will not get the jobs for which they hope. This was perhaps summed up by a question in the final plenary session: ‘How long after graduating and not getting a job should I keep the academic dream alive?’ The answer given was that the dream will live as long as you want it to. In practice, I suspect that there is a more finite cut-off period than this, but the encouragement from this day was, at least for the time being, dream on.

Guest post series by Ed Kaneen on his experiences at the Workshop for Aspiring Academics:

The second area of getting a job was covered by Jason Turner of the Department of Philosophy at Leeds, and Chris Renwick, a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of York. Jason focused on the application process, particularly CV’s. Given that universities are only interested in research and teaching, there is little point adding anything else. Key strengths should be emphasised at the start, and highlighted in the covering letter, even though this may never be read. There may be as many as 400 applicants for each job, so keeping it clear and concise is in the applicant’s favour (it was noted that this is different in the UK to the US, where a great deal of supporting material may be requested. This should be actively avoided in theUK, unless specifically asked for). The writing sample, as well as being excellent research, concise, clear, etc. should be of interest to a ‘broad audience’ within the discipline, as it will almost certainly be read by non-specialists.

The importance of publications came up time and again during the day, and Chris Renwick presented a whole session on this, as a new lecturer who had already published a number of articles before the end of his PhD. Having at least one publication in a highly regarded, peer-reviewed journal, was considered essential for the CV, and quality matters more than quantity. Chris recommended publishing one or two chapters from the thesis as you go along [although this should be checked with University regulations, as not all institutions permit this]. Indeed, he took the perspective that students should only focus on their thesis, and not waste time on publications outside their research topic. Although no ranking of journals is currently considered in assessing research within TRS, it is clearly worth getting published in as good a place as possible. However, Chris also made the point that, with the REF coming up, it may be harder to get published as a student, since many established academics are trying to get articles into print before the deadline for submission. Moreover, students should bear in mind that there will typically be an 18-month period in-between initial submission and final publication, so there is a need to start as early as possible.

It was an indication of how seriously the REF was being taken by some leading universities that Chris recommended not publishing in edited volumes, but only in journals. The reason for this is that it is more difficult to judge the quality of a piece which has not already been peer-reviewed. However, he did accept that, as an unknown academic, there are benefits in getting your paper published alongside more established names, as a ‘status indicator’. Keith Crome, one of the contributors from Manchester Metropolitan University made the point that not all institutions are reliant on the REF outcome, and those like MMU which focus more on teaching than research will be much more interested in teaching quality and experience on a CV than research publications.

Guest post series by Ed Kaneen on his experiences at the Workshop for Aspiring Academics:

The academic landscape was explained by Shearer West, Director of Research at the AHRC and Sean McLoughlin, Head of the Department of TRS at Leeds. Both emphasised the importance of research to British universities, and particularly the Research Excellence Framework (REF) forthcoming in 2014. I hadn’t realised that approximately 75% of a university’s research funding is dependent on this assessment of scholarly output, which explains the importance paid to it. Given this is the case, one of the questions candidates may expect at interview is which is of their publications are ‘REFable’, and what level would they attain (1* to 4*=world class). Inevitably, a discussion about ‘impact’ ensued, noting that 20% of a ‘unit’s’ (i.e. department’s) score would depend on the ‘economic and social benefits’ of the research. It is not yet clear how this will work in practice, but, as one working in biblical studies, I was pleased to hear that it was thought that impact on ‘the church’ should count. Post-docs were considered a ‘good thing’, although scarce, as they allow time to establish a research reputation, but with the new £9k undergraduate fees coming in, it is thought that teaching quality may have a higher profile in the future.

My good friend Ed Kaneen went to a training day, and he graciously offered to do a series of guest posts to describe his experiences for my reading audience.  Here’s his first post with general info:

The UK professional body, The Higher Education Academy is divided into a number of subject centres, one of which is Philosophical and Religious Studies. This centre regularly runs free, one-day workshops for ‘Aspiring Academics’. Last year, I attended one in Edinburgh. This time, on Wednesday 11th May, it was at the University of Leeds (which has a much nicer campus than I had imagined). Broadly speaking, the day was divided into three sections: (i) the academic landscape inEngland today; (2) getting a job; and (3) preparing for teaching once you have got a job.

I got an email from David Wilkinson, principal of St John’s College, this afternoon:

We are delighted that the announcement has been made of the appointment of the Bishop-Elect of Durham, Justin Welby. Justin is a former John’s and Cranmer student and is currently Dean of Liverpool Cathedral. He trained at Cranmer Hall in the early 1990s, having left a career as Finance Director of an oil company. He was based in Paris for 5 years, speaks fluent French, and also has links with Nigeria.

He spent some years in the reconciliation work at Coventry Cathedral, with international experience of conflict resolution and terrorist mediation. He often represents the Archbishop of Canterbury in Nigeria (he is visiting there shortly). We are not yet aware of the timing of his official start in Durham but it may be 6 months away.


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