Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UK job market

As the next crop of PhDers gear up for the job market, I thought I’d try to systematize some info about the UK system that might not be transparent to outsiders. It's not always totally transparent to insiders either, but I’m hoping that everything I say below is accurate, at least as a rule of thumb. I’d very much welcome queries, corrections and supplements.


  1. The UK job market has no unified system for applications. Jobs come out in dribs and drabs, and you apply individually to each one you fancy going for at the appropriate time.
  2. Three main categories of job that PhDers look for:
    1. “Lectureships”. Usually these jobs comes with responsibilities to teach, to do research, and to do certain amounts of administrative work. These come with the equivalent of tenure. These are sometimes called “permanent” or “continuing” lectureships to distinguish them from (c) below.
      People sometimes think of these---very roughly---as US assistant professorships (though coming with the equivalent of tenure).
    2. “Postdocs”: (normally) full time research positions, often held for two or three years.
    3. “Fixed term lectureships” (including “teaching fellowships” and “replacement lectureships”). These are usually positions covering teaching needs within a department. Pay and conditions vary wildly: some of them are de facto full-time teaching positions, some of them will have the same conditions as the non-fixed term lectureships.
  3. It’s far more common in the UK than in the US for PhD-ers aiming for a research career to try for a postdoc position for a few years. Postdocs are pretty prestigious things to get. However, over the last few years quite a few PhD leavers have moved straight into continuing lectureships, which offers the extremely nice feature of instant job security, if less upfront time to spend on research.
  4. Lectureships come in grades: Lecturer A and lecturer B are the entry-level grades (lecturer Bs getting a bit more money than lecturer As). Then come senior lectureships and “readerships”; then professorships. You can roughly map the UK lecturer/senior lecturer/prof divisions onto US assistant/associate/full prof. But I don’t have enough familiarity with the US system to know how closely it matches---and of course there isn’t a tenured/untenured line to be drawn as there is in the US.
    Fixed term lectureships are the equivalent, I guess, of US visiting professorships.
  5. Sometimes but not always UK jobs will be advertised according to US norms (e.g. specified with AOS/AOC, advertised in JFP). But to get the full whack, the best thing to do is to sign up for the most popular UK academic job website, www.jobs.ac.uk.

Appointments procedure

  1. What’s asked for in a UK application will vary. There’s often an application form to be given out, writing samples will be asked for (perhaps with a specified wordlimit) and of course you need to include a CV. References aren’t typically required at the initial application stage. But often US applicants find it easiest to send their standard application pack, including references, teaching reports and whatever. This’ll probably mean that US applicants end up providing a *lot* more info than their rivals at the initial stages. Obviously you can contact the dept for guidance if you’re worried your application pack will be out of sync with what’s officially requested.
  2. If you’re invited for interview, you should be aware that the setup will differ markedly from US norms. Often, there’ll be a shortlist of 4 or 5 for a continuing lectureship, and often all candidates will be interviewed on the same day, and even taken out for dinner together. Some people find this totally awkward, and hate it. I sort of enjoyed the camaraderie. But it is standard practice, so don’t be surprised by having to socialize with your competitors. (Remember: there's nothing like the APA smoker to go through in the UK system: the interview days are a one-stop-shop). The institution will tell you what to expect, but often the formal proceedings will include a presentation and an interview, carried out over one or two days.
  3. Any presentation will typically be to the whole department, who’ll give feedback to the appointments committee who run the interview and who actually make the hiring decisions. Presentations can be of various formats: from 20 min presentations with 10 mins for questions, to hour-long presentations with substantial discussion time. For fixed term lectureships, you might be asked for a teaching-based presentation (“give a presentation suitable for a first-year course”). For postdocs, obviously a research presentation is appropriate. For continuing lectureships, it’ll probably veer towards the research. The institution will give guidance, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification/advice if you’re unsure what they’re wanting (particularly if they ask for something totally impossible e.g. “a twenty minute presentation accessible by second year undergraduates that gives an overview of your research programme”).
  4. As mentioned, UK appointments are made by appointments committees, not by individual departments. The makeup of appointments committees can vary, but it isn’t atypical for there to be just two philosophers in a committee of five or more for a philosophy-only post. Obviously, these philosophers have an influential voice, both in the interview itself (you can expect them to ask the majority of the questions) and in the hiring decisions. But for continuing positions probably also be asked questions by non-philosophers. For obvious reasons “are there interdisciplinary aspects to your research?” is a question often heard at that stage of the interview.

Finally, the Oxbridge section:

  1. Oxford and Cambridge are exceptions to almost every UK rule. Their unique college-based setup means that their jobs are titled differently and graded differently: [for example, in Oxford] CUFs and University Lectureships are the main continuing jobs they offer. Those are, again, both tenured positions. See this discussion on Leiter (by Michael Rosen) for the lowdown. Oxford and Cambridge also have a vast stock of postdoc positions (called in Oxbridge “junior research fellowships” or JRFs) and a vast stock of fixed term appointments “lectureships”. All terribly confusing even to UK folk.
  2. Not all Oxford and Cambridge JRFs are advertised on jobs.ac.uk, though I believe all continuing positions will be. I found the only way to get comprehensive listings for JRFs is by looking at the Oxford Gazette: http://www.ox.ac.uk/gazette/ (this comes out weekly, and you can sign up for email notification). From the homepage, click on “weekly issues”, then an issue, then “appointments”. Amusingly under “positions outside Oxford”, it lists all and only positions available at Cambridge. That’s quantifier restriction for you. Two warnings: these positions are often (though not always) advertised across disciplines, so that a philosopher will be competing with biologists and mathematicians and whatever. Also, at least when I applied, each JRF position that came up (and there are lots) seemed to require it’s own research statement, of varying lengths with varying requirements. That’s hugely time-consuming for the applicant (Oxbridge: please introduce some uniformity!)
[updated in the light of Brian's queries in the comments about whether the Cambridge continuing positions are relevantly like those in Oxford or relevantly like those in the rest of the UK. I don't know about this. Be very pleased to receive information.]


Brian said...

Great post. Just one question.

How different is Cambridge to the basic structure you described in the post? Certainly when I applied for a job there six years ago, it was pretty much exactly as you described, with the exception being that the hiring committee seemed dominated by philosophers.

This was for a job that was primarily with the philosophy department, and only secondarily with a college, so maybe that was why it was a more traditional UK hiring experience.

Robbie said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for the query. I'm really not sure (and have updated the post accordingly). Cambridge has a much stronger departmental system than Oxford (i.e. the colleges are relatively more influential in Oxford), so on reflection I wouldn't be surprised if it was more in accordance with the UK norms. The JRF system is very like the Oxford one though, I believe.

FWIW, my experience (such as it is) has been at the Universities of Oxford, St Andrews, and Leeds (on the inside). I'd be interested if anything (like the ratio of philosophers to non-philosophers on the panel) fails to generalize. A qualification to that, at least in Leeds: often fixed term contracts (fixed term lectureships and postdocs) can be handled by an interview panel drawn entirely from the department. I guess it might be worth people asking about the composition of the committee in advance of the interview, given that it can vary in these ways.

Charlie said...

Hi Robbie.

One tiny point: I'm not sure that all Cambridge JRF's are advertised in the Oxford Gazette. I think it's safer also to check Cambridge's equivalent publication - the Cambridge Reporter: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter
Click on 'weekly numbers', then a number, then look for 'College Research Fellowships'.

BTW, I entirely agree about those blasted research statements....

Kenny said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm sure it will be helpful.

Tuomas said...

This was useful, thanks! I'm just writing a couple of proposals for postdoc offers and find the differing length etc requirements especially irritating: one would want to focus on one good proposal instead of having to edit multiple versions of it.

Andreas said...

I second the thanks! You probably know that Aidan has made a page with a lot of info of this sort. Hope you'll get him to put this up as well.

Robbie said...

Thanks all! Charlie: you may well be right (I think once I'd battled through to find the Oxford gazette, I sort of lost the will to go through it again through the Cam website!). But definitely worth investigating for folks looking for these.

I don't see why Ox and Cam can't advertise these positions in the sensible/standard ways e.g. jobs.ac.uk (and at least sometimes they do already)

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Catrin Campbell-Moore said...

Thanks for this! I know it is old now but I'll still provide some information and links that I've come across relevant to Oxford and Cambridge applications here in case it's useful.

Oxford and Cambridge have their own websites for jobs which they say contain all the jobs. They are www.ox.ac.uk/about/jobs and www.jobs.cam.ac.uk, though on both websites it is hard to narrow the search to the relevant positions. I believe for the Cambridge site the JRFs are under "College and affiliated institution jobs". The Oxford Gazette also has the list of some of the jobs on www.ox.ac.uk/gazette/currentvacancies.
One further note about JRF application schedule: the applications for the Cambridge JRFs usually have deadlines around October 1st for positions beginning the following October. I don't know what the usual Oxford schedule is, if anyone knows this please let me know.

There is some further information on the Cambridge HPS website http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/students/training/getajob.html which seems quite useful.

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