Thursday, 7 July 2016

Your research: being necessary & useful

At this time of year, many early career researchers are preparing job documents for academic applications. Lots of PhD students are in the throes of finishing up & preparing to move on; the competitions for Junior Research Fellowships are just around the corner; the US job market is about to go into full swing; and looking towards the autumn, which isn’t as far off as it might seem, there will be a spate of other deadlines. For all of these applications, you will need a persuasive, tautly worded pitch to describe your research. And this is the first place where most people go wrong.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Five job application behaviours – and what they say about you

[An edited version of this article was also posted on the Guardian Higher Education Network.]

A couple of years ago, I proposed ten irritating mistakes in academic CVs and ten suggestions for writing good cover letters. I think that those tips are still relevant today, but in the intervening years, I have noticed a pattern. Applicants get so wrapped up in worrying about how to present themselves that they stop seeing the wood for trees, and they fail to see what their behaviour implicitly communicates about them to the panel. Here, then, are five examples of such behaviours and why you should guard against them.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Academic interviews: listening for the subtext

It’s said that, across the whole world of work, interview panels are only ever asking three questions: 1) Can you do this job? 2) Will you do this job? 3) Do you fit the culture of our organisation? There’s a lot of truth in this saying. What it means is that, in effect, the candidate’s task is to decode the phrasing of the interview questions in order to figure out what’s really being asked – whether you have the skills, the motivation, or the right cultural ‘fit’. It’s a powerful tactic.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Job interviews: being likeable

It's been a long time since I sat down to write a blog post, because I took a lengthy sabbatical & absconded to the French Alps, where I ran a small chalet - almost as far away from academia & careers advice as you can get. That's if you don't count all the people who, on finding out what I do for a living, would immediately respond, "Oh, I could really do with some careers advice!"

Yet there was a striking way in which I could see a parallel between the academic job market and my chalet experiences of cooking for the guests, cleaning up after them, dealing with their questions and concerns, handling the occasional complaint, even sorting them out when they were frightfully drunk. If you liked the guests, you were happy to help them. But if you didn't like the guests, you didn't enjoy it. The same is true of the job market: be likeable & people are more likely to want to hire you. Be unlikeable at your peril.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What's the value of a PhD? Reflections on Cumberland Lodge

This week, I’ve once again had the delight of participating in Cumberland Lodge’s annual Life Beyond the PhD conference, along with more than sixty research students and speakers from many subjects, universities, and corners of the UK. The venue is magical: half lost in the middle of a thousand-year-old Great Park, the Lodge is a former royal residence with its own charmingly déclassé inventory of furniture supposedly found by the Queen Mother in the cupboards of Windsor Castle.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Self-leadership: The game of higher education & how best to play it


Through self-leadership, early career academics can take control of their careers, be proactive and set their own goals 


Leadership is something of a buzzword these days, a concept which has seeped into academia from the corporate world and seems to come in an unending array of flavours: academic, research, thought, moral, business, strategic, and so on. It's the sort of thing people highlight in their job documents; it crops up as an interview question.

But what might leadership mean to early career academics, many of whom don't lead the projects they work on, let alone teams or departments? What might it mean if, like many of the researchers we work with, you struggle with the feeling that the higher education system is a game, the rules of which are difficult to navigate and set by others?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Can engaging with the public help your career in academia?

At a recent talk to early career academics, I was arguing for the importance of engaging non-academic audiences in your research, when one disgruntled participant shot back that I was encouraging them to become celebrities. This wasn't what I intended, but the response isn't untypical. It reflects an unease among a lot of early career researchers: on top of everything else, do I really have to learn to become a media don or children's entertainer? Is this what I actually need to do to improve my career prospects?