Faculty Search – UK Style

Posted: May 24, 2012 in Academia, UK Academia, UK Job Advice

Whilst in graduate school I had the good fortune of having the opportunity to witness two faculty searches unfold, one of which I also got to serve as the graduate student representative on the search committee. Thus, I obtained some absolutely invaluable insight into what is necessary to be competitive to obtain a tenure-track interview (note to future applicants: do NOT print your CV in an overly large font size; it makes it look like an advertisement for the local bake sale!). So when the department I’m in here in the UK was looking to fill several positions at the lecturer/senior lecturer level (read assistant/associate professor) I was curious to see how things differed from my experience in the US…and differ it most certainly did!

The most bizarre difference was that all the applicants were invited to interview on the same exact day! There were 4-5 applicants interviewed per position (whereas in my experience in the US it was typically 3 per position) and they were all wandering around the building at the same time. When it came time for the job talks, they all sat and watched each other give talks…and then after the day was over they all went out to dinner together with some of the committee members! Crazy! What an extraordinarily awkward social situation to put people in! (I should note, when I did my postdoc interview at my current institution it was not entirely dissimilar; i.e, all four of us interviewing for the job were interviewed in rapid succession, although we didn’t see each other’s job talks…just bumped into each other while wandering around the lab…).

The other notable difference was the lack of involvement of most of the faculty members in the department in making a decision. In my US experience, all the faculty members had a chance to discuss and vote on whomever the faculty search committee recommended for the job offer at the monthly faculty meeting. Whereas here in the UK, the committee made the decision with only informal (and seemingly quite minimal) input from those outside the committee. The search committee also made their decision VERY quickly, making job offers within 1-2 days following the end of the interviews….and the decision was shrouded in secrecy so that no one outside the committee was told their decision. In addition, as best I could tell, the search committee was made up almost entirely of very senior faculty members (which is probably how they keep the inbreeding going so strong), which is a bit odd seeing as the junior faculty members are the one’s that are going to have to work with whomever they choose the longest and are the one’s that are going to shape the tenor of the department into the future. Sounds a lot like an aristocracy to me!

Some other minor differences were: 1) Prospective applicants did not have a chance to sit down with graduate students in the department. This deprived applicants of an opportunity to see the caliber of students they might expect to obtain at the institution and denied graduate students to chat with someone that isn’t too far from where they may want to be in several years. 2) The overall caliber of invited applicants was somewhat poor, particularly for those applicants that would be brought in at the lecturer (i.e, assistant professor) level. For example, out of the three applicants that would have been brought in at the lecturer level, two of them weren’t even close to being prepared to take the next step (at least based on my conversations with them and their job talk). I don’t think this is institution dependent as my postdoc school has a better ranking/reputation than my PhD school.

The only real positive difference I could see from how the search was done here in the UK versus my experience in the US is that it is much more efficient. Getting all the interviews out of the way in 1.5 days was quite impressive, although they are pretty intense full days in which it would be impossible to get much else done. Other than that, the overall faculty hiring process here (at least in this instance) strikes me as problematic, particularly the lack of offering a forum for input from all the faculty members in the department. I’d be curious to know if this is how it is commonly done throughout the UK or if it’s highly institution dependent. Either way, hopefully this post will be of use to anyone that may be embarking on searching for a faculty position in the UK and may not be familiar with what to expect…


  1. caseybergman says:

    I’d say this is pretty spot-on for Lecturer-level interviewing in the UK from my experience, although they do things a bit more like they do in the US at Cambridge. At the Professor level much of what you say applies, but the process can be even less structured (sometimes even without a job talk!) and it is not typical for more than one applicant to be interviewd on one day (although this can happen sometimes as well).

    • funkdoctorx says:

      Actually, now that you mention it, they have been recruiting here at the professor level as well and that has been closer to the “American” style that I’m used to, i.e, one person brought in at a time and much more time and resources are put into recruiting that individual. They certainly gave a job talk, but it’s hard to know if all this more focused recruiting of someone at the professor level is driven by the upcoming RAE…sounds like this time can be quite lucrative for someone with some recent high profile publications…

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