Archive for the ‘UK Job Advice’ Category

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…



There are a number of differences in the graduate school experience between the  US and the UK. One of the most prominent differences is the amount of time it takes to get a PhD:

Time to completion:

In the US the time it takes to get a PhD in the biomedical sciences varies widely based on the program, the adviser, the student and the research progress luck. Usually it takes anywhere form 4-7 years. In my PhD lab, most students graduated in about 5+ years. Here in the UK there is much less variability: it takes either 3 or 4 years; and you know how long it will take from the beginning. This is because most PhD positions are offered as studentships that are funded from a specific grant for a specific period of time to perform a (usually) well defined project. Once your time is up, well you better be done because there may not be any cash around to support you!

There are some obvious advantages to having a set time limit on the PhD experience (although I think 3 years is too short; I’ve been told there is been a trend towards having more PhDs take 4 years…). Having a clear deadline for when funding runs out may help keep a student focused on making brisk progress. It is not entirely uncommon in the US to find graduate students that sort of meander about and don’t get their ass in gear until 2-3 years in. Having a set time limit also cuts down on the potential for advisers to abuse graduate students by forcing them to stick around longer than necessary to continue to work on a project.

However, I also think there are some significant drawbacks to this approach.

The primary one is that students don’t come out as with as much professional experience as I think is more typical in US programs. Given the amount of time it takes to really get going in a lab and get a handle on the literature in the particular sub-specialty, there is limited opportunity for giving talks or multiple poster presentations. In addition, I also think graduates from UK programs are less likely to publish as much or have as much opportunity to generate multiple first author publications or apply for their own support. Given the time constraints, they also appear to be less likely to have the opportunity to dabble or go after more high risk or exploratory research if they are only working on a small piece of a much larger project, as the cost of failure is much higher when the time frame is more limited.

Thus, at the end of the day, I think a student is likely to be more competitive overall and have more professional experience/knowledge about the scientific process with respect to publishing and grants after graduating from your “average” PhD program in the US than the UK. Given the 1-3 more years it typically takes to get a PhD in the US, there is significantly more opportunity to develop a CV. However, if one were to control for the total number of years being in science, I think many of the differences may very well vanish as I don’t believe there are any significant differences in overall quality of the PhD programs between the two countries.



So you want to do your postdoc in another country? Here are some tips for identifying job opportunities and people to contact.

One way to land a postdoc is to send an unsolicited email to someone to see if they have funds and are interested in you. However, finding potentially suitable employers can be challenging. One way to do this is to use the Web of Science, which should be available through your institution (usually a link in the libraries website database page). From here you can do a search based on a number of criterion, one of which is address. All you need to do is pop in the topic you are interested in one field, and the country you are interested in working in another, and voila! While this isn’t perfect, it’s a good way to start tracking down potential employers.

The other resource that is rich in international opportunities is nature jobs.

Finally, you can look into European society websites that have job listings. These are actually quite useful as they appear to be the number one place specific jobs are listed as best I can tell (e.g, FENS (Federation for European Neuroscience) job market, or EMBO jobs (European Molecular Biology Organization) etc).

When I was searching for my current postdoc, I had an offer through just contacting someone (that I found via Web of Science) and one from a job posting on Nature jobs. I ended up taking the latter offer (partly) because it was for longer (3 yrs vs 1 yr).

If anyone else has any other resources for finding an overseas postdoc (obviously this comes from an American perspective) please leave a comment!

Happy searching!

I figure one of the unique perspectives I can offer here on the web is job advice for any aspiring graduate student that wants to work in the UK. There are some important differences in how the interview process and job offers work here in the UK as opposed to the US.

At the end of the interview for my current postdoc I was asked “if we offered you the job, would you say yes?”. Needless to say, I was completely taken off guard by this question. What the hell kind of question is that to ask someone?! Well, it’s a British kind of question. Apparently it is standard practice here to ask this question if one is seriously considering making a job offer. In fact, it is essentially a job offer** is as close to being a job offer as one can get without actually being an offer and can apparently be the time to start some negotiations. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time and had to quickly come up with a response of “well I would certainly consider it”. I wasn’t quite prepared to make a commitment right then on the spot and was very surprised. This gets me to the second aspect of hiring in the UK that is very different…

Do not plan on having a whole helluva lot of time to make a decision on whether or not you will take the job. Whereas my fellow graduate student colleagues who were courting jobs in the US had weeks to collect and compare offers, I had about oh, 4 days (and I think even that was pushing it!). My plan was to try and shore up at least two offers so I could decide between them. Well, getting to the UK for two interviews in the time I had to make a decision was simply not happening.

Finally, the other thing I found to be a bit odd is that the overall interview setup was a bit different. Instead of just you being interviewed, expect to be interviewed in close proximity to your competition. After I gave my job talk and chatted with my current PI for a bit, I checked out the lab and talked with various people. At this time interviewee number two was giving their talk. This led to a couple of awkward moments as we were being shuttled around so as not to bump into each other too much. But of course, on the way out I inevitably see the other folks who are waiting for their interview.

Of course, there is always the caveat that some of this is not UK specific but is specific to my PI (although I know for a fact that the “If I offered you a job” bit is UK wide). Any comments from any other UK postdocs? Similar or different experiences?

**Note: I changed the wording here a bit after reading Dorothy’s comment below. I would not want to mislead someone inadvertently. This is not a job offer but, I would say, is very close to a job offer.