Getting Your First Academic Job After PhD
We spoke to Nadine to find out what it was like starting out in her first academic post, what advice she'd give to those starting out as well as how to continue research and writing while taking up a teaching role. Watch the video below!Transcript
You may like these videos
About this video
Nadine Muller is a Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Nadine took up her first academic job 6 months after passing her PhD. We spoke to Nadine to find out what it was like starting out in her first academic post, what advice she'd give to those starting out as well as how to continue research and writing while taking up a teaching role. Watch the video below!
Hi. I’m Nadine Muller. I’m a lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University.
I had my viva in December 2011 and I officially passed in February 2012, and I got a job interview for my first permanent job in June 2012 and I took up that job six months after I officially passed my PhD, so in August 2012.
So I thought that I was really well-prepared, because I’d done loads of stuff during my PhD
in order to get the job, but then when I actually had it, it did turn out to be a little bit different. So there’s lots of things to do that you kind of know you’re going to have to do, but actually the reality really hits when you have to coordinate that course with 100 students whilst also teaching three other courses that you have never taught before, and on topics you’ve never taught before. So that was very different, and that was really kind of my main experience.
So the difficulty was from the very beginning – how am I going to keep my research going, my writing? How do I not
just stop and succumb to pressure or to those new duties?
Yeah, I think you have to be kind to yourself and I continued doing something that I’d already done before, really, which is when it comes to teaching, we often have very grand plans of all these amazing things we want to do in seminars and lectures, but actually, you’re making things a lot easier on yourself and on your students if you have an idea of three to five points that you really want them to take home, and stick to that. You don’t every week have to write
the best lecture in the world, prepare the best seminar in the world. It’s the start of your career. You can still refine things.
I know it feels very much like you’ve arrived, because you finally have the job, but actually there’s so much room for growth once you have that first job, so that was really important, I think.
I think what really helped in our department was that, especially when you teach a module for the first time, generally all the lecturers on the module, all the people who teach the seminars sit in the lecture every week. So actually, that really helped, because I had a new institution – you have no idea,
really. You don’t even know if they lecture in very similar ways to where you’ve taught before or where you have you been taught. So actually sitting in the lecture and seeing the materials that the students are being given, the way they are being taught, really helps to then pitch things in the seminar, and also for your own lectures, and it meant that I could actually spend a little less time sitting at home wondering – ‘Oh my God! I wonder how I’m supposed to do this here! And are people going to think I’m doing this horribly wrong because this is how I’ve done it elsewhere?’ So that was really, really helpful.
So I would say, if you have the time, actually sitting in lectures of your new
colleagues really, really helps, because they will have been there for a while and they will know the kinds of students you have and what are some of the common problems. So absolutely speak to them and ask them about it.
I think there are two sides to that, really. On the one hand, it’s really important that you try to protect some of your time and keep writing, keep researching, because otherwise it’s very easy – and I think I did this – it’s very easy to get out of the habit, because you can be so overwhelmed with all the admin that comes your way, all the new things, all the new structures
and the new university, new ways of doing things, that you can kind of forget that part almost, whilst you’re coping with all the new pressures. But actually, even if you just write an idea down every day or something like this, just keep your brain ticking over – I think that’s really, really important.
I do think it is important in that sense to keep doing it, but I do think it’s important to have conversations – have conversations with your line manager, with your research director, and actually get a clear sense of what they’re expecting from
you – this year, the following year. Think back to maybe what you promised at interview, and what their take is on that. Because quite frankly, they don’t expect you to deliver everything in the first year that you started. You don’t have to start by trying to justify that you’ve been hired in the first week of your job, and try to do a grant application, a new journal article, and your book.
I think professionally, make sure you stay involved and
get involved. Make sure you get to know people in your department, in your university. Make sure you get to know all the support services in that university, because there are lots of people and department in a university that can help you that are not your direct colleagues, that maybe otherwise you will never know about unless you actually make an effort to find out – people like research support officers who can help you with funding bids, who can identify what might be good streams of funding to go for.
So the important thing is to, very quickly, I think, take advantage of the fact that you’re not on
your own anymore, if you were before. So keep networking both in your organisation and outside – keep talking to people, I think, is the important thing. And as I already said, keep writing, keep your head with your research, keep moving forward, but maybe adjust your pace a little bit.
It’s really important that you know that not everyone is expecting the world of you. Be realistic, be strategic. Think about what’s realistically achievable in that first year
in your post. What can you do and what’s simply not possible?
And maybe you do have to adjust your priorities a little bit in that first year, but as long as you deal with that realistically, it’ll help you not be almost disappointed in yourself or worry that the people who appointed you might be disappointed with you, which I think is really, really common – not that they’re disappointed, but that you think that they might be disappointed.
So yeah, absolutely – be kind to yourself, and also keep doing things outside of work.
You’ve been offered a job, and it’s a job that you hopefully love by the time you’ve made it there, but remind yourself there are things outside of work as well, and just be nice to yourself.
Have you seen our other videos?
We have a range of videos to help you including mapping your skills to a job and how to predict interview questions...View our Careers Videos now