Top Tips for Academic Americans Wanting to Work in Europe

     
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By Dr. Catherine Armstrong

There are many opportunities for American academics to make the move across the pond and work in the UK. Where can you find these vacancies? And what tips are there for making a successful move? This article is designed to help you achieve your relocation goals.

  1. Awareness of job market
  2. Awareness of University System
  3. Terms, not semesters!
  4. American versus British English
  5. Scholarships/Fellowships
  6. Postgraduate study
  7. Networking is vital!
  8. Tenure?
  9. Work permits: don’t panic!
  10. The RAE: What does it mean for me?

1. Awareness of job market

In some fields you may find the English job market has more to offer than the US, whereas in others it is even more competitive. For example, a historian of modern America may ironically have a better chance of getting a job outside the U.S. simply because the field there is saturated at the moment.

2. Awareness of University System

It is often the case that American scholars know very little about the British university system outside Oxbridge, so make sure you do your research thoroughly. If you have seen a job advertised is it in a Russell Group university (20 leading research universities)? Or is it a post-1992 university (a former Polytechnic recently given university status)? Is research or teaching its main priority?

3. Terms, not semesters!

With a few exceptions, the U.K. university system runs on terms rather than semesters. Many of the courses you will be teaching run throughout the whole year, with lectures during the Autumn and Spring terms and then exams after Easter. Most teaching jobs will commence at the start of the academic year. This is later than in the U.S., either September or October. The academic year finishes in late June.

4. American versus British English

As well as a difference in working life, you will have to get used to all sorts of cultural differences too. It is assumed because we speak the same language that Americans and British always understand each other, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. It is worth doing some research before you start applying to make sure that you are going to be happy in Britain. It’s a common misconception that the whole of Britain is covered in quaint villages: you could have a shock if you end up in inner-city London, Manchester or Glasgow!

5. Scholarships/Fellowships

This is a difficult area; make sure that you thoroughly research the possibility of gaining non-institutional funding and scholarships as well as those offered by universities. One problem is that not all of these are open to non-EU residents/citizens so check the ‘small print’ carefully before spending a lot of time filling in application forms. Specific exchange programmes are in place, the most famous of which is the Fulbright Scholarship.

6. Postgraduate study

If you are a postgraduate student looking to do some study in the U.K. there are several schemes available, including the Marshall scholarships. Fulbright also do postgraduate scholarships. Some universities also offer money to outstanding overseas applicants, so it is worth researching the institution you would like to visit.

7. Networking is vital!

As with all roles, try to find a personal contact at the particular institution you want to work for or study at. He or she will be able to advise you on the best way to apply, the way the institution works and working conditions and life in the local area. This contact could be someone you have met at a conference, or worked with previously.

8. Tenure?

British universities don’t at present have a system of tenure, although there are often rumours that some would like to move in that direction. When hired to a permanent position in the UK, you will usually be put on probation for 1-3 years. This means that you usually get a lighter teaching load to help you ease into the job, but equally you will be monitored very closely by your mentors and head of department. Once this period is over there won’t be a formal tenure-like interview process. Instead, you will seamlessly progress to being a permanent member of the team.

9. Work permits: don’t panic!

At first sight the work permit scheme can seem very daunting, but if you are a postgraduate, or a junior or senior academic, you will qualify for the Highly Skilled Migrant programme, so research here whether your qualifications allow you to enter the country.

10. The RAE: what is it and what does it mean for me?

Academics in England are breathing a sigh of relief just now as a period of intense stress is over! The Research Assessment Exercise is an audit of the research and teaching activities of each academic department, faculty and institution. Each research active academic had to produce a certain number of pieces of published work. They will also gain points for external academic activities. This will then be assessed to determine budgets for the future. However, once this cycle is complete at the end of 2008, it will be replaced by another scheme. So if you are applying for jobs now you will be judged as part of the new scheme and will not have to consider the RAE although you will still hear a lot of people discussing it!

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