How to teach (step three)

26 Jun

You’ve given a guest lecture. You’ve run one or more classes on an hourly-paid basis.

If you still want more and hanker after greater security (tenure), then the next step is to consider a permanent academic post. It looks very alluring: there are agreed limits to your teaching hours; you’re encouraged to conduct your own research and get it published; and you have the chance to shape the team and faculty through management roles.

Permanent academic roles are still very attractive, but they’re becoming more scarce and competition is increasing. So here’s what you need to know. To prepare your CV and to hone your interview skills, you need to play to your strengths. Which of the following are you strongest in?

  • Teaching and assessment
  • Management and admin
  • Research outputs

A permanent job is a dynamic mix of all three, and it’s a rare individual who’s equally good at all three. So first decide where you’re strongest and develop a narrative around this.

Next, you need to cover the other areas. Academics who are primarily interested in research are often bored and frustrated by classroom teaching. Those who prioritise teaching and scholarly activity have less time for management and admin.

It’s worth considering, too, that there’s no future in only focusing on teaching (it won’t get you promoted). All of the more senior roles (principal lecturer, head of school, associate dean etc) involve taking on more management. Professorial roles are reserved for those with the highest rated research (that brings esteem and funding to the institution).

Finally, it’s a professionalising field. Universities worried about their standing in league table rankings are increasingly expecting candidates for academic posts to have a PhD (completed or nearing completion). Note that this is a research qualification, not a teaching qualification, and there may be problems with academic researchers in the classroom, and there are problems with this stipulation in vocational areas such as public relations. (Some job descriptions allow for extensive professional experience as an alternative to a research qualification.)

So you need to think through your professional development before applying for an academic post. What relevant practice experience do you have? What ambitions do you have to become a research academic? What enthusiasm do you have for the day job (classroom teaching). What contribution will you make to management in an increasingly audited world governed by league tables, external scrutiny and student satisfaction?

If it all sounds too burdensome, then here’s a glimmer of hope. Universities are offering more fractional jobs and are open to job sharing arrangements. So your first academic post could be a part-time role alongside your existing work.

This should be an ideal arrangement. Your work as a practitioner gives you credibility in the classroom; you can offset the steadiness of one role against the commercial ups and downs of the other; and a part-time role shouldn’t mean you’re overburdened with teaching and admin duties. The challenge, though, is that you’ll be juggling ever more roles and responsibilities. The teaching may be timetabled, but the emails are non-stop and clients are always demanding. But if you’ve worked in the public relations field, you’re a natural multitasker, right?

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