Imaginary lectureship – some interview questions and tips.

In April 2016, I applied to a job I knew I was not going to get. No, not because it was yet another one of these jobs advertised to people ‘with a PhD or about to submit their doctoral thesis’ when really the university is looking to appoint someone who already has a book out and is preferably already working on the second. It was an imaginary lectureship aimed at giving feedback to those of us who struggle with the academic job market. Interviews for all shortlisted candidates  were held in the form of a workshop at the Institute of Historical Research on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

A team of wonderful historians led by Marcus Collins from Loughborough had given up their time to give a few lucky ECRs the opportunity to go through a 20 minute interview (followed by 10 minutes of feedback). To make things even more exciting, the ‘imaginary’ candidates then held a short research/teaching presentation which was observed by 5-10 other ECRs who proceeded to give their feedback orally and on a piece of paper. A round table about the myths around job applications concluded the day and we were then all taken to the pub and to diner.

Besides being able to practice in front of people who had never heard of my research before and were not my friends, I received extremely useful feedback on my own interview, but was also able to observe one other participant’s interview as well many research presentations. Probably the most valuable insight of the day was how these helped me deconstruct some of my views on what makes a good interview/research presentations.

Here are the interview questions I got asked by my two interviewers Daniel Grey and Cath Feely (these questions had been asked to candidates who had applied last year for a lectureship in history at the University of Loughborough) and some advice for answers that my panel suggested to me. The next post will be about the research presentations and round table discussions.

  • How do you maintain the attention of students in a big lecture theatre?

Here, it’s all about the examples. It’s fine to give standard answers (that one keeps the students active and engaged or that the structure of the lectures ensures that students remain focused for a whole 55 min etc) but my panel was really looking for specifics on how I structure my lectures and how I feel this can impact on students’ attention, or what I do to keep them engaged. For those of us who have not lectured to large cohorts all too often: no need to say it! Rather try and reflect on the (little) experience you have and demonstrate what makes you stand out as a lecturer.

  • Can you tell us about a form of innovative teaching or assignment that you’ve used in the modules you’ve taught or that you’d love to use in the future?

As a way of answer, I mumbled something that I cannot really remember as I write this post – probably for the best!

For this question, the panel was again expecting candidates to be reflexive and think both about specific forms of teaching or assignments and also to outline what the students had got out of them. They also suggested that one may consider discussing some forms of resistance to these new methods that a few students might have expressed, or more generally, what were the problems related to these innovations and what one did to overcome those.

The candidate after me whom I got to observe also very cleverly linked her proposed innovative form of teaching to employability. This probably would not work for everyone’s teaching but it’s certainly a good point to be making if it fits in with one’s module objectives.

  • What are your four REF outputs?

The panel were not only expecting to hear about your publications but they also wanted to know when / where you were going to be submitting that book proposal, that article etc. The candidate after me expanded on each of her outputs, giving the specific titles and outlining the arguments – I’d go for that in the future. The more specific, the better.

  • What makes your research four star quality?

For this question, one had to be familiar with the REF vocabulary but also go beyond merely repeating the REF criteria for a four star output (“Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour” in case you are wondering!) As the panel suggested, other ways to think about this question is to ask: why are people going to be citing your work in 10 years’ time? What is going to be changing the field of modern French history and how is your research contributing to this change?

  • If your head of department was involved in an accident and you had to step up, what would you like your legacy to be?

I was extremely baffled by this question. Instead of going for my usual French “euhhhhhh” I should really just have paused, remained quiet and done some thinking!

My mistake here was to think mostly about the HoD’s relations to the staff and I only briefly mentioned student related strategy; here would be a good time to show all the thinking you’ve been doing about recruitment strategy!! All in all, you want to show that you are aware of a department’ needs – and especially the department you are hoping to join.

Of course, these are just some of the questions you may get asked during an interview, and we all stumble on different things. For those of you going through the hoops of interview preparation, check the dedicated section on the blog where you will be able to read a list of interview questions compiled by fellow historians.



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