In which the author gets a job

I haven't mentioned this before now, partly because it seemed so far off and a little unreal. Exactly one month from today, I will become a lecturer in modern European history in the School of Humanities at the University of New England (UNE), Armidale, New South Wales. Which is both very exciting and ever-so-slightly scary!

UNE is an interesting place for a number of reasons. It's one of the smaller Australian universities, but it's not really small: it has something like 17,000 students, though more than 80% are taught by distance education (and UNE has a strong reputation in online education). It's a regional university: Armidale is located up (elevation 982m) in the Northern Tablelands of NSW, about equidistant from Sydney and Brisbane. (New England is another name for the area -- hence UNE -- because it is supposedly like the American New England in that it has four distinct seasons, though winter seems to be the most distinctive...) With a population of around 20,000, even the relatively small on-campus student body in combination with the staff means that UNE makes up a big proportion of the town; it's the closest Australia comes to the American phenomenon of the college town. I haven't actually been to Armidale yet (my interview was by video), and it's not a part of the country I know very well (though some of my forebears came from up around there, and I once spent a summer at Coonabarabran, only a few hours' drive to the southwest). But by all accounts it's a beautiful area.

The humanities are strongly supported at UNE, from archaeology to peace studies. One of the School's strengths is in history. There are twelve historians currently listed on its staff page, and another six in classics and ancient history. And that's not including me, or two other positions which were advertised shortly after mine. So that's a decent size. The School offers everything from bachelor degrees (including one in historical inquiry and practice) to PhDs, and the units taught range from the Vikings to Cold War popular culture. I'll be teaching 19th and 20th (and even 21st) century European history: next year this will include the long 19th century and the First World War. First up, though, I'll be running a methodology unit and also working on adding some digital humanities to the curriculum.

I think this is a good first academic job. It's full-time, as opposed to part-time or casual, so I can devote my full energies to it. It's equal parts teaching and research, so I'll still be able to write and publish. I don't have much full-on lecturing to do (as opposed to coordination, marking, and curriculum development, as well as research and writing) until next year, so I'll have plenty of time to settle in and get used to being an academic. Admittedly, the position is only for 2.5 years, until the end of 2015, and is not tenure-track. So I'll be looking for work again in 2016. But a couple of years' worth of lecturing and academic experience on my CV (plus a few more publications) should make me more employable.

After more than three frustrating years on the job market and nearly three dozen job applications before this one without getting an interview, I'm conscious that I haven't made it... but at least I've made it this far!

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22 thoughts on “In which the author gets a job

  1. Alan Allport

    Congratulations. It may be a truism, but that doesn’t make it untrue: it’s a lot easier to get a job once you have a job. Particularly in academia.

  2. Congratulations! I suppose this means we’ve lost an independent researcher, but I’m really pleased for you.

  3. Post author

    Thanks, everyone! I’m quite pleased…

    Alan:

    That’s my impression, I hope it’s true! At any rate it’s up to me to make the most of my opportunities now.

    Gavin:

    I must admit to feeling a bit of a fraud during our recent discussions, since I knew then that I wouldn’t be an independent scholar much longer. But it is how I’ve self-identified, perhaps overly so. Adjusting to my new status will be interesting and perhaps challenging.

    Errol:

    As a statistical statement it’s safe to say that any place in Australia is a long way from every other place :) In fact, I think Melbourne is a touch closer to Temora than is Armidale, not that I’ve ever been there! JDK could probably advise me on heritage aviation in the New England area — I had a quick look but couldn’t find anything :(

  4. Yes, it’ll take longer to get to Temora from there than from Melbourne (8hrs+ by car, rather than 7+) but you won’t have the Victoria-NSW border controls to face.

    As to vintage aviation in New England? Umm….

  5. Christopher

    I am happy to add my congratulations – it is always nice to get what you want to do.

  6. Belated congratulations, Brett. Maybe it be a favourable omen of things to come!

    It damn well better –it’s not like the profession is overrun by people who know how to use these computerator thingies to teachify.

  7. Waqar

    Congrats Brett! I’ve reconnected with your superb blog recently, and I’m looking forward to following its continued development from your new intellectual home.

  8. Congratulations again Brett. UNE’s history dept seems to be really gearing up. (That historical criminology post looked very attractive!) I’m sure it’ll be a great research and teaching environment.

  9. Post author

    Thanks for the further congrats!

    Ross:

    Yes, it can and does! I was asked on Facebook if I had any tips for those who are looking for academic work. I’m not sure that I accept the premise of the question because in the current job market so much comes down to luck rather than the inherent qualities of the candidate. But here’s what I said:

    Hard to say as I don’t really know why they hired me but the job description fit me reasonably well, but so have others I didn’t get an interview with. I guess the usual: keep publishing so you look research active (they didn’t seem to care about my lack of previous teaching experience other than tutoring) [also, try go to a few conferences, give talks and meet people!] If you give a seminar as part of your interview process as I did, use it to talk about yourself and how great you are [to be less flippant, how your research fits into larger historiographical trends, and how this will benefit your students]. On the other hand, I guess don’t worry too much about nerves — I was nervous as hell, stumbling over my words and saying ‘ummm…’ every few words, but again they didn’t seem to mind. And if you are giving a video interview, look down the camera as much as possible, not at the screen, otherwise you will look shifty! [Thanks to Evan for that tip.] And do make an effort to show how you can fit into their department, not just ‘you need a lecturer, I need a job’… And be enthusiastic and show your love for history, but not so much that you look like a crazy person. Okay, I’m probably not helping now…

    A couple of things I didn’t do, but which I was starting to think I probably should, were to pick up some sessional lecturing (as opposed to tutoring, which I figured I’d had enough experience with) to demonstrate teaching experience, and find some grants to apply for (since this is a selection criterion that sometimes comes up). Obviously they weren’t necessary in this particular case, but they still might have enhanced my chances.

    Also, a (British) academic once said to me something like: keep looking as long as you can survive/stand it, since everyone of his PhD cohort who did hold on did eventually get into academia somewhere. Which in a way is trite — by definition, if you drop out of the job search you aren’t going to get one. But what he was really saying is that it’s probably going to take time to get that job (unless you are some sort of wunderkind in which this topic is of no interest to you!), so you need to prepare yourself mentally, financially, etc for the medium haul. In my case, I was fortunate to have a lifeboat, a continuing part-time job which gave me (almost) enough money to stay afloat as well as enough spare time to research and write. So I knew I would be reasonably secure for a few years (and still would have been, for another year or two) while I applied for jobs and got some publications out. But not everyone is in that position.

    Erik:

    It’s the ‘to teachify’ bit that has me worried…

    Waqar:

    Nice to hear from you, it’s been a while! How are you travelling?

    Evan:

    Yes, it’s stronger than I had realised, and than I would have expected for a regional and non-Go8 university! (Though I see Flinders has lured away Melanie Oppenheimer, our loss is your gain etc.)

  10. In a word, ‘network’!

    It’s a life skill too, for other careers (like mine) and I really noticed how important maximising it is on a couple of recent visits to other countries where some face-to-face time with old contacts revitalised the relationship, and led to further contacts which led to further otherwise not-gonna-happen contracts…

    And to put Brett’s friend’s advice another way, a good degree of ‘luck’ is actually persistence, and never giving up. Trite, perhaps, but also easy to underestimate as a factor.

    Now this teachify thing…

  11. I have had the job cycle described as a game of musical chairs. In essence you find the same people at interviews (assuming the job it linked to a particular field) and what happens is your chair is eventually removed. This means one of two things. You either get a job or you stop applying and move on. I have also heard the argument about give it time and to be honest I have noticed that with many friends. The other things over here that has so much influence it REF. With the impending doom that is REF 2014 publications have been very important for getting jobs (I certainly know that is true at Birmingham) and the key advice being given to PhD students at the moment it to publish at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal before completion. However, post-2014, I have been assured that factors such as teaching will become important again until a few years before the next REF cycle. I also agree about being willing to tailor your application to a department and be willing to say that I am able to work on XYZ that fits in with your departments strengths. At the end of the day it is all about playing the game.

  12. George Shaner

    Excellant news.

    People often ask me if I got my postion at the National Archives and Records Administration by way of diligent marketing and my long-term interest in history; if you mean drinking with the right people at happy hour and straining every sinew to avoid the taint of failure that comes with moving back in with your parents as a thirty-something then the answer is yes.

  13. One bit of advice I found invaluable: it’s not about you, it’s about them. Too many candidates spend all their time trying to demonstrate how great the job would be for them. Which is fine, except that the job wasn’t advertised to help them. It was advertised to help the department. Your whole attitude all the while should be: tell me what your problems are and let me show you how I am going to solve them all.

  14. Post author

    JDK:

    Yes, networking is not something I did enough of as a PhD student. I’ve made a conscious effort in recent years to get out more, to speak at conferences and talk to people in between sessions. Even if those contacts don’t lead directly to work or collaboration opportunities, they keep you visible and people might have some knowledge of you when your name pops up, even if they just vaguely remember reading your paper abstract in the conference programme.

    Ross:

    This was actually my first interview so I can’t comment on the musical chairs aspect (and as it was by video I didn’t get to meet the other candidates anyway) — makes sense, though. If you are regularly getting through to the interview stage that’s got to be a good sign, you’re already doing better than 90%+ of the applicants.

    The REF thing is interesting; despite our RQF/ERA being inspired by your RAE/REF, we haven’t taken the ‘outputs’ obsession that far yet. But easily two-thirds of the jobs I applied for were in the UK, most of them last year, obviously gearing up for REF 2014. For most of that surge, I had two peer-reviewed publications (plus the book contract); I think number three came along near the end, and more recently I applied for some UK jobs with four and maybe even five REFable articles on my CV. Didn’t make any difference whatsoever. That could be because I wasn’t selling myself very well (and I wasn’t, early on: so another couple of tips are to take the personal statement/selection criteria very seriously, in fact give a sample and your CV to people inside academia for their full and frank opinions!). But there’s also the UK’s immigration rules which make it hard to hire non-EU/UK resident people (etc). I’ve heard conflicting things about how much difference that makes, and obviously it doesn’t make it impossible; but I think at the very least it means I would have to have been the outstanding candidate by a wide margin (not just a nose), given the extra hoops that have to be jumped through to get a permit from the Home Office. So I can’t judge how REFability matters.

    George:

    Thanks!

    Alan:

    Yes, that’s a good point. I think that’s something I almost accidentally did pretty well this time, actually.

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