Be pro-active and prepare for long shifts if you want to land a lectureship. That’s how Samantha Terry did it.
Guest contributor Samantha Terry
I have been a scientific researcher for the past 10 years and started as a lecturer at King’s College London in September 2015. Friends said I did well to land my dream job at 30 at a great university. They’re right; but it wasn’t an easy road to get to where I am today.
I completed my undergrad in cell biology in 2006, went straight into a 3-year PhD in radiobiology, and then completed three short postdocs at the University of Oxford, at the Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and finally at King’s College London.
As with any job, during my postdoc I was surrounded by friends and colleagues who, like me, all wanted to move up and land that most sacred of jobs: a permanent research position in academia. We often discussed what employers were asking during interviews for lectureships and how we could maximise our chances of becoming a lecturer. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
- Be very sure that you really want this job. The jump from postdoc to lecturer is huge. Doing excellent research on no time, money or group members is tough, plus teaching, module leadership, setting and assessing exams, lab reports, essays, writing grants (so far I have written three in the space of four months) and teaching training classes all need to be done. You won’t be able to switch off, the work-life balance is obliviated and it’s not as permanent as you’d hope – I have a 3-year probation period.This didn’t put me off as for me the positives of a lectureship outweighed the negatives. These include research autonomy, increased face-to-face contact with students from all walks of life, the chance to inspire and mentor students and flexible working hours. If you, like I, still decide that the academic life is for you, then please keep reading.
- Take the jobs that give you the skills you need, even if this means making hard life choices. The hardest part of my career so far was accepting a postdoc position at Oxford. I was committing to a two-year long-distance relationship across the Atlantic. This isn’t unique to me; most academics have a similar story and the two-body problem is something we’re all familiar with. However, in hindsight it was a great move for my career, as it allowed me to gain the expertise I needed to carry out my lectureship.
- Find a department where you would like to grow a group, both in terms of how the department functions, and the science that is carried out there. Talk to new lecturers in the department to find out how they got their positions. Having moved to the Netherlands, I realised I wanted to work in a very collaborative and group-oriented environment. Not only was I more productive, but it made me feel like part of the family. Finding somewhere in the UK with a similar feel became crucial. Before accepting a position at King’s College London, I asked around to make sure I would fit.
- Be pro-active and make sure to network. The world works through connections and specific research areas tend to be fairly small communities. Make it clear to the right people what your career ambitions are. Ask the bigwigs for their recommendation on how to proceed to get where you would like to be. Make a name for yourself as a nice person who does excellent science. In a situation where two people are equal in an interview, having a good reputation and the right connections carries a lot of weight.
- Do the job, before you’re hired to do the job. At least a year before you would like to take up a new position, find out what you need to have on your CV to stand out. This will be different for every university and department, but in general this means bulking out your CV: apply for grants and fellowships, gain awards no matter how small, get publications in either high impact journals or journals where your work will be well-cited, make connections, initiate collaborations and increase your (inter)national profile to get invited to talks. Make sure to gain any teaching experience you can, increase your outreach activities (preferably face-to-face), and become part of committees.
My advice is an amalgamation of many years of talking to postdocs, others (friends, colleagues and acquaintances) interviewed for lecturer positions, and lecturers and professors, and it has served me well. I hope by passing on this advice, I can help you to become a lecturer, too. Good luck!
Samantha Terry joined King’s College London in 2014 and has recently been appointed to Lecturer in Radiobiology following an industry-funded fellowship in developing radionuclides for imaging in tumours. She obtained her PhD in Radiobiology in 2010.
Check out the other posts in the faculty series: