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January 11, 2010 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Please explain this British academic job ad to an American.

My partner recently came across a job ad for the "Jones Fellowship and College Lectureship in History" at one of the colleges of the University of Cambridge. It's a perfect fit for his research profile, and so he's planning to apply. The job ad calls the hire the "Jones Fellow" and states that the position is a "fixed-term appointment for a period of five years." What kind of job is this? Having "Fellowship" in the title suggests "postdoc," but lecturers are the equivalent of American assistant professors, yes? What's the significance of the name Jones? Is such a position renewable? If so, how does that work? All info on academic hiring at Cambridge (or British universities more generally) welcome.
posted by ms.codex to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
A College Lectureship is a position funded by one of the colleges that comprise Cambridge University, but not by the University itself. Think of it as a Visiting Assistant Professorship. A Fellowship at a Cambridge college is not a postdoc; rather, Fellows are senior members of the College, usually holding terminal academic degrees. Some Fellows are elected for life; others for fixed terms, such as Junior Fellows or Research Fellows. Jones is probably the name of the person or family who endowed the position.

As to whether the position is renewable, it would be worth inquiring with the college that is hiring for the position.

I'm sure someone from Cambridge will come along soon and provide more light. I spent a year there as an undergraduate and go back from time to time but I can't claim to truly understand the organizational nuances of the British collegiate university.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:59 PM on January 11, 2010


Fellowships and lectureships are often named in honor or memory of someone, especially if they are funded through a memorial endowment.

Without seeing the ad itself, it's hard to answer any more specifically. The definitions of "fellowships" and "lectureships" can be VERY highly variable, depending on university, the wishes of the funder, the intention of the program, etc. Variables include whether the position is considered an independent position or not, whether it's renewable, whether other funding is permitted, etc.

Contact the program officer or whoever is listed as the contact, who should be equipped to answer all of these questions.
posted by desuetude at 9:04 PM on January 11, 2010


I used to know the holder of this very fellowship (which is not called "Jones" obviously), who is now a lecturer at King's College London. Yes, I would say it is the equivalent of an American assistant professorship, but without the expectation that you will be promoted if you do well. There is a pecking order in Cambridge colleges and this particular college is respectably in the middle. The rooms she had were in a nice location, although I'm not sure they were especially nice.

In short, your partner should apply for the position, although I wouldn't pass up a tenure-track job at an American university for it, if you had one.
posted by grouse at 9:41 PM on January 11, 2010


Thanks, brianogilvie, desuetude, and grouse! (I'm impressed that you ID'd the job! guess there aren't that many of these 5-year fellowship things out there.)
posted by ms.codex at 9:59 PM on January 11, 2010


Most Cambridge posts fall into one of two categories, UTOs (University Teaching Officers) and NUTOs (Non-University Teaching Officers). UTOs are employed by the University, NUTOs are employed by a particular college within the University. This is a NUTO post, i.e. it's a college appointment, and the person appointed will be responsible for the academic supervision of the students in that college.

The college will probably be looking to appoint a young scholar with a recently awarded PhD. Some experience of teaching will be essential; a good record of publication will be highly desirable. Basically this is a 'starter' job designed to help a young scholar get a foothold on the academic ladder. It will probably be non-renewable, but it's a prestigious appointment which should put the Jones Fellow in the running for a permanent academic position in due course.

Cambridge has a reputation for favouring its own PhD students. Anyone applying from outside needs to do their homework very carefully, and familiarise themselves not just with the basics of the Cambridge teaching system, but with the specifics of course syllabuses, lecture lists, reading lists, etc. It may be difficult to get hold of some of this material (e.g. copies of past exam papers) from outside Cambridge; if so, your partner should mention this when he enquires about the post.
posted by verstegan at 2:28 AM on January 12, 2010


These posts would usually be called "Teaching Fellowships" in other universities - they are not standard lectureships. The ones with names like this are usually either named in honour of someone, or more likely funded by someones endowment. Strangely enough, these posts typically involve considerably more lecturing that a lecturer (aka Assistant Professor in the US) would have to undertake. The ad that I'm looking at right now, for example, says 240hrs per academic year. This is a lot, especially when you consider that the teaching terms are short. In Cambridge, there are 3 terms of 10 or 11 weeks, so there would be 22-23hrs/week lecturing on average. Essentially they are used to lighten the teaching load of researchers, by shifting the teaching onto the Teaching Fellow.

To put that into perspective, my UK lecturer friends have about 25hrs per YEAR. In addition to the teaching there would be a significant amount of administration, as well as grading essays and exams. The pay rates are also lower than for a lecturer (and Cambridge is not a cheap place to live).

Unless your partner is fantastically well organised, given the high teaching load, the research part of the post would need to be carried out outside of term-time, at least for the first year. Once the lectures are written, this would become easier of course. It takes me MUCH longer than 1hr to write a 1hr lecture, so writing your 22hrs of lectures for the week would be quite a task! I should point out that some of these hours are likely to take the form of tutorials rather than lectures, and would thus be less time-consuming to prepare. Given all this, I would be very impressed if anyone could churn out any significant novel research in the first year of one of these positions.

When it comes to getting a tenured position later on (i.e. a proper lectureship in the UK, or assistant professorship in the US), the teaching experience would stand your partner in good stead for getting a job at a teaching-oriented institution. However, in my opinion it would be a waste of time if he/she is set on getting a job at a research-oriented institution. These places would be much more impressed by research output than teaching skills.

Summary: it's a teaching job. If your partner is keen on embarking on a future in research this job will not help build a career. If he/she wants to teach as a career then it would be great. The job would be hard work, but living and working at Cambridge would be awesome. Verstegan is right: they tend to favour their own when it comes to appointments.

I am a British academic with ties to Cambridge
posted by jonesor at 5:44 AM on January 12, 2010


jonesor: Wouldn't 240 hours of lecturing per academic year be about 8 hours a week? Three 10-week terms is thirty weeks. An assistant professor in the US at a university which expects them to do research might teach, say, two classes meeting three hours a week, which is six hours a week total; there's a difference but it's not a huge one.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:11 AM on January 12, 2010


madcaptenor, you are, of course, right. I hadn't had my morning coffee and my brain wasn't working! That said, 8hrs per week still seems like a lot to me and is still a much higher work load than a lecturer would have. I considered a couple of these kinds of posts last year (one in Cambridge, one elsewhere). My post-doc adviser warned me off, telling me that a good post-doc or research fellowship would be preferable if I was pursuing a career in research. I'm not at all familiar with humanities career paths so I don't know about the availability of these kind of options.
posted by jonesor at 9:12 AM on January 12, 2010


Actually, 8hrs a week isn't so much, given that most of the teaching will take the form of one-to-one supervision (intensive, yes, but not as intensive as having to prepare a course of lectures). This particular college has a relatively small number of students reading History, not all of whom will want supervision in your particular field, which means that some of the 8hrs per week will probably be spent teaching students from other colleges. This is a good thing, as it should enable you to limit the amount of teaching you take on, and ensure that 8 hours really does mean 8 hours.

(Cambridge anecdote: I was once talking to Friend X about Friend Y, who had just been appointed to a teaching fellowship in X's college. Me: 'I gather the teaching load is 12 hours a week; that seems a lot?' X: 'Haha, yes, actually it's more like 15 hours a week, but he doesn't know that yet.')

The first question they will ask at the interview is, 'Have you done any Cambridge teaching before?' and if the answer is no, 'Well, have you done any other small-group teaching?' They will want to assure themselves that you are a capable and conscientious teacher who can be trusted with their students. (This is where it's easy for a non-Cambridge applicant to get tripped up with a question like 'What topics could you supervise in Paper 4?' so you really need to prepare thoroughly.) But ultimately I suspect this appointment will be made on the basis of research, and you should concentrate on presenting a really strong research proposal -- particularly as one of the other historians at this college is a formidable specialist in this period of history, and will probably ask you some tough questions at the interview.
posted by verstegan at 10:04 AM on January 12, 2010


The teaching periods are eight, eight, and seven weeks respectively. This is an average of 10.4 hours teaching per week (although there will probably be more teaching in the first two terms, and less in the exam term). The first thing to consider is that this is only for 23 weeks. So, yes, while you might be pretty busy teaching for 16 weeks out of the year, for over half of the year you will not be doing any teaching at all. Plenty of time to visit the archives in France or go to conferences, or just write nonstop without interruption.

The second thing to consider is that teaching at the college level in Cambridge does not mean lecturing to a class, with all the preparation that that entails. Instead, you will almost exclusively be teaching in the tutorial system, acting both as a supervisor (discussing the subject material and students' work, approximately two at a time, once a week), and director of studies (advising students on which lectures to attend, and organizing their supervisions with yourself and other supervisors). I think ten hours of this should be easier than teaching two three-hour lectures.

I will ask a MeFite who has acted as a humanities supervisor in Cambridge to weigh in.
posted by grouse at 10:09 AM on January 12, 2010


The second thing to consider is that teaching at the college level in Cambridge does not mean lecturing to a class, with all the preparation that that entails. Instead, you will almost exclusively be teaching in the tutorial system, acting both as a supervisor (discussing the subject material and students' work, approximately two at a time, once a week), and director of studies (advising students on which lectures to attend, and organizing their supervisions with yourself and other supervisors). I think ten hours of this should be easier than teaching two three-hour lectures.

This puts the post in a much more positive light.
posted by jonesor at 3:19 PM on January 12, 2010


As grouse points out, traditional lectures are organized at the university level and attended by students from all of the colleges. They are supplemented by weekly supervisions organized at the college level. You've probably taken a look at the type of material that a typical history undergraduate would expect to study over the course of three years. The Faculty of History's admissions website is a good starting place; more detailed information about the content of specific 'papers' can be found through the information for current students link. They provide a schedule for the lectures being offered this term and a short explanation about history supervisions. You shouldn't need a Cambridge id to access the history faculty site.

Supervisors typically receive essays before each supervision, and this writing becomes the basis for an hour-long discussion. Students have a great deal of input as to what they want to study, but the supervisor can also set parameters: no one should spend heaps of time becoming an expert on a topic just for the sake of a one hour meeting.

Ten hours of supervising a week during term time is doable. Cambridge allows PhD students to supervise up to 10 hrs / wk while doing their own research, to give you some perspective. It is easier to supervise undergraduates if you have an Oxbridge undergrad background yourself, but the rest of us manage to catch on pretty quickly. It just means that your partner would need patience and some time initially to adjust to the byzantine system, but the collegiate system offers many benefits. Fellows enjoy perks beyond the stated financial remuneration.

In addition to the teaching, directing studies and interviewing prospective undergrads can consume a lot of energy. Terms are short, however, leaving plenty of weeks with no teaching obligations at all. Researchers benefit from the university's first class resources, and the British Library is only about an hour away by train. It doesn't hurt to have a UK stamp of approval even if you and your partner intend to move back to the States.
posted by woodway at 3:20 PM on January 12, 2010


(I realize the links are for incoming and current students, but I figured they might be useful for an incoming teacher of students, too)
posted by woodway at 4:59 PM on January 12, 2010


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