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Colin - moving into an academic post
Name: Colin
PhD discipline: Media, Film and English
Area(s) of work: University lecturing - film/media, literature and Irish-studies
Year of graduation: 1990
Date of Interview: 09/06/2008

Now Playing: Colin - moving into an academic post
Colin talks about the qualities he looks for when interviewing for academic posts, and reflects on different styles of lecturing.

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Can you tell me, as a panellist, someone who's interviewed people for jobs, what sort of things you're looking for and the kind of questions you're expecting good and solid answers to?

Again it depends on the nature of the post and the role description obviously. Typically in my own institution teaching on a media studies degree you're looking for a rare combination I think of somebody who, well, one has a PhD but two because of the institution we're in, they've got to be able to teach. Now they don't necessarily have to have a formal teaching qualification. That's another thing I would say that most of my colleagues, both within my own subject field and also in the school, don't have teaching qualifications. Some do but most don't. How do we know whether or not somebody can teach? Well usually the interviews would involve some kind of presentation of material and so you are looking when people are giving presentations at those days, you know, you might see four to six candidates. It would be good if you could get two or three that you felt communicated vitally to you what their enthusiasms were and you're also trying to see, well, what would they be like in front of 100 undergrads. Can they command a group of people to listen to them? 

So what characterises a good presentation?

I kind of indicated it already. It's somebody who communicates their enthusiasm for the subject, their command, you know. They convince you they really know what they're talking about and I guess clarity. That's what you're looking for, particularly with undergraduate students. Maybe other qualities if they're going to be teaching mainly postgrads, but the amount of postgraduate teaching at this institution is quite small so you're looking for people who can communicate to a large undergraduate audience about not just their own specialism but do they also have the adaptability to teach on a kind of more generalist survey sort of course. So you're looking for quite a rare ability to operate at the general kind of level clarity but at the same time with enthusiasm. And then what specialism have they got. You know, it will often be that you can give a fantastic presentation and your CV presents very well but if your specialism is popular music let's say and we've already got somebody in a part-time post in popular music you've got to think very carefully how you present your specialism – perfectly good on paper but you don't actually fit the place. You really need to show to the interviewers that you've done your homework and found out about the institution and particularly the department that you're going into and that, whether you're coming in as a doctoral student into it or if you're going in at a higher level, they're going to want to see that you've shown some kind of intelligent reflection on where you think they're at. What you think your role might be within this larger picture and I think a candidate that can show that sort of sensibility to the place in which, the job in which they're going to be placed and the context in which they're going to be operating so it's not totally idealistic but it's not totally kind of cynical.

What is going to be expected of a newly qualified academic starting at an institution like this who's been appointed as a junior lecturer?

Well you could almost do a job description: A PhD or some kind of equivalent industrial experience in media; the ability to teach largely undergraduate students; the ability to motivate student learning; as a junior lecturer, to have evidence of publication already with the potential for future publications, major publications as it were – books. And also I think an openness and flexibility to different learning environments, different learning technologies.

Can you talk a bit more about that?

Again, this particular institution, and you know it is not unusual. Other new universities, maybe some older ones as well, are increasingly trying to utilise extreme or web based learning to stimulate students across a variety of disciplines. I have a qualified view on the use of IT in higher education. You know I use it to assess, in part of the assessment process of some of my students. It's clearly a way of communicating with students on a day to day basis, you know, through bulletin boards and such like but I guess I'm showing my age and I think that students need to be present in a room listening to somebody talk and also reacting with other students in their class in the same space. I think they need to share that space. Now whether that's a lecture room or whether it's a seminar or a small group workshop setting and all of those I think have their place, I am worried that some students will – and some administrators want to decrease the amount of human contact time for student and it's quite small now. I mean I don't know what the typical amount is for undergraduate students across arts and humanities but you know it might be only eight hours a week of actual contact time so to diminish that with blogging as a kind of main way of communicating with your peers seems to me bizarre.

What is a lecture?

I think they can fall into two kinds. Physically it is about 50 minutes of time in which one person stands at the front and addresses 60, 80, 100 people. I don't think it has to be a one way communication. I think, depending on the lecturer, it can actually be quite interactive and again interactive sounds fantastic. It sounds like a technological buzz word. It doesn't have to be. Interactive can just be asking people a question, saying 'you there' or 'Johnny or Mary' or whatever it is, you know, asking questions. Asking people to write things down and then shout out what their answers are. I mean that's a very old fashioned method of interaction. I increasingly use PowerPoint now which I think is interesting but to come back to the two main kinds of lecture. One is a kind of a survey of the field, whatever topic it might be. So you're trying to introduce people to the broad range of debates, issues, topics within this field. A second kind, a slightly different kind, would be a more – 'here is an argument' sort of lecture where you're going to argue for the idea of post-modernism and you don't put too many kind of counters to that so you actually argue with the students and persuade them and you go into that kind of mode where you're talking about, you know, 'here is an example of that' and so you don't actually give them too much of the counter argument. That might come then in the seminar that follows later in the week and when they've done a bit more reading hopefully. So one you're kind of, even if I don't personally believe in a particular argument that I'm making, it's actually to try and force them to listen to an argument and see how it's put together whereas the other form, the kind of survey, discursive one is a bit more you're trying perhaps pros and cons and you're trying to introduce them to something, that they might want to go off and watch another film. You know another one you've mentioned. You might show them a clip from a film or two and then say 'well, you could see this is in … explore this idea in these two other films' and hope that they might go and view it. So that's when I try to, I mean you're trying to stimulate people in a topic. That's what a lecture is. Unfortunately, the interesting thing would be to ask what do students think a lecture is because they don't often see it in those terms and it actually takes you a while to get them to think about what you're doing in that fashion rather than simply 'what things do I need to know?' 

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