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I have been recently offered an interview call for my dream job - Asst. Professor (above lecturer grade, but below Assoc Prof/Reader grade in the UK) in a newly founded research group at a mid-tier UK university.

I have just finished my PhD last month (Mar 2019) from a top-tier (Oxbridge) university in the UK and had applied for this position without really expecting an interview call. At the start of the interview, I am asked to deliver a 10 minute presentation titled "Your 3-year plan to become an independent academic"

My current problem is that this interview is scheduled immediately (within 2 days), and this doesn't give me sufficient time to contact my former PhD supervisor(s) for their valuable advice.

I have zero post-doc experience as an independent researcher. My questions are:

  • How deeply technical should I go in the presentation slides for such an opportunity? (i.e. are details at the equation-level required and journal citations expected?)
  • Should I have identified specific research methodologies, potentially leading to the PhD title for the students I shall be supervising?
  • Is it appropriate to be more modest and aim to only co-supervise (rather than be primary supervisor for) my first PhD student?
  • Is an individual year-wise breakdown/Gantt chart expected at such faculty interviews?
  • Should I identify the grants that I shall be applying to (in particular, the specific EPSRC schemes that exist for early career researchers)?
  • Are there any other aspects that I may have completely missed here?

I am really sorry to be naive in asking a lot of questions here. This faculty position is in the exact same area as my PhD (in energy engineering/alternative fuels) and I'd like to give it my best.

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    In the UK, "assistant professor" is typically exactly the same position as "lecturer". Some universities use the lecturer/senior lecturer/reader/professor terminology and others use assistant professor/associate professor/professor. – David Richerby Apr 3 at 17:52
  • @DavidRicherby that is generally true. But this university seems to be an exception in that both lecturer and asst prof positions co-exist here. – krishna Apr 3 at 18:33
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While really short, 10 minute job talks in the UK are the standard and I actually think they work pretty well in that they do a good job of weeding people out. Sure, there were applicants that we turned down because they screwed up the job talk, but generally if the job talk went well, we were happy with the candidate. The best job talks accomplish 4 things.

First, they demonstrate ownership of your research. Many recent graduates were handed a PhD project and really never made it, or a portion of it, there own. Schools want to hire people that own their research. Talk about what your supervisor envisioned the project as being and how you transformed it into something even better.

Second, they frame the research in a way that makes it broadly accessible and highlights links to other members of the faculty. You don't need to hit the faculty member over the head, but you can talk about how your work on underwater basket weaving is important to consider when studying transportation of goods. During the Q/A portion of the talk, there is almost always a question about how your work relates to someone else's in the department. Alice may ask you how your work links with Bob's.

Third, they highlight which aspects of the technical details you have mastered and what things you still need to master. They will want to see that your current technical skills will allow you to pull off an interesting and funding worthy project. The best talks bring the audience to the weeds, acknowledge you are at the weeds and that you are happy to talk about them all day/night, all without actually going into the weeds. At the end of the talk you will inevitably get a probing technical question about some detail of your method from someone who has read your papers and understands what is going on (at least in a narrow scope). For these questions you apologize to the audience that you are about to jump into the weeds and give the technical answer.

The final thing is that they present a set of aims of the next research question. Ideally, the whole talk builds towards these so the faculty can see how your previous work leads to the aims and that your skill set will let you answer them. Even better is when a couple of other faculty can see ways to collaborate with you on the project. You do not need titles of sub projects or a timeline. Having identified a funding mechanism is always nice. You don't want to sound too independent at this stage, rather you want to come off as receptive to input and willing to modify the project to capture the strengths of the school. If there is a dinner/lunch afterwards, this will be the foundation of many of those discussions.

  • this is amazing. Thanks for giving me a 4 point agenda. I shall try to structure my presentation around this. – krishna Apr 3 at 18:32
  • This is a fantastic answer. Applicable to so many different types of "job talks"! – user2705196 Apr 3 at 23:43
  • This is a lovely answer and applies widely to academic job talks. What completely blows my mind is how could anyone expect all of this in a 10 minute presentation. – Sasho Nikolov Apr 3 at 23:50
  • @SashoNikolov that is what makes the 10 minute job talk so useful in that so many people cannot do it. I would venture to say half the 10 minute job talks in any search are disasters. – StrongBad Apr 3 at 23:58
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Congratulations on your interview! Let me answer from the perspective of a current academic staff member at an institution like the one you describe. I'll give a few general points, rather than focusing on your questions individually. Of course, these are based on my personal experience and point of view, so don't take them as gospel.


First, be aware that 10 minutes is really short! Have you given a talk of this length before? If not, you may be surprised how little you can say in this space of time without rushing through things. Before worrying too much about fine details of what to say, try putting together a few slides and giving them a run-through at a comfortable pace. This will give you a better idea of how much you can fit in, and help you to prioritise your material. (Ideally, you should do this with someone listening.)

Second, know your audience. Your invitation email may or may not specify who you are going to be talking to, but if not, it's really worth writing back and asking for this information. If the audience is going to be made up of members of the research group that is hiring, then more technical detail may be appropriate; if the talk is open to (say) the whole Faculty of Engineering, you may want to give a more high-level talk.

Third, stick to your brief. If you are supposed to talk about "Your 3 year plan to become an independent academic", then focus on that. In particular, talking about grants that you plan to apply for is very much on-topic. Of course, you should make sure that the items you mention are realistic for someone at your career stage: a "plan" to win a £10 million Network grant from EPSRC (or whatever) is probably not going to impress anyone.

Good luck!

  • thanks a lot for your warm wishes and your excellent answer. I also propose a partnership with flagship institutions at my home country India. I have already had discussions with the department head about this. Is this worth mentioning? What other funding opportunities exist for early career researchers in UK? – krishna Apr 3 at 14:16
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    Dear Krishna, I don't know much about funding opportunities, but you should certainly look at the websites of EPSRC, RCUK and the Royal Society for starters. About "partnership": if this means something like visits to/from researchers in other countries, by all means mention it. More formal partnerships (e.g. involving students getting joint degrees) can involve a lot of administrative work for the university, so probably won't come across as realistic. Try to be sure your 3-year plan is really achievable (at least most of it!) – Lazzaro Campeotti Apr 3 at 14:25
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This answer is a bit speculative so use caution in accepting the advice. You have only a few minutes and they will slip by quickly.

I would focus on work in progress and on funding opportunities. If the audience is well familiar with your field, you could spend a bit of time on how you can appeal to grad students (whether as advisor or co-advisor). The time frame they are expecting you to cover is short, so work in progress is most important, but a mention of long term goals might get a short mention. If you use novel techniques or approaches that could be where you put any (short) bits of detail.

Also, it is probably worth saying a word or two about your ability to work cooperatively/collegially and your experience with it if you have any.

However, the word independent in the call is probably what they really want to hear about. Work in progress, again. You don't have much time for depth, though.

Try to give your talk at least once to a friend before the big day. You probably have too much information for 10 minutes. You want to know that beforehand.

And if this is a "cattle call" with four such talks in an hour, then you will need to find a way to stand out a bit from the crowd. Something positive that people might remember. But if the rest of the hour is for the faculty to ask questions, then you can be brief about a lot of things you mention.

  • thanks a lot for your support and the excellent points in your answer. Can you please elaborate on work in progress ? I have finished my PhD last month, and currently not involved in any research. But I do have some new (untested/unproven) research ideas that I wanted to do at the end of my PhD (but ran out of time). – krishna Apr 3 at 14:08
  • Those untested ideas are the key to it. Especially if you have a bunch of them and some extend what you have already done. – Buffy Apr 3 at 14:21
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First, congratulations on your interview. Preparing well and asking questions here is a good step. You may be surprised how little the other candidates have done. Hopefully the other answers all give some insight. I hope to add some more.

My (limited) experience of job interviews of this type normally focus on what you will bring and how you will link to others in the group/department. What you will bring can include expertise, connections (you have mentioned your links to the university in India) but also money. In the UK this means:

  • REF: you really need to know what this is and what you can submit as part of the next REF submission,
  • grants/external funding opportunitues: RCUK may be the main source but look at European grants, charitable organisations and industry collaborations,
  • students: there is increasing pressure to increase student numbers at all UK universities, in particular from overseas. Students in the UK pay high fees (especially if they're not from the EU).

You need to be aware of all these things for both the presentation but also any interviews and other discussions.

To answer your questions:

  • How deeply technical should I go in the slides for such an opportunity? (Any equations/journal citations are expected?)

I would answer this with another question: how does technical detail help you demonstrate how you will build your independence? I think technical details are better left to other discussions. You should mention which journal/conferences your publications are published in (and any other submitted to). This gives the audience a clue about your REF-ability.

  • Should I have identified specific research methodologies, potentially leading to the PhD title for the PhD students I am supposed to supervise
  • Is it more appropriate to be modest and put in the slides to aim to just co-supervise (rather than be primary supervisor for) PhD student

I think these questions are best lumped together. I would answer them more generally about how would you build a "group". Straight from a PhD you may not have much supervision experience (PhD or Post-Doc level). How would you build that? Is that important for your next three years?

  • Is an individual year-wise breakdown/Gantt chart expected at such faculty interviews?

A clear plan is a good option. What you do in the first year should be quite clear in your mind (see for example: https://www.jobs.ac.uk/careers-advice/working-in-higher-education/2579/planning-for-a-fantastic-first-year-as-a-lecturer). Further years can be less detailed but you should know where you are going.

Should I identify the grants that I shall be applying to? (In particular, what specific EPSRC programmes exist for early career researchers?)

Yes - it is important that you have a handle on what funding opportunities are available but you do not need to commit to these applications.

  • Any other aspect that I may have completely missed?

The final point which is less tangible is "fit". The department you are applying to are making a large commitment in you - getting rid of you after the interview isn't straight forward - so all the people who are at the talk will be judging if they think they can work with you (either in research or more likely in teaching, recruitment or other administration). You describe the university you are applying to as mid-tier - be careful that you are not insulting anyone.

Good luck!

  • thank you so much for taking the time to provide such a high quality answer – krishna Apr 3 at 18:32

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