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For a while my career was progressing in a "normal" way for a UK researcher. I completed my PhD and secured a 2-year postdoc working in collaboration with my PhD supervisor and one of his colleagues in a different institution. In this time I was formulating applications for early-career research fellowships, thinking this would be the logical next step for me. A few were submitted, but none was awarded.

My PI at the new institution informed me of an advertisement for the position of lecturer, offered by one of his former PhD students who is now a senior member in a growing group in another institution in the UK. My PI had spoken to this professor about me in conferences and the latter recommended that I apply for the position. The PI relayed this to me, and I gave it a go, expecting that it would be a great opportunity for interview practice, and to have my name in the minds of this group at a later stage when I was a more mature researcher and ready to become a permanent academic.

To my surprise, they offered me the position. The role certainly entails teaching, at the university wants to expand its engineering student intake, however the hiring committee were very clear on wanting someone with the expertise and outlook required to expand the group's research as well. I have accepted the position and am due to start in a few months once I conclude the ongoing postdoc work.

I'm very excited to be moving upwards and have no doubts that seizing this opportunity was the correct choice, however I'm mindful that I'm quite junior to become a lecturer (3 years of undergraduate, 1 year masters, 3 years of PhD, and 2 years of postdoc) and that this might present unique challenges as I grow into my new role. For example, most researchers will have several more "pure research" years on me where they more clearly defined their personality as a researcher. I may end up becoming a research leader with a somewhat lower amount of hands-on experience myself. Furthermore, they'd have more exposure to funding acquisition, a greater network of peers, and more experience with academic culture/politics. I feel very young. I'm absolutely ready to do what I can to prove equal to the task in front of me. Are there any pitfalls or issues that I might encounter which most of my senior colleagues, who were awarded one or more fellowships before becoming a permanent academic, might have bypassed?

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    Also, from my experience (and that of the colleagues around me), your (actual) route to your academic position is more common than your "perceived" most common route. Fellowships are usually quite prestigious and rare, therefore it's only a small fraction of researchers that secures them successfully. I would say that even hiring into academic post straight after PhD is more common than getting a fellowship. In fact, I would say that you are at your most attractive professionally at around 2-3 year mark of your postdoc (much longer than that and they start wondering why no permanent post yet)
    – penelope
    Feb 28 at 16:40
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    Also you may want to change the title of your question from "young lecturer" to an "early career lecturer". I don't think there's much specific about your age in the question; rather it's about your career stage. I currently have a 55yo PhD student who might be in exactly your situation in 4 years time, and the answers would apply to them despite them only being young at heart but not the body ;)
    – penelope
    Feb 28 at 16:43
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    How the times have changed. It seems like just a generation ago the expectation for any postdoc work at all didn't exist. Feb 28 at 19:35
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    And how does academic achievement relate to teaching? There is no direct correlation between a good scientist and a good teacher. The teacher's purpose is not to present himself and his achievements but to be able to teach something. It's about empathy and a willingness to learn how to learn. It is also necessary to consider that students do not remember everything in the long term. It is better to give them a less so that they remember it, and if they are interested, they can build on it themselves.
    – Juandev
    Mar 1 at 9:51

4 Answers 4

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I'm an engineering lecturer at a UK university (and previously held a UK post-doctoral fellowship). So I'm very familiar with the situation at UK universities.

Everyone brings a different range of experience. You have perfectly reasonable/common experience for someone starting a lectureship in the UK.

Some more general points which I think would be worth considering:

  • Imposter syndrome is a real thing. Even (especially?) at the faculty level. You deserve to be in that role and those who hired you believe you have the skills and experience in order to be successful.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others too much. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Just work on being the best version of yourself. Leverage your talents, strengths, and experience.
  • Build a network of mentors. Within your institution, but more importantly outside. Ideally people who you can speak to honestly without worrying about it negatively impacting on your position. This has been critical for my own progression (and mental health...).
  • People who have spent longer as a post-doc or in an independent fellowship may have developed a larger network of collaborators. This is a very important thing to work on developing. You will find that it is very difficult to progress with research once you are taking on a full teaching and administrative workload. Having a network to collaborate with can help share the load.
  • Creating an identity as a researcher is important. It will take time. One thing that can help is creating a 5/10 year plan for what you want to do with your research. Think about what has been a common thread behind the research you have done. Is this something you want to continue doing? Is there some aspect of your experience/interest that you can leverage to create a niche? Can you tie your research into current trends (eg Sustainability, AI, etc). Think about who your competitors are likely to be and what differentiates you from them. Discussing with a senior mentor can really help. Many junior faculty are still working on this.
  • Be strategic/very strict with your time. There is an unlimited amount of random admin and other tasks that you could take on (and may feel under pressure to do so). Try to only take on tasks for which you have a clear reason - is it good for your CV/promotion/probation case, contributes to your research, etc. It's difficult to say no when you're still on probation, but you can (and should) push back on unreasonable/unnecessary tasks.

Some mostly UK specific recommendations:

  • If you are in an engineering department (or STEM more generally) it is very likely that a condition of your probation is to apply for the EPSRC New Investigator Award. My #1 piece of advice for this is do not to rush to apply (you may feel pressure to apply quickly). Make sure you get the right project that is achievable with the resources you have at your university and is a perfect fit for your skills and experience. This will take considerable time. Get lots and lots of feedback on the ideas and the application (especially from people outside your research area). You can only apply once.
  • In the UK it is extremely difficult to secure PhD students (and even more difficult to secure good PhD students). Especially as a junior faculty member. This is unfortunately part of how the UK system works. This means that you will need to do more of the research yourself initially. If you can join on other people's projects (especially at other universities/overseas) and potentially co-supervise students within your institution and elsewhere this can help build a labour force as well as keep the research/publications going.
  • In Engineering, having industrial partners for grants is almost a requirement (although this is not explicitly a rule). Try to network with industry as much as you can, give talks at companies, reach out to companies/individuals and introduce yourself, what you do, and how it might be useful. Getting cash from industry is very hard, but getting in-kind contributions (some staff time, access to facilities, or free materials) is often very doable and valuable.
  • If you are not part of a group at your university all working in a similar area, it's even more important to create links to others who are. Working in isolation is very hard.
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    This is extremely on-point. Couple of small remarks: I'd say that a network of mentors (or at least a mentor) at your home institution is as important as those outside. It's great to be able to get candid feedback from anybody, but there are always "casual" opportunities to learn from your in-house mentor which you won't get from an external. Secondly, about time management. Teaching-related activities (not delivery itself) take a lot of time; there is nothing wrong with redirecting all students to your office hours (as expected!) rather than receiving them at all times at their convenience.
    – penelope
    Feb 28 at 16:36
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This is more of a US than a UK perspective, but I'd guess it is valid. In the US you seem perfectly qualified to begin an Assistant Professor position, something like a UK Lecturer if I understand it correctly. You aren't underprepared, you are just early career. A bit of a skilled novice.

Others won't expect you to be a "research leader", on par with senior faculty for several years. You grow in to that. Of course, if your sub-field is different from those of others you can start to build the basis of a working group in your specialty.

Others have faith in you. I suggest that you use them as role models, even mentors, to work your way in to an upward expanding career. Collaboration, even if informal, can be a boost. But, to me, at least, you don't seem under qualified. The judgement of the new institution seems similar.

Just. Do. It.

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  • I'll never forget how confident I was the first time I walked into a classroom. Until I wrote my name on the board and turned around...
    – Raydot
    Feb 28 at 22:28
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I was appointed as an engineering lecturer before completing my PhD and didn't do a post-doc at all, although this was way back in the mists of ancient history. It isn't necessarily a problem. The answer by @atom44 is very good, so I'll just add a few additional things:

(i) You don't have to continue doing the kind of research you did for your PhD or your post doc. For a career you want to be researching a topic that you will enjoy in the long term, so if you find a new line of research that suits you better, then do investigate it (changing my area of research was one of the best things I did in my research career).

(ii) Be collegiate, but do learn to say "no" when you have to. There is no real concept of "enough" - whatever you achieve, you will always get pressure to do more. However, you need to make sure that you have enough time for your research, as well as being collegiate and contributing to the research of others.

(iii) Make time for "real life". If you work long hours, for a long time, you will just get burned out and be less productive after a (short) while, not more. Your job is not everything. Your HR department may think that you work a nominal 37.5 hours a week, but that is rarely the case in practice, however it is a good aim.

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I can give you the same advice that I do to incoming faculty at my institution (whether my mentorship is formal or casual). In no particular order:

#1 as others have noted, it's OK to say no

#2 don't compare yourself to others, everyone's situation is unique, just focus on growing your research program.

#3 don't go all in on one idea (Science/Nature/Cell), if it fails (scooped, doesn't work, etc...) the result is often catastrophic because you burn out your students, you end up with a poor looking publication record, etc... instead focus on building research momentum and a BODY of work. It is more impressive to see someone consistently publishing good works, having students perform well and build strong CVs, graduate, go on to good programs/jobs etc..

#4 focus on student success and mentorship (this ties into #3) because a healthy research program can sustain itself even without you micro-managing it and is more likely to yield good research results consistently in the long run.

#5 don't take on more people than you can actually handle

#6 (see #5) you can realistically only handle about 50% of what you think you can handle

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