This blog is intended to provide a bit of informal advice to prospective applicants about what the Politics and International Relations Department at Aston University does, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.
First – a bit about our team. We are a medium-sized department, with 28 current staff (23 of whom are full time, one part time, and one colleagues splits her time between us and the Spanish department. Three further colleagues are away on secondments or fullfilling university level management duties). Of those 28 staff, 14 are men, 14 are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of twelve different countries!). We would welcome greater ethnic diversity in our department. Several colleagues have young families, and all live either in Birmingham or within a sensible commuting distance. We encourage a diverse workforce including representation of staff with disabilities and will provide support and reasonable adjustments as needed. Aston is a ‘two ticks’ employer, which means that it has committed to offering an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for a vacancy. Four news colleagues in the 2016/17 year, six joined us for the 2017/18 year, two in the course of 2017/18 and two further colleagues at the start of 2018/19 – this reflects the popularity of our department with students, and the university’s commitment to expanding our discipline.
Second – a bit about our students. Our student body is very diverse (as is the West Midlands region, in which we are based): at the undergraduate level, we attract a good range of students, both on our Single Honours course (Politics and International Relations) and in our joint honours courses (such as Politics and Economics, International Relations and Business, and International Relations and Modern Languages). These students are overwhelmingly from the state sector. We strongly encourage them to undertake a work or study placement, either in the UK or abroad, in their penultimate year, and find this makes a real difference to their employability, which is very important to us at Aston. At postgraduate level, we have a good mix of students, and many come from continental Europe, often as part of our joint and double degrees with Rennes, Lille and Bamberg University.
Third – while we are all active researchers, we are also passionate teachers – staff regularly observe each other’s teaching, several colleagues have won prizes in this area, and we often compare notes on ways of teaching and keeping students engaged (for instance, students may do “simulations”, policy reports, role plays, group assignments and produce films as part of their courses). We take our MA students on an annual study visit to Brussels, and have also had regular study visits to London. There is no “typical” teaching load, but colleagues with full time, research and teaching contracts might expect to teach courses for around 4 to 5 hours per week during term time, to a mixture of larger and smaller groups. The load is higher for teaching only positions, but we aim to provide our teaching only colleagues with significant scope for development, such as by giving opportunities for training, or ensuring they have space to work on research, with the view of obtaining a research and teaching contract in the future.
We are all strong believers in keeping our discipline relevant to everyday life. So we hold regular lunchtime seminars for students and staff on current affairs, we often welcome visitors engaged in the practice of Politics and International Relations onto campus to talk with our students, and our team often write blogs aimed at an audience beyond academia. We host numerous events outside Birmingham as well – we have strong partnerships with a number of think tanks and regularly engage with Members of Parliament and other policy-makers. Several colleagues have also given oral evidence to Parliamentary committees, we are commissioned to provide training to British civil servants, and another colleague has recently been involved in providing research expertise to several governments of countries in Central Europe. For us, “impact” is about a lot more than ticking a box for external evaluation of universities!
If you are interested in applying, here are some things to consider:
- The key document in shortlisting will be your answers to the questions in the online application form (which will be scored according to whether you have met our criteria), as well as your CV. Make sure you look carefully at our person specification before applying.
- We are likely to read a large number of applications, and so we are looking for applicants who have completed their Ph.D. and have a good track record of teaching Politics and International Relations or closely related disciplines. For teaching positions, we will also consider applicants with Ph. D. dissertations submitted for examination. Expectations clearly depend on how long you have been in the profession, and career breaks would be taken into account.
- Shortlisted applicants will be asked to give a presentation to the members of the department about their research and teaching, as well as have an interview with the selection committee. In the interview setting, you would want to show how you can get your message across clearly and succinctly, how you would engage students and colleagues, and how you would see yourself fitting in with our department. Normally the first question will be about why you want to work at Aston, so you’d want to give this some serious thought in advance. .
If you have any questions, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.