Working in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

Our department at Aston University is thrilled to be recruiting up to four posts (one at Chair level, up to three at Lecturer / Senior Lecturer level), and this blog is intended to provide a bit of informal advice to prospective applicants, especially for the lecturership positions (though it may be useful background for those in a senior lecturership or professorial role), about what we do, 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 13.2 current staff (12 are full-time, two are part-time), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office. Of those 14 staff, six are men, eight are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of eight different countries!) though 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.

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, and have scored highly in their A-levels. 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. Our students seem to respond well to this, with satisfaction at 94% in last year’s National Student Survey. 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 (with a new programme with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow coming on stream soon).

Third – a bit about working here. We are all active researchers, but our areas of specialism vary widely, as you will see from our staff profiles. Our standards are high – at the last REF, we entered under the “umbrella” of the Aston Centre for Europe in the Area Studies section, and were ranked the highest in this field outside London. But it is important to remember that ACE, and our department, are “ecumenical”, and that we are not exclusively interested in European Studies. For instance, our students often tell us they would like to learn more about the Politics of the Middle East, or the Politics of any of the “BRIC” nations; the truth is we are open to applications from any interesting sub-field of Politics and International Relations. We have recently re-established a departmental seminar where a colleague presents “work in progress” and discusses it in a supportive environment. We are encouraged to bid for external funding from a variety of sources (and have had success from sources like the European Commission, Leverhulme, the German Academic Exchange Service and the ESRC in recent years), and comment on each other’s bids to give them the best chance of success.

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 a colleague might expect to teach courses for around six hours per week during team time, to a mixture of larger and smaller groups, and in addition offer four hours a week of office hours, as well as time for dissertation supervision and meeting with personal tutees. Every member of staff is entitled to a “research day” each week, including during term time, when they would not be expected to teach or be at meetings.

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 recently held an event with the Parliamentary Outreach Service on Parliament and BAME communities, and our team often write blogs aimed at an audience beyond academia. We also regularly engage with policy-makers, holding events in London and Brussels where we can discuss our ongoing research with practitioners, and feed into and shape policy discussions. For us, “impact” is about a lot more than ticking a box for external evaluation of universities!

If you are interested in applying (especially for the lecturership positions), here are some things to consider:

– The key document in shortlisting will be your answers to the questions 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 well over 100 applications, and for that reason we need candidates to have a completed Ph.D., and evidence of “successful research publication”. This will probably involve having published, or at least advanced plans for, a book, and also some articles in peer reviewed journals, and far more weight will be given to publications which are published or accepted for publication than which have not yet been accepted. Expectations clearly depend on how long you have been in the profession, and career breaks would be taken into account.
– Remember that we all regard our teaching as really important, as well as our research, and think about how you would ensure Aston students are really engaged in and excited about what they are learning.
– When thinking about income generation, by all means include good ideas for research grants (including those with collaborators outside Aston), but also think about whether there might be any new incomes streams you could develop for the department or ACE.
– We will involve the whole department in recruitment, as shortlisted applicants will give a presentation to us on the first day, and then there will be an interview on the second day with a group of colleagues (most probably myself, Prof. Green, Prof. Gaffney, Dr. Obradovic-Wochnik, and Prof. Urszula Clark from the English Language group). In both these settings, 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 (and possibly the Aston Centre for Europe). 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. Since we pride ourselves on our practical, relevant research you can expect to be asked about this.

If you have any questions, please drop me a line at e.turner(at)aston.ac.uk, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.

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