All posts by dredturner

New roles working in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

Our department at Aston University is thrilled to be recruiting up to two posts (at Lecturer or 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 interested in other levels), about what we do, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.  There is then a short interview with Yaprak Gürsoy, who joined the department as Lecturer in Politics and International Relations last year.

 

First – a bit about our team.  We are a medium-sized department, with 25 current staff (21 are full-time, one is part-time, and one splits her time between the Spanish Department and our own), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office.  Of those 25 staff, thirteen are men, twelve 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, and two in the course of the current year (2017/18) – 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, 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.  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, Bamberg, and the Metropolitan University in Prague.

 

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.  We have recently become a Jean-Monnet Centre of Excellence.  But it is important to remember that ACE, and our department, are “ecumenical”, and that we are not exclusively interested in European Studies.  We have noticed that we have a relatively low proportion of staff with expertise in the use of quantitative research methods, and so strengthening this area of work could be valuable; one post is to replace a colleague who is moving to a different role closer to home, who had particular experience in International Relations.  The truth is we are open to applications from any interesting sub-field of Politics and International Relations.  We have a regular 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 normally 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 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 (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 150 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 those 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 all staff and several students in recruitment, as shortlisted applicants will give a presentation to the whole department in the morning (including student representatives), and will then have an interview in the afternoon. 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.

 

Two short practical notes: first, you may wonder why we require a completed Ph.D. (that is, viva passed and corrections if necessary accepted and signed off).  In our experience, competition for these positions is quite fierce, and realistically it would not be possible for someone without a completed doctorate to be shortlisted.  We know that these applications take a lot of time and energy, and it would not be fair to raise expectations with no realistic prospect of success.  Secondly, for roles at Lecturer level, appointments tend to be made for five years in the first instance, with the expectation of renewal – this is a standard Aston University policy.

 

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

 

Interview with Yaprak Gürsoy, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

 

Why did you apply for the job at Aston?

 

I was looking for a position in the UK, and when I saw the post at Aston, I was particularly interested in it and motivated to apply. Politics and International Relations (PIR) was an expanding department at Aston. It had recruited colleagues in the past few years, and was looking to expand even more. This suggested to me that PIR was valued as a discipline within the university. Research and teaching in the department is not only focused on PIR, but also area studies. As someone who has done work on comparative politics with qualitative methods, I have always valued in-depth regional and country-specific knowledge. I knew that I would be among kindred spirits and my work would be appreciated at Aston. Finally, I thought that the application information documents, as well as the department chair’s blog, were very clear and detailed, giving me a good sense of the department, the research environment and the expectations. I already felt like I was a part of the university even before I started working!

 

What were your first impressions?

 

My first impressions of the PIR colleagues were very positive. It was astonishing to see such a warm welcome. Being in a new institution can be frustrating sometimes, especially when you are trying to settle in and understand how administrative processes work. The new challenges get compounded when you are also moving into a new city with your family (as I had to do). PIR colleagues were exceptionally supportive in all aspects of the transition process. From teaching related questions to private matters, I could always find someone patiently listening, giving advice and making helpful suggestions.

 

The department has a reputation for being quite focused on European politics, particularly the EU.  Is that a fair assessment?

 

It is fair to say that the department is quite strong on European politics, but it would not be fair to say that we are focused only on European or EU politics. There are many colleagues who work on European countries, for instance on regional and local politics, but not necessarily the EU. Undergraduate students are offered modules on North American, South Asian and East Asian politics, which testifies to our diversity. We have at least three lecturers who work on Asian politics and everyone’s research touches upon broader questions of our discipline and is relevant for other regions as well.

 

How do you find the students?

 

I would say that Aston students are distinguished by their enthusiasm. Especially final year undergraduate students are eager to learn and take their studies, including their dissertations, seriously. It has also been a great experience to see that many students do not shy away from selecting difficult questions and focusing on parts of the world not covered in their classes in detail (such as Africa) for their dissertation projects. Postgraduate students have diverse national backgrounds, coming to Aston via exchange or joint programs. This diversity enhances the classroom experience for everyone involved. Aston University appreciates its students and the students know that they would always find someone to assist them with their studies. This mutual understanding creates an environment of respect and goodwill.

How do you juggle teaching and research commitments?

 

In academia, teaching and research are always difficult to juggle. In a new post, it might be particularly challenging in the first years to strike the right balance. But my experience is that Aston is an institution that makes research possible with its reasonable teaching loads. The department is fairly large and everyone has the opportunity to teach on subjects related to their areas of expertise.  Colleagues give feedback to each other’s work in regular departmental seminars. Whether you are writing a new article or applying for a grant, you can be sure to have the support of staff, reading and commenting on your work. The School is also great in this respect. There are, for instance, writing retreats and School seminar series, which are great for multidisciplinary works. I have also observed that Aston is quite generous when it comes to research leave and taking time off to write monographs.

 

What’s it like being based in Birmingham?

 

As the second largest city in the UK, Birmingham is vibrant. Whatever you are looking for, whether it is international cuisine or plays, you can find in Birmingham. The surrounding areas of Birmingham are also beautiful and calm, if you are interested in living in a suburban area or taking a stroll in a leafy park. It is also commuting distance to many other urban centres and with its international airport, provides easy access to many international destinations. You will not get bored in this city!

 

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Working in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

Our department at Aston University is thrilled to be recruiting up to two posts (at Lecturer, Senior Lecturer or Reader 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 interested in other levels), about what we do, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.  There is then a short interview with Parveen Akhtar, who joined the department as Lecturer in Politics and International Relations last year.

 

First – a bit about our team.  We are a medium-sized department, with 20.6 current staff (20 are full-time, one is part-time, and one splits her time between the Spanish Department and our own), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office.  Of those 22 staff, twelve are men, ten are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of ten 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, and six joined us for the 2017/18 year – 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, 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.  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 Metropolitan University in Prague 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.  We have recently become a Jean-Monnet Centre of Excellence.  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 China or Latin America; 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 another with local young people on their views on the EU referendum, 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 150 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 those 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 all staff and several students in recruitment, as shortlisted applicants will give a presentation to the whole department in the morning (including student representatives), and will then have an interview in the afternoon. 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@aston.ac.uk, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.

 

Interview with Parveen Akhtar, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

 

Why did you decide to apply to work at Aston?

 

There were a number of reasons why I decided to apply to work at Aston.  Birmingham is a super-diverse and rapidly changing city, and, as such, provides a fascinating backdrop to the kinds of research issues I work on around political inclusion and representation.  When I applied to Aston in 2016, there were 7 vacancies across the School and 4 of those were dedicated to Politics and International Relations.  This pointed to a genuine commitment to the Social Sciences and, of course, it’s always exciting to join and contribute to an institution when it is developing and expanding.   There is a real energy and buzz in the atmosphere and this comes across when you visit the campus.

 

How have you found the first year?

 

It’s really flown by!  The students are so fantastic and really bring a diverse set of experiences and viewpoints to the classroom.  In a year that has been politically interesting (!) with the Brexit vote and the US Presidential election, classroom discussions and debate have been super energised.

Outside of the classroom – memorable moments include the PIR Christmas dinner and Karaoke night which was huge fun and a useful reminder of why I should stick to the day job!

 

Is it a department where people feel part of a team, or do they tend to get on and do their own thing?

 

The team in PIR is incredibly supportive and welcoming.  There is some fantastic research going on and the lunchtime seminars are a great way of getting to know what colleagues are up to and also to get some feedback on whatever research paper or project you are working on.

New colleagues get to present their research at the School Seminar and since doing this I have started two new collaborations with colleagues here.  There is a space to get together for lunch if you want a screen-free sandwich.  Overall, there is real dynamism within the group and also opportunities to socialise together outside of work.

 

 

What would be your advice to anyone thinking about applying for one of these roles, and do you have any tips on the process?

 

PIR at Aston is a great place to work if you are looking for a friendly and dynamic research and teaching environment.  There is always a lot going on in Birmingham – from the Literature Festival to the German markets – there is something for everyone.  Come along and visit the campus to get a sense of the diversity and energy at Aston; speak to students, sit in on the guest lectures and talks and Aston will work its magic on you!

Being a Teaching Associate in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

Our department at Aston University is recruiting at least one new Teaching Associate for next year. This blog is intended to provide a bit of informal advice to prospective applicants, about what we do, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.

 

First – why do we need a teaching associate and what would you do?  Normally, our teaching is done by full-time lecturers with long-term contracts, but in this instance we need maternity cover for one colleague, and there are some other teaching needs in the department, for instance due to study leave.  We also need to cover some other teaching needs that have arisen.

Specifically, one appointee would teach our new, second year undergraduate module on Political Ideologies and Theories each week throughout the year.  This is a new course, a reading list has been prepared, but you would need to prepare each two-hour sessions with the group of around 60 students.  You have a fair amount of freedom in how you structure that.  In addition, we would ask you to support seminar teaching (following content devised by another lecturer) with smaller groups, probably in Introduction to Politics, Introduction to the European Union, and Security Studies.  Another appointee might teach an optional final year module (we can discuss the exact topic), and Introduction to International Relations seminars.  In all of these, you would also be responsible for marking students’ work (though your marks would be “moderated” by a colleague, as happens for all our modules).  There would be other opportunities to teach as well – for instance, we have some final-year optional modules we would like to run on African Political Thought (but this is by no means a requirement) and you might be asked to contribute to group-taught modules for MA students.  In addition to this, you would have some personal tutees who you would support with pastoral issues, you would supervise undergraduate dissertation projects, and you would support undergraduate study skills workshops.  We would ask you to help with outreach activities, such as open days.  We really want all our colleagues, including Teaching Associates, in developing their own initiatives, so if you had an idea for a project, or a guest speaker for instance, you could expect an enthusiastic reception for your ideas.

 

Second – a bit about our team.  We are a medium-sized department, with 17.2 current staff (15 are full-time, three are part-time), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office.  Of those 18 staff, eight are men, ten are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of ten different countries!), and 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.  We recruited four new colleagues last year, and have appointed 4.5 new lecturers for next year, reflecting the positive view the University and prospective applicants have of studying with us at Aston.

 

Third – 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 reasonably 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.  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 Metropolitan University in Prague coming on stream next year).

 

Fourth – a bit about working here.  We are 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.

 

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 another with local young people on their views on the EU referendum, 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.

 

In this blog, I am not referring specifically to research because this is a “teaching only” post.  However, it would be very welcome if you had experience of conducting and publishing research, and in the recent past many of our teaching associates have gone on to full lecturerships elsewhere.  We will offer you a mentor to help with your professional development, and you would be very welcome to present your research to our fortnightly PIR research seminar (colleagues would also welcome your input on their research).

 

If you are interested in applying, 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 quite a few applications, and for that reason we need candidates to have completed, or at least submitted, their Ph.D.
  • Do think about how you would make things work at Aston (based on the information in the further particulars and this blog!) and set these out, relating them, if you can, to your experience. For instance, if you found a particular way of teaching students worked very well, do say so!
  • If you are shortlisted, you are likely to have a job interview with me, Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, and one or two other colleagues, for about half an hour. The date of Monday 24th July is unlikely to change, so try to keep this free.  If you can possibly attend in person, this is always best, though if you are abroad on that day, we may be able to set something up with Skype.  We will pay travel expenses to the interview.  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 e.turner@aston.ac.uk, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.