Monday, 6 June 2016

Getting shortlisted - publications

Since joining Newcastle I have been on two shortlisting panels, one for a temporary teaching post and the other for a permanent lectureship. Having been on the other side of things for such a long time, I think I have honed my own application skills considerably, and it has been quite eye-opening to see how the hiring process works, and what other peoples' applications look like. It was really obvious the people who 'knew what they were doing' (i.e. had probably talked to senior colleagues and gotten advice) versus those who just wrote what I would consider a 'first draft' type application. The application is like a piece of work for publication; everything needs to be spot on. It was frustrating to see what were probably good candidates not really sell themselves well, and often not demonstrate how they actually fit the job criteria. There was a tendency I think in many cases to make assumptions, that the reader would just know what the technical skills were, or why a certain area of research was important. Never make assumptions!

One thing that struck me was the huge focus on publications. I think we all know publications are important, but I hadn't realised exactly what this means in practice. I thought I was doing exceptionally well in terms of publications having managed 2 in 2009 (ok but very technical/analytical) and a whopping 5 substantial papers in 2011 (actually, some were submitted much earlier than that they just took ages to come out). Then I also had almost 7 years of postdocs in which to build my publication record. It has been very clear that in order to even be considered now, a candidate needs to be completely 'REF ready'. As an early career researcher in the previous REF, this meant at least 2 high quality published papers in good journals, which is just about doable as a recent PhD if everything goes well. But now it seems that 4 is preferred. That's a lot to ask of a recent PhD, and pretty much ensures you have to have done a postdoc of some sort before you are likely to be considered for a lectureship.

So I may have been lucky soon after finishing the PhD if the panel liked my very technical papers of 2009, but probably would not have been a suitable candidate until at least 2011, 3 years after submitting my PhD. It's possible that a candidate could maybe make up for having fewer papers with truly amazing other areas of the CV, but there was little budging on this. Some of the applicants had amazing CVs with great plans, but without those papers, we could not shortlist them. I understand the reasoning behind it, that's the way things work now whether we like it or not. But it just seems to add yet another dimension of random to the process. What if your research doesn't lend itself to multiple papers? What if your papers have all been sat in review for 6 months?

You need to be really on the ball. If you're doing a PhD with sights set on an academic job, you need to make sure you are publishing, even during your PhD. Collaborate with others, co-author papers (the importance of networking cannot be over-stated). Or at least make sure you apply for fellowships and postdocs in plenty of time, so that you have the job security that will let you publish your PhD as soon as you can. Is this the best way to do things in academia? It certainly favors people who can write quickly. It probably means that some papers get rushed too. There is a careful balance to strike between timely publication and publishing before the work is ready. I feel like the latter is better in some ways; it is better to get your ideas out there rather than falling into the trap of trying to produce the 'perfect' piece of work. Any thoughts from my readers?


  1. Hi Lisa, very interesting, not surprising though about the publications. The only dimension I would add is that in my field, this lends itself to a continued bias against qualitative research, which tends to take longer to write up and get rejected by many journals - the British Medical Journal is notable in recent times for having a rejection policy based on assumptions that qualitative research is less likely to be read and cited. And so the wheel turns on, with everyone chasing targets and not thinking about value beyond the REF. Cheryl

    1. absolutely - I do feel that my own research is being pushed towards things that achieve 'quick' results as well.