Updated : Sat, 08 Mar 2014 05:31:34 GMT
Plenty of thinking ahead and clearly structured answers will help take the fear out of interviews. Steve Joy offers advice on 10 tough questions
This post is a companion to my last piece about preparing for an academic interview. I've trawled the archives to pick out common yet tricky questions, and I offer some ideas for how to handle them.
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list. You will always get unexpected questions. The trick is to take a deep breath and let go of the anxiety that you need to find the "right" answer. Interview questions have countless plausible and convincing answers, but what sets good candidates apart is their ability to deliver structured answers, to articulate their thinking clearly, and to speak to the concerns of their interviewers.
1) Why do you want this job?
It's amazing how many people struggle to give sensible answers, which creates a dreadful impression â€“ particularly if it's the opening question. Prepare your response, which needs to be confident, specific, and well structured. For example, "There are three main reasons why I see myself as a good fit for this role".
When it comes to the content, avoid being generic (saying the same as everyone else). And don't sound selfish: the panel want to know how they will benefit from having you on their team as much as, if not more than, how you will benefit.
2) What's your best paper?
This might be your highest-impact paper, but it doesn't have to be. What counts is that you give a sound rationale for your choice. Perhaps you're proudest of the paper which marks a transitional moment in your research or your career. Or perhaps it's the paper that you know had a direct, positive impact on someone else's work. It doesn't matter, as long as you've thought it through.
3) Why do you work on X? Surely, Y is more important
Try not to interpret this sort of question as an attack. Fundamentally, interviewers want you to address their concerns. You work on gibbons â€“ I work on gorillas, so how is your work relevant to mine? You study Shakespeare â€“ I study Marlowe, so what can I learn from you?
Take a structured approach: "Let me break that question down into two. The reason why X is an important topic is [â€¦]. I understand that what Y is trying to achieve is [â€¦]. What I think that the two studies have in common, therefore, is [â€¦]."
4) What will you do if something goes wrong?
What happens if your hypothesis is wrong? Your experiments fail? You can't get access to the archive you need? Your grant is unsuccessful? Don't pretend that your research is impervious to failure. Doing so will probably come across as denial or, worse, a lack of self-awareness. What matters is how you handle setbacks, and how you plan to overcome predictable hiccups.
5) Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
Lots of people tackle this question by naming the job title which they hope to have attained, for example: "10 years from now, I want to be a professor." This is OK (provided you can explain how you intend to get there), but it's awfully predictable. Think about achievements rather than status. This question also gives you an opportunity to show that you have a vision for where your field is going. What's the next big question that, in a decade's time, you expect to be working on, or even to have solved?
6) How does your work fit with the group/department/university?
Interviewers don't recruit candidates who see themselves in solipsistic isolation. So, based on all your preparatory research into this employer, identify the specific ways that your work aligns with their needs and priorities. Think about: particular specialisms, research clusters, possible collaborations, undergraduate or graduate curricula, interdisciplinary links with other departments, outreach initiatives, etc. Don't turn this into a conceptual answer â€“ ground what you say in a couple of specific, tangible examples.
7) Describe a course or topic that you would teach
Too many candidates talk about prospective teaching as if its value were entirely self-evident, or they simply lean on the intrinsic intellectual interest of the topic. Instead, think in terms of outcomes and learning objectives, because evaluation is integral to good teaching. What will the students get out of the course? What work will you set, and how will it be assessed? What skills will they acquire? How will it complement the rest of their studies?
8) What does collegiality mean to you?
Panels are recruiting someone to work alongside themselves or other members of their institution, so it shouldn't be a surprise that working relationships are on interviewers' minds. In truth, some people are simply not good colleagues. So, what kind of a colleague do you intend to be? How are you going to help others to be successful?
9) If we offered you this job, would you accept it?
This isn't a trick question, and the best response isn't necessarily just to say yes, without hesitation. There are innumerable factors that could have a bearing on what you might say, not least the vexed issue of waiting to hear back about other applications. But let's not assume that being honest is always a bad thing. The crucial point is that, before you get in the room, you should take time to think through whether you would accept the job, and to discuss it with peers and mentors.
10) Do you have any questions for us?
This will almost certainly come up and is generally taken as a measure of how interested you are in the role. You should therefore be prepared with a couple of questions. Bad types of question to ask are: essentially selfish (e.g. asking about benefits, annual leave, sabbatical entitlement); ill-informed (i.e. things you could have found out for yourself if you'd spent a few minutes on the employer's website); or downright naive (e.g. "Would you say that the Research Excellence Framework is important to this department?").
Steve Joy is careers adviser for research staff in the arts, humanities, and social sciences at the University of Cambridge â€“ follow him on Twitter @EarlyCareerBlog
Do you have any tips to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Publ.Date : Thu, 06 Mar 2014 15:48:36 GMT
Labour politicians have long faced criticism for sending their children to private schools, but the education secretary's decision to keep his daughter in the state system makes it an issue for the Tories as well
It's a story so common as to have long since become a cliche. A senior politician has a child approaching the end of primary school, usually in London. They can apply for a place at any number of state-run institutions â€“ but, as evidenced by the experience of such figures as Nick Clegg, Tony Blair and Harriet Harman, passing over local schools in favour of some distant, highly rated, possibly selective place will bring on noisy controversy. And if they go private? On that score, whether fairly or not, one story stands as a chilling cautionary tale: that of Diane Abbott, who sent her son to the Â£10,000-a-year City of London school in 2003, and then acknowledged that doing so was "indefensible".
Politicans now live lives akin to Big Brother contestants: the media is constantly on the lookout for cant and hypocrisy, while the public is encouraged to believe that even the holders of high office should be able to empathise with ordinary folks. Up until now, though, the question of where senior politicians chose to have their kids educated was always focused on the Labour party. The days when such Labour leaders as Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan could go private were obviously over. But why did no one ever hold the Tories to account?
Self-evidently, private education is a much more problematic notion for the left than the right. But have there not been long-overlooked tensions between what senior Tories say and do? Margaret Thatcher successfully reinvented the Conservatives as the supposed party of self-made meritocrats with its support rooted in the aspiring working class, but her son Mark ended up at Harrow (he left with three O-levels), while daughter Carol went to the fee-paying Queenswood school in Hertfordshire, and west London's exclusive St Paul's girls' school. By the same token, there is an obvious discrepancy between George Osborne minting the phrase "we're all in this together", and his own choices: in 2008, it was reported that he had "withdrawn" his two children from a state primary close to the Houses of Parliament, and secured them places at an Â£11,500-a-year prep school.
In the end, though, all this probably comes down to something even more fundamental. In 2012, the former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis claimed that politicians who went private should have no say in the state education system. "Too much of failed education policy since the war has been the result of ideological ministers who don't use the institutions that they expect the general public to use," he said, "and that has been true of the Labour side as well as well as the Tories."
Sarah Vine's explanation of her and Michael Gove's decision makes no reference to any of that. Instead, she admirably pays tribute to the comprehensive ideal, has a welcome pop at private schools' "snobbery", and seems to question whether education needs to be so fixated with results (which, interestingly enough, sits ever so slightly awkwardly with the approach taken by her husband). But the fact that Gove is the first Tory education secretary to use a state secondary opens up some very big issues. And in doing so, it is likely to make life for senior Tory politicians much more difficult than they would like.
David Cameron has a daughter at the same state primary school attended by Gove's. In 2009, he said that he would like his children to "go through the state sector". But the following year, apparently ignoring the fact that London's schools are now outperforming those in the rest of the country, he said he was "terrified" by the prospect of living in central London and trying to find "a good secondary school", and made reference to people "breaking the bank" to have their children privately educated. He will have to make a decision later this year; the Gove/Vine story has inevitably raised the stakes, and then some.
A country where even an Eton-educated Tory prime minister sends his offspring to comprehensive schools â€“ can you imagine? Might, at long last, questions even be asked of the royals? While we're here, it's also worth noting that last time he was asked where his children might be educated, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt â€“ an alumnus of Â£6,000-a-term University College School, Hampstead â€“ gave a rather lacklustre reply and said he would "never rule out whatever takes place", whatever that meant. He will be asked the same question again â€“ perhaps, thanks to this story, in a matter of days. What will he say this time?
Publ.Date : Fri, 07 Mar 2014 19:33:59 GMT
The most cutting edge fields are also the most regressively sexist, with the number of women employed depressingly low
'You constantly hear the pipeline argument: there are no women here because there are no women over there. VCs [venture capitalists] blame industry, and industry blames universities, and universities blame schools and schools blame the parents."
Anne Marie Imafidon is a 24-year-old tech genius and founder of Stemettes (a charity to get girls into science, technology, engineering and maths). She was talking on Thursday night about the dearth of women in the tech industry, in all these industries, in the lead-up to International Women's Day. Sixty per cent of all graduates are women, but only 17% of computer science grads are, and only 20% of people studying physics. Only 13% of those working in the tech industry are female.
International Women's Day used to be the day we spent arguing about what the most important issues should be for International Women's Day. Is it OK to talk about feminism in rich nations while women are being raped in the Congo? How can you rank the importance of the glass ceiling against the threat of domestic violence? What I never saw coming was this bizarre situation in which the fields that you'd think of as the most modern, the most cutting edge â€“ tech, physics, engineering â€“ were replicating working conditions so sexist they make Mad Men look like Spare Rib. Not only are there no women to start off with in this area, but the ones there are leave.
"Isn't that just because they're having children?" I ask, with my dumb, humanities, 90s sensibilities. Imafidon and Cate Huston, a software engineer at Google, laugh in my face. "No, it is not because they're having children. It's because of the way they're treated. They're not hired, they're not listened to and they're not promoted."
To go back to the beginning: does this start in schools? Charles Wallendahl, a young Teach First ambassador who teaches at a Archbishop Lanfranc, in Croydon, thinks not. "Homophobia is a problem in schools. Sexism is not a problem in schools. Most teachers are women. The number of times I get called "miss" when I do the register â€¦ But kids spend most of their time at home, they pick up these things from their parents."
And yet, whatever the source of it, it's definitely at school that the gaps open up. Boys and girls are equally keen on maths at the age of five. By the time they're eight, girls have internalised the message that they can't do it. Nimish Lad, from the Wootton Academy, was at a workshop on Friday about stamping out sexism in schools, and said: "I was just speaking to a girl who's one of our Oxbridge candidates, and she said she didn't want to do physics, because that's not how her mind works."
Dr Anna Zecharia, from Science Grrl (set up to get more girls into science), thinks there's been a change in gender stereotyping; things are moving, fast, in the wrong direction. "If you look at the gender marketing of toys, sexual objectification of all women, boxing people in to very narrow, old-fashioned gender models, everything in my culture values my physicality above all my other attributes."
Paradoxically, science itself â€“ which I think of as smooth and polished like a test tube, impervious to the emotional demands of prejudice â€“ is often the source of this re-domestication drive. Gina Rippon, professor of cognitive neuro-imaging at Aston University (whom I also met at the schools workshop), said: "There's this constant drumbeat of biology as destiny, which doesn't help. People are driven by what they can get published, and what gets published is positive results. So maybe 2% of studies will show differences between men's and women's brains, and those are what will be published."
It's hardly surprising, then, that girls persistently underperform in what they call "self-efficacy tests" (how good you think you are), compared to their performance in, well, everything else.
Universities have a case to answer, too. Huston tells me a story about how the computer science teams had to be allocated handicaps, and were given one AI student and one girl. In Edinburgh university, this century. A geophysicist (who wished to remain anonymous) said: "When you're a female science student, it's a bit like being a professional woman in the Middle East. You're neither male nor female. You're a third sex, to them."
Imafidon (who, just by the by, took her maths and IT GCSEs while she was still at primary school), says: "Look, I don't get hassle. If I can see something's happening, and I look at you, you will shut up. The other thing is, I have a reputation. They expect everything I say to be golden."
Nevertheless, as Huston says: "I still spend all day every day surrounded by dudes." Imafidon laughs. "Yeah, it's a weird situation, being the only person in the room who can understand why their girlfriend got upset."
Publ.Date : Fri, 07 Mar 2014 18:57:29 GMT
Rather than focusing on full inspections, it would make sense to conduct more frequent, shorter monitoring inspections for good schools, says Ofsted's Mike Cladingbowl
Ofsted inspections have made an enormous difference to improving the quality of education in England since 1992; more children now attend a good or outstanding school than at any other time. Over the years, inspection has held up an impartial mirror to schools and governments alike, identifying what works and what needs to improve.
It's because of this that parents turn to Ofsted reports to help them make their choices about a school. Even our fiercest critics argue in favour of retaining an independent inspectorate.
In my view, Ofsted has never been more necessary with schools enjoying so much more autonomy and greater freedom. I wrote an article recently that asked for schools' views on how we might inspect in future. I'm grateful for the many and varied responses, including the thoughtful response from the Association of School and College Leaders and some of the interesting suggestions from former Her Majesty's Inspector (HMI) professor Colin Richards.
Of course, there will be those whose contribution to this debate serves a particular interest. But we will listen to any ideas that genuinely reflect the mood of staffrooms, governors, heads and parents across the country.
Most notably, despite their differences, a common theme across most responses is the need for inspection to reflect our current educational landscape. I'm not referring to the rather odd suggestion that we should have a system where different kinds of taxpayer-funded schools are inspected to diverse standards by different inspectorates; parents want a single system to report on state schools, whether it's a maintained, academy or free school.
But in a system where so many schools perform so well, the real issue facing us is how we should inspect good schools.
This chimes with questions I have been asking about how we can give parents more up-to-date information about how well their child's school is doing. It can be five years between inspections, or even seven if a good school converts to an academy at the end of the inspection cycle. Parents should be able to expect more from inspectors during their child's time at a school.
But it would make little sense, and be an unnecessary burden, if we did more full inspections than we do now. For one thing, only a small proportion of the good schools that we inspect decline one or more grade. Inspectors can always find things that could be better, of course, but is a full inspection always needed to do that?
Once a full school inspection begins there is no turning back. Perhaps understandably, the high stakes that accompany a full inspection can limit the honest dialogue that is often a forerunner of improvement. More fundamentally still, when we do find that a good school has declined I usually ask myself how might we have spotted this earlier or if something else could have been done to halt the drop.
I also worry that some schools are far too cautious about innovating to raise standards because of the imminent arrival of Ofsted. As long as they do the basic things right, we need more schools to innovate not fewer; innovation is often, if not always, a feature of outstanding schools and school systems. Look at the way mathematics is taught in Shanghai â€“ different and very successful.
Although there are many advantages to it, a fixed but lengthy cycle of full school inspections also has its drawbacks â€“ it only gives parents sporadic assurance, it can discourage schools from trying out new things to raise standards, and it means that too many schools are inspected only after they have started to slide backwards.
Here's another reason for changing what we do: many headteachers tell me that good schools often have to wait far too long before they can demonstrate that they have improved to outstanding. Perhaps we need a system that allows swifter identification of outstanding schools, and their leaders. After all, it is on this that so much of the new school-led system depends.
None of this means that we want our schools to be awash with squadrons of inspectors, or have schools on perpetual inspection alert. In fact, it's quite the opposite. We want proportionate but regular contact between schools and HMIs. Not more full inspection but constructive and expert professional dialogue, which can add considerable impetus to a school's improvement.
So I think it is worth looking seriously at the possibility of HMIs conducting more frequent, but short, monitoring inspections to good schools rather than doing full inspections. Such visits could be constructive as well as challenging, and would be reported on briefly to parents by letter. In turn, I believe this would lead to many more schools thinking "well, we know we will see them reasonably regularly so let's just let them see us as we are".
Importantly, when we would need to carry out a full inspection, I'd want to use current school leaders and build on what we have achieved already in recruiting so many excellent serving practitioners. It's often overlooked that more than half of all school inspections now have a serving leader on the team and a growing number are being led by National Leaders of Education. I am determined to add even more to our ranks in the months ahead.
I'm not alone in this. All of us at Ofsted are giving serious thought to a new blueprint for how good schools might be inspected in the future. In doing so, we are listening hard to those who have joined the debate that we started. I'm grateful that so many have done so. We'll continue to listen after Her Majesty's Chief Inspector sets out our direction of travel in more detail later on this month.
Michael Cladingbowl is the national director of schools at Ofsted. You can follow him on Twitter @mcladingbowl, and follow Ofted at @ofstednews
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Publ.Date : Fri, 07 Mar 2014 20:33:31 GMT
People don't think that domestic violence happens to students but it does, and lad culture is making it worse, writes a student blogger
When you think of domestic violence, what image springs to mind? I bet you don't picture a seemingly sociable student in a university hall of residence.
It took me a long time to work out if I really wanted to write this article. Partly due to a fear of what people would think. Would they pity me? Think I was stupid? Think I was lying? But also because it took a long time for me to recognise what happened to me as domestic abuse and violence.
Even when I'd admitted it to myself I felt unnerved and isolated by the lack of conversation on the subject. Few people think of it as an issue faced by students, and it's still something of a taboo subject. But domestic violence in student life is more common than people think and if we don't start talking about it soon, how can we expect it to be stopped?
In 2010 the National Union of Students (NUS) conducted a national survey which said one in seven females surveyed had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. And 35% of seriously violent incidents against female students were carried out by someone they knew intimately.
These figures make it hard to deny the prominence of domestic violence in university life. Yet, almost four years later, the silence surrounding sufferers is still leaving those who have experienced domestic violence to suffer.
In my first year of university I experienced domestic abuse for the first time. A violent two years later, I've finally managed to escape the situation. Although I've become much happier, it still worries me why, in a caring student community full of intelligent young people, it took so long for me to find help.
For victims it can be hard to seek support or to confide in someone. You find yourself reducing what happened and deciding it isn't so bad, it doesn't really matter. The phrase "I'm fine" rolls from the tongue before you even consider telling friends about it, never mind hunting down support from guidance tutors. It makes it even harder when people don't believe you or refuse to get involved.
The out-dated view that what happens behind closed doors should stay there was something I encountered a lot once people knew what was happening to me. Shared friendship groups made it a difficult subject to discuss and the "he-said, she-said" mindset was rife.
Preconceptions of domestic violence are so deeply-rooted that people think it doesn't happen in student relationships. It also means that people generally have no idea how to handle the situation. I can now forgive friends who didn't know where to stand at the time, but educating students is vital if we wish to fully support sufferers.
Sandra Horley, chief executive for the national domestic violence charity Refuge, says: "The truth is that domestic violence knows no boundaries of age, race or class â€“ it can happen to any woman."
Recognising and publicising domestic violence as a possible problem for students would make it far easier for women to reach out for support. In turn, this would at least be a small step towards reducing the effect of social stigma. Removing the social stigma of domestic violence, by recognising it to be a possibility in student life, would make it far easier for women to reach out for support.
I'm worried, though, that these problems are getting worse instead of better. The appropriation of "lad-culture" was, at least for me, part of the problem.
The increasing amount of misogyny and sexism in student life has been much talked about in the past year, and on the whole universities and societies have done a lot to combat it.
Yet we must acknowledge that some damaging attitudes have already been internalised, and consider what dangerous consequences this may have. We need to accept that domestic violence does happen among students, and be prepared to change our attitudes in order to make a change.
Horley says: "We will never change the harrowing statistics on domestic violence until we change the social attitudes that allow it to continue."
Publ.Date : Fri, 07 Mar 2014 14:03:00 GMT