I can now share the good news that I have been offered a new job! I recently applied for a Research Associate position at the Open University and was interviewed for the post on Tuesday (24th January 2012). I am currently negotiating the start date but I am really excited by the opportunity! As well as being offered a job, it was a really useful experience and they asked some questions that really made me think and that may help others to prepare for their own interviews (particularly academic research post ones!). So here they are:
I will be working for the Faculty of Social Care and so the research will be much more applied than I felt my PhD research was. I talked a lot about theory in my interview presentation, something I have got into a habit of doing, and this led to questions on how research can make a difference and whether or not I would be comfortable working with potentially vulnerable people. As I answered in the interview, this is a prospect I would welcome. In trying to define my research agenda, I have struggled with finding areas where there are significant issues, mainly due to a lack of contact with organisations in the local area and lack of time outside of (nearly) full time teaching to really engage with the literature. I am therefore keen to continue researching a similar area but develop my research skills in a context where I can potentially make a real difference.
Collaboration was an important element of the interview and will be an important aspect of the research post, something that will help me to build upon my existing skills as a PhD student. While I worked with 3 supervisors from very different disciplines (something that had its own challenges and something I reflected on), working collaboratively with individuals who have similar interests is going to be an advantage, particularly in relation to writing journal articles and working under the leadership of an established professor. For any academic interview, questions on collaboration are very likely so it will be useful to be prepared for those.
Skills gained (PhD) and skills hoped to gain
I found this quite a tricky question and afterwards realised there were many more things I could say. In relation to the skills developed during my PhD I explained about dealing with the pressures/up’s and downs of research as well as gaining skills in qualitative methods and of course academic writing. One thing that occurred to me later on, as the nature of the job was explained, was that I also wanted to gain additional skills in grant writing. I also discussed the desire to expand my research methods tool kit and to design more participatory type research; something I think will help engage potentially vulnerable people in the research process. The responses to this question while generic in relation to academic skills also had to be related to the research interests more generally.
New media and research
One thing that the panellists thought was really good was my engagement with new social media for research and professional purposes. They became a bit bog eyed when I started talking hashtags and live chats (such as #phdchat) but apart from that were enthusiastic about why I use it and how I use it. Being Managing Editor of PhD2Published helped me to stand out and to discuss what I can bring to the post that is unique and different. I enjoyed the opportunity of sharing what I know about new social media and discussed the advantages of developing online networks and the potential to disseminate research to a broader audience.
Questions I asked
Following some feedback on Twitter (thanks @bronwynah and others), I had several questions prepared that I asked both during the interview when it was appropriate and also when I had finished. I was keen to know that I would have the opportunity to develop my own research agenda, alongside the various roles and requirements of the post. This will be a possibility and has encouraged me to take the job, which is an 18 month contract. Another question I asked (based on an article on Jobs.ac.uk) was ‘What challenges am I most likely to face in this post?’. This question was nice because it allowed the interviewers to share their experiences of the university and its social and professional life which I learnt a lot about and helped to inform my decision. Being prepared with questions such as this is recommended because it provided a nice conclusion to the interview as well as insight into life at the university.