How to raise the bar on the teaching section of your CV
From not burying the teaching section to developing a broad range of experiences, Emma Williams gives tips on making your CV shine when applying for a lectureship
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Working with postdocs, I look at an abundance of applications for next steps, be they another postdoc, fellowship or lectureship or escaping into the wide “other” that is outside academia. There is a knack to successfully applying to each type of role but lectureship applications, in particular, usually present me with something of a treasure hunt. Where is that teaching section?
Typically, I have to scroll to page three and then find it tucked away after a list of presentations and shortly before a list of languages (computer and natural). Given the job title, you absolutely need to raise your game on this section.
So, let’s look at the where, how and what.
Location, location, location
“There are three main aspects to being a lecturer: teaching, research and administration. Different institutions prioritise research and teaching differently, and you need to find out which aspect is most important for the particular job you are interested in,” states the academic job site jobs.ac.uk in their article “How to become a lecturer”. Yes, your CV needs to balance the evidence you have for each of these three areas, but their placement on the CV is also highly important. Never forget that, given the importance of the Teaching Excellence Framework and of fee-paying students, universities are definitely looking for great teachers.
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Use the job description as a guide for the order of your sections. This makes it easier for them to shortlist you and provides you with a helpful structure. If the university highlights teaching first, then that section absolutely has to be above the fold on page one of your CV.
Until this point your CV will have been about your research accomplishments, but even if the job description highlights research and then teaching, you must ensure your teaching section follows shortly after a description of your research roles and grants. Do not bury it! You are being recruited by busy academics who have minutes to read your CV on a first pass. If they cannot find your teaching section easily, you will not reach the second pass.
Likewise, we can order our teaching experience within the section according to their priorities. Are they focusing on postgraduate teaching? Then bring that to the top of the section. Never make anything up, but you can reframe experience – research student supervision, for example, covers mentoring, supporting students and teaching.
Make it clear what you have done
Let’s face facts: university course codes barely make sense to those on the course let alone to a prospective employer. The word “tutor” can mean a hundred different things. When communicating your teaching, remove any jargon and for each teaching stint include:
- the name of the course (no codes!)
- the institution where you taught it
- the type of students (first-year undergrad, MSc, etc)
- what you did (lecturing, laboratory supervision, course design, small-group problem classes, seminars)
- how much you did of it.
A great example would be: “Guest lecturer, BSc Tree Topography, University of Neverwhere (2021). Delivered five first-year lectures by invitation, supervised and assessed 10 student presentations.” This provides all the metrics required by the prospective employer to gauge your teaching experience. Of course, if you have any brilliant student feedback or won TA of the year, do mention that alongside the facts and figures. The Prospects website has good examples of how to structure this.
You should also include any teaching qualifications or professional development you have completed. For early career researchers who have teaching experience, the Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy is well worth exploring, and institutions will often support you through the application.
What experiences should you look to develop?
When applying for your first lectureship, it’s unlikely you will have five years’ lecturing experience. But developing a broad portfolio of teaching experiences will help you secure the next position. Indeed, broad rather than deep will be required to fit this in alongside your research commitments. So, be on the lookout for experiences that add to your CV. If your department does not offer them, look further afield (remote teaching is now an option). A good place to start when thinking about the range of teaching activities is the professional standards framework (PSF), which includes five areas:
1. design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
2. teach and/or support learning
3. assess and give feedback to learners
4. develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
5. engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices.
Area one seems to be the rarest of experiences in the applications I come across. If you’re offered the chance to get involved in curriculum design or course structure, do consider it. It will make you stand out from the sea of postdocs with only TA experience.
Don’t forget the students
My final tip for anyone applying to a lectureship is to take a look at the student-facing pages for the institution concerned. What do they promise their undergraduates? What qualifications do they need to study the course you will be teaching? What does the student body look like? When your newly polished CV gets through the shortlisting, you will need to be ready for the question: “Given what you know about our students, how will you best support them?”
Emma Williams is an independent trainer providing advice for early career researchers. A former postdoc, she is also former head of academic practice at the University of Cambridge and co-author of What Every Postdoc Needs to Know, with Liz Elvidge and Carol Spencely.
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