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Advice for an ECR about referees?

(20 Posts)
JobSeekingWitterer Mon 21-Mar-16 17:40:38

I'd originally posted this in Higher Education, but BadgerCrossing kindly pointed out it would be better here! So I'll cross-post:

Hello. Name changed for reasons of paranoia, but a regular. I'd appreciate advice from the MN Academic Hive-Mind.

I've always been told that, at the start of your career, your referees would usually include your PhD supervisor and your external examiner, as they are the people who know your work best. Most job applications also want your current employer.

I'm at the end of my first postdoc and am applying for lots of jobs, but I'm unsure now who I should ask. All of the above people will write for me, but should I be asking other people too? Is a youngish colleague (who is in the department I'm applying to, and who has read my recent work and knows my teaching well) worth asking, instead of (say) my PhD supervisor, who is more senior, and has seen some of my recent research, but who doesn't know what I am like as a colleague?

Any other tips you think I may have failed to pick up, based on irritating errors your own ECRs have made, would be gladly welcomed.

geekaMaxima Mon 21-Mar-16 18:01:29

I never heard of it as a usual thing to use external examiner as a referee, and I don't come across it often when trawling postdoc applications. Maybe it's field-specific...

However, for someone with one postdoc already behind them, I would expect references from:
- postdoc PI
- PhD supervisor
- someone else who can comment on your recent research (maybe co-I on postdoc project, maybe other collaborator or someone who just happens to know your research)

Junior status of final referee doesn't matter too much as long as they are senior to you and can comment meaningfully on your work. I would favour a positive detailed reference from a junior colleague (e.g., new lecturer or senior research associate/fellow) over a positive generic reference from Prof. Bigname.

JobSeekingWitterer Mon 21-Mar-16 18:03:24

Could well be field specific. I don't have a PI or Co-Is, or collaborators. But I suspect the slant is towards junior colleague, all the same.

impostersyndrome Mon 21-Mar-16 21:56:15

I agree with geeka (fab name), so long as colleague has some sort of clout (namely can comment on quality of your work, productivity, contribution to the project, how you meet the criteria, etc.). Do though keep your external examiner in mind for when you go for promotion; assuming you had a good viva, they may very well be ideal for commenting on your scholarship.

impostersyndrome Mon 21-Mar-16 22:01:00

Ah I see you wrote 'instead of supervisor'. So long as you can rely on him or her to be fulsome, still worth calling on unless you've got two solid references from your current post - one obvious combination I've seen recently for a second post doc is 1) senior colleague and 2) close collaborator from another department - both from first post-doc.

The latter combination is more impressive as it shows you're starting to establish yours scholarly independence.

JobSeekingWitterer Mon 21-Mar-16 23:11:15

imp - well, I don't have any collaborators. It is unusual in my discipline.

So I'm unsure.

impostersyndrome Tue 22-Mar-16 06:09:45

Anyone you've coauthored with? Contributed to a book they've edited? If that's not common in your field then that's fine... Back to plan A: someone from current post and someone from PhD, probably supervisor, I'd say, especially if that's who you used to get this job,

anthropophagus Tue 22-Mar-16 13:13:49

I'm in no way an expert as am also an ECR, but since you say you are applying to the department your current postdoc is based in (have I got that right?), it strikes me that using young-ish colleague who knows and likes your research, teaching etc. as a reference might be a bit of a waste, since they might well be party to the selection process anyway so you already have their goodwill, as it were. So maybe supervisor + external?

JobSeekingWitterer Tue 22-Mar-16 13:59:35

Thanks imp, makes sense.

anthro - yes, that's right. But colleague definitely isn't party to selection process - this is why I wanted to do that. Plus I have three 'slots' so to speak, so can afford colleague plus supervisor plus one more.

It's been really helpful to have views on this so thanks to everyone who replied.

BadgerCrossing Tue 22-Mar-16 16:01:30

Definitely PhD supervisor & External. In my field, I'd expect to see those people as referees - and I still use them sometimes 20 years on from my PhD!

I was just about to say what anthropophagus says - it'd be a 'waste' of a referee to list a youngish colleague in the department you're applying to - they may be involved in the selection process only if as an audience member to your presentation (we always ask for a presentation + interview). Then my HoD surveys opinion from all staff (including admin & tech colleagues - we are vair democratic!) who sat in on the presentation. That's the point your peer who knows your work should pipe up about your work.

Other things I wish ECRs would not do in job applications (and I've seen all these):
* List hobbies <vomit>
* List book reviews as publications
* Not identify which they think are their REF publications (just an asterisk will do)
* But OTOH, please don't give your publications a REF grading (unless you have chapter & verse from your current Research Director - don't self-grade, please!)
* Don't inflate their CV. Honestly, we actually don't expect a Nobel prize 3 years after you finish your PhD. Inflating just makes you look unprofessional.
* Put your publications, achievements etc backwards ie most recent ones first.
* Don't bother listing 'Microsoft Word' etc etc as a skill. It's a basic expectation nowadays.
* Be clear about the status of publications & research grants - and don't lead with ones which are 'Submitted' or 'Under consideration.'

Good luck!

disquit2 Tue 22-Mar-16 16:25:06

But some of the list of things to do/not to do are quite field dependent.

It would be utterly bizarre in my field for applicants to list REF publications, since the vast majority of candidates won't come from the UK.

And leading with things which are submitted or under consideration would be absolutely fine for us.

Moreover, externals are not expected to be referees (again because many people don't have PhDs from the UK, so didn't necessarily have a single external rather than a panel of examiners/public PhD defense).

Agree with not listing irrelevancies such as hobbies or over-inflating.

MedSchoolRat Tue 22-Mar-16 17:14:12

JSW (OP): what kind of jobs are you applying to? Are you applying for lectureships or RA positions (what you call post-docs).

JobSeekingWitterer Tue 22-Mar-16 17:23:10

Thanks, badger, and for the list. Most of them I think I would know, but I didn't know not to list a book review as a publication (I have been told to do this in the past, but that was early in my PhD and I imagine that is different!). I also wouldn't have known not to put publications backwards. So do you do them by earliest first? confused

But good to know from dis that there might be some differences by subject. I'll check on those where I'm unsure.

med - a bit of both, but right now, lectureships are the ones with the looming deadlines.

chemenger Tue 22-Mar-16 17:28:58

I think it would be worth getting advice from someone specifically in your field (the youngish colleague you mention, for example), because like a PP I would be very surprised to see an external examiner cited as a referee, but then someone else confirms that it is normal in their field. We would always expect to see your current supervisor (PI on the grant you are RA on) and your PhD supervisor when someone is just coming to the end of a first RA post, it would look odd not to have these.

JobSeekingWitterer Tue 22-Mar-16 17:34:57

I have asked for advice from several colleagues (including, but not limited to, all of the potential referees involved). It's just that it is quite hard to distinguish between objective advice that is immutable, and advice the person is giving because the wish to imply all sorts of complex things and assume I'll get the message. Or that is my worry and has occasionally been my experience. People don't mean to be obscure, but really can be!

Since I don't have a PI, I take your point we're in different fields. But I've found MN surprisingly helpful in the past for cutting through all the worries.

chemenger Tue 22-Mar-16 17:37:28

Most recent publications first is normal in my experience. Having just been involved in shortlisting from 120 applicants one thing I would say is keep it short. The longest application we had was 70 pages long, that just annoys people. Also it is amazing how often people forget to edit out all the mentions of other universities they have applied to when changing their covering letter. We at the University of West Wittering will be put off if you tell us how much you want to work at UCL! And if feeling mean at the interview we will point it out, which can be awkward (but not necessarily fatal to your chances).

chemenger Tue 22-Mar-16 17:40:58

I think there are no hard and fast rules, and good panels should be able to see past the flaws in an application. I think we did interview the person with the excessively long application, for example.

MedSchoolRat Tue 22-Mar-16 18:03:42

okay, I dunno about lectureship applications total fail the one & only time I tried for one but I have been on interview panel for an RA post:

I don't mind hobbies. I like some personality, but it won't make slightest difference whether you're shortlisted or hired, anyway.

Pubs listed in reverse date order, please

Ideally highlight pubs that are most relevant to the position (if you have a selection to choose from)

Everything where we work is transparency, accountability -> scoring sheets to decide who to interview & who to hire (all items are available to FOI requests): so 70 page application might be overkill, but at least it would let me find some way to add a point on the scoring sheet. The scoring sheets are used for hiring lecturers, too.

I won't notice who is your referree, but I expect them to explain their relationship in the reference. HR chases the referees, we just read the statements to see if they say something to match the relationship, don't put us off, and for what they didn't say.

I suspect my dept. wouldn't offer interview for lectureship without some high candidate REF'able pubs listed.

ocelot41 Wed 23-Mar-16 09:40:10

Watching with interest!

disquit2 Wed 23-Mar-16 10:46:21

I won't notice who is your referree, but I expect them to explain their relationship in the reference. HR chases the referees, we just read the statements to see if they say something to match the relationship, don't put us off, and for what they didn't say.

Another massive difference between fields. References play a huge role in our decisions (perhaps the defining role for early career researchers) and who writes them is also very important i.e. a good letter from a Fields medallist counts for far more than a similar letter from a lower ranked researcher.

Agree that REF publications is important for permanent staff, but we would not expect the applicants to highlight these publications (or indeed necessarily know about the REF, if they are coming from abroad). Nobody would be hired in my field without 4* publications anyhow, so REF publications is not really a different filter.

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