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02/22/2021

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Jonathan Ichikawa

The administrivia divide Marcus describes is real. As someone who really values professional pedagogical autonomy, I would be extremely reluctant to take a job in the UK, given a choice like this.

I used to teach in the UK. I once recall being told by the departmental exam board at a UK institution that the questions I planned to ask on the final exam for the course I was teaching were not the correct questions to ask. On another occasion, one of my colleagues overrode the grade I'd given on a student's essay, lowering it. Then the student came and complained to me, and I had to defend the low grade I didn't agree with.

Different institutions have different cultures in these matters, so you should ask people at the places in question, but I have the impression that there tends to be quite a large difference between US and UK institutions in this regard.

Marcus Arvan

Jonathan: 'administrivia' is my new favorite word. Thanks for sharing it. I almost spit coffee out of my nose while reading your comment. ;)

anon

I've heard about this grading cross-checking thing in the UK - can anyone break it down more concretely, in terms of numbers? I'm sure there's some variance, of course.

e.g., at one institution I know of VAPs teach a 4-4 load with 25-30 students per course, and do all the grading. In a UK analogue of this job, how many students would a worker be doing this sort of shadow grading for?

UK assistant prof

A lot of this depends on your situation. I have a 1:1 teaching load (moves up to 2:1 after probation) at a top UK university and only have to teach from October to mid-March. The workload in that period is more concentrated, but you're "off" for more months a year, which can be great in terms of having more concentrated research time -- there's a big difference between four and seven months off per year. You, of course, have the details for salary, teaching load, etc. that we don't, so only you are in a position to evaluate those aspects. But at a top UK institution, the extra administrative load often is balanced out by less teaching (which is never mentioned by Americans discussing the UK). After all, would you rather grade a few extra papers for a colleague's class, or teach a whole extra class altogether (or add two extra months of class time for your courses?).

Humanati

Funnily enough, I was in a very similar position as this applicant when I was on the job market: 2 offers, 1 US and 1 UK, and I was born/raised in neither of these places. Here is some of the key advice that I received at the time.

First, the UK. Main pros: (i) proximity to Europe for holidays and conferences, (ii) no tenure-pressure, (iii) so many philosophers within easy traveling distance of one another. What (iii) means in practice: many departments have regular colloquia/departmental seminars to which they invite philosophers from other departments (junior scholars receive invitations too, not just senior ones). There are also plenty of specialized conferences happening that you can access by train in a few hours. Main cons: (i) salary—tends to be enough to live comfortably, but not nearly as generous as comparable institutions in the US, and (ii) bureaucratic oversight and rules; you’ll tend to have a fair bit of autonomy over your syllabus content, but admin will tend to want to stick their noses in just about everything else. (I’m told that this differs a fair bit across institutions, though!) On Marcus’s point about marking other people’s essays, my impression is that he is referring to ‘monitoring’, which typically involves reading a very small sample of a colleague’s essay-marking to check their grading isn’t completely off-base. This isn’t fun by any means, but it’s not typically anything in the order of double-marking everything. *Advice on this front*: before making your decision, ask the department to be upfront with you about your teaching load as well as the specifics of teaching duties (e.g., marking, tutorial-leading), and how much autonomy you will have over your teaching (e.g., assessment).

Second, the US. Main pros: (i) more lecturer autonomy, far less bureaucratic oversight, and (ii) better pay. Main cons: (i) tenure-pressure, (ii) not nearly as many opportunities for visiting other departments, and (iii) there are certain aspects of US life that terrify many non-US folk: gun laws and the healthcare system (or lack thereof) being the obvious ones.

More generally, my own advice is to take a close look at your prospective colleagues (as best you can), since they really can make or break your working life. Do they seem like decent people, do your research interests overlap, is there a supportive and interactive culture?

Good luck--and well done!

Anon UK Grad

While I was a grad student at a UK university, the grade cross checking (which we called auditing) worked like this:

(1) Marks (which is what papers get, as opposed to grades which are given as final evaluations for an entire course) are given to papers by either the grad student tutors for a course, or for the faculty member who is the primary instructor;

(1a) Marks come in the following range (there's some variation across universities in the titles): failure with no right to resit, failure with right to resit, bare pass (or a 3rd), lower 2nd, higher 2nd, 1st.

(2) Once the initial marks are in, they are given along with the papers to another faculty member to audit.

(3) The auditor is then responsible for reading each paper that scores any of the failure marks, a 1st, and then 10% of the rest. They can either agree with the original mark, or change it based on their own evaluation of the work.

Hope that's a helpful description. Since I was only ever responsible for the initial marking, I can't say how much work is involved in being the auditor. However, I think it can be rather substantial depending on the enrollment in the course (at my former institution that could range from low triple digits for lower division courses, to 20 - 30 for upper division courses).

Bram Vaassen

I have no personal experience, but I remember reading this:

https://www.philosophyetc.net/2019/12/comparing-us-vs-uk-academia.html#more

By Richard Yetter Chapel who worked in both UK and US

concerned about UK or US

Thanks very much, everyone, for your advice and comments. I'll talk to some faculty members in both departments to be more clear and informed about the various relevant dimesnions mentioned here (specially in terms of service and teaching requirements) before my decision making. Putting salary aside, I love to work in less stressful environments which for me is essential for philosopgical flourishing.

I also really appreciate if I can hear your thoughts about the progression to academic promotion. Is for instance getting promoted to a senior lecturer more difficult than getting promoted to an associate professor?

concerned about UK or US

Also, any tips or suggestions for negotiating with UK universities for the salary level?

RJM

Promotion very much depends on the University (not, I think, the department, though obviously support, or lack thereof, from the Head is important!). If you feel comfortable approaching someone at the dept to ask about this, that would be the best way of getting the information you want.

One thing that hasn't (as far as I can see) been mentioned above is that, unless this UK institution is doing something entirely new and I'm out of the loop, "tenure track" isn't a thing in the UK. If you are hired at the Lecturer level then this is to all intents and purposes a permanent post with a level of job security that just doesn't exist in most other fields in the UK. There is a probation period, but the way the job market is right now it is hard to see how someone could be hired without already meeting most of the criteria for "passing" probation. Worth considering if stress is an issue.

I agree it can be incredibly frustrating that everything is so standardised and centrally controlled in the UK. But perhaps I might suggest a shift in perspective. Your School or Faculty has all sorts of policies that constrain you, but this also means that you are saved a lot of stressful and time-consuming admin. You just mark student work and let someone else figure out extensions, extension policy, illness and things like that. You can't make up new assessments on the spot, but you can choose from an array of assessments the dept already uses, each of which already comes with a rubric. Because things are so standardised, paperwork is often a matter of copying and pasting bits from other documents. You get the idea...

Lastly, in terms of salary and living standards it is important to realise that even though it is small compared to the US living costs vary hugely across the UK. Broadly speaking, if this place is in the South of England you will really struggle (and if in London or Oxford/Cambridge give up all hope) whereas if it is in the North of England you will be ok (and in some parts of the North you will be more than ok). Scotland's 2 best universities (Edinburgh and St Andrews) are in expensive places (St Andrews more so than Edinburgh) but there are lots of cheaper options nearby.

RJM

Also, and to emphasise something said above, the NHS isn’t perfect but if you have any sort of complex healthcare needs everything you need will be provided *for free*. I personally would never and could never work in the US for this reason alone (well, unless someone can double my salary or something).

Stayed stateside

Re: negotiating, I had offers from US and UK institutions. Since the initial offer from the US was higher, it seemed easy enough to get the UK university to raise the salary to the top bracket for a level 9 (I think) position. That was still a bit lower than the American offer. While that would start you off with a higher salary, that means there is no room for salary increase until to advance to senior lecturer (obviously worth it). I think that was what happened (ended up taking the American position for personal reasons, so I don't remember all the specifics on the UK side).

Stranger

And the last question is about spouse hire. As a lecturer, is it common for a UK university to accommodate any kind of spouse hire? What are the options to make an academic spouse’s move appealing? (Postdoc opportunities? short-term lecturerships?) Any advice?

RJM

My understanding is that the best you can hope for is what happened to Stayed Stateside: try to negotiate being placed in the top bracket for the level you are being hired at. (Sometimes the position is advertised at 2 possible levels, in which case you could try to negotiate for the higher level too).

As far as I am aware, spousal hires in the US sense just aren't possible. It is course possible that a dept might hire a couple, but that requires there to be two positions in the first place.

Humanati

Regarding the upsides of UK bureaucracy, RJM is right that there's an upside to it: at many institutions, you rarely if ever need to make difficult calls about (e.g.) extensions, mitigating circumstances, and the like--the administrative team does that all for you!

Regarding negotiating salary, the UK has 'grades' or 'levels' (as one person mentions above). Your salary is usually determined by which grade you fall into, and where within that grade you are situated--something that is determined by a specified set of criteria (e.g., the criteria for falling into grade 9 might include such things as your experience in admin roles, PhD supervision experience). So, to make a case for a higher salary, you'd likely need to (a) consult the University's criteria for each grade, and (b) make a case for your falling into that grade based on those criteria.

Regarding spousal hires, I don't want to make any generalisations, but I'll report on my experience. Every single couple that I know of in the UK (I can think of 3 couples off the top of my head) who work at the same philosophy department had to apply for those jobs independently and go through *all* of the usual procedures--i.e., no special treatments or provisions, nothing remotely deserving of the name 'spousal hire' allowed. My general impression is that spousal hires are far less common in UK than US, but I'm prepared to be wrong about that!

Alex Grzankowski

I worked for three years at a US program at an R1/2 (still not really sure where it goes) with a good terminal MA. I have now been in a job in London for just shy of 5 years. I grew up in the US and did my PhD in the US.

I think this is a tough a decision and there are pros and cons on both sides. Much of what comes below has been said above, but I’ll just share what I think now that I’ve been on both sides of the ocean.

Pay:
My pay wasn’t great starting out in the US but it was probably about typical for the region (Texas), but in general pay in the US is higher than in the UK and the ceilings are higher. Would I have ever been made some counteroffer that ramped up my pay significantly in the US? Doesn’t seem like something to bank on. But I do see academic friends of mine still in the US making more money than I do now. Being in London, I do feel stretched and I benefit a lot from having a partner who has a similar income to me. I felt poor when I was on my own in SE England. My friends outside of London seem more comfortable - many own a home and seem to have a regular grownup life. I think London is worth it, but if you are considering a job outside of the most expensive parts of the UK, the pay rates seem to afford people comfortable lives. In my view houses are small and weird in the UK and I can’t figure out why people here hate nice things like tumble dryers and half and half in their coffee, but you get used to little things like that and it is made up for with good curry.

The pay in the UK is more egalitarian. There are “pay spines” that you can relatively easily look up and it is very clear where you stand and where you will go next. There is a lot less room for negotiating and I’m not aware of people who have the equivalents of the big pay rates that you find at the very top of the food chain in the US (which is why you see people leaving Oxford for USC or whatever). But I think there is something to like in the egalitarianism.

Tenure:
I didn’t find the tenure requirements at my US institution daunting. I’m sure I would have been stressed out leading up to tenure, but I felt solidly on track and not overly worried. My friends who are/were at places with tougher requirements (I’m aware of two universities that write something roughly of the form ‘be a top researcher in your field’ as a tenure requirement) are *extremely* stressed out and not all have gotten tenure and that’s been very disruptive. I’m glad I’ve left that all in the past.

I had a three year probation that seemed more like a formality. I feel very secure and stable in my role. There are risks that government whims could shift funding, that a university could close, and so on, but my institution isn’t in a bad spot or likely to suddenly change dramatically. There are some that are in worse shape (as there are in the US of course) and so it’s worth looking into the stability of the place you are thinking about, but I feel very secure in my job and I feel free to pursue the work I want to pursue.

Proximity to EU:
This is a huge perk. I love being able to go to Paris in two hours or take a short flight to Italy for a long weekend. Having grown up in the US, I don’t know if this will ever stop being novel.

Networks:
The northeast in the US is perhaps a special beast, but in the south I felt somewhat isolated. For the most part, any connections meant a flight and usually this was for something bigger like an APA meeting.

In the UK everything feels close and every region has a number of universities with very good philosophy departments. The community is smaller than the US of course, but this comes with the benefit that lots of people are familiar. I’ve had a lot more speaking invitations than I think I would have had in the US and it’s really nice to have an easy train ride to get to an event or to give a talk or even to just go to something interesting. Kripke was giving a talk in York a few years ago and so I just went for the day. I wouldn’t have done that if it had been a flight from Texas to NY. Moreover, I think it’s nice to work on a train (once in a while). It is also nice to know that there is a really active community of good philosophers relatively nearby. It’s easy to get someone to come give a talk when they can hop on a train and just come in for the day. Train tickets aren’t always cheap, it’s just a much more pleasant way to travel.

Teaching:
The UK wins here. I was on what I think of as a cushy teaching load in the US. I had TA support and a 2-2. It was not a burden but at 3 class meetings a week, 2 classes a term, and 15 weeks in a term, one does spend a good bit of time in the classroom, at office hours, and doing prep for all those classes. In the UK, terms tend to be 10 weeks (shorter still at Ox and Cam, but you do a lot more 1-1 meeting) and classes meet 1x a week for 1 or 1.5 hours. This will sound unbelievable to people in the US and it sort of is. Students simply see a lot less of you. On the other hand, I find they tend to read more on their own than US students since they aren’t being fed quite as much lecture material. Putting pedagogical views aside (I do think they get too little contact here), I don’t know how I ever did 3x2x15! A usual year for me is 3 regular “modules” (classes) and one “extra” like a PhD student work-in-progress seminar. Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on admin roles (more below) and grants, sabbatical, etc, but no doubt there is a lot less than in the US even on a 2-2.

Another big benefit: your students will be full time in philosophy. Again, I’m not sure this is the best way to approach college when you are 18 (I was a lost business major when I started, took a philosophy class, and totally shifted my life for the better so I see value in majors and minors and electives), but you don’t get students with the attitude “how is this even remotely worth learning…quick… get me back to petroleum engineering!’”. And something similar is true in much of society. The UK just seems more appreciative and into the humanities and that makes me feel better about my work. Obviously a lot of people don’t know about philosophy or care about it, but as compared to the US I feel like philosophy is something people often have some familiarity with, philosophical topics pop up on mainstream radio and TV, and people seem to think it is worth studying.

Admin:
This is the dreaded part of the UK that isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but it isn’t good. I presently do undergrad admissions and a few smaller roles like looking after the under grad philosophy club. I look at quite a few applications, hold some interviews, and work with some people in marketing to explain what we are doing as a department. I don’t dislike this work and some of it I do like. I like that our department has a lot of control over who we admit onto our degree. Some of my colleagues have admin roles involving examination or BA/MA course design/management. Most of this kind of work is either done more centrally in the US or, in the case of things like exam chairs and general BA stuff, in the US that would just sort of fall to the professors as they build a syllabus.

There is a corollary to that: you do indeed have less class control. I teach what I want and I make up my own exam questions, essay prompts, and so on, but that is all within a department-wide agreed upon skeleton. It’s not up to me to not have an exam or to assign an extra paper. As a group we agree what various levels will include as far as tests, assignments, and so on. At first I thought this seemed annoying, but in reality it’s fine. I’m lucky to have colleagues who care about teaching, who are good at teaching, and who are open to making changes. I could see how this system could be awful if you really disagreed with colleagues about how to put assessments together. Also awful if you designed some super cool really creative thing that couldn’t be ported. I’m pretty happy teaching within confines I helped design but do miss the free for all I had in the US sometimes. On the other hand, I’m not sure everyone I’ve ever met in philosophy is someone I’d trust with the free for all model...

But back to main admin - I think it comes down to which role or roles you have and how efficient you are. I would ask what the department policies are on workload. I gather from more senior colleagues that in the bad old days workloads were not monitored and younger faculty sometimes got slammed with admin roles that are a huge burden. Presently in my department these loads are balanced and shared and transparent. This is important.

I think that overall my non-research work is about the same as it was in the US on a 2-2. I do more admin stuff but I am in the classroom less. I have plenty of time for research and my institution values that. Most in the UK do as there really are no SLACs.

What’s more annoying than the admin as such is the bureaucracy. This takes up very little overall time, but I feel like I get pestered a lot by the upper admin to fill out all sorts of annoying forms. I really hate forms.

Grants and Ref:
I do feel some pressure to apply for grants but I also want to win a grant so that I can buyout a class or buyout some admin role and get a project going that would include post docs or PhDs. I’ve applied for two things since being here (didn’t get them) and am working on a third. The applications are really boring but there are bodies that give money to the humanities and people do get cool projects going. If you dept pressured you to do a lot of grant applying, that could be a real drag. They really do take a long time.

The REF also seems to depend on department. Some friends of mine feel like their departments are very REF driven and really want you focusing on REF-ables like grants and impact. I feel mostly left alone on this front but that’s a product of luck - my department head believes in protecting us from things that stop us from just getting on with the work we want to be doing rather than checking boxes for the upper admin.

I actually think the REF has some value as well. Universities that might otherwise never really make it into the limelight due to history and prestige (or lack of) can work hard, publish good things, win interesting grants, and be recognised for it. What I don’t like is that universities rely a lot on doing well on the REF for their funding. But day to day I don’t really think about it much. You might ask someone else in the department how they find REF pressures at that institution.

Grading in the UK:
This has been covered by others. The bad sounding bit is overblown I think. I “mark” (grade) the things I assign and a colleague spot-checks and an external person (a philosopher from another university) spot checks the whole department. (That’s another admin role one might have though you get paid by the other university for something like this.) I really don’t mind this at all and see advantages. Compared to other universities, we learned we were being a bit tough a few years ago as a department. I also learned that I tended to be a little tougher than many colleagues. It’s good to get some checks and for students to have consistent expectations (especially since they are only doing philosophy for 3 years with you and your colleagues). I spend time reading essays and exams for students in my colleagues’ classes but again it is more of a spot check. What’s more work is “second marking” when TAs “first mark”. Having TAs to mark things ends up helping a lot less than in the US but the flip side is that often their comments and grades do need tweaking and feedback, so this also serves as a teaching opportunity for PhD students who haven’t been grading for a very long time. I think I spend more time grading here than I used to in the US but not a lot more.

The marking in the UK is blind and I think that is a very good thing.

I think a not good thing (that my department and plenty of others are moving away from) is that all the exams and papers are due at the end of the year. Formerly in my department, a student who took epistemology in the fall wouldn’t be tested on it until May. This isn’t true for me anymore (as a department we decided to stop doing this and I had a say in it) but it is common in the UK and as far as I can tell it’s just a historical hangover. It makes for very little grading all year and then a total slam. I used to just write off May and part of June as marking time. I’m glad we don’t do that anymore. It’s worth asking.

Health:
One the one hand, I really like being somewhere were everyone has good healthcare. I had wrist surgery and I feel like the Dr was very good and when I was done I just went home, no bill or anything. I had two sports related surgeries in the US and dealing with my insurance was a huge pain and really stressful and I ended up paying a lot towards a deductible. On the other hand, I had some annoying repetitive strain emerging and I had to wait 4-5 months to be seen in the UK because this was non urgent and with a specialist. In the US, I would have seen someone within a week or two. And the hospitals and Dr offices in the US are a lot nicer, just superficially speaking. I think I probably personally had better healthcare in the US as someone with good University insurance. But I really like knowing that if I had something major later on, it won’t ruin my life here and I do value being part of a society were everyone has care.

Guns:
This is a Texas thing, but laws concerning open carry and carry on campus were coming into effect as I left. I really like not being around that and being around other people who, buy default, think carrying a gun around is bananas.

Weather:
Not as bad as people in the US think. The SE is pretty nice in fact. And in the summer it is light out until 11pm and I love it. I do miss the warm weather and big blue skies in the southern US. I also miss tacos.

anonUK

Stranger: I think spousal hires are illegal in the UK.

OP: I work in the UK and I have to say that the amount of pressure from the REF and TEF (basically teaching version of the REF which is now a thing) is very real. You may find yourself have to worry about the 'impact' (which has to be concretely measurable, not just something like 'social relevance') of your research. And although you don't have tenure to worry about you will have constant pressure to acquire external funding. Add all this to the comparatively low salary, more opaque promotion pathways, and absolute mess that is brexit and the prospect of a position in a top 30 U.S. faculty seems pretty appealing.

That said it also really depends on where the jobs are in the UK and the U.S. Is the UK job in some dreary wet grim part of the UK? Or is it in a really nice scenic town? Is the U.S. job in the absolute arse end of nowhere? Or is it in a trendy city? What suits your personality and personal situation best?

Nicolas Delon

Regarding healthcare, as unjust and expensive as the healthcare system may be in the US, faculty usually have good benefits, including affordable insurance. It will not be free and you will pay some things out of pocket, but my sense is that we're much more fortunate than the average American in that regard.

Re US vs UK, another factor worth bearing in mind is that, depending where you end up in the US (and there's a much wider range of climates and landscapes and cultures than in the UK), you might end up with nice weather — in the US, that is.

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