Working in Sociology and Policy at Aston University

We are recruiting a 12 month 0.6 Teaching Associate post in social and public policy in the Sociology and Policy Group at Aston University to cover a period of absence for a member of staff. This blog is intended to provide informal information and advice to prospective applicants regarding what we do, who we are and the sorts of things we hope our new colleagues will be able to add to our department.

First, a bit about the staff group in Sociology and Policy. We are a medium-sized sociology and policy group, and we have expanded rapidly in the past 5 years. We now have 16 academic members of staff, plus one member of academic staff currently on parliamentary leave of absence after she was elected as an MEP. Of this staff group 9 are females and 8 are males. Of the promoted staff – senior lecturer and above – 3 are females and 4 are males. Both professors are male. Twelve of us can be described as white European. We would welcome greater diversity in our staff group, including the representation of staff with disabilities and we will provide support and reasonable adjustments as needed. Aston is a “two ticks” employer, which means that it has committed to offer an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for a vacancy.

Most of the staff group are relatively new to Aston University; in fact, only two have been at Aston for longer than 4 years. So, while sociology and policy has a long and distinguished presence at Aston University, it feels that we are creating something new and exciting. A number of us live either in Birmingham or within easy commuting distance of Aston. Some staff do live further away but tend to find overnight accommodation close to the University for two or three nights a week to ease the strain of commuting long distances. A number of staff have young families or other caring responsibilities.

Second, a bit about our students. Our student body has grown rapidly over the past 6 years and we now have a sizeable body of undergraduate students. These students are very diverse ethnically and socially, with female students in the majority. We are proud of this diversity and we are strong supporters of the University’s widening participation activities and of an inclusive higher education more generally. A large proportion of our students come from the West Midlands, with many others coming from other large cities around the United Kingdom. They are overwhelmingly state educated. We have a small number of non-UK students, including students from outside of the EU. We have a much smaller number of students on our two taught postgraduate programmes and we feel we could do much better here. We also have a small number of research students and we feel we could do better here as well.

Our students are very positive about our programmes and the teaching we provide. We tend to do very well in the National Student Survey in Sociology, and increasingly well in Social Policy, although with room for improvement. Student assessment of individual modules also tends to be very positive and our teaching seems to be valued highly. Although our classes can be large, we still manage to maintain good everyday relations with our students. We would nevertheless like more student involvement in what we do outside of teaching and we have recently begun a series of regular lunchtime ‘conversations’ focused on pressing contemporary issues.

Third, a bit about working here. This is a teaching only appointment, but the successful candidate would join a staff group of active researchers. We research in a variety of fields and our research interests are diverse – take a look at the staff profiles. As a staff group we share a commitment to research that is concerned with matters of (in)equality and social justice, and we have a strong and critical interest in policy, defined in quite broad terms. All of us are interested in the policy or ‘applied’ dimensions to research, and we share an active and growing interest in social research methods and social theory. We are therefore open to applications from candidates working in any field/area so long as its contribution to the above is clear. We are also all committed to developing the Centre for Critical Inquiry into Society and Culture. The Centre provides a focus for our research and allows gives us access to resources to support this, such as those needed for preparing bids for external research funding, or for organising workshops and seminars. We also enjoy the School’s generous study leave entitlement.

We are also committed teachers and routinely seek to improve our practice. We regularly observe each other’s teaching, many of us hold higher education teaching qualifications or are working towards one, and we are beginning to organise staff teaching workshops to help us reflect upon what we do and to disseminate good practice. Several colleagues have won teaching prizes, as did the group as a whole when it won an excellence award from the BSA and Higher Education Academy in 2013. We have taken our students on study trips in the past and would like to do so again in the future.

The successful candidate will be asked to teach a core second year undergraduate social policy module and another public policy module. The latter is open to negotiation, but areas are health policy, environmental policy and policy analysis. In addition, the successful candidate would be asked to contribute to a postgraduate module, entitled Social Policy: Contemporary Themes and Issues. The successful candidate would also be expected to take on a modest administrative role. Teaching will involve a mixture of lectures to large groups, seminars and possibly workshops. We also schedule 4 office hours each week for student consultations, plus time for dissertation supervision and meetings with personal tutees.

If you are interested in applying for our posts, here are some things to consider:

  • This is a teaching only post i.e. there is no time allocated for research;
  • The key documents in shortlisting will be your answers to the questions on the online application form, which will be scored according to how well you meet the criteria, as well as your CV. Make sure you look carefully at the person specification before applying;
  • Remember, we consider our teaching to be very important, so it is worth thinking carefully about how you would ensure Aston students have a challenging and positive learning experience;
  • Shortlisted candidates will be invited to Aston for a combined interview and presentation which will last approximately 45 minutes;
  • During this you will want to show that you can communicate you teaching skills and experience in a clear and succinct way, how you would engage students and colleagues, and how you would see yourself fitting in with our department. Normally the first question will be about why you want to work at Aston and so it would be worth giving serious thought to this in advance.
  • As the timetable for recruitment to this post is tight, candidates are advised that shortlisted candidates will receive very short notice of the interview. The date for interviews of shortlisted candidates will be during the week beginning 5th December.

If you have any questions then please feel free to contact me using the address: k.west@aston.ac.uk . I’m also happy to chat with you further over the telephone or Skype.

Dr Karen West, on behalf of the Aston Sociology and Policy Group (October 2016).

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