History within the Academy: Ask the Experts

Q & A session hosted by History Lab Plus and Royal Historical Society. Lots of useful information about the REF, open access, publishing, teaching and grant applications. Here’s what I wrote down.

What do employers look for?

  • Good researchers and teachers.
  • Conviction/confidence based on exciting research.
  • Trajectory beyond the thesis – will always have something to say
  • Enthusiasm – an engaging teacher
  • Can convince others that history is interesting

REF – only applies to you once you’ve entered the profession, which means your first research (not teaching-only) post

Post-PhD plan

  • Get articles out of your thesis
  • Write a book in 5 years (so you’re ready for the next REF)
  • The book shouldn’t necessarily be your thesis.
  • Aim for journals rather than edited collections.


Employers are looking for research-led teaching.

Classroom experience is a bonus, but you can also demonstrate teaching ability with:

  • Enthusiasm, clarity and good communication skills
  • Evidence that you can think about your audience
  • Ability to grab the attention of an UG audience

If there aren’t teaching opportunities during PhD, you can get experience by:

  • Tutoring with the OU
  • Teaching history to high-school kids (widening access opportunities from the HEA)
  • Email Heads of Department in your field (check the syllabi is relevant for you) for opportunities


  • Quality better than quantity. Your publications will never die, so be careful what you put out there.
  • Look at book series in which your title might fit. Consider RHS publishing as they work closely with young scholars to prepare their first book.
  • If your article’s been with a journal for more than a year, and you’re having trouble getting any information from them, pull it and send it somewhere else (but don’t send it somewhere else without withdrawing it first)
  • Job applications – if you have one good article, and you’re going against somebody later in their career with 3 mediocre articles, then you’re the better candidate.

Grant Applications

  •  Check out the funders. What have they funded in the past? Structure of the panel? (AHRC = peer review; Leverhulme = governing body, inc. Proctor & Gamble managers)
  • Answer the questions
  • Join up the dots – see all sections as a coherent whole (e.g. the budget needs to relate to things already mentioned)
  • Don’t fill a gap, shift a paradigm (but obviously don’t call it that)
  • Give it some welly – show you believe in your project and think it’s important. How is it going to change everything?
  • Get it read – by anybody (but ideally experienced academics). Have as many people as possible look at it, and give them (and you) lots of time. Remember the coherent whole when editing.
  • Keep trying
  • Remember: there are actually a lot of bad applications submitted, so you stand a chance
  • Start small.

In job interviews, you may be asked about your plans for future funding. Think about what schemes fit your project and why. Be realistic – e.g. start with a small grant or network grant to test feasibility of the project. Don’t be misled by the language of job apps, that suggest ambition = giant grants.

Work with institutions to develop projects/grants.

There’s currently an emphasis on interdisciplinarity (this is not the same as multidisciplinarity) – moving between disciplines, rather than just communicating with other disciplines.

How to come up with research projects 

  • Where is my existing work pointing, and which areas am I most interested in?
  • Talk to individuals in that area to find out what the big questions/ways in are.
  • You should come to them with ideas, but they can be vague.
  • Talk to your peers.
  • Get ideas from archive trips.

Open Access

  •  Don’t really need to worry about it.
  • Always go for green (publishers might try to hide this option for you). This comes with embargos. You can put up earlier publications to bypass embargos, but this isn’t recommended.
  • Make sure you sign a CCBYNCND (not just CCBY) – otherwise you are giving permission for your work to be altered and then republished under your name.
  • Keep a record of all your publications and the terms they were published under, to help with the next review. It’s best if historians continue to publish the way they want to publish, and this can be fed back to the powers that be.
  • Any OA policies won’t be retrospective.

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