Work Experience – Mentor – University of Sheffield

Contributor: Charlotte

What?  Mentor for the University of Sheffield

Why did you choose this place? I had worked with younger children and wanted experience working with teenagers.

How did you find the application process? The application process was typical of many jobs. There was an application form and then an interview, the interview was fairly informal involving working in a group which definitely helped my nerves!  Before starting my second year of mentoring I was invited to be a lead mentor responsible for the group of mentors in my assigned school.

What do you do here? I work with young people on both a 1:1 basis and in the classroom to act as a role model and mentor.  I help to raise their achievements and aspirations by targeting subject areas students are having trouble with or by helping them to research careers they’re interested in.  ‘Widening participation’  is another aspect of my role,  whereby groups who are typically underrepresented in Higher Education such as low income or single parent families are encouraged to reach their potential and attend University.

As a mentor I have worked in two very different secondary schools. First was one with a ‘satisfactory’ judgement from OFSTED whilst the second was deemed to be ‘good’.  Seeing such different teaching environments really opened my eyes to how the school which you attend as a child affects your future.

The good things: I have often found the role rewarding when you can provide answers to questions the pupils have struggled to find themselves. Whether these are questions about careers, university, or just tips for handing homework in on time- you can see the impact you’re having on a young person.

Being a linguist, my first school was particularly interesting. Many pupils were new to the country and had a limited understanding of English which proved to be a major barrier to their learning. It showed how knowledge of TESOL could prove useful to those wanting to enter teaching in the UK and not just those wanting to teach abroad.

The bad things: If the children aren’t having a good day or if it’s snowing(!) it can be difficult keeping them on task, I’ve definitely had to learn to be more patient. Also, entering the schools for the first time was daunting but the teachers were all very welcoming so my initial anxieties were quickly forgotten.
Anything else we should know: Despite not wanting to be a teacher when I graduate, the experience has made me want to work in Education or more generally in the public sector. Seeing how you can help improve people’s lives despite only seeing them once a week definitely made me eager to know what you could do with more time! I believe my linguistics degree will put me in good stead for such roles, it has taught me to be more organised and a better communicator. Additionally, what I thought was just an interest in people’s language when beginning my degree; I now see is a wider interest in people’s lives. So I’m thankful to both my Linguistics degree and experiences like mentoring which have helped me to discover the route I want to take after graduation.


Manchester and Salford New Researchers Forum in Linguistics – Careers Panel

Contributor: Claire

Two weekends ago  I attended ‘Manchester and Salford New Researchers Forum in Linguistics’, or, ‘#mancsafil’ as it was known on the social networking communities. I was a little daunted when I arrived as being one of only three graduates, who were not currently on postgraduate study but felt welcomed and accepted by all. The one aspect, apart from the research of course, is the networking and meeting people who are enthusiastic as you about your field.

After not encountering much Linguistics in the past 6 months, since graduating as I am focusing my attention towards Speech and Language Therapy, it was quite lovely to indulge in some of my favourite fields of linguistics, namely phonetics, phonology, sociophonetics and sociolinguistics!

This post  focuses on the outcomes of the Careers panel, consisting of the plenary speakers, all either recently finished their PhD, or in the finishing stages, and with recent teaching positions. Sam Kirkham (Lancaster University), Ingrid Lossius Falkum (Post Doctoral fellow at the University of Oslo), Laurel MacKenzie (University of Manchester), and George Walkden (University of Manchester) all discussed their experiences in job applications, interviews, publications, publishing PhD work, Conferences, Post Docs and Lectureships.

I must reinforce that this post is based on notes written two weeks ago – if I have gotten something wrong, it’s probably due to my bad handwriting and bad note-taking abilities, if anything should be changed or I’ve represented things incorrectly – please contact me!

How to present your PhD and long term future research while applying for jobs

George: Your future research should feed on from your PhD, but not directly

Laurel: There’s always unanswered questions that stem from your research, or others ways you could address your research question.

Sam: You should have a balance between short and long-term research aims, so that you have something concrete that you can achieve in the not so distant future.

Ingrid: Her PhD concentrated on polysemy, and as its such a huge subject, you cannot consider covering it all at once, you should always be looking for the next step.

Laurel: You should have plans for future work. Not for the rest of your life but where you want to go in the next few years. You should look at the broader implications of your study.

Sam: Had lots of ideas throughout PhD -> keep them for future research

Laurel: Keep a research journal and future project ideas.

George: had some insane and some brilliant ideas, he got some other publications out during his PhD because he couldn’t concentrate on one, but they were all related to his PhD somehow.

Laurel: If your PhD is not done while applying, you should have some concrete, just write something, like a chapter or a related topic, in a paper and send it somewhere, so at least you can say that it is under review.


Sam: Completing a PhD would be quicker without any publications, however he made a planned effort to submit a journal article to get a publication out and leave his PhD a little longer. He used his masters as a source for publication.

George: Getting something published takes a long time, he submitted something in the summer of 2010, and it is being published in Summer 2013, you may not hear anything for 6 months to a year.

Ingrid: You need one publication at least in the job market.

Sam: He made an effort not to go to a journal, but to go for  special issue, because it was quicker.

Publishing PhD Work

Laurel: would write working papers, then turn it into a chapter and then turn it into a conference article and then an expanded chapter.

George: Would write two standalone articles and turn them into chapters and then fit it into the grand scheme of the PhD.

Ingrid: Working papers are good – you’re forced to write a paper and then you make it into a chapter.

George: Working papers are not ideal, as they are not recognised everywhere, but you can get your research down and start to get recognised.


Sam: went to too many conferences and submitted a lot of undergraduate and Master’s work, and because it was all so different, people thought that he did different things. It’s not always helpful to resent.

George: If he hadn’t gone to conferences and networked, he wouldn’t have gotten his teaching job. You should ask yourself: what am I getting out of this conference?

Laurel: Her CV has formal and theoretical conferences, but also sociolinguistic conferences, it’s good to cross boundaries.

Sam: agrees with Laurel.

Ingrid: Went to too many conferences, but found it better to go to specialist conferences, because you get much better feedback.

George: Suggests going to LAGB because it gives you a landscape of the job market, and other research, also an excellent place to network and cross discipline.

Job Application Process

Laurel: Each job has different requirements. Regarding statements, you need to sit down, write down everything and then find your theme – the basis of a research statement should have a unifying theme.

Sam: You should have a consistent agenda, who you are and how it relates to your teaching and how you would fit into the university you’re applying to. There should be a coherent and consistent thread.

Ingrid: (regarding her post doctorate research proposal) she wrote different research proposals and contacted the staff, and collaborated together on a unified Research Proposal. It should be inline with staff interests.

Interview Process

Laurel: Used a lot of resources – careers centres etc., did a lot of research, didn’t do a practice interview, but wrote out answers to typical interview questions – LSA tips for job seekers, sample questions.

George: Questions he had: ‘Tell us your main ideas you’ve been researching and how can they be falsified?’, ‘How would you spend a grant?’, if all your work is in one theoretical framework: ‘what other frameworks could you use and how?’

Laurel: You’re asked, ‘Could you teach this’; do researching on funding groups, and what kind of money you could realistically get.

Sam: Was asked to give a teaching demonstration

Ingrid: Research the background of the committee members. Questions about a Research Proposal might be, ‘how would you do this from this point of view’, and it would be the point of view of one of the committee members.

Sam: Be realistic with timescales, such as when asked, ‘when will you finish you PhD’. Think about how you would prepare undergraduate and postgraduate work. What would you teach? Check what is on offer.

There were some questions asked and answers given, but notes on this part are even more wishy-washy!


Graduate Teaching Assistant in Linguistics – Salford University

Contributor: Rebecca

Where? Salford University Linguistics Department

What? Graduate Teaching Assistant in Linguistics. I prepare and facilitate linguistics seminars in pragmatics and syntax for linguistics undergraduates. I do this while I study for my PhD in pragmatics. The university pays fees for GTAs doing a PhD, and pays – in some cases – a generous stipend for living costs to allow you to focus on teaching and on writing your thesis.

Why did you choose this place? I did my undergraduate degree at Salford University, and I had a very supportive and enriching experience there. I decided I’d like to stay on to pay some of that forward to the undergraduates. It’s a supportive and close-knit department that we have at Salford, and I thought it would be nice to learn to be an academic there – which is effectively what being a GTA allows you to do.

How did you find the application process? The application process was fairly straightforward. You just have to write a cover letter and do a PhD proposal, and fill out some forms, and go to an interview. I would say, though, that the point of these GTA positions is that you don’t have to work outside of academia in a fairly mundane and low-level job which is so you can focus on your PhD and learning how to teach in higher education. Therefore you have to have an excellent research proposal with good data and novel ideas because, these days, universities only give funding to original and interesting research. The interview was the hardest part of the process for me as I was very nervous but if you are just yourself and know your proposal inside out, you stand a chance!

What do you do here? I work with our undergraduate students in seminars. My department are very supportive and although they do give me preferred ‘work’ that the students should do in a seminar, I can often come up with my own work, and am always allowed to organise the seminars as I see fit. This means I can design lots of fun teaching interventions. I also do some marking and some exam invigilation and I enjoy helping out with open days so that we can attract even more students to our department. Sometimes, I meet with students for tutorials to discuss their work and offer tips and tricks about how they might improve. I feel that the GTA role is allowing me to train to be what I want to be one day – a lecturer and researcher in linguistics!

The good things? The students! I love working with undergraduates. They have great ideas and can often help you with your own research by talking to you about it from new angles. I also enjoy the ‘supported freedom’ I have in creating my own seminars and teaching materials. Plus, I get to ‘do’ linguistics all day long – what’s not to like?

The bad things? In term time, your teaching and preparation often has to come before your thesis. So excellent time management is essential. But this job is training you for what it’s like to work in academia, so this is realistic – sadly – for higher education these days. Know what you’re getting into.

Anything else we should know? If you think you would like to be a GTA to get money and experience while doing your linguistics PhD, you’ll need to see if your university has a scheme, or google other UK universities that do. For maximum chances of success, make sure your PhD proposal is convincing and well-written, and do be sure to evidence any teaching-related experience in your cover letter.

Volunteering – South Somerset First School – Teaching Assistant

Contributor: Claire

Where? First School in South Somerset

What? Working in classes ranging from Foundation year up to year 4.

Why did you choose this place? Interested in Education but didn’t really want to be a teacher.
How long for? 2 days a week, for two months.

How did you find the application process? Easy, it was my First School, I knew some of the teachers there, and my mum had worked there. I just asked if I could come and do some experience and they said yes!

What do you do here? I worked in each class, predominantly the year three and four class, in a teaching assistant role. The teacher would place me with groups, or an individual and I would aid them with their work. Additionally there was the occasional photocopying and running around, but generally was working with the children. I also took on a stewarding role during sports day too.

The good things: Personally I love working with children, which was great. They also knew I was heading towards speech and language so they showed me some resources they used when recommending students, placed me which students who had difficulties, and even let me sit in on a speech and language appointment.

The bad things: Sometimes it was a bit drastic working with the year threes and fours, and then moving to foundation year.  I also wish I had worked with foundation a little more, as I spent maybe one day in total with them. Knew I didn’t want to be a teacher.

Anything else we should know? It really made me want to be a teaching assistant! Or maybe a SEN, but then I would have to go through the teacher education process.