Brighton Blog

Back to the splendid Cavalaire Hotel after an exhausting day of lectureships interviews, following on from yesterday’s exhausting day of presentations by the candidates and the subsequent (much less exhausting) dinner with the candidates in the Coach House. It’s such a packed schedule because we’re appointing three lecturers at the same time, so have a bigger group of candidates than at a normal recruitment event. I’m going to go out with an old friend for a relaxing pint and a meal later on, but I thought I’d just put up a quick post before I go out into the chilly seaside air.

The first thing I have to say is that I’ve been completely blown away by the quality of the applicants we have to select from. In fact, watching the succession of excellent presentations and participating in today’s interviews made me wonder how I ever managed to get a permanent job at all. It’s a shame we’re going to have to disappoint some of them, as we clearly can’t appoint them all, but fortunately I’m sure they’ll all have other opportunities in the near future. Not that we’ve made any decisions yet. There’s another bunch of interviews tomorrow and then we’ll be locked in a room in Sussex House until we make a decision. It won’t be easy, but it’s a good problem to have: like a football manager having to pick a team from a very strong squad.

Other than that this trip has been a process of gradually rediscovering Brighton. One thing that has changed for the better since I lived here in the late 80s  is the public transport system. The buses from the City Centre to the University Campus at Falmer are very frequent and quite cheap, only £2 for a single full-price and a lot cheaper if you buy a return or have a season ticket. Cardiff’s buses  are expensive and poorly organized in comparison.

One other thing struck me last night as I walked through town to the Coach House for dinner. Large parts of Brighton try very hard to be quite posh. There are many fancy restaurants and upmarket boutiques all over the place. But however hard they try they can’t quite shake off that slightly seedy image that I think Brighton will always possess, and which makes it such a fun place to live. It’s a bit like how a dirty joke is always funnier when it’s told by someone dressed as a vicar.

13 Responses to “Brighton Blog”

  1. elizawyatt Says:

    A peace-messenger city which we plan to enjoy

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    That seedy image is something to do with the Great British Seaside.

  3. I think £2 is expensive for a single bus ticket. In Cardiff a single costs £1.70 and in Newport a single is £1.60.

    • telescoper Says:

      It depends how far you’re travelling; the Falmer Campus is quite a long way from Brighton so I’m sure mile for mile £2 is quite cheap….

  4. Having lived in Hailsham for some years, with Eastbourne as the Big City, I can tell you that Brighton is definitely the height of sophistication. Also, I grew up in Margate so you can’t tell me about seedy.

    • I stayed at a B&B in Margate once. In fact, it was the one and only time I gave a talk at an RAS meeting, organized by Peter as a matter of fact. I took the train into London—that was expensive.

      “Seedy” does not even approach describing Margate.

  5. “In fact, watching the succession of excellent presentations and participating in today’s interviews made me wonder how I ever managed to get a permanent job at all.”

    Those were the days. At least you realize it. Some folks who got a permanent job back in 1972 or whatever seem to think that anyone who doesn’t get a permanent job today is automatically intellectually inferior.

    “It’s a shame we’re going to have to disappoint some of them, as we clearly can’t appoint them all, but fortunately I’m sure they’ll all have other opportunities in the near future.”

    Opportunities, perhaps, in that they will probably apply elsewhere. But, of course, not everyone who wants to stay on can do so. Not even everyone who is “good enough” in some sense who wants to stay on can do so. On average, each professor will have one student who will go on to become a professor. Considering that the window for appointment is rather short compared to a human lifetime, being in the right place at the right time (and knowing the right people) is probably more important than ability.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Luck, patronage and ability are prerequisites for getting a career in academic research. That is the problem: it should be about ability alone.

      • telescoper Says:

        How do you define “ability”? It’s such a multi-dimensional thing that it’s very difficult to judge who is more able than who…especially when there are so many brilliant folk around.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        By ability I mean the whole array of strengths and qualities that are relevant to the post: the capability to carry out high-quality research, the capability to publish significant research, research leadership, sufficient recent publications to have a strong REF profile, ideas for new projects, the ability to initiate new projects, a relevant deep understanding of a research field and a broader understanding of other fields, organisational skills, the ability to express themselves effectively verbally and in writing including in grant and observing time applications, the judgement to recognise and pursue internationally-significant research instead of the merely interesting, an ability to lead other people, an ability to teach well, an ability to mentor researchers and students, a willingness to support colleagues, a willingness to support broader functions of a research group and university department, a rejection of bullying and of undermining competitors, and many others.

      • True, but this shouldn’t be an excuse to hire someone who is, by whatever criterion one chooses, not as qualified as other applicants. Yes, luck is a factor, but this shouldn’t be an excuse to cover nepotism.

        I think a good system is to have external experts rank the candidates and provide an explanation for the order they choose. Make this information public, or at least to all the applicants. This already happens in some countries. Not perfect, but will keep people from making choices which are, objectively, really bad.

      • Presumably, the selection committee selects on the basis of ability, so it is defined somehow. (Of course, there are the exceptions where other factors play a role, and of course luck and connections can aid one in getting far enough to apply in the first place. The latter is a common misconception: as long as I hire the best applicant, the system works. This would be true only if this is the case for all hires. There is a huge selection effect at work here; only those candidates who haven’t given up hope apply, and not all who have given up hope did so due to lack of ability.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        My feeling is that members of selection committees will usually try their best to find the candidates they feel are most suited to their vacancies. They will look for general academic ability, but other particular factors will also be important. These include how well a candidate will fit in with the research interests of the group, which will quite reasonably favour candidates with certain research interests. There may be a desire, for example, to appoint somebody who has already succeeded in winning research grants over ones who merely have the potential to win grants in the future, which would favour an established academic looking to transfer university or a researcher already some time into a five-year fellowship. There may be more arbitrary factors, such as an idea that finding a young, bright researcher who is seen as upcoming is important.

        Nepotism is always wrong. A related, not so reprehensible, issue is senior academics trying to get postdocs in their own particular field appointed to lectureships to support their own research.

        However, my comment about luck and patronage was directed not at the recruitment stage itself, but instead to the whole of a research career leading up to competing to secure a permanent position. The central problem is that random issues of luck and support in a research career can profoundly affect an individual’s ability to compete for a lectureship, including through the individual’s publications record. My view is that the playing field needs to levelled for postgraduates, postdocs, research fellows and fixed-term lecturers. This includes giving them more freedom to choose research projects and research methods, careers advice, the ability to apply for fellowships, how much time is spent on research versus project support, access to funding to attend conferences, and whether project grants are renewed. I would like to see more freedom and responsibility given to the researchers, rather than having their opportunities determined or limited by actions of established academics. The researchers should be freer to act on their own initiatives and be judged for their own decisions. Far more three-year fellowships instead of research assistantships would be a start.

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