Department of History and Philosophy of Science

How to get a job

Making yourself employable

Finding referees

  • You need three referees, often one from outside the Department. Choose your referee carefully. Some write strong references for everyone, and some think they are writing strong references when they aren't. It might be worth having a stable of more referees than you need for any one application, so you can pick appropriate people for different purposes.
  • It's often better to choose a referee who will write a more considered and detailed evaluation of your work rather than someone who will simply rave about your work in general.
  • Make sure you have people reading your work at an early stage. Don't be shy about sending your work around. You must, however, be fair to the people you are asking to read your material. Cultivate a good relationship with them; ensure your fields overlap so that they get something out as well.
  • Approaching the leading person in the field can be a way of acquiring them as a referee, but never go against your supervisor's advice.
  • Regarding the stage at which you should send work to potential referees: this depends on the person; have one 'good chunk' that you can send off.
  • Remember that even well established academics are not immune to flattery!


  • Publish lots. This could be in the form of articles, but also actively seek publishing opportunities - book reviews are an excellent way to begin. Be careful, however, about publishing the same material more than once, or about publishing in conference proceedings. Consider publishing in e.g. a mainstream history or philosophy journal rather than an HPS journal (consult your supervisor on this).
  • Regarding teaching experience: supervising alone is not enough. 'Grow yourself' in other ways: give lots of papers at seminars and external meetings.
  • Get to know how other departments work, and make contacts at them: network!
  • If you are applying to the US, go to US meetings.

Looking for a job

Where to look

  • Apply widely – appreciate there's a 'lottery effect'.
  • People can often miss jobs that would have been perfect for them.
  • Job opportunities are often posted on hps-discussion, but don't assume that they are the only ones on offer.
  • Check a variety of different sources for job listings.
  • Oxford and Cambridge college JRFs are advertised in the Cambridge University Reporter [] and the Oxford University Gazette []. Each college has its own annual cycle for advertising JRFs. Cambridge colleges tend to advertise in late summer and early in Michaelmas. Some Oxford colleges (e.g. Merton) place their ads then too, while some (e.g. Wolfson) start their searches later on. It pays to keep looking.
  • Details of, and application forms for, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships are available from the Academy's website [] or from The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH, telephone 0207 969 5200. Deadline end of February.
  • Other academic institutions offer opportunities for postdoctoral research too. Do shop around. For posts in the UK, register with, and the jobs services run by Education Guardian [] and Times Higher Education [].
  • In the USA: HSS Newsletter, AHA Newsletter, Chronicle of Higher Education, Jobs for Philosophers (published by the APA).

Applying for a job

Referees and applications

  • Read job descriptions carefully: what is required for this post? Tailor your application accordingly. Don't 'spin' but clearly display relevant information.
  • Always inform referees what kind of job you are applying for. This allows them to tailor their letter.
  • Always give referees plenty of time before the deadline.
  • Include an addressed envelope (A4 often preferred; a stamp is not usually necessary). Pencil on the date of the deadline.
  • You must be tough. Be prepared for rejections. You should put in for everything – while keeping your supervisor and referees on your side. Automate the process.
  • Applications are read by a committee, so your referee needs the complete picture - your referee should be able to present you to the committee.
  • Ask your students to provide feedback on your teaching ability directly to your referees so they are able to comment on this part of your suitability for the job.


See the Graduate Training Workshop notes on How to construct a CV.

Cover letters and other application material

  • The cover letter should be one page maximum: one paragraph on research and one on teaching. Run it by your supervisor. Some jobs will require a tripartite detailing of research, teaching, and administrative experience.
  • It's OK to have a template for your letters, but do customise them for jobs you are particularly keen on.
  • In your application, always speak as if your thesis is complete, or will be complete by the time they will need you. You need a commitment regarding thesis submission. Say 'I have undertaken to have my thesis submitted by...' or 'I will have the thesis drafted in full by...'
  • If you are applying for a job overseas, get to understand how their system works. This is especially important: you should be able to indicate courses you are capable of teaching and how you would teach them. If applying outside of the UK, briefly explain what supervisions are.
  • You will feel uncertain when applying for jobs, but don't let this show in your application. Don't use words like 'can't' or 'failed'. Be confident and positive. For example, don't say 'I am unable to take up the position in September'; say 'I am able to take up the position in October'.
  • If applying for a History job, say you're an 'x'-type historian, rather than 'not sure'. Emphasise the advantages of the interdisciplinary approach of HPS – don't try to justify it. This will make it seem problematic.
  • Make the description of your research proposal comparable in length to a PhD summary. You need specificity in your research project. Don't be too specific, however...
  • They may ask you what the 'big book' you would write would be. For a JRF application it is often acceptable to say that you will be spending your first year turning your PhD into a book. You may say you wish to continue with similar material in a broader context. Some shorter jobs may require one solid paper from the work you do for them.
  • A weak JRF application will detail why a research area is fascinating; a strong candidate will provide an argument why a particular thesis or claim is fascinating, and will focus more on the research proposal, and less on narrating the subject matter of the PhD.


  • Organise a practice 'dummy' interview with colleagues, and record it on tape or video – you'll be amazed what bad habits will be revealed! The Careers Service may be able to help with this.
  • Remember these are often very different for JRF and lectureship, and for UK, continental and US applications.
  • Be prepared to give a 5 minute presentation on you, your skills and interests.
  • Think carefully about whether you want to use PowerPoint – this might be inappropriate for a small group, or lead to distracting technical problems. Consider instead providing a handout: this has the additional benefits of giving interviewers something to write on, and something to take away from the meeting.
  • Be prepared for obvious questions.
  • All answers should be a few sentences long, not a few minutes. Try to impress as a communicator when answering questions – your responses will also be used in part to gauge your teaching ability.
  • Suppose that people have seen your work, but don't assume that they are experts. This is especially true for the interdisciplinary panel of Fellowship interviewers.
  • Be polite in interviews: never make one interviewer feel bad in front of others, especially if they ask an uninformed question or similar. Always reply with respect. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification if you don't understand the question, or to summarise a long question before responding. Don't be thrown by rude interviewers.
  • Don't ask about salary. This can wait until you get an offer.
  • They may ask 'do you have any questions?' You should have previously prepared a list of things you would like them to know about you. If any haven't been covered in the interview, use this last question to bring them up.
  • Note that for JRFs, often little is asked about past work – you should be prepared to speak about new areas into which you would like to take your research. Colleges don't want to hire you to do more of the same!
  • Interviewers may ask you if you will take the job if offered. Say a confident 'yes' – but you do have the right to consider whether to accept, of course.
  • If interviewers ask what you think the weaknesses of your work are, be as positive as possible. For example, you can say 'my work does x, y, and z definitively, but on a, b, it might need..' and so on. Present weaknesses as the flip-side of your strengths. For example: 'My work is empirically grounded, but some people might like it to be more theoretical'. In History: 'My work is not devoid of theory but is informed by theory, without reflecting on theory in the work'.
  • Much of Philosophy interviews is performance; fencing with interviewees.
  • Be prepared to think on your feet, and engage in challenging conversations.
  • Many interviewers are looking for 'sparkiness' in candidates: an active engagement with the academic world; intellectual acuity and reactive ability; the potential to be an enterprising member of a departmental team.
  • You might be asked about your ability to attract either students or money to a department: it's worth, therefore, familiarising yourself with the structure of grant-giving bodies, and having some idea of the type of students taught at the institution. Cultivating links with other departments could also provide useful points of comparison or connections for collaborative work in these respects.
  • Importantly, relax: remember, they are asking themselves whether they are going to enjoy having you around.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for feedback from the interview. Don't be disheartened if you don't receive any, but you may get some useful advice for future applications.

JRF and postdoc application procedures

Eleanor Robson

First round: application form, summary of proposed research, references

  • Don't waste time applying for fellowships you are not eligible for.
  • Don't apply to publish your PhD.
  • Do discuss your applications with your supervisor.
  • Do tailor your application and research proposal for the requirements of each institution.
  • Do show that you can finish your proposed work in the given time.
  • Do be honest about any extra funding you may require for travel, etc.
  • Don't lie about anything! People have ways of checking up on you...
  • Do practise filling in the forms with a photocopy: type, word-process, or make sure your handwriting is legible.
  • Do proof-read your application thoroughly: try to make it comprehensible and interesting to an intelligent non-expert. Try it out on a friend.
  • Do ask your referees for permission to use them.
  • Don't ask your referees for too many references: try to spread the load over three or more people.
  • Do meet the application deadlines, and ensure your referees do too.

Second round: two pieces of written work assessed by external expert

  • Do submit finished chapters of your thesis, or articles published or in press.
  • Don't submit unfinished work.
  • Don't submit chapters of a larger work without a purpose-written introduction which explains the background, context, or whatever else is necessary.
  • Do submit work which is relevant to the Fellowship you are applying for.
  • Don't submit work which is longer than required; if you do, then suggest or mark suitable extracts.

Final round (except British Academy): interview

  • Don't panic: think of this as half an hour to talk about your favourite subject to an intelligent, captive audience.
  • Do be prepared to give a 3-5 minute summary of your work (but don't go on for too long!). Explain why your subject is interesting and important.
  • Don't expect your interviewers to know your subject in the depth you do. Take time to explain, without patronising them.
  • Do take along visual aids – photographs, diagrams, text extracts, etc. – to help sell your research proposal.
  • Do remember that your interviewers will be assessing you as a potential colleague. Speak clearly and confidently, make eye-contact, and smile; but don't appear arrogant or over-confident.

Slices from the US philosophical Meat Market

Peter Lipton

These remarks do not aspire to completeness; and while they do aspire to correctness, they may be misleading in parts because of excessive reliance on evidence that is fragmentary or stale, or because of variations in practice. Corrections welcome.

  • Most US philosophy jobs, say 300 a year, are advertised in the October and November issues of Jobs for Philosophers. This is available by post and online to members of the American Philosophical Association (APA): if you are going to go on the market you may want to join.
  • If you are serious about a career in philosophy, you should apply for a lot of these jobs. Don't agonise over each application: just apply to all those whose listed Area of Specialisation (AOS) is in the neighbourhood of yours. (Unlike student applications, at least you don't have to pay to apply for these.)
  • It is worth writing a substantive covering-letter with your application that lays out in say 500 words why you are really a terrific bet on the three fronts of research, teaching and administration. Don't be 'English' about this: blow your own horn. If there is a particular place you are especially keen to go to, and you are appropriately shameless, customise your letter to that place to say why exactly it in particular would be great for you and why you would be great for it.
  • The hiring department will typically generate a long shortlist of 12-15 candidates in the first half of December. These people will be invited for an interview at the Eastern Division APA convention (a.k.a. 'The Meat Market'), which always takes place somewhere on the East Coast between Christmas and New Year. Early in the new year, the department will go down to a short shortlist of perhaps three. Each of these finalists will be invited for at least a full day on campus. The department will not pay for you to get to the APA convention, but they will pay for you to visit the campus.
  • The Eastern Division APA meeting is a zoo, with perhaps 2000 philosophers wandering about, most of them acting as if they have never been in a Hilton hotel before and perhaps never in a lift. There are hundreds of talks you could go to, and acres of publishers' bookstalls, but all this is just a cover for the real business of the interviews.
  • The interviews typically take place in the hotel bedrooms. These are invariably overfilled, since they weren't designed for departmental meetings. You may feel as though you are answering questions while standing in the shower.
  • In the evening there is a 'smoker' (though smoking is no longer allowed) in the Big Hall of the hotel. The Big Schools have their own tables and you are expected to wander around and chat up the departments that are interviewing you. Some of the Big Schools then have heavy drinking sessions back in their hotel suites to see how well you handle scope ambiguities when you are really sloshed. This is unpleasant: if it puts you off, just don't participate. It's really only the interview that matters.
  • When you make it to the final three, you will spend a day on campus, a different day from each of the other finalists. (So don't be surprised if the department tells you that you won't have a decision for a month: maybe you are the first of the three.) You will give at least one talk, maybe two (a research seminar and an undergraduate lecture); you will meet every member of the department individually and many of them collectively; you will meet at least one administrator; you will meet students. In my view all this is a good thing, since it is difficult to remain paralytically nervous for the whole day.

Getting a US history of science job

Jim Endersby

Many of the points Peter Lipton makes about applying for philosophy jobs in the US, also apply to history jobs, especially the importance of applying for lots of jobs and being as un-English and self-promoting as you can bear to be.

However, by contrast with philosophy jobs, History of Science hires are a little more informal. They can be advertised at almost anytime of year: the History of Science Society (HSS) website ( is the best place to look. Some preliminary interviews do take place at the HSS's annual meeting in November, but these are relatively rare. The HSS is much more important as a place to see and be seen: if you're interested in working in the US, try to attend this and other American conferences as regularly as possible. Present a paper whenever you have something of sufficient quality. Introduce yourself to people with similar interests to yours, but be sensible about choosing a good moment; don't interrupt one of your heroes while they are deep in conversation with their publisher. Also, try to have a specific question or comment with which to start the conversation ('I was fascinated by what you wrote recently in this journal and wondered if I could ask you to tell me a bit more about it'). Assume they are not interested in your work unless and until they ask you about it. Also, ask your supervisor to help you with introductions – in person if they are at the conference, but if they aren't but there's a significant person in your field who your supervisor knows, check that they are happy for you to approach Professor X and say, 'hello, I'm a student of your friend, Professor Y'. If you're anything like me, none of this will come easily, because it feels too pushy – but do it! Nothing helps your application to stand out from the pile of other CVs like a little first-hand knowledge.

I would strongly re-iterate Peter's point about a covering letter. A short, self-effacing letter is disastrous, but don't ramble on for five or six pages. Two or three pages of A4 should be enough, supported by a substantial CV. And don't forget to use your letter to draw the reader's attention to salient points in your CV ('as you will see from the accompanying CV, I have published extensively on...', etc).

Because the HSS is not a meat market like the APA, the short-lists for US jobs tend to be longer. The first step will usually be an invitation to send a writing sample, followed by a campus visit for as many as 6 candidates. These visits can be scheduled over several weeks, so – as with the philosophy jobs – the delay between interview and outcome can be long (and immensely frustrating).

The format of campus visits is similar to that for philosophy jobs and, as Peter says, there are benefits to the long, drawn-out format, not the least of which is that if you don't give the best possible answer to a question in a one-on-one interview, you will have several further opportunities to improve, so the interviews don't have the 'sudden death' feel of a typical British interview.

If you are rejected

  • Do allow yourself to be upset, but not for more than a few days.
  • Do approach one of your interviewers (via your supervisor if appropriate) to find out if and how you could have done better.
  • Do thank your referees and inform them of the outcome.
  • Do allow the institution a month or so to return your written work.
  • Don't stop applying for other fellowships!

If you are accepted

  • Do write a formal letter of acceptance to your institution.
  • Do thank your referees and inform them of the outcome.