How to Become a University Teaching Fellow or Lecturer in the UK

University teaching roles in the UK

There are two main routes for university teaching in the UK: lectureship and teaching fellowship. If you are trying to get into academia, your starting point is to decide which route will work better for you, considering your previous experience, qualifications and educational background. Below you will find a quick overview of what each type of a role involves, what does a typical day in a week look for Lecturers and Teaching Fellows as well as what are the advantages and disadvantages of both roles.

The life of a University Teaching Fellow

Role description of a University Teaching Fellow

If coaching and teaching students is the main factor attracting you to academia, you will thrive in a Teaching Fellow position which is mostly focused on helping students understand the teaching material thoroughly and with ease. As a Teaching Fellow your focus will be on designing effective learning activities that can really help your students succeed in their degree. You will be praised by your superiors for incorporating into your teaching practice innovative strategies and technologies that keep your students engaged and help them memorise the material. You will be expected to continuously develop your teaching skills and possibly also to present and publish papers based on your teaching practice. If you continue to perform well, you might progress to becoming a Senior Teaching Fellow or even a Head of School.

Typical week of a University Teaching Fellow

The typical week of a teaching fellow might include even up to 6 hours of teaching per day, approximately 3 times a week – although your exact schedule will depend on the needs of the school or the department at your university. You will be delivering lectures and running seminars with students on different subjects within your industry. On the days on which you will have no teaching duties, you will be working on improving your teaching skills by reading the research published by your peers, studying for additional teaching qualifications or even preparing to run your own education study which will be based on your teaching sessions. Once you collect the study results you will also be spending some time writing the study up in the form of a conference presentation and/or a journal paper.

University Teaching Fellow Advantages vs disadvantages

Advantages Disadvantages
You will feel immense satisfaction from seeing your students grow their knowledge and succeed in their degree. You will constantly learn more and more about how to teach better. You will be able to experiment with different teaching strategies and learning activities. You will share your teaching approach with peers at conferences and through journal publications. You might be asked to teach modules outside your expertise which will require additional preparation. You will have to adapt quickly to taking on new teaching duties. You will not be given much opportunity to produce research within your subject expertise. Your performance will depend on the students’ feedback provided in evaluation forms at end of the term.

Is this role for me?

You should pursue working as a Teaching Fellow if you are more interested in the actual passing on of the knowledge to students rather than producing it through research. Although you will no doubt be able to engage in research as a Teaching Fellow, it will relate to education rather than to your specific industry. If you think you will thrive on preparing study materials for students, delivering lectures and mentoring students through one to one sessions, and you are ready to take on an intense teaching workload, then being a Teaching Fellow is the right path for you.

The life of a University Lecturer

Role description of a University Lecturer

Like Teaching Fellows, Lecturers are engaged in both research and teaching duties – although the research part might at times take over. If you are working on a particularly challenging project which demands a lot of time and energy, you might be able to delegate some of your teaching duties to another staff member. Being a Lecturer is all about building expertise in a specific, narrow niche area of your industry. You will be regularly engaging in research in this area and attending conferences to promote your research. You will most probably also be subject to a strict requirement as to the number of publications you will have to produce in every academic year in order to raise your profile, and the profile of your institution. Having great teaching skills is, of course, important for any lecturer. But research outputs will most probably be the main way to evaluate your performance. If you continue to perform well, you might progress to becoming a Senior Lecturer, a Reader and a Professor.

Typical week of a University Lecturer

During a typical week you might be required to teach up to 12 hours of lectures and seminars, and to devote the rest of your time to your industry research. You might be working to a tight deadline on editing your academic paper which was accepted for publication, or asking peers for feedback on your paper. Especially at a higher level in the career ladder you might be managing research assistants or teaching assistants hired by the university to help you cope with your research or teaching workload. You might also be completing a grant application to fund a new research project.

University Lecturer Advantages vs disadvantages

Advantages Disadvantages
You will be at the forefront of knowledge development in your industry. You will become known as the expert in your field. You might be invited to engage in media debates or other projects outside of your university to share your expertise. You will be working under pressure to produce a specific number of journal publications every year. You might find it challenging to juggle between teaching and research duties.

Is this role for me?

You should pursue working as a Lecturer if you have a strong interest in becoming an expert in a particular field of your industry. You will likely be spending an awful lot of time studying that field, so you should be at least enthusiastic about it. Even though Lecturers are required to put in more research time than Teaching Fellows, you will still have to be very good at teaching, including delivering lectures, running seminars as well as preparing and marking assignments and exams.

Qualifications required for university Teaching and Lecturer roles

Some people follow a straight PhD study route to academia, while others end up teaching at a university after some years of working in the industry. In either case, there are certain criteria in terms of qualifications which everyone applying for teaching positions in higher education must meet. Those criteria are a bit different depending on whether you are trying to become a Teaching Fellow or a Lecturer. Below you will find some guidance on the exact qualifications you should hold to be considered for each of those roles.

Qualifications of a University Teaching Fellow

When recruiting Teaching Fellows universities tend to focus a bit more on teaching skills and prior teaching experience than extensive subject/industry expertise. You will of course be required to hold an undergraduate degree in the field which you want to teach. Having a Master’s degree will give you a strong advantage. If you don’t have years of experience of working in the industry, it might even be considered as a basic requirement. Since Teaching Fellows are not typically required to publish works related to their field knowledge, holding a PhD in the field is advantageous but not required. Having said that, if you hold a PhD in the field of education, it will likely move your application to the top of the pile.

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS – TEACHING FELLOW
Undergraduate degree Postgraduate degrees
Compulsory Master’s in field knowledge/education
Advantageous/Compulsory PhD in field knowledge/education
Advantageous PgCert/PgDip in education
On the job study requirement

The difference between the qualifications of a Teaching Fellow and a Lecturer lies also in the type of Master’s degree required. When applying for the position of a Teaching Fellow you could hold a Master’s in your field or a Master’s in education. The second type of Master’s relates to the theory and practice of teaching – typically at a higher education institution. Like any other Master’s, a Master’s in education is a theoretical rather than a practical qualification. This means that it can assure your potential employer of your theoretical knowledge about teaching, but not your actual ability to do it. Despite this, it is an education-related qualification which shows your dedication to working in academia. A Master’s in education can often be studied without the requirement of having to be actively engaged in teaching at the time. For that reason, it is an easily accessible education-related qualification which can give you a head start in applying for Teaching Fellow positions.

Finally, Teaching Fellows are typically required to hold a Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip) in higher education teaching. Both of those qualifications are practice-based teaching qualifications, with the PgCert being considered as part of or a pre-requisite to the PgDip. Because of the practical nature of the PgCert and the PgDip you will not be able to study for those qualifications unless you are actively engaged in teaching. Still, you shouldn’t get discouraged from applying for Teaching Fellow roles listing the PgCert or PgDip as a requirement. Most universities nowadays will happily sponsor your study for those qualifications alongside your work duties, so the lack of a PgCert or a PgDip when applying for Teaching Fellow positions is not a significant weakness. But it will work to your advantage if you mention in your Cover Letter that you are keen to study for the required PgCert/PgDip qualification once you are offered the position.

Qualifications of a University Lecturer

Although having teaching experience and/or teaching qualifications might be advantageous when applying for Lecturer positions, the universities will be focusing more on your field or subject knowledge. In order to be considered for a lecturing position you definitely need to hold an undergraduate degree as well as a Master’s degree in your field. Ideally, your Master’s should be aligned with the specialisation of the lecturing position applied for, to show that you have expertise in the area. For example, if you are applying for a lecturing position in business with a specialisation in entrepreneurship, having a Master’s with a specialisation in business HR strategies might be considered as an advantage. But it will not be as desirable as holding a Master’s in entrepreneurship. While it doesn’t matter if your Master’s was a taught or a research-based degree, you might earn some extra points if your degree was research-based because it shows greater publishing potential.

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS – LECTURER
Undergraduate degree Postgraduate degrees
Compulsory Master’s in field knowledge
Compulsory PhD in field knowledge
Advantageous/Compulsory Publications in field knowledge
Advantageous/Compulsory

Holding a PhD in field knowledge is a compulsory requirement for some lecturing positions in the UK. But this doesn’t mean that you should immediately discard the opportunity to apply for job posts with a “PhD compulsory” label if you don’t yet hold a PhD. If you are currently studying for a PhD and your research area is particularly relevant to the job advertised, you should absolutely apply – especially if you are close to finishing. Your prospective employer might not receive any applications which are as close as yours in terms of expertise, so you still have a chance to be invited for an interview. If you are not currently studying for a PhD but would be prepared to do so, and you have several years of relevant industry experience, then you should still try to apply for a Lecturer position even if it lists holding a PhD as one of the requirements.

The trick is to include in your CV and Cover Letter information about your suggested proposal for a PhD which you are planning to pursue – as long as it is strictly within the specialisation of the lecturing position for which you are applying. While this might be a long shot, the university might appreciate your industry experience and give you a chance to fulfil your potential in academia. In addition, if the position for which you are applying is at a university located in a smaller city, the job applications which the university will receive might be limited, increasing your chances of being invited for an interview. Finally, although having publications on your CV is not exactly considered as a formal qualification, when looking for a new Lecturer most universities will want to assess the publishing potential of the candidates. This means that you will have to have published journal articles in the past or – at the very least – you must be currently working on a few publications. In order to increase your chances of being offered a position you could include in your CV a section called “Publications in progress” and list the titles of 2 to 4 journal articles on which you are currently working.

How to become a University Teaching fellow

In the previous section of this article you learned all about the qualifications needed to be become a teaching fellow in the UK. Whether you are a fresh graduate considering a teaching career in higher education or a professional with years of industry experience trying to get into university teaching, enrolling in a teaching-related Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma or Master’s degree could definitely be one of your first moves. But what else can you do to increase your chances of getting a teaching fellow position at a UK university? Below you will find advice on different extracurricular activities you could pursue in your spare time to put yourself in the best possible position for getting that teaching fellowship role.

Mastering teaching skills

Apart from enrolling in a Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma or Master’s course in university teaching, it would be a great idea for you to start building your teaching profile – especially if you have no prior teaching experience. Your approach here will vary depending on whether you are a fresh graduate or an industry professional. As a working professional, you have a variety of options available to you. For example, you could use your existing connections with academics in your field and ask them to allow you to deliver a guest lecture on an industry topic you are particularly experienced or interested in. Add two or three of those to your CV and you will definitely stand out amongst other candidates with a similar background when applying for teaching fellow positions. If you don’t have any connections with academics, you could simply reach out to your local universities and message a few academics. They will surely be interested in enriching their lectures with the presence of an industry expert! Alternatively, you could also apply for part-time university evening teaching positions or offer to run a few evening classes at your local university for free. While it might cost you some extra time and energy, it will definitely help put your foot in the door and practise your teaching skills at the same time. Now, if you are a fresh graduate, you probably still have strong links with your university. Your lecturers will definitely still remember you, and you might even be currently studying for a Master’s or a PhD degree. The easiest way for you to get teaching experience in higher education will be to reach out to some of your former (or current) lecturers and ask them to deliver a part of their lecture in order to get some teaching experience. If everything goes well, you might even be asked to deliver some paid seminars at your university – so it’s well worth trying!

TEACHING EXPERIENCE OPTIONS
Fresh graduates Industry professionals
Former/current university
(One off lectures/Regular seminar support)
Established university connections
(Guest lectures/Part-time classes)
Local universities
(Guest lectures/Part-time classes)

Joining academic associations

Another thing that universities pay attention to when recruiting new teaching fellows is the “Memberships” section of the CV in which they mention professional and academic bodies, organisations and associations they joined. If you are an industry professional chances are that you are currently already a member of a few professional bodies, so don’t forget to show off your memberships on your CV! But you will also have to start engaging with organisations related to teaching in higher education. Whether you are a fresh graduate or an established industry professional, you should still reach out to local, regional, national and international university teaching organisations to enquire about memberships. Memberships in some of those organisations might be dependent on your affiliation with a specific university, which you might not yet have at this stage. But you might still enquire about any events, conferences or trainings run for independent members or non-members, especially those trying to get into teaching in higher education. Adding an introductory training course, seminar or other event on teaching in higher education to your CV will be a great way to stand out!

MEMBERSHIP OPTIONS
Fresh graduates Industry professionals
Local university teaching bodies
(Membership/events for non-members)
Regional university teaching bodies
(Membership/events for non-members)
National university teaching bodies
(Membership/events for non-members)
International university teaching bodies
(Membership/events for non-members)

Making your way to conferences

As a future teaching fellow you will have to show to your prospective employers your passion for teaching – and it is definitely not an easy task when you have little university teaching experience yourself. Whether you are a fresh graduate or an industry professional, it is a great idea to start attending local, regional, national and perhaps even international conferences on teaching in higher education. Because there is an attendance fee for those types of events, organisers rarely require the attendees to be currently working in higher education. Adding a few education-related conferences to your CV will certainly make your application for a teaching fellow position stand out! It will also help you understand better what university teaching involves and whether it is a career you want to pursue. In addition, if you are currently enrolled in a teaching-related university course, then you could enquire whether your university provides any grants for conference attendance, so that you don’t have to pay the attendance fee out of your own pocket. But even if you end up having to invest in the conference fee yourself – it will definitely pay off when applying for teaching fellow roles. If you are very determined to start a full time career as a teaching fellow and you are currently teaching part-time on an evening university course, you could even design a small study involving a specific teaching technique (e.g. using a particular piece of technology in class) and then present the outcome of the study at a conference. You could then create separate sections in your CV for conferences which you attended (“Recently attended conferences”) and conferences at which you presented (“Conference presentations”). That way, you will impress your potential employer even more with your experience in university teaching!

CONFERENCE OPTIONS
Fresh graduates Industry professionals
Local teaching conferences
(Attendance/presentation)
Regional teaching conferences
(Attendance/presentation)
National teaching conferences
(Attendance/presentation)
International teaching conferences
(Attendance/presentation)

How to become a University Lecturer

In the previous section of this article you learned all about the qualifications needed to be become a lecturer in the UK. Whether you are a fresh graduate considering a lecturing career or a professional with years of industry experience trying to get into lecturing, enrolling in a Master’s and/or a PhD degree will surely be your first move. But what else can you do to increase your chances of getting a lecturing position at a UK university? Below you will find advice on different extracurricular activities you could pursue in your spare time to put yourself in the best possible position for getting that lecturing role.

Getting into publishing

Apart from enrolling in a Master’s course or a PhD program, you will have to start building your publishing profile. Although this might sound a bit rushed, once you start applying for academic roles you will realise that most job applications ask the candidates to include a list of their publications. Although this step is not compulsory, you will give yourself great advantage if you do manage to put your name on some journal articles before applying for lecturing jobs. If you are a fresh graduate, you can easily do that by editing some of your highest rated essays into the format of a journal article and submitting them to the student journal at your university or to independent student journals in your field. Ideally, you would focus on the essays which are close to the area in which you would like to build your expertise. If you are a postgraduate, you should probably use your Master’s essays for this purpose, because they are naturally more likely to be more specialised, and therefore closer to the area of your future expertise. If you are an industry professional and you finished your studies many years ago, you might not have any recent essays that you could convert into journal articles. Neither will you be able to easily justify submitting your article to a “student” journal. Still, you can use your industry title and share your professional expertise on a specific topic in an article which you could attempt to publish in a journal as an industry expert. While your articles will most likely be rejected from top journals with a strong academic profile and recognition, some of the more progressive and/or less popular journals might be interested in publishing them. If you are struggling with accessing the right equipment or facing other challenges with conducting a study in your field, you could simply conduct a literature review on a particular area and report your findings! Just make sure that the literature which you choose for the review will include highly reputable journals. Contributing to professional magazines through short industry updates or opinion pieces might also help you build your publishing profile. Ideally, when applying for a lecturing position you would want to have around 3 to 5 publications to share in your application.

PUBLISHING OPTIONS
Fresh graduates Industry professionals
University student journal
(Essay-to-article editing)
Independent student journals
(Essay-to-article editing)
Low profile academic journals
(Industry study/Literature review)
Professional magazines
(Industry study/Literature review)

Presenting at conferences

Apart from publications, universities looking for new lecturers also pay attention to the external profile which the candidates built in their field – mostly through attending and presenting at conferences. Whether you are a fresh graduate or an industry professional, at the very least you should be able to put on your CV 3 to 5 conferences which you attended as a participant. Those conferences should be relevant to the area in which you want to build your expertise. If you are currently enrolled in a Master’s degree or a PhD you should check if your university offers any grants that could help you with paying the – usually expensive (!) – attendance fees. Otherwise, you will have to pay for those out of your own pocket, but it will surely be worth it once you are offered your dream lecturing position. After you visit a few conferences and you are ready to take your conference game to the next level, you should apply to present at 1 to 2 of the conferences you were planning to attend in the near future. Your presentation should relate to the area in which you want to build your academic expertise. Just like with the writing up of articles for journal submission, you could use your past assignments or your industry knowledge to come up with a concise yet well-defined study, the results of which you could share at the conference. If everything else fails, you could also just resort to conducting a literature review and report your findings during the conference. If you are currently enrolled in a postgraduate course, you could also turn parts of your study into an academic presentation, which you could deliver at external conferences or at an internal conference organised by your university.

CONFERENCE OPTIONS
Fresh graduates Industry professionals
University conferences
(Presentation) External conferences
(Attendance/presentation)
External conferences
(Attendance/presentation)
University conferences (if enrolled)
(Presentation)

Joining academic associations

Another thing that universities pay attention to when recruiting new lecturers is the “Memberships” section of their CV in which they mention professional and academic bodies, organisations and associations in their field. If you are an industry professional chances are that you are currently already a member of a few of those professional bodies, so don’t forget to show off your memberships on your CV! If you have not been very active outside of your workplace in the past, this might be the perfect time to consider joining a few professional associations and start building connections in both industry and academia. If you are currently employed, you might even be able to get your employer to cover the costs of your new memberships! Alternatively, if you are a recent graduate or you are currently studying for a Master’s or a PhD, you should look for academic and professional organisations with student membership options, which usually cost much less than the standard memberships. That way, you will be able to start mingling with academics and professionals in your field (and show it off on your CV!) for a fraction of the cost.

MEMBERSHIP OPTIONS
Fresh graduates Industry professionals
Professional bodies
(Student membership) Academic bodies
(Student membership)
Professional bodies
(Employer/individual membership) Academic bodies
(Employer/individual membership)

Further resources:

Gavin Buckingham, Career advice: how to survive your first year as a lecturer (Times Higher Education, 30 August 2018): https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/career-advice-how-survive-your-first-year-lecturer

Anne Cunningham, Work and Play: A Lecturer’s Life in a New University (Science Mag, 22 February 2002): https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2002/02/work-and-play-lecturers-life-new-university

Fish4Jobs, How to become a lecturer (24 May 2017):
https://www.fish4.co.uk/career-advice/how-to-become-a-lecturer/#:~:text=Get%20qualified%20to%20become%20a%20lecturer%3A&text=You%20will%20need%20to%20have%20a%20bachelor’s%20degree%202.1%20or,become%20a%20full%2Dtime%20lecturer

National Careers Service, How to become a higher education lecturer (2020): https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/higher-education-lecturer#HowToBecome

University of the People, How to Become a University Lecturer: What You Should Know (2020): https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/how-to-become-a-university-lecturer/

University of Reading, Becoming a University Academic (2012): http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/graduateschool/gsg_becomingauniversityacademic.pdf

Hannah Pierce, Life as a Clinical Teaching Fellow (The MSAG, 16 June 2019): https://themsag.com/blogs/life-as-a/life-as-a-clinical-teaching-fellow

University of Reading, Becoming a University Academic (2012): http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/graduateschool/gsg_becomingauniversityacademic.pdf

PROSPECTS, Job profile – higher education lecturer (2020): https://www.prospects.ac.uk/job-profiles/higher-education-lecturer

Guardian Jobs, What is it like to be a university lecturer? (4 January 2019): https://jobs.theguardian.com/article/what-is-it-like-to-be-a-university-lecturer/

Allen Ellenzweig, Learning a Tough Learning Lesson: My Life as NYC Teaching Fellow (Bank Street, 2008): https://educate.bankstreet.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1152&context=occasional-paper-series

Hannah Pierce, Life as a Clinical Teaching Fellow (The MSAG, 16 June 2019): https://themsag.com/blogs/life-as-a/life-as-a-clinical-teaching-fellow

Leeds University Business School, Day in the life of a teaching fellow: Stacey Mottershaw (5 August 2019): https://business.leeds.ac.uk/divisions-management/news/article/326/day-in-the-life-of-a-teaching-fellow-stacey-mottershaw

UCL Researchers, No nine to five job: working as a senior teaching fellow AND in the restaurant business (20 March 2018): https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-researchers/2018/03/20/no-nine-to-five-job-working-as-a-senior-teaching-fellow-and-in-the-restaurant-business/

Dr John Barrow & Dr Steve Tucker, An Evolving Journey – Transitions of the Teaching Fellow: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/staffnet/documents/Symposium_presentation_John_Barrow_PM.pdf

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