Moving into academia: how to make your application stand out

Lecturer

Image ©iStock.com/Izabela Habur

Teaching veterinary science and animal care is a fantastic way to nurture your passion for the profession and carry that enthusiasm through to the next generation of veterinary surgeons and nurses.

Many who have been working in practice and industry for several years turn to teaching. However, their reasons for doing so are often varied and dependent on several factors such as: a move away from practice work; a change in hours; the opportunity to teach in a specialist field or simply a change in career direction.

Read our careers advice article, “Lecturing veterinary science: is it right for you?” to find out more about whether a career in veterinary academia is the right path for you to take.

Below, however, you’ll find our advice on how to apply for a job teaching veterinary science, medicine or animal care. We cover what employers look for, the qualifications you need and how to give your application an edge.

When you’re ready to start sending in applications, make sure you take a look at the current academia vacancies on Vet Times Jobs.

Am I qualified enough to be a veterinary lecturer?

The level of qualifications you need to become a lecturer in veterinary medicine will vary depending on the role. As a rule of thumb, however, most universities and colleges will look for individuals who have experience within practice and any required specialist fields.

You’ll also need to be a member of the RCVS, educated to degree level (first class or perhaps upper-second), and sometimes with a relevant postgraduate qualification such as the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice.

In many instances you will also be required to have an appropriate teaching qualification. However, it’s worth doing your research and possibly getting in touch with the employer – they may be willing to fund your teaching qualifications as you work. In most cases you’ll need to study towards a Cert Ed – or Certificate in Education.  

Remember: there are opportunities to teach at all sorts of levels, from diploma to foundation degree and postgraduate courses. If you’re interested in teaching at PhD level, do your research into opportunities. Having close ties with industry is often key here as they may be interested in funding the research studies of students and lecturers alike.

This article in The Guardian is a great to-the-point summary of what it takes to become a university lecturer.

What experience should I highlight in my application?

A lecturer’s job is wide-ranging, with responsibilities including:

  • development and writing of course content
  • presenting lectures
  • planning and conducting tutorials, seminars, workshops and practical teaching activities
  • providing competency based training
  • student support and guidance
  • undertaking research and being a "thought-leader" in the industry or specialist field
  • continuing with CPD hours
  • representing the educational institute at conferences, seminars and exhibitions

The above is just an overview, however, and the responsibilities will vary depending on the role. But it does give you a starting point to see what sort of skills an employer – whether it’s a university or college – will be looking for.

Take each responsibility and compare it with your own experience:

  • Have you ever done any public speaking that could be on par with presenting lectures?
  • In a managerial role did you ever provide new graduates or recruits with some level of mentorship and guidance?
  • Have you dedicated time to networking within the veterinary industry to develop your own professional profile?
  • How have you put your CPD hours to good use over the years?

Also remember that although veterinary lecturers work mainly during term time and regular "office" hours, the research, student support, marking and so on often mean that lecturers work outside of these hours and during term holidays. It’s important to show that you’re willing, and eager, to put in this extra time and effort – it reflects your passion for the industry, something all universities and colleges will want to see.

Tip: To see the kind of responsibilities different employers consider a priority, take a look at current veterinary academia vacancies and scan the job descriptions.

How can I demonstrate the skills required of veterinary lecturers?

Aside from experience that will help with your application, you’ll also need to show some core skills. Although many of these skills will cross over with the soft skills all veterinary professionals require, you may also want to consider how you can demonstrate these qualities too:

  • Enthusiasm: show to the employer you’re enthusiastic about the profession and your specialist area.
  • Confidence: whether this is a confidence in your knowledge, or confidence in public speaking, it will be beneficial when lecturing. Even if you don’t feel confidence is your forte, being able to speak with ease about a topic or answer questions when they’re put to you will be desirable.
  • Approachability: being personable and easy to talk to will help you to support students and guide them through their studies. Many students often look to their lecturers and tutors for career guidance too.
  • Efficiency: there are lots of different responsibilities to juggle as a lecturer – research, seminars, assignments, course preparation, to name a few. You’ll need to be able to work efficiently with great time-management to get everything done to the high standards educational institutes require.
  • Drive: with all of those responsibilities to manage, you’ll also need to demonstrate a determination to be at the top of your field or specialist area.

What could give my job application an edge?

Jobs in veterinary academia can feel few and far between in comparison to the number of jobs available for, say, veterinary surgeons or RVNs. As a result it’s even more important that your job application stands out from the crowd – it’s a competitive field.

One great tip is to make sure you get experience. As this case study with College of Animal Welfare lecturer Gemma MacAlister shows, putting your CPD to good use and getting experience shadowing in a teaching environment, going on relevant courses, and practicing skills such as public speaking can really help your application.

Beyond experience, make sure you continually show passion and enthusiasm for the profession – explain why you feel becoming a lecturer is the right move for your career and be prepared to answer questions such as why you’re moving away from practice life.

Be ready to explain what research you’ve completed – going in-depth into your findings and your motivations for completing the research. Particularly why you’ve chosen to specialise in certain area and what research you see yourself completing in the future. If you’ve had any work published, take examples with you to an interview and reference them in your CV so the employer can take a look.

Hopefully the above tips will help you understand a little more about teaching veterinary medicine. As a final bit of advice, it may be worth planning your career to work towards becoming a lecturer – it is important to build knowledge of practice life or relevant workplaces, and that can take time. Consider putting together a career plan that will help you work towards the necessary qualifications and experience.

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