Pursuing an Academic Career

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A PhD is often viewed as a stepping stone to a career in higher education. However, academia is not the "easy option", even though it might seem the most obvious route to take. Here you can explore what an academic career means and some of the options open to you.

Academia can be a very challenging and yet ultimately rewarding vocation.  It is unlikely (though not unheard of) that you will gain a permanent lectureship straight after your PhD.  You are more likely to begin with one or more short-term contracts or post docs before obtaining a lecturing post.  These may take the form of research assistant or similar, where you are paid to work on a specific programme of research, or early career or post-doc fellowships, where you have secured funding to develop your own research.

Career Pathways

Academia is a very competitive market and the trend in the last twenty years has been towards short-term research or teaching contracts, rather than permanent posts.  It is important that you think about the pros and cons of a career in academia and carefully consider your motivations for following this career path.

In the UK, many universities have structured their staff according to "Job Family" descriptors.  At Strathclyde academic posts have been defined according to whether they are "Research Only", "Teaching Only" or "Teaching and Research" contracts with grading levels within each.  See HR Directorate: Academic Professional Staff.

Understanding the Higher Education environment

To ensure you are taking part in relevant activities now, make sure you understand how academic work is measured and what policies impact the work of academics, in particular:

How do I decide if academia is right for me?

To explore the reality of an academic career use these resources:

Things to do

  • Talk to academics in your department to find out more about their duties and responsibilities.
  • Network: conferences are good places to meet academics and let them know about your career aspirations.  Jobs.ac.uk gives advice on How to Maximise Opportunities and Boost Your Career Connections  You can also use sites such as academia.edu to connect with academics and share publications.
  • Create an up to date blog to direct academics to.  Visit jobs.ac.uk to read the careers blog.
  • Think about what you can do during your PhD to enhance your employability.  This will vary from discipline to discipline.  To maximise your chances of an academic career consider experience and understanding of publishing, applying for grants, teaching, networking and demonstrating the impact of your research.  See Vitae's advice: Engagement, influence, impact
  • Individual advice: To discuss your options further you can make an appointment with your Faculty Careers Consultant to help you make a balanced decision about your future career goals.

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