Careers Service Pursuing an academic career

A PhD is often viewed as a stepping stone to a career in higher education. 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 very challenging and yet it's a rewarding vocation. It's unlikely that you'll gain a permanent lectureship straight after your PhD. You're 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 assistants or similar. Here you're paid to work on a specific programme of research. Or it may take the form of an early career or post-doc fellowship. This is where you have secured funding to develop your own research.

Career pathways

Academia is a very competitive market. The trend in the last twenty years has been short-term research or teaching contracts. It's important that you think about the pros and cons of a career in academia. And 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 are 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

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. Find out about their duties and responsibilities.

Network with academics at conferences. 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. Get experience in publishing, applying for grants, teaching, and networking. Demonstrating the impact of your research. See Vitae's advice: Engagement, influence, impact.

To discuss your options further, make an appointment with your Faculty Careers Consultant. They will help you make a balanced decision about your future career goals.