An academic career is a popular choice for PhD graduates, because it is often the familiar and easy option – your supervisor gets a pot of extra money and suggests that you might like to stay on as a postdoc. However, the reality is that an academic career can be quite tricky to establish and maintain, with very few permanent posts, and no guarantees of success, even if you do all of the right things.
For that reason, we think it’s worth spending time thinking about academia as an option. Establishing a successful academic career often requires a lot of planning, and always demands a huge investment of your time and energy, particularly at the early stages. What do you need to think about or consider?
Points to consider
Is the academic life for me? There are huge upsides to an academic career – the chance to immerse yourself in a subject, the flexible working patterns, and working with like-minded colleagues – but starting your academic career requires a lot of hard work and risk. Academics often work very long hours; have multiple responsibilities, and have to deal with a lot of uncertainty around short-term contracts and the need to relocate for new work. Ask yourself whether you’re happy to make the early sacrifices when there are no guarantees of long-term gain.
Am I ready to take the initiative? Being an academic is very much like being self-employed; the onus is on you to generate publications, come up with ideas, design modules and undergo training. Your boss is going to be focused on their own career, so it’s up to you to make things happen. Look ahead to see what the different kinds of academic roles require, and make the most of any opportunity to develop those skills, whether that’s writing publications, going to conferences, or supervising students.
Can I get comfortable networking? Most successful academics are good networkers. It’s not just about being good; it’s being seen to be good, and working with the right people. You need to seek out opportunities to put your work out there, through conferences and publications, and to talk to people who can help (supervisors, mentors, colleagues).
Can I think strategically about my job? When looking for academic jobs, it’s tempting to focus solely on what you can offer, but it’s really important to think strategically and ask yourself what you are going to get from each job. Will you be gaining something new from the experience – a new method; the chance to teach; an opportunity to work with a particular person – or will you just be doing more of the same?
How can we help?
The Careers Service works with students and staff on career development and management as well as career choice, so if you’d like to talk about academia as an option, or want some help managing your career path, then come in and see us.