Skip to main content

Academic careers

A PhD is now essential for entry to most academic careers, but in many cases it's not enough. If you're planning a career in academia you will probably know that it's a very competitive field; there are far more doctoral graduates than there are academic jobs.

Opportunities will depend on your discipline: postdoctoral research positions are more common in science and engineering. Researchers often complete one or more 'postdocs' before they're ready to apply for a permanent lectureship.

In the arts, humanities and social sciences there are fewer research positions. Doctoral graduates will find themselves competing for lectureships early on. It is not unusual for arts and humanities graduates to continue with sessional teaching, post PhD, as this allows them to remain close to their academic networks whilst searching for research or lecturing posts.

Embarking on an academic career

  • you will need to have a real passion for your subject;
  • academic work entails both teaching and research at high level;
  • academic work is flexible, but involves long hours;
  • the academic career path often involves re-location, often to other countries;
  • successful academics plan long-term and gradually build a portfolio of research funding, publications, and teaching achievements;
  • in some science disciplines the path to permanent lectureships involves many years of fixed-term research contracts. Even then, competition for jobs is fierce.

Post doctoral research

  • Post doctoral research is usually seen as a stepping stone to a permanent lectureship. However, in some science disciplines it becomes a career in itself.
  • In the arts and humanities it is more common to teach at the post-doc level while applying for lectureships or fellowships.

Short-term research or teaching contracts allow you to:

  • assess your suitability for an academic career
  • remain close to your subject or move into new areas of research
  • build your publications list and research profile or develop teaching experience
  • develop your research interests and expertise further to make you more attractive to external employers of researchers
  • develop your research to a point where you can set up a spin-off company to exploit your research.

Characteristics:

  • Researchers usually work on a fixed term contract that last from a few months up to about three years. They are usually externally funded by Research Councils, industry or the EU.
  • Researchers work flexible hours with limited teaching or administration but the biggest problem is job insecurity – a direct result of being on a fixed-term contract.

Fellowships

  • Fellowships provide a diverse range of funding and support to enable researchers to build an independent research career. In many cases – but not all – it is the final fixed term contact before applying for a permanent lectureship contract.
  • Eligibility criteria vary and competition can be fierce – start identifying your options early and find out what is required and the closing dates for applications.

Opportunities include:

  • travel grants to establish academic collaborations;
  • industrial partnerships;
  • a route into academia;
  • independent funding to work in a research institute or organisation.

Funding is available from Research Councils, professional organisations, learned societies, charities and independent trusts – identify options available via the Research Support Services website.

Lectureships

Lectureships usually refer to permanent academic contracts to teach and research in a HE institution. In the UK they are not tenured anymore, although in other places they are (the US is one example).

  • Lecturers have a high degree of autonomy but a growing workload.
  • In research-led institutions there is pressure to maintain an active research profile and apply for funding on top of teaching duties.
  • Lecturing positions include an element of administrative duties, and sometimes pastoral care for students.
  • Lectureships offer the possibility of sabbaticals, usually for an academic year, to enable the lecturer to concentrate on their research.

To get a lectureship you will need:

  • Research Student Skills Programme - access information and workshops.
  • Active and successful track record – reputation is important. Raise your profile by networking, conference presentations, outreach and collaboration.
  • Institute of Advanced Study - apply for an IAS Early Career Fellowship at Warwick.

    Related links