Notes & Reflections on the Advancing in Academia Course: Do I want to Pursue an Academic Career?

Why go into Academia?

You enjoy research & teaching!! However, different academic jobs might have different proportions of time dedicated to these two. Some may be heavily teaching focused with very little time to do own research or vice versa. Therefore, read and ask before you accept any academic job.

Flexibility and no typical week. You get to do a range of different activities so the job does not gets monotonous.

Collaborations and networks with students, other academics and organisations.

Very rewarding as you get may be part of hugely important research with big impacts. Seeing your research out there making an impact and creating meaningful change.

Research vs Teaching experience

You will need both but which one is more important is dependent on the academic position you are seeking.

If the position is more teaching focused then you will need to demonstrate some experience of teaching through supervising undergrad/masters students, teaching undergrad/masters students or doing practical demonstrating, outreach and public engagements. You do not necessarily need any formal teaching qualifications as you receive training on the job, but its always bonus points if you do have some such as ILTHE, PGCAP, Advanced HE fellowships. They want to see how you will be able to contribute to the teaching programmes, can you think beyond the traditional teaching methods and bring something new to the programme.

All academic positions will require you to show research outputspeer-reviewed articles, books, patents, conferences etc. Demonstration of winning competitive funding is a bonus but not essential. They will consider the strategic fit of your research within the institute and department, how well does your research fit with the themes of the institute, your collaborations, contacts and technical skills.

In general, research outputs are more important than teaching experience for an academic career.

Publications

Publications are the currency of academic life, so they really do impact your academic progression. Publications demonstrate that you are able to see a project through to completion. First author publications are important and you should try to get as many as you can, but, more important is the impact of your publications. You do not necessarily need to publish in major journals like Nature or Lancet etc, what matters are the citations and impact of your publication even if they are in slightly less renowned journals.

Other Academic Activities

Apart from research and teaching, an academic career comes with other activities which you must take part in. Such activities include chairing/attending committees, sitting in exam boards, peer reviewing, marking, supervising, admin, networking, pastoral care, recruiting or inducting staff, promoting your work on social media or blogging etc. Often these activities can take up considerable time so you should be aware of this and have these pre-discussed before taking a job.

Equality

Academia comes with inequalities like most fields, There are inequalities in gender, ethnicity, career stage etc. For example, women scholarly productivity during COVID has decreased significantly compared to men and hence the quality and representative of the research. However, there are definite improvements and progress is still occurring to enable equal opportunities for everyone in academia. The most important thing is to not let this put you off from pursuing an academic career.

Work Life Balance

This can be a big problem in an academic career and it can be because of the flexible nature of this job which may sound surprising. Since academics can bring their work home, your personal life can be affected if you are not careful. Academic is a gruelling career with very busy periods and it can be hard to manage your work and personal life when you have so many activities and deadlines! But, the best thing to do is to be 100% focused when you are at work and then leave your work in the office when you come home. Compartmentalising is a key skill. Have designated time for your family, friends or other commitments such as weekends and evenings. Of course sometimes you may need to work during these times but that should be an exception not the norm!

Reading Job Specifications

When reading a job specification, top tip is to always get in touch with the professor/researcher in lead and ask them about the project (making sure you are not asking anything that is already in the specification). This shows your enthusiasm for the project and professors have said they usually remember these applicants and you really stand out!

Read job specifications carefully as it will contain all the important points employers want you to know. Pay attention to any any specific names mentioned of people or organisations and do some research on them beforehand. Look at what the unique points are for the institution and team.

Check the personal specification carefully and see how you match it, have hard examples ready for each statement they make. For example if they want someone who enjoys teaching then have a clear example of how you have demonstrated this!

Read what is expected from you carefully, are you okay with these expectations and can you fulfil them? If something does not sit right with you then email or call them and discuss this with them. Sometimes there is wiggle room in what they expect in an applicant.

What stands out in an Academic Application?

Always highlight the experiences and skills they have specifically asked for in the job specification. Make sure they can pick out all of the requirements from the personal specification in your CV and cover letter. Make sure your CV and cover letter is specific to the job and not general ones you send to every job.

Publication rates, first author and collaborations. Any funding received. Conferences attended and any awards. They are not really interested in whether you like baking etc unless it directly enhances your ability to do research, but do not focus on these too much.

Breadth of experience- lots of different experiences.

Passion for the project, what you enjoy about, what you can bring to it, how your research and skills fit!

What stands out in an Academic Interview?

Enthusiasm about the project and the team, showing you have done your research around this. Show curiosity about the project and ask questions, make it more like a conversation rather than you just sat there and answering each question they ask you.

Talk about your research and achievements with confidence. Come prepared with everything they have asked for such as presentations etc.

Do not ask questions about holidays and leave etc and do not ask questions for which the answers were in the job specification or on their website.

Final Thoughts

An academic career is a lot of work, if you want progress you need to stand out through publications and research impacts. There can be very busy periods which might affect your personal life but this is something you have to actively work on to keep it balanced and it definitely can be done! If you really enjoy research and teaching then go for an academic career, otherwise if you are not passionate you won’t get far. Networking is key, the more people you know and meet the more you will be known in the academic field and more opportunities you will get. There is also options of going into industry and then you can always come back into academia, so don’t worry about being stuck in one career. You can even apply to jobs outside of your specific health niche as long as you have the correct experiences and skills for the job. Apply to both lectureships and fellowships as you never what might be best for you, don’t be stuck on one route as there are many routes in an academic career. An academic career sounds very exciting but you need to be prepared for the hustle, it can take long to get into a permanent job before which you may need to undertake a few post-docs etc. Overall, it is something I definitely want to pursue!

Author: nafisasnotes

A PhD student sharing my notes and reflections on academia and lifestyle topics! Follow me to get an insight on all things research, academia and lifestyle!

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