What about a career in academia?

Jim RealiGraduates, Jim Reali, Postgraduate

It’s a good question, but what does it mean? If you’ve completed your Masters degree, then you might be thinking about a PhD, but if you do decide to pursue that option, where might it lead and what could you be doing in the longer term? Perhaps you see yourself as an Academic Researcher?

Although this is a blog, I’m going to signpost you at this point to another blog (think of it as “blog to blog networking”!) – the www.jobs.ac.uk website published a very interesting blog in 2016 (“Got (or getting) your PhD? Great! But, how likely are you to land an academic job?”), in which the blogger stated, “I had a better chance of dying of cancer than getting a permanent traditional academic post at a UK University i.e. lectureship, in my field of archaeology”. (NB – they do then go on to qualify this with an acknowledgement that there are considerations such as discipline and competition.) That is quite an alarming statement. However, as a careers practitioner, I’m always keen to be realistic and to ensure that, when people make decisions about their career options, these are informed by fact.

So, we’re in 2020 now – what are the prospects looking like for you to go into academia? Well, last year the Guardian identified that “just 3.5% of science PhDs secure permanent academic positions”. The same article also goes on to identify that, “an increase in the research talent base will be vital for the government to deliver on its promised increase in investment in research and development to 2.4% by 2027”; however, it also states that, “one of the challenges is that the vast majority of PhDs want to stay in academia… This is where the tension comes from. Eighty per cent of researchers want to become academics but the reality is it’s a lot less (who do so). In some disciplines, it could be as low as a few per cent.

So, if you do decide to undertake a PhD, then the competition is likely to be tough if you want to become an academic. You might find it helpful to read this article on “Getting an academic job”, from the Prospects website, which covers:

  • What does an academic job involve?
  • How much do academics earn?
  • How do I get an academic job in the UK?
  • How do I apply for an academic job?
  • What should I include on an academic CV?

However, do remember that there are many other roles in a university which may be of interest to you. Aside from being an academic in your own right, there is a wide range of different professional posts – from business development and careers support (yes, we are professionals!), to strategic planning and beyond. Take a look at the range of fields of expertise identified on the www.jobs.ac.uk website to get an idea.

Please do remember as well that careers relating to academia aren’t just limited to universities – you might also want to ask yourself why you are interested in a career in academia – if it’s linked to teaching first and foremost, then perhaps you might also want to broaden your options to consider teaching in schools as well? If you’re keen to pursue a PhD because of the research element, then what about a research career outside of academia? This article from the FindAPhD.com website is quite insightful.

So, what do I need to do next?

So, the key things you need to do now are:

  • Decide what you want to do when you complete your current course – if a PhD is attractive, then begin researching options and get some help from Careers+Placements to draft applications. Also, review your experience – do you have enough? If you decide that a PhD isn’t for you, then undertake some career planning with the assistance of a Careers Consultant, to decide on an appropriate goal.

  • If you plan to undertake a PhD, consider where it will take you. If not academia, then where? Identify some goals to work towards – these will be helpful to refer to when you draft your personal statement.

If you’re not sure what to do or need help deciding, please do contact us!