Over the course of this month, staff writer, Domonique Davies, will cover some key topics relating to PhDs and Careers. This mini-series will look to discuss important questions regarding your career planning journey when considering life after the PhD, with an article released each week. A PhD can open many doors after you have completed your degree, but it can sometimes be a challenge to work out what your options are and how to go about securing the right role for you. In order to find your pathway, it might be helpful to take a step back and ask yourself the question – is academia for me? Read on for some pointers to figure it out.
What is academia?
Academia is defined as ‘the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.’ Should you choose to follow the pathway of becoming an academic, you will seek employment in a University to conduct research and teach students. In order to follow this pathway, you will need to complete or hold a PhD in your chosen subject area.
Academic jobs can vary. Some roles may encompass both teaching and research, whereas others can focus on one or the other. If you enjoy teaching more than research, or vice versa, make sure to indicate your preference into your job search. Academic jobs require the ability to move between various projects and commitments, including committee membership, event organising, supervision, department positions, grant and funding applications, and attending conferences. These activities are undertaken alongside teaching and regularly producing high-standard research for publications.
While job titles and roles may vary between institutions and disciplines, and across the world, the career pathway of an academic in the UK can be simplified as:
Reaching the level of Professor may take many years and it’s likely that, as with every career, you will experience high and low moments. As the current academic job market is heavily saturated with applicants, negative experiences tend to be discussed more frequently. However, in order to get a realistic understanding of what academia is like, it’s important to ask others for their positive experiences which will help you make the decision if academia is for you. Below are some starting points listing some of the top reasons why you may choose academia or why you may not feel it is the right path.
Why academia may be for you:
- Research: Undertaking a PhD demonstrates a commitment to researching a specific topic. If you pursue an academic career, you will take your research to higher levels and further your knowledge into your interests.
- Diversity of roles: Where you will be undertaking various projects, each day will being new challenges and situations that will require creative problem solving.
- Travel: Research may take academics across the world to new places, either by attending conferences, giving talks or accessing materials in archives. Travel also gives you the chance to forge connections with other researchers and build your professional network.
- Teaching: Leading seminars, holding lectures and convening modules can be enriching and many academics find that they learn from their students each year. Teaching is rewarding because you are using your knowledge and skills to help students develop their learning.
- Flexibility: Academics have more autonomy around how they spend their time during the working week and can decide how much of their time they will dedicate to various projects.
Why academia may not be right for you:
- Uncertainty: Many roles depend on funding for a specific number of months or years or are offered on a fixed term contract. This means that once the funding period has ended, you may need to look for another role, sometimes in a different institution.
- Balancing multiple projects: Keeping track of lots of different tasks can be difficult and cause stress.
- Competition: Sadly, there are more academics seeking employment and funding than there are places. This results in a number of very talented researchers receiving rejections, or finding it hard to secure a permanent position.
- Hours: Having multiple projects at the same time can mean that you quickly run out of time during your working hours. To combat this, many lecturers work during the evenings and the weekends, which can lead to stress and mental health issues.
- Pay: Due to the nature of long hours and working on multiple projects, it is often raised that the salary given for an academic position does not correlate to the amount of work being undertaken.
Hopefully, this post has provided you with some starting points to consider if academia is the right career pathway for you. One of the most important things to consider when thinking about a career route is how much it may align to your values and interests. This way, you are more likely to end up working in a job that you find rewarding and that you enjoy. Even if you still aren’t sure if academia is the right route for you, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of the sector. When you come to applying to jobs, you’ll have a better understanding of the expectations of the roles available. This leads onto next week’s article, which will look at how your PhD makes you employable, so when it comes to applying to roles, you’ll be in a good position to transfer your PhD skills and experiences into an application.
Domonique Davies is a full-time PhD student in the School of English Literature and Languages at the University of Reading. Her project, part-funded by the Reading Regional Bursary, looks at the relationships between 20th century poetry and the current ecological crisis. She works part-time at the University of Reading Careers Service as a Careers Information and Events Assistant.
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