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Academic career

Academic career

Academic career

If you are passionate about your subject, like and are good at research, love being within a university and want to share your knowledge with university students, then an academic career may be for you. Some academics focus primarily on teaching, some solely on research: many roles combine both.

If you have the talent and motivation, here are some tips to increase your chances of progressing in academia: 

  • Assess whether you have the motivation, skills, drive and determination to be successful. Academia is one of the most competitive fields of work. It is likely that your career may take the form of a series of short-term contracts because of the way research is funded. You will need to develop resilience to cope with knockbacks along the way.    
  • Get published. Aim for well-recognised journals. You are more likely to succeed initially if you collaborate with someone who has an established reputation and is frequently cited. Ask your senior colleagues about appropriate publications and to explore possible opportunities.
  • Gain teaching, tutoring, mentoring or demonstrating experience.  If teaching is not a requirement of your department you can volunteer. Remember that you will need preparation in addition to contact time, so don't overstretch yourself. 
  • Be involved in bids for research and project funding as this is a high priority for departments. Gain experience of applying for and securing research funding, travel grants and make a case for participation in conferences and events. You could begin by assisting in preparation for a larger bid by your PI (Personal Investigator) or another researcher with a successful track record.
  • Project management skills are important. Projects need to deliver their stated outcomes on time and within budget. Keep a progress log and budget accounts to impress your PI and don’t forget to celebrate successful conclusion of a project so that your achievements are visible.
  • Raise your profile through networking at conferences, specialist professional networks and online networking sites like Academia, Mendeley, and ResearchGate.  LinkedIn is a good way to find people with research interests similar to your own: the Careers Centre runs workshops to help you use social media effectively. 
  • Be proactive in seeking advice from your senior colleagues and alumni (through the Leeds Network). They may have previous experience that could help you and could put your name forward for opportunities. 
  • Participate in quality assessment, eg. the Research Excellence Framework (REF) audit can be useful experience. You could volunteer to help by compiling data required and attending preparatory briefing sessions. 
  • Analyse selection criteria for job profiles similar to ones you would be wanting to apply for in the future. See if there are any gaps in your skills which you could address so that you will be able to meet their standards. Some good job sites are Times Higher Education, Jobs.ac.ukFindAPostDoc and Academic 360
  • Take advantage of the many training and development opportunities for researchers here at the University. Courses on becoming an academic and on applications and interviews for academic posts are promoted within your faculty. 

Find out more

Download our ebook:

Guide to academia ebook A Guide to Academia

The University of Manchester has produced an excellent resource to help you find out what it takes to be a successful academic.

Your may also want to look at:

Vitae: Pursuing an academic career
Jobs.ac.uk: How to develop a portfolio career in academia
Prospects: Your PhD, what next? - Academic jobs
Research Councils UK: Case studies - Careers in research

Advice on job hunting, applications and interviews:

Jobs.ac.uk:  How to apply for an academic job
Vitae: Applying for academic jobs
University of Manchester: Academic career - making applications