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Your PhD, what next?: Academic jobs

A PhD is seen by many as a solid foundation for progression into an academic career. Find out what the next steps are…

What does an academic do?

A typical day in an academic role can be quite varied. Daily tasks will also differ depending on what your job title is, but may include:

  • teaching in lectures and seminars;
  • marking and assessing work;
  • writing up research and publishing the findings;
  • applying for research grants;
  • analysing data and preparing reports;
  • presenting work at conferences and seminars;
  • administrative work.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF), which has replaced the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), is the new system to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Because of assessments such as the REF, institutions are working in a more competitive environment and are under pressure to recruit the best possible staff. In turn, this increases the pressure on the academic staff that are given jobs, and many are set performance targets which they are expected to hit.

How much do academics earn?

Typical salaries for academic positions include:

  • research assistant: £20,000 to £25,000;
  • postdoctoral researcher: £30,000 to £38,000;
  • higher education lecturer: £33,000 to £46,000.

At a senior level, higher education lecturers can expect to earn upwards of £56,000, with some distinguished professors receiving six-figure salaries.

Two in five full-time academics earned between £42,055 and £56,465 in 2012/13. A further fifth earned more than £56,465. (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2014).

In general terms, you can expect to earn more and enjoy a faster career progression if you have a PhD in comparison to lower qualifications. Three years after graduation, 72% of PhD graduates were earning more than £30,000, compared to 56% of Masters graduates and 22% of undergraduates (Vitae, 2013).

How do I get an academic job in the UK?

When pursuing an academic career it is difficult to gain a permanent job immediately after completing a PhD. The traditional route into an academic career for PhD graduates is to start work as either a research assistant or research fellow.

Universities will often make teaching opportunities available to PhD students. Some require you to complete training, which is often provided by the course. This will give you experience and develop your skills and reputation to help you obtain an academic career after graduation.

The University of Manchester highlights five key skills that they feel successful academics must possess, which are:

  • leadership and management;
  • networking;
  • presentation skills;
  • resilience;
  • time management.

It is a good idea to try and get articles published in high-quality journals. Getting your work and name well-known and respected is an excellent way to make steps into an academic career. You can also boost your professional reputation by actively engaging with other academics in collaborative work and conferences.

Research assistant roles are not famed for job security and it is a competitive environment. Short-term contracts are usually offered, which can be anything from three months to three years in length. It is not uncommon for a research assistant or fellow to spend years working on temporary contracts before being offered a permanent role.

Universities will typically advertise these job vacancies on their websites. If you have a clear idea about where you want to work then contact an institution directly and let them know you are interested. Another source of opportunities is - Research Assistant Jobs .

How do I apply for an academic job?

When applying for an academic position it is beneficial to have previous teaching experience, even if it is only minimal. It is also important to provide clear evidence of your research and a plan of how you wish to develop this in the future. As with most jobs, try and get your application in as early as possible.

When applying for this type of job it is also important to produce a CV in a way that showcases your academic experience.


Academic CV

Image: CV academic

Academic CVs are focused on your academic achievements and are used when applying for lecturing or research-based roles, including post-doctoral research. Although there is no page limit, it's important to keep your CV concise and targeted to the requirements of the role.

Your research and academic achievements, research interest and specialist skills should be placed on the first page, if possible. Ensure your writing style is scholarly but clearly understood to those outside your field of interest. Each section should be in reverse chronological order.

Remember to include:

  • your research outcomes and future developments;
  • details of your specialist skills;
  • funding, awarded grants, conferences attended, professional memberships and publications.

See our example of an academic CV.


Get more tips on applying for jobs and preparing for interviews.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
November 2014

Graduate jobs


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