Your PhD, what next?: Academic jobs
Find out what an academic job involves, what it takes to get a first post and how you can progress your career...
Roles and responsibilities
The work of an academic typically combines research, teaching, administrative and leadership responsibilities. The balance of time spent on each of these roles will depend on the type of institution and the nature of the post, and will change at different stages of your career, particularly if you take on a leadership role.
Most academic posts include duties such as making applications for funding, attending conferences, building collaborations with other institutions and taking part in knowledge transfer activities with business and industry.
Administrative tasks typically range from the preparation and design of courses, setting examinations and marking, through to attending meetings and involvement in policy decisions.
Supervision and management of fellow researchers and teams is also a key element of an academic's work, particularly as you progress to more senior posts.
Skills and characteristics
- Passion for your research - you will need to be enthusiastic about what you do and instil this passion in everyone that you teach, supervise and communicate with.
- Organisational and time management skills - the academic workload is heavy and varied, requiring you to manage your time and priorities effectively.
- People and networking skills - a key part of your role is to build relationships within your department and research groups, including supervising students and researchers. You will also need to build your network of academic peers nationally and globally.
- Communication skills - as an academic you will be continually writing reports and grant applications, and delivering lectures and presentations.
- Willingness to work long and flexible hours - the academic workload is large and you need to be prepared to put in the hours to get through it all.
- Administrative skills - with the large amount of paperwork, meetings to organise, students' work to mark and grants to write, you will need excellent administrative skills.
- Self-motivation - academics are required to manage their own workload and to take responsibility for their own self-management and motivation.
- Teamworking - you will be frequently asked to contribute to activities that are beyond your own research, but are for the greater good of the department or the university.
Find out more about how you can develop your skills.
For early career researchers, progression to a first post after completion of your PhD varies depending on the discipline area in which you are working.
In the arts and humanities, a PhD may be followed by postdoctoral research and then a lectureship, although in some cases it may be possible to obtain a lectureship after completing a PhD. Once in post, promotion to senior lecturer, reader and professor may follow.
In the sciences, the typical career path requires the completion of two or three postdoctoral research positions, usually followed by an independent research fellowship. Then, subject to a good publications record, you may apply for a lectureship, where promotion to senior lecturer, reader and professor may follow.
Promotion is predominantly based on research performance, with some account taken of teaching and administrative responsibilities. However, if you have a role that is primarily teaching, or research, or knowledge transfer, the emphasis will differ. Institutions will typically have set criteria for academic promotion.
- Postdoctoral researcher: £27,000 - £35,000
- Independent research fellow: £35,000 - £44,000
- Lecturer: £35,000 - £44,000
- Senior lecturer: £45,000 - £53,000
- Reader: £45,000 - £55,000
- Professor: £53,000 plus
Improving your chances
- Publish - you will be judged on your publications record so make sure you publish as much as you can, in the highest quality journals.
- Gain teaching experience - by getting involved with tutorials and lecturing.
- Network - make sure that you know, and have met, the big names and potential collaborators in your field.
- Be passionate about your research - make sure you can say why your research is important and fundable.
- Develop administrative and management skills - take on responsibilities such as managing project students, holding a budget or sitting on university committees.
Get more tips and suggestions at An Academic Career
Finding a job
- the most comprehensive website for academic jobs in the UK.
- Find a PostDoc
- postdoctoral research positions.
- postdoctoral research positions and fellowships.
- Times Higher Education (THE)
- jobs and news in the higher education sector.
- Individual university websites - if you have identified a certain research group at a university, check their own jobs webpage regularly. Try to arrange a visit to the research group.
- Journals relevant to your research area.
- Research Councils UK
- for details of available fellowships. Website includes links to the seven research councils that have details of funding opportunities. Your supervisor may also be a good source of fellowship information.
Networking and using professional, work or educational contacts is a common way to find a job in academia. Being known in your field and letting contacts know that you are looking for a job can put you in a strong position to find out about hidden vacancies and job opportunities before they are advertised.
You will find useful contacts through:
- Your department - many academics circulate information about postdoctoral research positions, fellowships or lectureships to their colleagues at other universities.
- Your supervisor - is likely to put you in touch with their network of contacts and will be aware of grant proposals. Your supervisor may also have contacts outside of academia.
- Your contacts in other universities - keep in touch with contacts you make when attending conferences and collaborating on research projects.
Find out more about how networking can improve your employment opportunities.
Written by Jayne Sharples, University of Birmingham