A PhD is a solid foundation for progression into an academic career. Here's how you can get started…

What do academic jobs involve?

A day in the life of an academic can be extremely varied. Tasks vary according to job title, but may include:

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

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Universities therefore work in a competitive environment and are under pressure to recruit the best possible staff. In turn, this increases the pressure on academic staff, with many expected to hit performance targets.

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;
  • senior higher education lecturer: more than £56,000.

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).

How do I get an academic job in the UK?

It's difficult to gain a permanent academic job immediately. The traditional entry point for PhD graduates is as a research assistant or research fellow. However, these roles aren't famed for their job security. Short-term contracts are usually offered, lasting from three months to three years. It's not uncommon for a research assistant or fellow to spend years working on temporary contracts before being offered a permanent role.

Universities typically advertise these vacancies on their websites. If you have a clear idea about where you want to work, contact the institution directly. Another source of opportunities is Jobs.ac.uk.

Having previous teaching experience will help your application, and universities often make teaching opportunities available to PhD students. Getting your work and name well-known is an excellent step into an academic career, so try to get articles published in high-quality journals and actively engage with other academics through collaborations and conferences.

The University of Manchester adds that successful academics must possess skills in leadership, management, networking, presentation, resilience and time management.

How do I apply for an academic job?

When applying for this type of job, it's important that your CV showcases your academic experience.

You must also provide clear evidence of your research and a plan of how you wish to develop this in the future. As with most jobs, get your application in as early as possible.

Academic CV

Academic CV example PDF

Academic CVs are focused on educational achievements and are used when applying for lecturing or research-based roles.

Although there's no page limit, it's important to keep your CV concise and targeted to the role's requirements, with each section in reverse chronological order. Your academic achievements, research interests and specialist skills should be placed on the first page. Ensure that your writing style is scholarly but clearly understood to those outside of your field of interest.

Include details of your specialist skills, research outcomes, potential future developments, and any funding or grants that you've received, conferences that you've attended, professional memberships that you've gained and publications that you've been featured in.

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