A PhD is often used as a stepping-stone into the world of academia - here's how you can get started with landing your first academic job
What does an academic job involve?
Tasks vary according to job title, but may include:
- administrative work
- analysing data and preparing reports
- applying for Research Council funding
- marking and assessing work
- presenting work at conferences and seminars
- teaching in lectures and seminars
- writing up research and publishing the findings.
As detailed in our comparing UK universities article, 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 burden on academic staff, with many expected to hit performance targets.
How much do academics earn?
Typical salaries for academic positions include:
- research assistant - £29,000
- postdoctoral researcher - £27,000 to £39,000
- higher education lecturer - £34,000 to £50,000
- senior higher education lecturer - £39,000 to £59,000.
More than half (57%) of full-time academics had an annual salary greater than £46,718 in 2020/21, while just over a fifth (21%) were in the highest salary band of £62,727 or over (Higher Education Statistics Agency).
How do I get an academic job in the UK?
It's difficult to gain a permanent academic job immediately after graduation. The traditional entry point for PhD graduates is as a research assistant or research fellow. However, these roles aren't renowned 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 a temporary contract before being offered a permanent role.
Universities typically advertise academic positions on their websites. If you have a clear idea about where you want to work, try contacting the institution directly. You'll also find academic jobs online at Jobs.ac.uk - Research assistant jobs.
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 notes that successful academics must possess skills in leadership, management, networking, presentation, resilience and time management.
What about academic jobs abroad?
By taking a quick look at the QS World University Rankings 2022, you'll find that the world's highest rated universities are spread far and wide - with the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, China and Japan all featuring in the top 25.
Therefore, if you're interested in working for one of these leading institutions, see our work abroad and study abroad pages to discover what it's like to get a job in a specific country and its higher education provision.
You'll then be able to make a more informed choice when considering the range of academic jobs abroad.
How do I apply for an academic job?
When applying for jobs in academia, 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 future. As with most jobs, it's important to get your application in as early as possible.
An academic CV is essential when looking to apply for roles such as a higher education lecturer or anything that's research based.
You'll therefore need to ensure that your academic achievements plus research interests and any specialist skills are featured on the first page.
While there may be no page limit, keep your CV concise and targeted to the specific requirements of the role. Each section should be in reverse chronological order.
In terms of your writing style, it should be scholarly but still easily comprehensible for those unfamiliar with your field of interest.
Be sure to include information about the outcomes of your research, potential future developments, and any funding you've received, events you've attended, professional memberships you hold and publications you've been in.
Please note, if you're a postgraduate but not looking for an academic career, your CV should follow an alternative layout. You can find out more about this at CVs and cover letters.
Find out more
- Discover what others with a Doctorate go on to do at your PhD, what next?
- Consider a career in teaching.
- Explore PhD study.