A career in academia usually means a combination of research, teaching and administration (depending on your post and institution).
You'll need to be self-motivated as much of your work and time will be self-managed and organised. A passion for research and the enjoyment of reading and writing about a specialist topic is also very important. You'll need the ability to write successful bids for funding and disseminate your research through teaching, presenting at conferences and writing journal articles, books and reviews.
To find out more about life in academia visit our Postgraduate Pathways site. If you're a current postgraduate student you can also enrol on the Postgraduate Professional Development canvas course.
To pursue a career in academia you'll need a first or 2:1 degree in a subject that's relevant to what you want to lecture in. You'll also need to have, or be working towards, a relevant PhD along with:
- demonstrable experience of, (or clear potential for) teaching;
- the ability to produce original research for peers;
- early publication of academic work
It is nearly impossible to get a permanent lectureship without having completed a PhD. For advice and information about postgraduate study visit our further study pages.
You don't need a separate teaching qualification to become an academic, although you may be offered the chance to do one while studying for your PhD. Alternatively this may be required during your first year in the lectureship job.
While completing your PhD you may be able to take on teaching duties in the role of a graduate teaching assistant, which will provide good experience. This is usually in the form of seminars or tutorials, but occasionally you'll get the chance to contribute towards lectures as well. You may be asked to mark essays and even help mark exam scripts too. This is where you'll gain the experience needed to get a permanent lectureship after your PhD. Make sure you do as much as possible to build up your skills portfolio and expand your teaching experience. Without this experience you'll find it pretty difficult to secure a teaching job later on.
Your PhD will form the main basis of your research experience. If this is successful, it will go a long way to putting you on to the academic career ladder.
You won't be expected to have published a great deal before finishing your PhD, but once it's completed you need to build up this side of your CV as soon as possible.
Another aspect is being able to communicate your ideas to your peers and colleagues, so giving papers at conferences, workshops and lectures is important too. Employers will want to see that you can disseminate your research and this is one of the best ways of proving that.
University of Birmingham events and workshops
Getting directly relevant experience as an undergraduate is very difficult. One of the best ways to get this is through the University’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme. These are aimed at non-final year students and involves students undertaking full-time research supported by a member of academic staff for a period of five weeks during the summer vacation. Keep an eye out for details of the scheme in 2022.
We often run careers events and workshops specifically for postgraduates or those interested in pursuing a career in academia. Visit the postgraduate events and workshops page to find out more.
Careers Network advertises internships that can help develop your research skills on Careers Connect.
We also offer work experience bursaries for any student in their first, second or penultimate year of study. For more details visit the internship funding pages.
Finding a job
After finishing their PhD it's not uncommon for scholars to work on an hourly paid basis or temporary or part time contracts to make ends meet and gain experience.
Some scholars are fortunate and get a job quickly after finishing their PhD; others spend years in and out of temporary positions.
Your PhD supervisor and colleagues in academia will all be invaluable in passing on job information via word of mouth. This is an important way of learning which institutions are hiring at any one time and especially useful when a department is looking for a temporary member of staff.
The main websites where academic jobs are posted are:
Find out more
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