Research and academia

Want to find out more about a career in research and academia? 

Many people start their PhD thinking that they will continue with a career in academia, whereas in fact only a relatively small proportion of PhD graduates end up in long-term academic careers.

Academia is a competitive field, as there are many more doctoral graduates than there are academic jobs. However, that doesn't mean that you have 'no chance' of progressing in academia. Our 'PGR Careers in Academia' Canvas course contains useful information about how to put yourself in the best position.

New insights into a career in research beyond academia! Read our recent article of key takeaways from the recent 'Insights into Research Careers' panel event.

Explore your options

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.

Types of academic jobs

The different names given to academic jobs can be confusing, especially for early-career jobs. In the UK, the academic job titles you will commonly see are:

Research Fellow (sometimes also called Postdoctoral Researcher)

These posts are usually focused on research, though may still expect you to undertake some teaching or supervision of students. These posts are common entry points into an academic career, especially in the sciences. Positions are usually fixed-term, lasting typically between six months to three years. This is because they are often funded by grants that last for a specific duration. It is common for people to take several temporary postdoc research fellowships to build up their academic profile and experience before applying for a more permanent academic role (i.e. a lectureship). Research Fellows tend to spend most of their time undertaking research and disseminating research through publications and conferences. If you are considering applying for postdoc positions, be sure to find out what opportunities a particular postdoc will give you (e.g. will you be given authorship on grants? Will you gain any first-author publications?) and whether this will help you to develop your profile effectively.

Teaching Fellow

This is another common entry-level position in academia, but focuses much more on teaching than research. However, it is common for people who take Teaching Fellowships to continue working on their research in their own time, in order to develop their academic profile to compete for more permanent academic positions like lectureships. Teaching Fellows will often teach on and sometimes lead undergraduate and postgraduate modules and are likely to have some administrative and pastoral duties as well. Teaching Fellowships are usually fixed-term, lasting typically between six months to two years. Teaching experience is key to securing a Teaching Fellowship, and a teaching accreditation like Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) can also help. For more information on gaining this accreditation whilst you are at Birmingham, visit the Beacon Scheme website.

Lecturer (sometimes called Assistant or Associate Professor)

In the UK, lectureship roles are often called 'three-legged' contracts as they often involve three main aspects: teaching responsibilities; undertaking research; and contributing to academic administration (e.g. admissions, recruitment, course leadership etc.). Some lectureships may however have more of a focus on teaching ('Teaching-Focused Lectureship') or on research. It can take many people several years of fixed-term research and/or teaching posts until they are in a position to compete for these longer-term roles. The focus of your work as a lecturer may differ depending on the university you are working at; for example, if you are working at a more teaching-focused institution or a more research-intensive university. It is worth thinking about what type of role, and what type of university, might suit you best.

You can find more information about academic career progression in the 'Essential Guide to Moving Up the Academic Career Ladder' on the website.

Entry routes

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.

The skills required for an academic career

In general, academic institutions will be looking at your ability to produce, manage and publish research, to supervise, and to teach. However, institutions vary in their focus; some are research-led while others concentrate more on teaching. Some have specialisms in particular subject areas. When searching for a position, you should consider what percentage of your time you want to spend on research, teaching and administration.

It would also be a good idea to discuss your plans with your supervisor or other academics, as they will be able to give you advice and information that you may not find elsewhere. Whatever your chosen career path, you should think about developing relevant skills, gaining experience, and gathering evidence as early as possible in your PhD programme.

Training courses to help you develop some of the key skills required for an academic career are available from the University Graduate School.

Hear from graduates in academia

Many of our graduates from University of Birmingham have gone on to pursue careers in academia, read their stories below:  

Fatma Seyma Keskin - Training Hub Postdoctoral Researcher

Manu Sasidharan - Doctoral Researcher in Civil Engineering has a bank of case studies from people working in academic roles

Book an appointment with a Careers Adviser

If you have questions and want to find out more about pursuing a career in academia, have a chat with one of our Careers Advisers. 

Book an appointment through your Careers Connect account. 

Plan your career

If you are ready to start planning a career in academia, have a look below.

Attend an event

'Leading Academics' is a series of events run by the University Graduate School and Careers Network designed to equip you with skills, information and awareness to help you plan an academic career and apply for academic jobs. Take a look at the next Leading Academics events coming up soon.

Careers Network 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.

Tips for academic job hunting

  • Check that a career in academia is a good choice for you. Try to talk to people working in your field in a range of different institutions to get a rounded view. Make sure that you base your decisions on an informed picture of what academic careers entail, and not on your perceptions of what an academic career might be like. In addition, think carefully about what you want from a career and what you want to spend most of your time doing, and be honest with yourself about whether continuing in academia will allow you this.
  • Understand the requirements for academic jobs early on in your PhD and use these as a guide to developing your profile accordingly. Important things to think about are: developing a good publications record; gaining teaching experience; administration experience; gathering knowledge of funding opportunities and evidence of successful funding applications; professional networking to raise your profile; evidence of public engagement and ‘impact’; and showing ability to collaborate and make connections with researchers from other groups or departments.
  • Build up knowledge of the universities and departments where you could work. This means researching which universities, institutions or research centres are working on research and teaching that is relevant to your background and interests. Do what you can to network with relevant people in these institutions and centres to raise your profile before jobs are advertised.
  • Sign up to for alerts when relevant jobs are advertised.
  • Follow departments, labs or institutes in your field of interest on social media; sign up to academic mailing lists relevant to your research interests via academic discussion list portal Jiscmail.

Work experience

Careers Network advertises internships that can help develop your research skills on Careers Connect.


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.

Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme

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.


Bursaries and funding

You may be eligible to apply for work experience bursaries through the University of Birmingham. For more details visit the internship funding pages.

Apply for jobs

If you are ready to apply for jobs in academia, have a look below

Search and apply for jobs in academia

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: 

  • Higher Education jobs – academic and non-academic
  • Find a Postdoc
  • THE Uni Jobs: Higher Education jobs resource from The Times
  • EURAXESS: Postdoc and academic research job listings across Europe
  • Higher Ed Jobs: Job board for university-based jobs in North America
  • Jiscmail is a national academic mailing service in the UK. Use the site's search facility to find out if there are any mailing lists associated with your professional area(s) of interest and sign up to these. They can be a great source of information on job vacancies
  • Postdoc – Contains American postdoc job listings
  • Research Councils UK

Application support

If you are at the stage where you are making applications for academic jobs, we've put together some advice for you on putting together an academic CV and on writing an academic cover letter.

When you have a clear sense of where you want to apply, the final step is getting the most out of your application. Our Employability Advisers are here to help review your application documents.



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