Planning an academic career

If you are interested in having an academic career then some strategic planning during your PhD will help to give you the strongest possible chance of success.

Here are some ideas of what you should consider.

Where do I want to work?

The academic job market is competitive so it helps to give you a strong chance of getting a job if you are geographically fairly open. For example, someone who would be interested in working anywhere in the UK is going to find more opportunities than someone who will only consider working in London. If you are restricted geographically you should think about the number of institutions/departments that would be open to you in that area and how often vacancies are likely to arise that would be suitable for you to apply for. If the number is small you may want to rethink your openness to working in other places or consider careers outside academia as well.

If you are looking at an academic career in a different country to where you are doing your PhD, you should pay special attention to building up your networks and understanding of how the academic system works in that country. To help you network you could attend conferences in that country or have a period as a visiting student in a university there. You should also try to keep up to date with news in the academic sector in that country. We have some guidance on planning for a US academic career.

Research

Research productivity and quality is important for making you competitive on the academic job market. Each discipline has its own way of disseminating research and measures of quality. It is important to develop an understanding of these for your own discipline during your PhD. Your supervisors, mentors and contacts will be good sources of information on this.

Not all publications are equal! There are many ways to publish work including books/monographs, book chapters, journal articles, blog posts, news articles etc. If your discipline measures academic quality in peer-reviewed journal articles then it is better to focus on these than spend the time on producing lots of e.g. blog posts instead. If you have your journal articles sorted, then of course having the blog posts as well is great.

You will need to develop a publication strategy to make the most of the work from your PhD. There are different schools of thought on this. Some will advise you to focus on finishing the PhD first and then worry about publishing later. Others will advise you to get on with publishing as soon as possible. Seek advice, preferably from a number of sources, before you take your decision. There is no doubt that having something already accepted for publication will enhance your chances on the academic job market, although in some disciplines this is not feasible.

As well as producing research outputs such as publications, you will need to be networking and establishing a profile within your discipline. This is most commonly done by attending conferences. When you attend conferences, don’t be shy, talk to people and make connections. It’s a good idea before you go to a conference to look at who will be attending and pick out people you are most interested in speaking to. They could be people whose research links with yours or people who work in an institution you might like to work in one day, for example. A strategy that can work well, especially for large conferences, is to email people before the conference to introduce yourself.

Conference Alerts is a comprehensive directory of academic conferences which you can filter by subject or location. We have also listed some of the major international student and academic conferences below.

Academic conferences for international students

Another way to meet people is to get involved with networks such as h-net or the Social Science Research Network.

As you start to get towards the end of your PhD, start thinking about where you want to take your research after the PhD. Try to develop research ideas and plans for projects you would like to in the future. These need to be more than just a routine extension of your PhD and be worthwhile in their own right.

Teaching

See our information and advice on getting teaching experience.

Administration

After research and teaching, the third classical component of an academic career is administration. What is administration? Typically in an academic context this refers to the responsibilities academic members of staff take on within their department. These include things like committee work, organising seminars etc.

You won’t be expected to have a lot of this type of experience at the point of graduating from a PhD, but it is nice to have something that indicates you have the capacity to contribute to a department in this way. It could be representing students on the Research Students Consultative Forum or another committee, taking on some responsibility related to your discipline such as organising a conference, or taking on a responsible role in a student society.

By itself administrative experience won’t get you an academic job and so it is important that you don’t spend too much time on it. Just enough to show that you are willing and able to do it.

Links to external sites

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