An Academic Career

Could I enter academia using my professional experience?

Entry points

The value to academia of your non-academic expertise depends on your field and who you are targeting. Academics in clinical and other health professions are often expected to qualify and practise outside academia before entering an academic career.

For non-health disciplines, these are some of the issues to consider and ways of approaching an academic career:

Some discipline-dependent issues and examples:

Strategies for gaining entry to academia

These are some of the things you should consider which may enhance your chances of directly entering an academic career from a non-academic professional background.

Your qualifications

An undergraduate level qualification is normally a minimum requirement for any academic career. You should also consider getting at least a Masters level qualification before applying for academic roles.

In some fields, a PhD may not be required at least in the early stages of your academic career, particularly for academic teaching roles in regulated professions like law or architecture. However, you may be encouraged to work towards a doctorate alongside teaching commitments, particularly if you wish to progress within academia.

Your teaching experience

Building  up your teaching experience prior to applying for academic posts could help, for example, teaching on part-time or evening classes, contributing guest lectures to university courses, training on professional development programmes for a professional body.

Find the right university

Look for those which have close links with the profession or industry in which you have experience.

Those universities whose degree courses strongly focus on applied knowledge in your field may be particularly interested in you for teaching roles.

For subjects where both research and teaching are intrinsically linked to the non-academic workplace, such as architecture, manufacturing, law and so on, a wide range of universities may be interested in you, including for research roles, although you will need to consider getting a doctoral qualification.

Your contacts

If you have built up any academic collaborations or contacts in your professional life, you may find your reputation with your academic contacts helps to overcome the lack of a conventional academic background. They may also be keen to offer you the chance to complete a PhD or other doctoral level qualification.

Alternatively, your academic contacts may be able to alert you to other academic jobs or groups with an interest in your field.

Regulated (non-health) professions

In a number of professions, particularly those where membership and training (at university level) are highly regulated, such as law, architecture, education, planning and social work, your professional expertise may offer you an accelerated route into academia.

You may be able to enter academia, particularly in a teaching role, based on your professional qualifications and experience alone.

Science and engineering

Although science and engineering are regulated by chartered bodies, chartered membership of your professional body may not be enough to qualify you to work as an academic (unlike law, architecture etc).

In particular, there are many people already qualified to doctoral level in these subjects. In some fields, particularly for 'pure' rather than 'applied' subjects at research intensive universities (for example, Russell Group universities), applicants for academic jobs will normally offer a PhD, research experience and recent academic publications.

If you don’t yet have a doctoral level qualification, your practical experience may still be very attractive to universities if you

  • have excellent industrial research experience, particularly if you are part of an industry-university collaborative partnership, or
  • are interested in more applied subjects, or
  • are interested in institutions who have a strong focus on workplace practice for their students

Business and administration

Professional management experience in business, industry, public or other not-for-profit sector can be a good foundation for entry to academia. Many academics in university business schools have extensive management experience prior to moving into academia.

For some subjects, particularly teaching applied courses, you may be able to enter academia with good experience in business and management, coupled with professional qualifications (and at least a first degree, preferably a masters).

On the other hand, teaching business and management theory or conducting management research is very different from being a good manager, and gaining doctoral level qualifications before, or in the early stages of, an academic career would improve your chances of entry or progression.