An Academic Career

Lifestyle as an academic

Kathryn Else describes what she spends her time doing in her current job.

Responsibilities of an adademic

Academics juggle three main areas of responsibility: research, teaching and administration. The exceptions are where, for example, an academic works at a research institute and concentrates wholly on research or when an academic has a teaching-only contract. Yet all academics face a lot of pressure and the job can feel never-ending. 'It never stops and pursues you everywhere, so you must set boundaries for yourself,' advises Senior Lecturer Dr Chris Westrup from the Manchester Business School. 

On a given day, you might have to write a reference for a student; develop teaching materials; read and comment on a PhD dissertation; review a journal article and organise a workshop. Yet, when academics talk about their 'real work', they often mean research. 'You have to carve out time and space to think about writing. You must focus on your own research,' says Dr Angelia Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics.


Professor Jim Miles describes his job.

What do academics like about their job?

  • The variety. 'I greatly enjoy my job. I especially like the variety and variability - there is no typical week and there is a lot of travel involved,' says Lecturer Dr Simon Brocklehurst, Earth Sciences. 
  • Some describe research as so enjoyable that it can be addictive. 
  • Many academics relish the flexibility and freedom to work independently. 'The work of an academic is highly individualised. Therefore, you have to work in that way - get on with it - as no one will be telling you to do what to do.' Dr Chris Westrup from the Manchester Business School.
  • They also find satisfaction in working with students and seeing them develop. 
  • 'Teaching keeps me refreshed and is challenging. I also enjoy getting to know new groups of people,' Reza Vahid Roudsari, Dental Clinical Teaching Fellow.
  • 'The most enjoyable part of the job is seeing the students succeed... It is rewarding to take something complicated and make it accessible regardless of their background.' Dr Angelia Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics.

Dr Anna Zimdars talks about the need to be geographically mobile in academia and how this has led to her living across the country from her boyfriend.

Any negatives to being an academic?

  • The paucity of jobs can mean relocation or commuting long distances.
  • The extensive use of temporary contracts can lead to lack of financial security.
  • Shrinking funding sources - especially in the current climate - is worrying. "In terms of research, there are [also] constant pressures to look for funding - which can feel like running on treadmill." Dr Chris Westrup from the Manchester Business School.
  • Some academics cite the pressure of knowing that you are being judged all the time. "Have a thick skin - proposals do get rejected and papers submitted to journals come back with reviewer comments that you might not agree with." Dr Simon Brocklehurst, Earth Sciences
  • Most academics enjoy having control over their own work. However, it can have a downside. One academic remarked, "The work of an academic is highly individualised; Therefore, you have to work in that way - get on with it - as no one will be telling you to do what to do. It can be a lonely existence sometimes.  It is also difficult to know that you are being judged all the time."
  • The long hours, which can be especially challenging for academics with small children.

"Striking a work-life balance can be a struggle," Chemistry Professor John Helliwell.

"I conduct my research both in the office and at home but do most of the marking on the weekends at home. I typically work six days per week." Dr Simon Brocklehurst, Earth Sciences.

"Every colleague that I have who has children, waits until the children go to bed and then resumes work. Most colleagues I know either choose to do their emails, or read PhD or undergraduate students’ work in the evenings." Dr Angelia Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics.