An Academic Career

Would moving university help my career?

Time for a change?

It is a big decision to change location but it could be crucial to progressing in your academic career.

In the UK, everywhere is vaguely commutable. At one point we lived in Devon and I commuted from Devon to Manchester. It’s not an ideal lifestyle - you never know where your toothbrush is, let alone your lecture materials and research papers. Your head is not in one place, so you may not be the most productive. At some point, you are going to have give in and move.
Dr Angelia Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics, The University of Manchester

Should you change institution?

It often feels comfortable to stay within an institution with which you are familiar, particularly if it has a good reputation for your discipline. There are many examples of successful 'home grown' academics. However, it can sometimes be more beneficial to move institutions to advance your academic career.

Reasons to move institution

  • It shows your independence as a researcher - you are not just doing more work on your PhD or further work for your very successful professor. You need to prove that you are starting to carve out your own research career, making collaborations and connections and becoming known in your own right as an expert in your research area.
  • It demonstrates your ability to establish yourself in a new academic environment
  • It broadens your network of academic contacts and potential future collaborators
  • It exposes you to different research or teaching techniques (and different administrative regimes).

Tough questions to ask yourself

Realistically, what are my chances of getting a permanent academic job in my current department?

If you are in a highly regarded research department:   

  • Am I one of the best researchers in my field (nationally or internationally, with publications and reputation to prove it) or should I consider other departments where I am more likely to stand out?

If you want to stay in your current department:

  • Are permanent academic posts likely to arise within a reasonable timeframe - is anyone likely to leave in the near future, or is there funding to expand?
  • If so, how likely is the university to recruit at the level for which I could apply?

If changing location is not an option:

  • Could you look at interdisciplinary research in another group? This would link your skills and knowledge with a different area of research so that you are forging your own links and collaborations.

Could you commute?

Where relocation is difficult or impossible due to personal circumstances, don't discount commuting. With the flexibility of academic work, it becomes more feasible for some academics to make quite long journeys to work if it is only for two or three days a week, with the rest of your work being carried out from home. The UK Active Map of Universities and HE Institutions is very helpful for assessing which alternative institutions you could consider.

Dr Sarah Hart regrets that she did not work abroad.

Is it time to change country?

If you look at career profiles of many high-flying academics, they often include periods of time spent working outside their home country - for UK academics, often time in the USA or in other European research universities or institutes.

It may be easier to consider this earlier in your academic career than later, when family commitments intervene. It also means that your international networks are established early.

If you do decide to move to another country for a period of time, how are you going to keep in touch with academics in the country to which you want to return? It is possible to gain excellent experience at a prestigious research institute, but subsequently struggle to find the right level post on returning home, if you have not kept in close contact with those who are likely to be recruiting.

Professor Chris Griffiths relates how his experience of researching in the US helped develop his career.

Academic careers resources by country

  • Academic careers by country - The European University Institute has an excellent website comparing academic careers in almost forty countries across Europe and beyond.
  • Academic career maps in Europe - The League of Research Universities visual representation of academic career pathways for a number of European countries.

European research opportunities

The EU-funded Marie Curie initiatives encourage mobility of researchers across Europe with a wide range of individual research opportunities and networks. One of the key criteria for a Marie Curie funded post is that you must be carrying out research in a European country outside own home country

Opportunities in the USA

There are many scholarship and fellowship schemes for the best researchers from across the world to undertake research and teaching in the USA. Many of these are specific to individual disciplines. However, these are scholarships and fellowships which are open to a range of disciplines: