An Academic Career

Strategic focus

Professor Jim Miles explains how thinking about your audience should impact not only on how you present research but also on what research you choose to do in the first place.

Where do you see your research going?

Although academic employers want to see a good research track record, they also want to feel that 'the best is yet to come'.

  • Do you have a clearly thought through strategy for how you see your research and/or teaching developing?
  • What scope is there for establishing and extending your research field, running your own research group or establishing productive collaborations?
You may still be at the early stages of your post-doctoral career, and your next role may still be working on someone else's research project. However, a future academic should have clear views of the value of their research and its potential. You must also be able to articulate this - without putting off a potential Principal Investigator if your next step is another post-doctoral fixed-term research project.

What are your plans for your next post?

Where you have a clear goal in mind (ie an academic career), it can help to think strategically, planning one or two jobs ahead, spotting the gaps in your experience and choosing your next post to fill these. What does your ideal next job look like?

Alternatively, some academics claim they never plan their careers. However, they are able to articulate the direction and potential for their research. They also seem to come across lucky breaks and take opportunities as they present themselves. This approach to your career is generally most effective if you do your groundwork in the early years - develop a network of people who know of your work, maintain your professional reputation, keep alert to opportunities as they occur, and be prepared to aim high and to risk rejection. If this is more your style, what more could you be doing to build this foundation to your career?

What is your strategy for publishing your work?

The number of publications expected from researchers varies widely between disciplines and there is often a tension between wanting to publish early or waiting for the chance to publish in a more prestigious publication or format.

  • Have you talked to academics in your field, other than your Principal Investigator, about what would be expected of an aspiring academic at this stage of your career?
  • If you are advised to wait for a higher impact publication for your core research, is there anything you could publish sooner, possibly in collaboration with others, which would demonstrate to a future employer that your work passes the peer review filter?

Dr Parvathi Kumaraswami recommends strategies for developing your academic profile.

How much effort do you put into managing your professional academic reputation?

The value of academic research is primarily determined by subjecting it to scrutiny by others in the field. Therefore, the view that other academics have of your work is critical to your success.

  • What can you do to ensure that others are aware of you and your work? This doesn't have to be cynical schmoozing; networking isn't necessarily calculating and manipulative. Where can other academics find out about your work on-line?
  • Are you engaged in dialogue with others who are working in your field? Have you given them the chance to comment on your work, and have you paid them the courtesy of commenting on theirs?

For further ideas see Maintaining your reputation.

Where will your funding come from as an academic?

The freedom to work on their own research is cherished by most academics, but it often comes at a price - persuading someone to fund you and your work.

  • What are the likely sources of funding for the research you want to carry out?
  • Which academics or groups are being successful now with getting funding in your field?
  • To what extent might you consider changing the focus of your proposed research to fit with available funding streams?
  • Are there collaborations or research groups which you could join, or develop, which could improve your chances of getting funded, and if so, are you starting to make those contacts now?