An Academic Career

Explore academic careers

Review your career ambitions

Becoming an academic is one of the most competitive jobs you can aim for - most lecturers will have PhDs and will have published research which has been scrutinised by other national and international experts in their field.

A minority of academics focus primarily on teaching, where the pressure is to deliver innovative programmes, develop new courses and materials, and often to publish on the topic of university education. Some academics focus solely on research. However, this often involves constant pressure to write funding applications or develop external collaborations to pay someone else to cover the teaching duties which are a normal part of academic roles.

On top of this, all academics have to cover a certain amount of administration, often relating to students or applying for funding for new research projects.

Find out if academia is really for you by exploring this website.

What do you want out of a career?

It may help to articulate what you really want from a career - the purpose of your ideal kind of work, the work environment, the rewards (financial and other), the skills you want to use, the people you want to work with, job security, autonomy, what motivates you (eg overcoming challenges, getting recognition for your work, helping others, being creative).

Draw up your own list, or download our self assessment checklist.

Alternatively, try the on-line career options tool, Prospects Planner, which will try to match your responses to a range of graduate level careers.

What do academics really do?

Do you want to be an academic, or do you want to do what academics do, day to day?

This is not such a fine distinction, as the primary purpose of being an academic (pursuing research or teaching, depending on your focus) is sometimes at odds with the work which academics regularly find themselves doing.

  • What do academics do? - find out more about the day to day work, lifestyle and skills needed by academics, including hearing directly from successful academics in a range of disciplines.

Before gaining a permanent academic post, you commonly need to gain a PhD or other doctoral qualification. After that, most researchers go through a period of short term contracts or part-time work, covering either research or teaching. This interim period can last several years, involve much uncertainty, and require significant flexibility.

There is considerable variation between disciplines, between institutions and between different academic roles. Talking to a range of academics is an excellent way to find out what they really do. Most people (especially academics) like talking about themselves and their jobs. Show interest in your lecturers or academic contacts, ask politely, and listen carefully to the reality of life as an academic.

Is academia the right option for you?

Once you have read more about the realities of life as an academic, look at your self assessment:

  • Is there anything you've said you don't want which academics regularly encounter in their work?
  • If 'academic' or 'researcher' don't appear in your list from Prospects Planner, ask yourself why.
  • What are the barriers to overcome - are they surmountable?
  • What compromises will you have to make - are you prepared to do this?

As well as exploring whether you are attracted to the realities of an academic career, you also need to consider how you compare with all the others who will also be competing for academic jobs.

And if you aren't sure, are having second thoughts, or want a back up plan, there are plenty of other careers you could consider: