An Academic Career


Dr Caroline Bowsher explains how knowing her research interests as an undergraduate helped her forge her career.

Do you have a passion for your subject?

This means much more than simply doing your coursework well. Do you read around your subject, have you started reading academic research papers or monographs (the lifeblood of academia), do you attend extra lectures or seminars in your School, are you a student member of a relevant professional or scholarly society? Do you have the profound academic curiosity which will see you through the inevitable frustrations of being a researcher?

Are you able to sustain your focus on a topic?

Establishing yourself in academia demands a real depth of focus, rather than breadth, at least in the early years. Read the titles of PhD theses - they generally examine a very specific aspect of a topic, rather than a broad overview. Some successful academics do move between fields, but normally only after gaining credibility in a very defined area.

Dr Anna Zimdars describes how she had to be persistent and creative to obtain funding for her PhD.

Can you motivate yourself to work hard and overcome difficult problems?

Established academics often don't have 'a boss' breathing down their necks, but they do have to win funding for their research and get their research published. Being self-motivated is critical and giving up when you hit a stumbling block is not an option if you wish to stay in academia.

Can you endure the long path to establishing yourself as an academic?

Before becoming a fully established (ie 'permanent') member of academic staff, you normally encounter several years of fixed term research contracts or part-time lecturing while chasing a more secure but scarce academic job. Get an insight into this life with How do I become an academic? This can be a tough challenge and many PhDs never become academics - but some do. Use advice from academics and this site to increase your chances of making it.

Can you compete against the best?

It's not enough to be very good - you need to stand out against other very good candidates. In addition to being good at your research, this may involve being prepared to be flexible in terms of location or bringing additional skills and potential collaborators to your chosen field. It may not only be about the calibre of your research - are you prepared to balance your personal research interests with looking strategically at where funding is available, to give yourself the best chance of competing successfully?