In an article entitled ‘Working for a university in a non-academic role’, Dr Catherine Armstrong explores the alternative careers that academics can pursue in Higher Education. By recognising that not all postdocs will gain employment as a university lecturer or researcher, Dr Armstrong examines the ways in which academics can remain part of the university community while building up a professional profile. Yet, this raises the question of whether it is possible to work outside of academia while continuing to preserve a presence within a specialist field. In other words, can you have your professional cake and eat it?
Whether you hope to pursue an academic career in the future or simply wish to remain connected to your subject area, this article investigates the various possibilities available to academics working outside the ivory tower of academia.
Sessional teaching and guest lectures
If you are part-time or your employer offers flexible working, then you may consider approaching your local university for some sessional teaching hours. It is important to ask yourself whether you can balance the requirements of your professional post, with the teaching preparation and marking that comes with sessional teaching. Still, this can be a very rewarding way of staying within the academic community. Another option is to offer a guest lecture either for an undergraduate module or a specialist academic group. This allows you to publicise your work on your own terms.
Despite leaving mainstream academia behind, your research findings will still be of interest to many other people working in a similar field. Although you must be prepared to take your attendance at conferences, seminars and study days off as annual leave, there is no reason why you should not present or participate in academic events as an Independent Researcher.
A key way of advertising your research and engaging in cost-free networking is social media. A Twitter account and Piirus are great ways of publicising your research while engaging with other academics and networks. It also allows you to keep abreast of current research in your field and is an instant way of finding out about academic events that may interest you.
Being outside of mainstream academia, you can publish your research at your own leisure. It is entirely up to you if you wish to publish your work. However, if you do hope to return to academia in the future, then it is imperative that you publish at least an academic journal article or chapter in an edited collection. Publishing is a key way of getting your ideas out there and with an emphasis now on outreach, writing for a more public audience is also encouraged.
While it is not easy to balance the demands of a professional post with maintaining an academic profile, it is possible. The extent to which you do both depends on your personal situation. It is clear, however, that the communication, networking and professional skills that enabled you to do the PhD in the first place can also be used to preserve links between two distinct professional worlds.