By Catherine Armstrong
This article explores some of the challenges you will face when applying for a job a long way from your current residence. In an academic working environment many people have to be prepared to move away in order to secure a job and this can cause problems for your work-life balance. So here are some of the things to consider before taking that job.
Do I actually want to live there?
Many people have a list of their preferred places to live and work based on the calibre of the university itself, proximity to friends and family, and the atmosphere and environment of the location. However, few people have thought about drawing up a list of places they don't want to move to. In this economic climate when the job market is so competitive, many academics are finding they have to apply for jobs whenever they come up, rather than picking and choosing where they would like to move to. However, there's no point going through the process of applying for a job if you know you wouldn't be happy working in that town or city. How do you decide whether a location is right for you?
This is a controversial one. Many scholars feel that they are happy to take a job at any university, regardless of its research or teaching reputation or its position in the league tables. Others, however, only target certain types of university due to the positive affect this can have on one's career.
Research or teaching?
It used to be the case that people who wished to improve their research profile to achieve international standing would work in the Russell Group universities, while those more interested in teaching practice would work in the post-1992 universities. This distinction is now much more complex as many post-1992 universities are putting in a lot of work and funding to improve their research profile. So, perceived ‘quality' of the university is a more complex indicator than it appears at first. It is often a personal decision as to whether a working environment is suitable, not one based on official statistics.
Distance from family and friends
It is very important to consider your work-life balance as well as the prospect of taking a dream job. If your friends and family live hundreds of miles from your new job, ask yourself: are you prepared to effectively cut yourself off from them? Or alternatively will you spend huge amounts of time and money visiting them? Universities in the Midlands and the South-East are very popular with both students and staff because they are located at the heart of transport networks.
Another work-life balance issue is that of commuting versus relocation. You may not be in a position simply to move to a new town immediately, so if you have to commute daily or weekly the distance of your job from your home becomes very important.
Atmosphere and the environment
Just like an undergraduate choosing his or her university, you need to think about the sort of environment you will be working in and choose the jobs you apply for accordingly. Undergraduate students often make a big distinction between a city-based university and a campus-based university. London and Leeds, for example, offer big city centres, whereas Warwick and UEA have a leafy, natural campus. Although staff feel less cocooned than students in their university life, it is still important to investigate the sort of town or city that you might move to when relocating.
Location of accommodation
Finding accommodation is not always as obvious as it seems. Many of the staff at Manchester Metropolitan University, for example, live in the suburbs of south Manchester; a few live in city centre apartments; many others live further afield in beautiful Pennine towns and villages with easy commuter routes into Manchester. All accommodation needs can be met in this sort of environment.
Another example is the University of Warwick, which is actually on the outskirts of the city of Coventry. Many academic staff at Warwick live in the towns of Kenilworth and Leamington Spa, while others live in picturesque Warwickshire villages. Researching a university on the internet is not always enough to discover these nuances.
So? There are no simple answers!
This article has shown that the issue of relocating within the UK for a university-based job is a complicated one. The quality of the university should be your first thought, but do not simply rely on reputation and league tables to make your decision as to whether a place will be right for you. Geographical location within the country and its relationship to your support network is important. Do not neglect this aspect or you might find yourself feeling very isolated and lonely indeed.
If you are considering a long commute to work make sure you weigh up the costs in both time and money. And finally consider the environment itself: it is not as simple as thinking about city or rural campus universities. You need to do deeper research to find out where other members of staff live. And this is another reason why networking is so important to the academic: there's nothing like getting information about the local area from someone who already knows it well.