Most lecturers now have to be all-rounders, with strengths in teaching, research and administration. However, as you progress through your career, some aspects of the job are more appealing than others. Deciding what sort of academic you are must begin with a period of self-reflection in order to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Teaching versus research?
Some academics would rather spend as few hours in the classroom as possible. For others the time spent with students is the reason for taking the job in the first place. You may know which of these applies to you before even finishing your PhD! However, if your first few years of teaching seem challenging and stressful, this may be because of inexperience rather than a natural aversion to teaching. It is important to maintain and develop your teaching experience because this is increasingly seen by universities as an important aspect of an academic’s career.
Most scholars love having the time to do their research. However, some seem to have an aptitude for winning research grants and getting their work published. Having a strong research profile is important, but it is also possible to boost your profile by thinking about, for example, ‘impact’ related projects.
If you really find the research agenda onerous, you might consider part time and temporary lectureships in which the pressure to produce research is less pronounced than in permanent ‘tenured’ posts.
Are you a good administrator?
It is often said about academics that no one becomes a lecturer to go to committees and do administration. It is also true that the burden of administration is increasingly falling on academics rather than secretarial staff. However, the stereotype of the disorganised academic does not always ring true, and some scholars enjoy, and are very good at, this aspect of the job.
Being efficient, prompt and accurate in completing your paperwork are excellent traits that will be appreciated by other colleagues. Cultivating these will also make your own life easier and allow more time to concentrate on other parts of the job.
However, if you decide that you have a real flare for administration then discuss this with your head of department. Ask whether he or she might put you forward for administrative roles. Departments often struggle to find volunteers for these. Opportunities are also often available at faculty level or in central university management. These posts might be fractional to complement your own teaching and research, or might involve you being seconded for a certain period. They will certainly enhance your CV.
Are you leadership material?
Some scholars prefer to keep a low profile and get on with their own work, whereas others are keen to be involved in decision making and strategic planning. The latter skills are vital in leadership roles, but there is more to it than that. Are you successful in getting colleagues to participate in a particular project? Can you convince others that your vision is worth pursuing? Do people seem to like working with you? Are you able to provoke respect among your peers? Are you comfortable communicating with those in positions of power over you? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ then you should consider developing your leadership skills, whether running a small team-taught unit, a degree programme or an entire department. Many departments will offer ambitious scholars the opportunity to develop in this area through gaining experience and through training courses, so give yourself the time to consider your academic profile.