A simple on-line search about returning to academia after a different career path produces limited results. The University of Manchester’s online career section is one of the few websites that deals honestly with the question of whether it is possible to transition back to academia. In an article called ‘Can I return to academia if I leave’, the author argues that it depends on a variety of factors, such as a person’s discipline and where they are in their professional, personal and educational life. The shortage of articles may appear worrying for early career academics forced to work outside of academia due to lack of jobs. This article explores the strategies that an early career academic might adopt if they wish to gain a teaching or research post within a university. Above all, it asks the question, what will they need to do to be employable?
Network, network, network
After a year or two in a professional post, it’s important to remind the world not only that you exist, but also about your research. Some key ways to do this are:
- Attending study days, seminars and workshops. These are great for networking and finding out about any teaching hours that are coming up.
- Giving papers at conferences. This is crucial in order to get your name and research out to the people that matter.
- Approaching universities for an Honorary Fellowship is a good way to have an affiliation with a university and gain access to their online resources.
It is imperative that you publish a short piece of your work. This can be difficult when you are working full-time in a professional post. Nonetheless, if you are serious about returning to academia, then you must publish an article or a chapter. It is also worth thinking about your future publication plans. You should set out a clear publication strategy for yourself with realistic deadlines that you intend to meet.
Teaching experience at undergraduate level is another key factor in building up your academic CV. If you have no teaching experience, then it is important to develop this area of your academic profile. You could approach local universities for some hours and consider how you will factor this into a full-time job. Does your current employer offer flexible working? Finally, you should ask yourself whether you are able or even willing to leave a stable salary in a permanent full-time non-academic post, for a fixed-term or part-time teaching post should the opportunity arise. Although there are no guarantees that a permanent academic lectureship will materialise, the teaching and administrative experience that you gain from short-term academic contracts can really enhance your CV.
There are no set rules about returning to academia, but a key factor worth ending this article on is the importance of perseverance. You must be willing to persevere despite set backs and the initial insecurity of an academic career. This will go along way in proving your dedication and passion for your subject and pursuit of an academic career path.