So you’ve moved past the difficult early years of career uncertainty, working out how to do all the different parts of an academic job at once, and you find yourself ten years or so in. You’ve built up your bank of teaching, your research is developing nicely, you’ve got a good handle on all things administrative, you’ve perhaps landed a large grant or two, you have postgraduates, and invitations to speak at conferences, review books, and be an external examiner appear more and more frequently in your inbox. Congratulations – you’re now mid-career!
But just when things start to look more comfortable it can often be the case that people start to consider their next steps. This may be the point at which promotion to a chair or similar senior level is just too far off to be realistic – so what then? While some may be content to stay put, others find themselves looking to move nevertheless. This can be the point at which they come face to face with the fact that mid-career opportunities can be thin on the ground - often because institutions are looking either to recruit at early-career stage or to make strategic high-level, ‘star’ appointments.
So here are a few tips on how a mid-career academic looking to change institution can best position him/herself to take advantage of suitable jobs when they appear.
Keep your ear to the ground
Now that you’ve built up a fair bit of professional capital, this is the time to use it. Get in touch with your professional contacts and let them know you’re thinking of a change. But beware – make sure your contacts can be trusted to keep your enquiry to themselves, unless you’re happy with your current institution or colleagues knowing that you have itchy feet. Remember that not all posts will be advertised straight away, and it may be useful to know if there are positions upcoming through retirement or research grant awards.
If you see a job advertised at a level higher or lower than yours, but it’s in a department or institution you really would like to work in, you can always throw your hat in the ring anyway. Occasionally, salary scale and rank are negotiable, particularly if you have an excellent research record. People may decide to take a chance on applying for a job at a higher level than they would expect to get in the hope that the institution will be unable to appoint at higher level – and so a de facto mid-career post might become possible. More rarely, an academic might apply for a post advertised at a lower level than the one she currently holds, with the expectation of rapid promotion. And if that’s what’s offered to you, make sure you get it in writing…
Make yourself an asset
Remember, you will be in a strong position to negotiate on salary and so forth only if you really shine. Even if you have strong feelings about your home institution, make sure you pursue your professional agenda (research, teaching and administration) with absolute professionalism. Keep your research on track, and enjoy the opportunities that come your way for working with your academic community outside your institution.
Look closer to home
But remember too to think very carefully about stepping into the unknown. If your job is causing you dissatisfaction, analyze why this might be, and see if there are any steps you can take to address any imbalance you might feel. Consider whether a fresh direction in your research might give you new energy; or whether you might want to talk to your Head of Department about being given roles with greater responsibility and/or variety.
Enjoy the benefits
Being mid-career has many advantages. You can really start now to enjoy the sense of assurance that comes with a few years under your belt, and can now really start to think about how best to direct your career – not just in terms of research, but in more strategic terms. Ask yourself what role you would like to play in your institution or the academic community. And now is also the time for you to ease off a little on the frenetic pace you may have had to keep up in order to get to where you are.