Mid-career Strategies

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Many of the articles here on the jobs.ac website are designed for the early career scholar who is looking for a first job in academia. However, career dilemmas can hit at any stage. How do you develop your career if you are mid-stage academic? Here are a few thoughts:

What type of academic am I?

By the time you’ve been in a permanent job for 5-10 years, your teaching, research and administration experience should be mounting and you should be an established scholar in your field. It is good to do a self-reflexive assessment of where you are in your career asking what sort of academic am I? Where has my career taken me over the last few years? Most of us are far to busy to undertake this sort of career audit on a regular basis, so perhaps you’ll be surprised when you look back over your experiences and assess what direction you have taken.

Although academics try to balance the three key requirements of the job: teaching, research and administrative duties for the department (as well as other agendas such as ‘impact’), many find that they have an aptitude in a certain area, or that they simply enjoy one area more than another. Your personality traits and skills, and the atmosphere of the department where you work may have led you down a particular path.

For example, getting a research grant early in your career may have propelled you away from the teaching and admin arenas. Or finding that you enjoy strategic meetings (yes, it does happen to some!) might have planted the seeds in your mind that you’d like to pursue a managerial route. Or discovering that it’s the student-facing aspects of the job that really reward might mean that you have pursued teaching excellence. You should have some idea by now both where your talents lie and what you hope to do in the future. 

How to progress in my career?

But making progress at mid-career level can be a real challenge. Scholars find that they get stuck because they fear change or because of their personal circumstances with a settled family. They get into the routine of the academic year cycle and before they know it ten years have gone past!

Find a mentor: having a mentor or career guide, either within your department or outside it is vital at any career stage but especially so at mid-career. He or she will be able to talk through your options with you and work out strategies to further those aims.

Develop leadership strategies: your progress in your career on will depend not only on your being an excellent scholar/teacher/administrator but also on taking on leadership and decision making roles. Innovation, creativity and people management will be increasingly important in defining your job role. If you feel that this is something that you lack experience in, now is the time to develop this. Of course, you could be the type of scholar who gets grant after grant and works away from your department from much of the time. But many academics’ careers will be enhanced by taking on responsibilities within their department.

To move or not to move?

You may have been at the same university for a number of years now and will be facing the decision of whether to try to advance your career elsewhere or to pursue promotion at your current institution. Your decision will be based on all sorts of personal factors but here are some issues to consider:

  • Should I move sideways to a better university (better in reputation, or convenience) and have to establish myself there and risk a slower promotion prospect?
  • Should I accept a demotion for my ‘dream’ job?
  • Would working overseas be good for me at this point in my career?
  • Might my university offer me a promotion if they are worried I will leave?

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