Is an Academic Career for me?

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Choosing a career is always a life-changing decision. Would you like to be a university lecturer? Here are some key questions to ask yourself when deciding whether lecturing might be for you.

1) Is a high salary important to you?

If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ then perhaps an academic career is not right for you!

In the last thirty years salaries in the HE sector have not kept pace with other sectors, meaning that the students’ salaries will often exceed that of their lecturers within a few years of leaving university.

However, the news is not all bad because, unlike some careers, there is a steady career progression path and excellent benefits such as maternity and sickness leave.

2) Do you value personal autonomy in your job?

One of the attractions of an academic job is the chance to work independently and work without someone telling you what to do all the time. Obviously there are institutional and governmental constraints but lecturers are often able to choose what topics they teach and which teaching methods they use. They are also able to determine their own research interests and direction.

3) Are you prepared to work in part-time or temporary jobs for a few years before a permanent job comes up?

Because of the state of the job market at the moment, you are unlikely to get a permanent job straight away after finishing your PhD. If you need the security of a regular income or a job based locally then perhaps an academic career is not for you. You have to be flexible, adaptable and patient to secure a permanent position.

4) Do you like young people and students?

You will work every day with hundreds of young people in their late teens and early twenties. If you do not enjoy spending time with them, educating them, and learning from and with them, then this job is not for you.

Of course, all academics become cynical sometimes, but in your heart you have to believe in the value of an education and want to spend your working life with young people who, mostly, want to learn from you!

5) Are you good at multi-tasking?

An academic’s life is dominated by juggling commitments. You need to be good at keeping a number of balls in the air!

You need to make progress with your research, whether that’s writing a book or an article, editing a journal, running a conference or organising a particular interest group.

During term time you also have to dedicate yourself to teaching, whether that’s in classroom time, lesson preparation or marking.

You might also have an administrative role in your department that also requires your attention such as admissions tutor.

There is increasing pressure on academics to develop external income for their institution, by working with commercial companies or other public sector bodies.

So, while every day might bring different challenges and the variety of the job is a big attraction, you also have to be an excellent multi-tasker. 

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